Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Why the #Museveni regime will kill Ponsiano Lwakataka - #Uganda

Ponsiano Lwakataka is a reknown motor rally driver who in 2011 lifted Africa's most prestigious championship, the Pearl of Africa Uganda Rally.  His wife and brother are also rally drivers. Before taking up motor rallying, Ponsiano had been a fish monger and has continued to deal in fish export trade from Uganda to Congo and Tanzania.
On 18th January 2013 in Kyebe Rakai District, unknown assailants attacked the home of Pastor Mugambe killing him together with eight of his family members. The police as usual swung into action arresting and detaining and releasing different local residents as suspects.
In February 2013, the Police chief instead deployed 200 extra policemen in Rakai to help investigate the murder and fired six police officers from service over negligence. It even failed to establish the motive of this heinous crime. It instead made a blanket statement to the effect that Pastor Mugambe had been involved in questionable deals with one of the serial killers.
This particular murder opened the floodgates of a series of murders that rocked the region months later. By June 2013 a total of 35 people had been killed in Masaka, Lwengo, Rakai and Sembabule and 25 of these were in Rakai alone. Locals and leaders demanded for the resignation of some officers for failure to stop the murders. They demanded that the police chief should visit the area to explain the killings. During the commissioning of a newly built police station at Kalegero in Lwengo, the Police Chief disclosed that the Pastor Mugambe murder case was 'complicated' but added that the police had good leads.
In March 2013 at Kyanti village, Kyebe Sub-county in Rakai district, Ponsiano Lwakataka is alleged to have resisted arrest by the police which wanted to impound his suspected immature fish consignment. In March 2014 Lwakataka was alleged to have assaulted a police officer, Mikidadi Kabiito attached to Sanje Police post in Rakai when he attempted to impound his trucks that were allegedly carrying immature fish from Kasensero. The police opened up charges of inciting members of the public to beat up the said police officer.
In July 2014 Ponsiano Lwakataka was involved in a scuffle with the army and Fisheries Officers in Kasese as his trucks carrying immature fish were being impounded. After a brief shoot out, he managed to escape. He was arrested from Kampala and transferred to Kasese where he was charged with assault and trading in immature fish and remanded at Mobuku Prison. He reappeared at the court and was granted bail by court but the Police Flying Squad re-arrested him and took him to Rakai to face charges of assaulting a police officer and inciting violence and remanded by the Grade One Magistrate of Kalisizo.
In August 2014 when he reappeared in courts and was granted bail, he was rearrested and slammed with fresh charges of the January 2013 murder of Pastor Mugambe.  He was remanded in Masaka prison. Together with his co-accused, they were remanded by the Magistrates' Court.
In September 2014 Lwakataka was committed to the High Court for trial in the murder of Pastor Mugambe and was remanded to prison where he spent one year and four months. It was alleged that he had hired some people to kill Pastor Mugambe. One of his co-accused, Asuman Muddu pleaded guilty to killing Pastor Mugambe and eight of his family members. He had made an extra judicial statement at the police that together with his colleagues, Zzinda and a Tanzanian, Fangesi had been hired by Lwakataka to carry out the murder. He further revealed that they had been promised 30 million shillings but Lwakataka only paid them two million and refused to pay the balance. Muddu was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment on 9th July 2015.
During the trial of Lwakataka in August 2015, the state produced the convicted, Asuman Muddu to pin Lwakataka.  However, Muddu made a U-turn and instead informed court that he had been coached by the police to falsely implicate Lwakataka. He narrated that while in detention at Nkoma police cell in Lwengo district on charges of attempted house breaking, he was approached by a police officer who promised him a lot of benefits in return. During the same trial, The O.C CIID of Kalisizo, Twaha Ssemanda without substantiating, told court that Lwakataka and Pastor Mugambe had been involved in a 500M shilling cocaine deal but had disagreed on sharing the proceeds.
In December 2015, the High Court in Masaka acquitted Ponsiano Lwakataka and his co-accused, Emma Zzinda of murder charges. The state neither attempted to rearrest them as is usually the case nor to lodge an appeal. In November 2016 Lwakataka sued government for malicious prosecution and sought for a 40B shilling compensation. Two weeks later, the family of the slain Pastor Mugambe petitioned the DPP and the Chef Justice challenging the acquittal of Lwakataka and accused the police of 'obstructing' investigations.
In January 2016, the last accused, Vincent Fegansi informed court that in August 2013 he had been convicted for illegal entry and sentenced to one year imprisonment or a fine of 300,000 shillings. That he attempted to sell his Black Berry phone so as to raise the fine. In February 2016, the High Court in Masaka acquitted the Tanzanian, Vincent Fegansi.
In January 2017, URA attempted to intercept a Fuso lorry carrying Lwakataka's fish in Mbarara. His driver abandoned the truck and escaped and URA officers hired a driver to drive it away but Lwakataka appeared from nowhere and allegedly drew his pistol on the truck driver before he took to the wheels.
After a long chase, in which the Police deflated his truck tires, he was arrested and taken to Kabwohe, Sheema District.  The DPC is alleged to have released him on Police Bond. Later on, the IGP blamed the police for releasing him before ordering for the rearrest of the DPC, SP Mubangizi and Lwakataka. Shortly after, the IGP announced the revocation of Lwakataka's gun license and set free SP Mubangizi. Lwakataka faced charges of threatening violence.
In March 2017, his wife and brother were arrested after being found in possession of immature fish. When Lwakataka had gone to pick his wife and brother from court in Masaka town after they had been granted bail, he was brutally arrested by soldiers and whisked to the Masaka police station. At the time, the army at the Mechanised Brigade in Masaka had impounded two truck loads of immature fish which they suspected belonged to Lwakataka.
On 19th March 2017 while speaking at the Virgil of slain police commander, Andrew Kawesi, Museveni told mourners how the police was protecting criminals. He went ahead to give the example of Ponsiano Lwakataka whom he described as a killer who had killed people in Rakai but that the police deliberately compromised evidence in his favour. He went ahead to say that the criminals killing people in Uganda were coming from Congo. He declared thus; "we shall kill or capture them if they don't want to die they should surrender." Ponsiano Lwakataka has mustered the Congo route, established contacts and a chain of fish stores inside Congo.
Last week, the army's Fisheries Protection Unit (FPU) in Kasese under the command of Capt. Isaac Ewaga shot at a Toyota Noah car deflating its tyres and a single bullet in the stomach instantly killed Ponsiano Lwakataka's driver, Aklam Musajja. The deceases father of two who left an expecting widow was buried in Kabwohe, Sheena. The Toyota Noah heading for the border town of Mpondwe was carrying boxes of fish. The fish boxes were marked with names of different owners from Kalangala district.
Using the list of names found on boxes, the head of the FPU, Maj. James Nuwagaba led an operation in Bufumbira Sub County, Kalangala district to arrest the suspects. Having failed to register the cooperation of the local council leaders, he went ahead to set ablaze the makeshift structures, boats and property of all fishermen in the area. The operation extended to nine other landing sites. Ponsiano Lwakataka is on the run and the army believes he is hiding in Kasese area.
Ponsiano Lwakataka grew up in Kyotera and in the 1980s and 1990s he was actively involved in cross border legal and illegal trade mostly in fish. Basing on the experience he had gained in defensive driving through being chased by law enforcement agencies during smuggling escapades, in 1999 he ventured into motor rallying. He made great success in this industry but did not abandon dealing in fish.
The regional fish trade is mostly between Kalangala district and Congo. The trade route passes through nine districts from Kalangala to the border with Congo. All these districts are manned by different law enforcement agencies who get bribed by the fish dealers. District Fisheries Officers are bribed to a tune of 500,000 shillings for the clearance of a single truck and supplying of information pertaining to law enforcement deployments.
In some cases, the route is characterised by violent confrontations between law enforcement agencies and the dealers. Many traders in Masaka, Rakai and Kalangala deal in fish trade to Congo but Lwakataka has outwitted them because of his extra ordinary bravery, shrewdness and daring in the face of danger. Also, while other fish traders take the fish from fish mongers and pay them after selling in Congo, Lwakataka would first pay the fish mongers half of the buying price and top up the balance upon return from Congo.
There is rivalry among the top fish traders and very senior army officers are reportedly backing different rival groups.  When soldiers arrested Lwakataka from court premises in Masaka in March 2017, it was the two conflicting army groups at play. It was show of force between the pro Lwakataka military group from Kampala and the Masaka Mechanised Regiment based group.
Lwakataka has also distinguished himself as a leading Route Manager. A Route Manager is a big fish dealer who transports fish to the market in Congo for a number of small fish traders. With a cost of 1,700 shillings per kg of fish transported, a shrewd Route Manager like Lwakataka can pocket about 100M shillings per month. Such money is enough to fight off any disruptions on the route by bribing army and police officers and to buy influence among top security managers.
Route Managers have connections with top security officers as godfathers. Lwakataka has made a name as a Route Manager who never fails to deliver fish to the market across the border. Among the other Route Managers from Kalangala to Congo is Robert Asiimwe, Hajji Abdul Numba (not clear if he is Numba the Chairman of Banyarwanda in Masaka) and Fulfensio Kavuma (formerly of ISO).
For Museveni, whose survival during the time he was fighting the UPC government in the early 1980s depended on cross border smugglers and masters of the lake, Ponsiano Lwakataka is a potential threat if any wise Ugandan opted to tap into his bravery and experience. More so, the geographical routes (Lake Victoria and Congo) he has mastered are a source of concern to Museveni's security estimates.
Above all, Ponsiano Lwakataka has never paid allegiance to the regime like all other celebrities and successful business people but he has instead remained independent. What is equally worrying is Lwakataka's extra bravery and courage to physically bully security officers. In Museveni's own words; ".... he is putting his finger in the anus of a leopard" and will have to pay a heavy price sooner than later.
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