As the opposition tries to raise its political profile in the city with a string of rallies, an unruly group of youth linked severally to the police and the ruling NRM is determined to stop them.
The group, calling itself the Voice of Movement Youth (VOMYO), last week confronted former FDC President Kizza Besigye and Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago with stones in a bid to break up their political rally at Ku Ttaano in Kawempe. The March 1 rally had been called by the lord mayor, a Democratic Party supporter, to "address the problems of Kampala", but the stone-throwers thwarted it.
They pelted the two politicians and other officials in their entourage with stones, smashed their car windows and destroyed the public address system.
The police, who witnessed the fracas as it unfolded, have distanced themselves from the group although the politicians claim the cops were in cahoots with the gang. On their part, Kawempe residents say the stone-throwers are members of a well-coordinated group that first operated in the area as a community-based organisation registered as Voice of the Youth, before evolving into Voice of Movement Youth (VOMYO) at the height of the 2011 elections.
Kampala Metropolitan Police Spokesman Ibn Ssenkumbi denied claims that the police are linked to VOMYO. However, he could not rule out the group being behind last week's attack on opposition politicians.
"Given the precedent we got about two weeks ago when they attacked the lord mayor's office, it is possible that they were the same people at Kawempe. Our investigations are looking into that, but we need someone who can help us to identify them," Ssenkumbi said.
According to Ssenkumbi, 15 members of the group were arrested a fortnight ago after they attacked Lukwago's office at City hall.
"That is the first time we learnt of that group. It came up during the interrogation that they mentioned belonging to that group," Ssenkumbi said.
The same group also reportedly attacked Kawempe Mayor Mubarak Munyagwa's office earlier this year. Like Lukwago, Munyagwa is an opposition politician. Several Kawempe residents who spoke to The Observer say this group, led by one Joy Katamba, masterminded last week's assault on opposition politicians. They also claimed that the group has previously worked with the police, carrying out various operations, including night patrols.
"The police are always with them. It is that group that the police use to cane people during night patrols," said Abubaker Lugoloobi, a resident of Kawempe I.
We have been told that as the group evolved from Voice of the Youth to VOMYO, its objectives changed to include support for NRM and security mobilisation, although Kawempe Division NRM Chairman Hajji Sulaiman Sseremba says the group is not in any way linked to his party.
"Each organisation has its own principles and etiquette. It isn't good for me to begin speaking about our secrets in the media," Katamba, the group's leader, told us.
The group reportedly operates from a house belonging to one of its members, Tana Kavuma, in Kizza Zone, Kawempe division.
According to one of Kavuma's neighbours, Henry Tamale, they moved in late last year, and the leader, Katamba, tried to recruit him, but he declined after getting suspicious of their motives.
"He told me they were soon getting funds from the NRM to start up development projects, and to also conduct security related activities in the area," Tamale said.
The group, Tamale added, was taken for a chaka mchaka (politico-military training) course at a ground near Kyaddondo Medical Centre in Kawempe division.
According to the Deputy Lord Mayor of Kampala, Sulaiman Kidandala, Joy Katamba, the man who is seen dressed in a white long-sleeved shirt during the stone-throwing incident, settled in Kawempe around 2010. This former primary school teacher, who commands the stone-throwing squad, first presented himself as a pastor, and later as an advocate of youth development.
"I was going about my campaigns when he came to me and asked for support in establishing his community-based organisation. He later invited me, councillor Shifrah Lukwago and Latif Ssebaggala (Kawempe North MP) to visit his office in Kirokole Zone," Kidandala said.
The community-based organisation however later got sucked into NRM campaigns though some of its members clashed with the NRM leadership in Kawempe division. Around this time, Katamba met the former Kawempe Resident City Commissioner (RCC), Alice Kaggwa (now deceased), who employed him as an informer. It is believed that this is how he got connected to the police.
As locals started complaining about VOMYO's activities, some residents accused Deputy Lord Mayor Kidandala of bringing the naughty group to the area.
"When the complaints became too many, I reached out to Katamba and cautioned him about his activities, because I had reports about them harassing people and some other unlawful activities, but I don't have any connections with it," Kidandala said.
According to the Kawempe NRM chairman, Hajji Sseremba, the group stormed the division NRM offices and had a burst up with staff there, demanding money to facilitate their travel to Kasese for the 27th NRM celebrations.
Kawempe North MP Latif Ssebaggala told The Observer that if the police fail to apprehend members of the "militia group", he will be forced to form another group to counter VOMYO's activities.
Apart from Katamba, residents have identified four members of the group that participated in last week's fracas at Kawempe. These include one Ben and one Opio, both residents of Kizza Zone, and one Maama Prossy, a resident of Kiganda Zone, who operates a kiosk in Kizza Zone. The group helped the police in arresting seven opposition supporters now remanded at Luzira prison on charges of assaulting Katamba.
The suspects, Shafiq Matovu Kolo, Paul Magoola, David Ssekiziyivu, Sula Mutaasa, Hassan Ngobyanga, Nakato Nusufa and Dr Besigye's driver, Fred Kato, who is charged separately over a traffic offence, are however, wary of their co-accused, one Wandera, whom they suspect to be a spy.
A few years ago, a group of stick-wielding youth (Kiboko squad) became instrumental in foiling opposition gatherings alongside the police in Kampala, although the latter denied any association.