Global Voices

Ugandan police shoot and kill man mistaken for a political assassin

The story of Ronald Ssebulime is bigger than meets the eyes with different accounts of who shot the "suspected assassin" and how he was killed. Will justice prevail?

A Screenshot of ICT Minister Idah Nantaba who survived the assassination attempt, via YouTube video.

On March 24, 2019, news broke that Ugandan Information and Communications Technology Minister of State Hon. Idah Nantaba had survived an assassination attempt. Ugandan police shot and killed one of her assailants in the small town of Nagojje, 53 kilometers east of the capital Kampala.

Over the last five years, numerous cases of assassinations of high-profile political, religious or military people have led to few concrete convictions or clear reports. Ugandan citizens were, therefore, relieved to hear that the police had taken swift action.

However, a more complicated story has emerged regarding mistaken identity. Here's what happened:

Nantaba called the police to inform them that two men on a motorbike had been trailing her for more than 40 kilometers. Police swung into action and intercepted two men on a motorbike near the Nagojje Trading center.

Ronald Ssebulime, 40, a single father of four, was a driving a regular motorcycle and carried a passenger behind him. Police mistook the two men as Nantaba's assailants. A chase ensued and Ssebulime hit a hump. He and his passenger fell off the bike and the two fled on foot. Police fired shots in the air and Ssebulime eventually surrendered. The passenger fled.

Ssebulime pleaded innocent, but police handcuffed and threw him into a police vehicle. They drove for a short distance and then said the “order had changed” before they shot and killed him, according to several eyewitnesses who spoke with NTV Uganda.

One eyewitness said:

[Ssebulime] was picked up from the patrol van [already in] handcuffs and shot.

Another said:

The policeman took two steps back and shot him twice.

Botched investigation

In the confusion that followed, police tweeted that the shooting was justified because the men riding on the motorbike refused to surrender:

They added that a second suspect disappeared and fear he is armed and dangerous, although police could not confirm this.

Police spokesman Fred Enanga said that the minister, witnesses and police officers involved in the pursuit would give statements while they continue to investigate Ssebulime's phone records as well as registration papers belonging to his motorbike.

Irene Nakazibwe, sister of the deceased, insists her brother was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

According to Nakazibwe, Ssebulime was, in fact, heading to St. Andrews Secondary School to visit two of his children studying senior one and senior three classes, in an interview with NTV. They had spoken earlier in the day about the visit. Ssebulime lost his wife back in 2012 and has been taking care of his four children as a single father.

It is unclear why he tried to run from the police when he had a National ID card and a driving permit. Nakazibwe tells her story on NTV Uganda:

On March 27, 2019, the police finally admitted that Ssebulime was mistakenly identified and wrongfully murdered by officers and sent sympathies to the family of the deceased. They also confirmed that Ssebulime was unarmed and only carried a bag full of soda and food intended for his children.

Boda-boda paranoia

The death of Ssebulime has stirred mixed emotions among those who use boda-boda, or motorcycle taxi, as a popular form of affordable transport. At least five high profile murders involving military chiefs, members of parliament, religious leaders have occurred in the last three years — all performed by hitmen riding on motorbikes.

This has put both boda-boda drivers and high-level officials on high alert.

Twitter user Ganda Gannyana thinks the reason Ssebulime was killed without substantial proof of intentions to assassinate the minister stems from directives following the murder of Member of Parliament Hon. Ibrahim Abiriga. President Yoweri Museveni said that if a leader suspects someone is trailing them with bad intentions, they should “sort” that person out:

Twitter user Kyeyune Moses contemplates the confusion surrounding the circumstances of Ssebulime's death:

Twitter user Angelo Peter is furious that the police failed to produce any evidence that Ssebulime was dangerous before they shot and killed him:

In a press briefing, Nantaba narrates her story and questions who might have given the order to murder Ssebulime. She suggests the whole scenario could have been orchestrated as a cover-up by masterminds of high profile assassinations —  and still believes Ssebulime may have been involved in her assassination attempt:

The masterminds of these assassinations that have been happening in this country and according to what we see will still continue because [Ssebulime] was the one who was supposed to be a witness but the primary witness has been killed!

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