In a video clip that went viral in May, Col Felix Abachu, the deputy commander of the Local Defence Unit (LDU), uttered words that sent shockwaves down the spines of many Ugandans.
“We shall take your life. That’s the order, people should know that. We’ve started. You’ve heard and you’ve seen on TV. For us we shoot to kill. We aren’t breaking people’s legs. We shoot to kill,” Abachu said, unflinchingly.
We can’t tell whether he really meant those words. If he did, then indeed, they have come to pass. Death statistics show that the many of the charges who serve under Abachu’s command have lived by their boss’ dictum especially since the country went under the Covid-19 lockdown in March.
While all security agencies have generally come under sharp criticism for their brutality during the lockdown, LDUs, in particular, have come to personalize terror and death.
They shoot first and ask questions later.
An analysis by The Nile post shows that at least 12 people have so far died at the hands of overzealous security operatives with LDUs taking the lion share of the blame.
This means that on average, the operatives kill at least three people per month, in a country that is yet to record Covid-19 death. The number of people they maim is yet to be known.
“They are more dangerous than Coronavirus. In fact, for me when I see them, I hide because you can’t reason with them,” said Fatuma, a trader in Namugongo, referring to LDUs.
A story is told of an LDU who stopped a car and harassed the driver for allegedly flouting Museveni’s directive.
“The president said you must move at least three people in the vehicle but you are moving alone,” the LDU officer told the driver, pointing his gun menacingly at him.
Majority of the victims have been male youths, largely because they have been more active in trying to provide for their families during the Covid-19 lockdown. However, elderly people and women have also not not escaped the wrath of the operatives.
The first victim of the operatives during the lockdown was Vincent Serungi, a resident of Wakiso town council. Serungi was shot and killed on March 31 by an LDU operative, Stephen Wafula, on accusations that he was riding a motorcycle against the president’s orders. The police said then that Wafula would be charged with murder. The matter is still in court.
Their second victim was 80 year old Margret Nanyunja, 80. According to press reports, Nanyunja died after LDU personnel raided her home in Kyengera town and beat her to pulp.
They claimed that Nanyunja’s grandson Andrew Mbazira had defied Covid-19 curfew orders but when they showed up, Nanyunja asked them for their arrest warrant. They instead turned on her.
Then the LDUs tasted their bitter medicine. On April 15, one of their own, Robert Kisanja was killed after police shot at a group of people on Kisima island, Jinja, who were said to have defied the presidential curfew. Kisinja died as a result of wounds sustained from “friendly fire.”
Their next victim was Wilber Kawono, a resident of Budaka district was shot on April 18. Budaka district police commander Shadia Nabunya told journalists that Kawono had carried a passenger on a boda boda which was against President Museveni’s ban on public transport. Kawono is said to have refused to stop prompting a security officer to shoot at him. Unfortunately for Kawono, the officer did not miss.
Charles Sanga, a businessman also died after he was allegedly clobbered by soldiers and policemen led by the former Jinja RDC Erick Sakwa. Sanga was accused of defying the president’s lockdown orders. The RDC was arrested and charged with manslaughter.
The case is still before court.
On May 8, the death list grew longer. Muyaga Robert, an LDU soldier deployed in Masaka, shot and killed Winfred Asasira and Godfrey Musasizi at point blank range in Masaka town today afternoon.
The video clip showing this grisly murder could make your hair stand on one end. Muyaga was later hunted down and killed.
Four days later in Kween, an LDU officer shot dead one person and injured another critically. The deceased Alfred Mwanga, was a resident of Kapkwata village. Mwanga was found playing cards at his residence and in the reasoning of the LDU, this flouted the directives of the president.
Next in the death queue was Evelyn Namulondo, a trader in Jinja town, who was shot in the stomach by security personnel in camouflage when she was going to purchase her food stall merchandise on a motorcycle on May 13. She later succumbed to bullet wounds at Jinja hospital.
On June 27, Francis Ogwang, a resident of Kamdini sub county lost his life after LDUs descended on him and beat him like a snake. They claimed Ogwang, 65, had flouted the Covid-19 guidelines. The army court martial later convicted the LDU personnel who carried out the act to life imprisonment.
Yet these gruesome deaths tell only half of the picture. Security personnel have been cited in incidents of torture during the lockdown. Many boda boda riders, traders and politicians have been harassed by trigger happy officers, some over flimsy reasons. They have brought untold suffering.
Hussein Walugembe, 29, a boda boda rider in Masaka set himself ablaze after failing to garner a bribe to persuade a police officer to release his motorcycle in Masaka.
On July 7, social media was abuzz with a video clip of Mityana district chairman Joseph Luzige being assaulted by UPDF and LDU personnel.
Luzige said while he was moving in Mityana town, he found soldiers beating a woman at a roadblock after they caught her traveling on a boda boda contrary to standing orders on the spread of the coronavirus. When he questioned them, they turned their guns on him. Human rights activists have raised alarm over the increasing cases of deaths and brutality at the hands of security personnel urging government to take a firm stand.
Last week after criticism escalated over the operations of the LDUs, the army said it would review their deployment and issue them with name tags to help in easy identification of wrong doers.
“It a process to bring these LDUs to the high standards that we want. The few mistakes by some LDUs should not disappoint you. We shall continue to handle case by case,” Brig Richard Karemire the army spokesperson told journalists at Media Centre last week.
For the millions of Ugandans who live under the shadow of their brutality everyday, they cannot wait to see an end to the madness.