Why security agencies are finding difficulty catching the killers
Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Almost a month after the gruesome murder of Muhammad Kirumira on Sept.8 there is little hope security agencies can find the killers of the former Buyende District Police commander.
Part of the problem is that elements in security agencies are key suspects in the investigation. The despair also has to do with the fact that security agencies have in the past failed to crack murder cases involving other high profile public figures.
Kirumira, become a very controversial officer who was at the centre of fights with the current and former police leaderships, low ranking officers, and was increasingly seen an outspoken critic of the entire establishment—which makes it more complicated to easily zero in on what could have motivated his killers.
Also while authorities have arrested security operatives as suspects in his murder, Kirumira was murdered in a similar fashion as public officials who security authorities say were killed by elements in the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). Experts also say criminal investigation capability is also not at its best.
Amidst all this, President Museveni on Oct.1 announced on social media that the Chieftance of Military Intelligence (CMI) squads had arrested a number of suspects in the killing of ASP Kirumira on Friday night. “Quite a number of them will appear in court soon,” he posted on his Face Book page, “In the process, one of them, by the names of Kateregga Abdu, was shot and later died of his injuries. It turns out that Kateregga was one of the ADF terrorists that had benefited from Amnesty in the past. This, therefore, is to put on notice all the killers that the wages of sin is death ( Romans 6:23 ).”
Kirumira’s murder came just over three month following another murder, this time of former legislator, Ibrahim Abiriga, and over a year after another high profile murder of former Assistant Inspector General of Police, Andrew Felix Kaweesi, his bodyguard Kenneth Erau and driver Godfrey Mambewa.
Like these officers, Kirumira was slain by gunmen riding on two motorbikes who sprayed with bullets the car he was in together with a female friend identified as Resty Nalinya. She died instantly and Kirumira a few minutes later as he was being driven to hospital.
Kirumira’s killers had been tracking him and had established his routine, police sources say. He, for example, had been a regular user of Musoke Road along Mityana Road, where he met his death. This is a few kilometres from his home in Gogonya Zone B, Bulenga, Wakiso District. Witnesses have reported that it was routine for him to park his car at the roadside and chat with boda boda riders at the nearby stage before embarking on his journeys.
Private investigator Fred Egesa, has told The Independent that the most obvious common thread in Kirumira’s murder and that of other high profile personalities is the method is shooting; by assailants on motorbikes as an easy gate away.
Egesa who is a former cop told The Independent investigation teams are still behind on what it takes to make definitive criminal investigations.
Like other criminal investigators The Independent has spoken to, Egesa agrees with the view that “machines do not catch criminals, people do.” Yet there has been a lot of focus on beefing up the technology—erecting cameras on the street, amongst others—and less talk on improving the personnel that handles these investigations.
Amongst others, Egesa says, agencies were politicised and people with no skills and experience were put in charge and those with the experience ignored.
“In the absence of refined personnel,” Egesa notes, “whatever evidence is picked is likely to be messed up.”
The investigative arm of police—the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID)— weakened under former police Chief Kale Kayihura’s 13-year reign, in part because of disagreements with senior investigators like Godfrey Musana and AIGP Grace Akullo, the current head of the outfit.
Kayihura cut CID’s budget and always ensured the major cases went to the new outfits like Special Investigations Unit (SIU), whose control he put under loyal commanders, some without requisite training and experience, critics say.
Some of them were not trained police officers and their only claim to fame was that they had been reformed criminals who understood the inner workings of the criminals they were supposed to be chasing. To make up for their weaknesses, critics say, these elements often arrested and pinned suspects that turned out to be innocent.
President Yoweri Museveni has recently turned to CMI, the intelligence outfit of the military to take lead in these investigations.
But Egesa says the military might not have skills in handling domestic intelligence and investigations. Even if they do, he adds, the authorities need to ensure that the proper procedures of criminal investigations are integrated into the military. Otherwise, he fears, the way they handle these investigations could taint the image of the military.
Egesa points out that the pace of the security agencies is very slow yet crime is changing rapidly and criminals are changing techniques rapidly.
Army Spokesperson Brig. Richard Karemire, declined to go into the details surrounding the investigations.
“Let us not go into all sorts of interpretations now,” Brig. Karemire told The Independent, “At an appropriate time, the investigating team will give an analysis of their investigations.”
He added; “His excellence the president has given the update and that is where we are at.”
Following Kirumira’s murder, President Museveni personally visited Busega police station and later moved to the crime scene about two and a half hours later. While there, he picked two witnesses and took them back to State House with him. Later on, he gave two addresses to the nation addressing the security challenges.
The address was a build-up on another he gave to parliament on June 20 outlining what he intended to do to address the security challenges.
Amongst these were; finger printing all the guns in Uganda; requiring every motor-vehicle and every piki-piki to have electronic number plates installed at the cost of the owner or inserted in the engine; and installation of cameras on the town roads and streets and also along the highways, amongst others.
He also pointed out that part of the problem has been “intelligence staff that have been neglecting information from the public, unjustifiably labeling information sources as intelligence peddlers or not concluding investigations”.
He also added that the purge of the criminal and corrupt elements that had infiltrated the police is continuing.
“The Police force is being cleaned of them,” President Museveni said, “By the end of nine months from today, most of the elements of the smart and safe City will be in place. We can, then, scale down the reliance on human intelligence and human observation because the technical (the machine) means will be in place.”
CMI is taking lead on the investigations of the Kirumira murder. The military outfit is working closely with the Internal Security Organisation (ISO) and Police.
Like the Kaweesi murder case also handled by CMI, ISO and police detectives, the Kirumira investigations had until recently largely focused on elements within police.
Insiders say the investigators have been hunting down police operatives that belonged to the defunct Flying Squad Unit (FSU). Several have been arrested and are being interrogated at Makindye Military Barracks in Kampala.
Kirumira severally accused operatives under this unit of being criminals. He also openly accused his bosses of conniving with criminals.
He recounted how, after arresting about 600 thieves in one day in 2012 from Kampala, his bosses were not pleased.
“The public was happy but my bosses who were conniving with these people were angry with me,” Kirumira would tell journalists.
His major fallout with police started when Kirumira was transferred to Buyende district as the DPC in 2017. He said another of his successful operations in 2016 occasioned a transfer that he opposed and instead announced his resignation from the police on social media.
Kirumira had become the most outspoken critic of Kayihura whom he blamed for putting criminals in charge of police operations. On top of openly criticising him, Kirumira celebrated the firing of Kayihura.
Disappointed that Kayihura’s successor Martins Okoth-Ochola did not like him much and publicly accused him of indiscipline, Kirumira took him on too.
“He is worse than Kayihura,” Kirumira said referring to Ochola, “The country will also not benefit because he only knows how to sit in office and draft draconian laws.”
Kirumira’s hero had been Kaweesi, who trained him at Kabalye Police Training Institute in Masindi before he was commissioned as a police constable in 2005. He had even named one of children after the fallen AIGP.
The police establishment fought back and at one point dispatched the Flying Squad Unit to forcefully arrest him. Apart from firing bullets and teargas at his home, the police plucked out his door when he locked himself in the house and finally arrested him.
The police establishment also slapped him with multiple charges. Specifically, the police court found Kirumira guilty of parading flying squad operatives to the media and declaring them as thieves, unlawfully arresting people and excessive use of authority. As a result, Kirumira was demoted from ASP to AIP.
Despite this, Kirumira was not shaken. It is under these circumstances that he started receiving death threats, which he reported to police.
Part of this explains why investigators have been looking into elements in police, insiders say. But other insiders say that his killers could have targeted him precisely because his fight with authorities in police gave them a perfect cover. Away from this, Kirumira, who had given himself the moniker—Mwoyo Gwa Gwanga—loosely interpreted as the soul of the nation, had become so popular and some say had become a perfect target of elements targeting high profile public officials.
Indeed, even on the day the assassins struck, Kirumira was from speaking at a public event along Entebbe road, where he had made a stopover on his way from attending an introduction ceremony in Kawuku, still along Entebbe road.
Kirumira was accompanied by his brother, who later revealed that on their way back from Entebbe, they used the Entebbe Express Highway. But Kuteesa would later leave Kirumira and get a taxi at Busega to another destination.
“Before reaching home,” Kuteesa says, “I received a call that he had been shot dead.” It was around 8pm when the assailants struck. As he was accustomed to, Kirumira had packed by the roadside.