How ‘operational mistakes’ led to death of 49 people during Bobi Wine protests

Ugandan presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi also known as Bobi Wine is led into a vehicle by riot policemen in Luuka district, eastern Uganda November 18, 2020. COURTESY PHOTO/REUTERS/Abubaker Lubowa

Kampala, Uganda | URN | Uncoordinated troop operations between the police resulted in the death of 49 people during last week’s city protests, various sources have told this publication.

A police source says that the National Command Centre sat on Tuesday 17th, November 2020 and resolved that there was a need to put a stop Robert Kyagulanyi alias Bobi Wine’s continued violation of the COVID-19 SOPs as stated by the Ministry of Health and Electoral Commission [EC].

“When they agreed to stop Bobi Wine, a communication was sent to Busoga –Bukedi zonal commander to arrest him. But that decision was not passed to Kampala Metropolitan Police for the officers to be on alert,” the source said.

Bobi Wine was accused of holding massive campaign rallies at the expense of Standard Operating Procedures [SOPs] intended to curtail the spread of novel coronavirus disease-COVID-19. The Electoral Commission [EC] and Ministry of Health have restricted gatherings to only 200 people.

Riots were sparked off in various parts of the country after the arrest of National Unity Platform [NUP] party presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi. The riots caught the Kampala team not ready for action, the source indicated.

Although the protests were in more than 20 districts, greater Kampala was the epicenter.

Besides the more than four dozens of people killed, more than 100 others were left nursing injuries.

A Superintendent of Police who preferred anonymity says that there were operational mistakes that resulted from uncoordinated actions between National Command Centre based at Naguru police headquarters and Kampala metropolitan security monitoring centre that sits at Kampala Central Police Station.

Another operations commander at one of the 18 divisions that make up Kampala metropolitan who is at the rank of Assistant Superintendent of Police said the protests were a surprise to them.

“The fact is we had been receiving information about planned massive protests in case Bobi Wine is arrested. But our intelligence indicated that was to happen when his campaigns extended to greater Kampala. This was a surprise to us,” the officer said.

The senior police officer said since everything was a surprise to them, Kampala riots were handled by security apparatus that is designed for daily security operations of the city but not for a riotous scenario.

“You can imagine that our new Field Force Unit [FFU] probation constables whose role is to deal with simple crime incidents had to deal with a riotous situation for close to two hours. Most of them were facing a riotous situation for the first time,” another officer said.

Regarding shootings in arcades, plazas and at people standing on verandas, the operations commander attributed most of the killings to plain-clothed armed security operatives.

Although this publication could not independently verify the claim, security sources said the operatives are attached to crime intelligence. The operatives that had been gathering intelligence on the allegedly planned demonstration were hastily deployed under no command.

“These guys just come in vans and conduct operations without even alerting the area commander. Even this time they came dressed casually but were openly armed. We saw them shooting but we could not stop them since they are not under our command,” OC operations said.

Our reporter asked Security Minister Gen Elly Tumwine, why plain-clothed armed men were deployed to query rioters and he said: “When you want to catch a thief, sometimes you behave like a thief. All those are tactics,” Gen Tumwine said.

Read Also: Kampala riot victims demand compensation from Ugandan gov’t

This publication understands that a team of police and military has been put in place to review all videos captured by civilians and CCTV cameras on buildings showing armed men in civilian wear, police and military personnel shooting at crowds standing on verandas and those who were inside buildings.

A security source said 21 bodies were picked on streets of Kampala while 11 other bodies were picked inside buildings. After reviewing videos of day one riots and security response, commanders of Kampala metropolitan police security units among others, UPDF First Division commander, Maj Gen Samuel Kawagga, Military Police commander, Col Keith Katungi and Kampala metropolitan police commander, CP Moses Kafeero resolved to suspend the operations of the plain-clothed operatives.