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.
The policeman took two steps back and shot him twice.
In the confusion that followed, police tweeted that the shooting was justified because the men riding on the motorbike refused to surrender:
Several shots were fired in their direction, to cause them to surrender, but all in vain. In the process, Sebbulime Ronald a resident of Nakabugo Village, Nakabugo Parish, Pakiso Sub County, and Busiro County in Wakiso District was shot dead during the pursuit.
— Uganda Police Force (@PoliceUg) March 24, 2019
They added that a second suspect disappeared and fear he is armed and dangerous, although police could not confirm this.
Police is still searching the area with canine dogs for the second suspect, who is feared armed and dangerous. We want to inform the public that the Minister, despite the scare is very safe and was not attacked at any stage as alleged in the media.
— Uganda Police Force (@PoliceUg) March 24, 2019
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.
— Uganda Police Force (@PoliceUg) March 27, 2019
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:
It was a stupid directive from @KagutaMuseveni that if you only suspect anyone trailing you, “sort” them out first and quick and the rest we sort later. Now see!? An innocent #SsebulimeRonald has been slain.
“Shot in handcuffs;” that’s cold blood??
— Ganda♣️Gannyana (@IAmSegawa) March 26, 2019
Twitter user Kyeyune Moses contemplates the confusion surrounding the circumstances of Ssebulime's death:
The story of Ronald Ssebulime is bigger than meets the eyes. Different accounts of who shot the “suspected assassin” and how the he was killed.
But most touching is the tell of his kids now at school. They lost their mother, their dad is now gone. Will justice prevail? pic.twitter.com/0Q0fVS8v4Z
— KYEYUNE W. MOSES (@moskyeyune) March 25, 2019
Twitter user Angelo Peter is furious that the police failed to produce any evidence that Ssebulime was dangerous before they shot and killed him:
When @PoliceUg wanted to pin BobiWine for treason they produced guns they found in his hotel room in less than 24hrs.
But they can't produce and show us the gun Ronald ssebulime had before they shot him dead after arrest.
— AngeloPeter© (@nzeAngelo) March 26, 2019
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!