20 March 2017

Uganda: Kaweesi's Murder - High-Stakes Intrigue

Photo: Anthony Wesaka/Monitor
People gathered at one of the shops along Market Street in Kampala to watch television news about Assistant Inspector General of Police Andrew Felix Kaweesi's murder.
opinion

On Friday morning, March 17, Assistant Inspector General of Police Andrew Felix Kaweesi, his driver and escort, both policemen, were gunned down several hundred metres from Kaweesi's home in Kulambiro, Kampala.

The murders shocked the country and it became the biggest news story of the year so far.

Kaweesi was arguably the most visible police official in Uganda after the Inspector General of Police, Gen Kale Kayihura.

He was a constant feature in the media and on television talk shows and the highest-ranking police officer to meet a violent death in decades.

It was not just the nature of his death that shocked millions of Ugandans but the cold-blooded and clinical way the attack was carried out.

Eye witnesses said the assailants acted like they were repairing or inspecting their motorcycles as they waited for Kaweesi to leave his home.

Some said they were two men while others said they saw three assailants, two dressed in black and one in ordinary civilian clothes, traveling on two motorbikes.

A woman told Radio Simba that she and others heard what sounded like up to 40 rounds fired in total.

The driver first speeded up the vehicle when he realised they were under attack.

The assailants then fired at the tyres to disable it.

Kaweesi attempted to get out of the vehicle, presumably to engage the attacks, and that is when they started shooting at him.

After completing their mission, they casually put their guns back in their bags and rode off.

'Unusually determined'

Whoever the assailants were, they were unusually determined, calm and methodical for ordinary armed men.

When he was shot at and injured in his leg during a general election campaign stop in Fort Portal in February 2016, Gen Henry Tumukunde did not hesitate to allege that this was no stray bullet but had been ordered.

Speaking at the scene of Kaweesi's murder, Tumukunde hinted as much at an attack that was carried out by well-trained assassins:

"This is a matter that brings out certain characteristics... levels of courage, not ordinary... taking time... decisive execution of a task... "

Tumukunde stopped just short of saying this was a high-level operation.

The Opposition leader, Dr Kizza Besigye, echoed the same view that many held:

"How people can be so confident to, in broad daylight, come and kill people whom they know are armed and deliberately ensure that they are dead before they leave, not just shoot and run, no. That kind of confidence clearly shows that these are not people who are, you know, casual criminals, some hired guns, to come and execute something and run away."

The circumstances of the murder were inescapable; this was no ordinary murder.

In countries like Uganda, the only groups with that kind of capability are usually the state and its army, police force and intelligence agencies; or a highly-trained guerrilla group or assassin cell.

Whatever the facts, the immediate reality is that some prominent public figures believe this was a high-level operation and not an ordinary criminal act.

They might not publicly reveal their thoughts but they hold onto those thoughts.

An acute feeling of personal insecurity and vulnerability will now run through the elite political and military circles in the country.

In Uganda, the general situation is that the people most vulnerable in the state are Opposition leaders and activists, the media and human rights groups.

The closer one is to a government or ruling regime, the more secure one is.

That is why many prominent businesses traditionally try and distance themselves from the political opposition and remain neutral of politics or make it a point to be seen to support the government.

When high-profile government officials and other public figures perceived as pro-government, from a state prosecutor to Muslim sheikhs and now the deputy Inspector General of Police are gunned down with the daring we have seen over the last few years, it is a frightening situation.

Before Kaweesi, commanders of various police stations were gunned down and there were open attacks on police stations at Kajjansi, Luweero, Kapchorwa and other townships.

There was an attack in Gulu Town last year that was carried out with similar daring right in the middle of the town.

Speculation on social media networks within hours of Kaweesi's murder started to point an accusing finger at the state.

But as the private detective Freddie Egesa told NTV during its lunch time coverage of the murder, the most concrete evidence of a crime is the scene of crime itself.

From the forensic and material evidence found at the scene, investigators can then work backward to the possible masterminds and their motive.

And we have another scenario to contend with what if it is neither the state nor ordinary armed criminals but a deadly urban guerrilla unit at work in these attacks?

We cannot ignore the murder of Kaweesi and his two aides within the context of attacks on police stations and police officers over the last two years by unknown gunmen.

There appears to be an invisible hand acting to send out a message to the government that it can act at will, right in the middle of the capital city Kampala, target anyone it wishes, and get away with it.

If it is a guerrilla unit at work, then Uganda is entering a frightening phase in its contemporary history in which the main targets will be government officials or people seen as close to the ruling NRM government.

If on the other hand it is some elements within the government turning on each other as part of high-stakes, mafia-like intrigue, then it is equally frightening.

Something similar happened during the UNLF period from 1979 to 1980 when dozens of doctors, businessmen and other middle class professionals were gunned down in their homes.

Since 2012, the main victims of the gun attacks have been persons perceived as close to the government.

This new situation -- in which pro-government or seemingly pro-government figures are increasingly the target of assassination so brazen and methodically carried out -- is one that bears watching over the next few months.

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