The Observer (Kampala)

Uganda: Mystery Murders - Toll Climbs to 35

The death toll from mysterious murders in Masaka and surrounding districts has been revised, up, to 35, after another death was recorded last week.

Until that Monday incident, many thought the killings had ended. The resurgence has significantly eroded the people's trust in security forces.

Police are nowhere near making any meaningful arrests in connection with the killings, eight months after they began and the people have now resorted to mythical investigations, as The Observer team reports.

It is a sunny Sunday morning and a saloon car drives into the deserted home of the late Charles Iga at Ssagala village, near Kyotera town council.Maria Nanyomo, a neighbour, peeps curiously, and suddenly calls her nephew, Frank, to find out who these strangers are.

Iga is the latest victim of the mysterious killings that have so far claimed 35 lives in the southern Buganda area, 22 of which were recorded in Rakai district. Iga and his wife Maureen Namaato were butchered on June 17. Their assailants dug a hole to gain entry into the house and killed them in full view of their seven-year-old son, Geoffrey Iga.

"We are wary of strangers," says an emotional Nanyomo.

It later emerged that the strangers she was scared of, were the late Iga's friends who had brought a witchdoctor to 'investigate' Iga's murder.

"We are not relying on the police investigation, we want to do our own investigation and I can assure you, we are going to get the murderers," one of the friends who requested not to be named told The Observer.

The witch-doctor's first assignment was to 'release' Iga's ghost that had been 'arrested' by charms planted on his grave by one of his assailants.

Before this gruesome murder, an elderly woman was butchered in the same way in the neighbouring village of Kisammula, three months ago. Her grandchild, whom she was carrying on her back, was spared by the assailants.

Family of five:

The first cases of these murders were reported in Kyannamukaaka sub-county in Masaka, where a family of five was slaughtered in October last year. This was followed by a similar case in the neighbouring Kyesiiga sub-county, where an elderly woman and her grandson were slain.

The acts then spread to Kannabulemu village in Rakai in January where a family of nine was butchered the same way. Days later, two lives were lost in a similar manner in Kirumba sub-county.

This prompted police chief, Gen Kale Kayihura, to camp in the district, but on the day he arrived, another case was recorded in Kakuuto sub-county and others were later on reported in Kabira sub-county, Kigenya village near Kyotera and Kinoni townships in Lwengo district.

By last weekend, the toll stood at 34, with more killings reported in Sembabule district, and the latest case on Monday at Kagezi village in Kabonera sub-county in Masaka.

Police puzzled:

Kayihura says the police have successfully investigated all the cases except the Kannabulemu murder where Pastor Stephen Mugambe and eight of his family members were butchered.

Rakai CID chief Rose Nabakooza, however, told The Observer that they were still baffled by the killings.

"The murders are carried out in a highly sophisticated manner. In all places, no one has ever heard an alarm being raised or the victims screaming for help," she said.

Police also can't fathom how the assailants dig into their victims' houses without their targets noticing or the neighbours hearing.

"We can't investigate these cases within a short period of time. It requires technical and scientific advice. What we don't know is whether the population is trying to hide evidence from us," Nabakooza said.

However, Kyannamukaaka LC III Chairman Paul Migadde is bitter that most of the suspects arrested over the murders have since been released.

"We [the police] are not magicians, but we have tried our best and made some arrests and prosecuted some of the suspects," Kayihura said on Saturday, while commissioning a police post at Kalegero village in Lwengo.

Motives:

Police investigations so far point at three possible causes of the murders - money, witchcraft and family wrangles. For instance, investigations into Charles Iga and his wife's murder on June 17 point to money, and the police suspect that his killing could have been masterminded by some directors of Kyotera Town Academy who owed him some money.

According to Nabakooza, the school borrowed Shs 5m from Iga in 2008. When the school failed to pay back, Iga filed a civil suit last year but the school's directors ignored the court summons. Later he secured a court order to attach the school property.

When he attached some of the property at the beginning of this term, the school made a commitment to pay the debt that had accumulated to more than Shs 15m, and according to the agreement, the first instalment was to be paid at the end of this month. A torn copy of this agreement was dumped on his body after the murder.

About eight directors of the school including the Lyantonde district Education officer Tom Balojja, were arrested, but released on police bond after three days in custody.

Lax security:

Many locals in the region believe there could be a well-coordinated group of murderers using the breakdown of the LC system to their advantage.

"The LC committees are no longer functional, there is a big influx of Tanzanians here and their settlements are not checked," says Kakuuto MP Mathias Kasamba. "Back in Tanzania, they have a village security system that does not entertain idlers as is the case here."

Elections for Local Council committees were last held in 2002. Police report that in some villages in Rakai, it is easy to find a village where a man and his wife play all the roles of the village council.

"We [Parliament] passed the amendments to the Local government act to allow for the election of new LCs but the president seems reluctant to assent to it, and in the meantime, the murders are escalating," says Kyotera MP Haruna Kyeyune Kasolo.

The existing village committees have become irrelevant in some villages, leaving residents with no option but take the law in their hands.

"Government needs to revive the LC system or we adopt the Mayumba kumi system that worked in the aftermath of the Amin regime," Kasamba added.

At Ssagala village, our engagement with Nanyomo is cut short because she doesn't want other residents to see her with a stranger lest she will be suspected. Kasolo, on the other hand, blames the police for failing to adequately facilitate its intelligence section.

With a poor intelligence system and the high unemployment levels among youth, the Rakai LC 5 Chairman Robert Benon Mugabi argues masterminds of the murders take advantage of that.

"Any unemployed youth will take up an offer of Shs 200,000 to commit such an atrocity. And government has made it worse by allowing free trade of narcotics and gambling," Mugabi reasons.

Out of the 22 murders in Rakai, the motive for at least 13 is still difficult to explain.

Rakai MPs silent:

Ever since the killers went on rampage, too little or nothing has been said by the area MPs. Residents have since vowed not to return MPs Maria Mutagamba (Rakai Woman MP), Mathias Kasamba (Kakuuto), Haruna Kyeyune Kasolo (Kyotera) and Amos Mandera (Kooki).

Residents claim their MPs have not shone a light on the killings in parliament.

Six arrested:

Six people have been arrested in connection with the murders. One suspect, a woman, was arrested in connection with the killing of nine people in Kyebe sub-county while the rest were arrested in connection with the murder of a Rwandan national.

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