Every year has its tragedies, but 2014 seemed to have one needless death too many – of both prominent and little known Ugandans. The Observer’s Yudaya Nangonzi and Zurah Nakabugo look back on some of the major ones.
Hundreds of people lost their lives in 2014 across Uganda due to a rise in particular types of crimes or negligence by those entrusted with the lives of others, such as drivers.
Our survey, covering the period between January 1 and November 30, shows the major causes of the deaths were road accidents, murders, drowning, excessive drinking, house fires, shootings, electrocution, landslides, lightning, animal attacks, planned attacks and mob killings.
This survey considered accidental or planned killings that were confirmed by relevant authorities like the police, local security officials, as well as district and village officials. This means that people who died of natural causes, such as diseases, were not considered for this report.
Out of the 11 months surveyed, July registered the highest number of reported killings (135), followed by March at 88, while June had 2014’s fewest reported killings, at a total of 16.
Going by category, road accidents claimed the highest number of victims. Newspaper records show that there were 161 fatalities from road accidents. This number, however, does not capture all the fatalities reported in police stations across the country. The more comprehensive police records often capture much higher figures.
For instance, according to the Police Annual Crime reports, 3,124 people died from roads accidents in 2012 and 2,937 in 2013. According to the World Health Organisation’s road safety assessments, Uganda has one of the highest accident rates in the world, with 19,870 accidents in 2012 and 18,368 in 2013. Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura says most accidents happen because road users choose to ignore traffic rules.
Records show that most accidents were due to speeding and reckless driving, driving under the influence of alcohol, and use of vehicles in poor mechanical condition, among others. The accident with the highest number of fatalities reported this year was the Bakulu bus head-on collision with a truck near Nesitu township, about 25 kilometres from the border on the Juba-Nimule road in South Sudan.
The ministry of Foreign Affairs placed the final death toll of Ugandans at 31. Some of districts that consistently registered accidents are Nakaseke, Wakiso, Kampala, Mubende, Buikwe, Kanungu, Lwengo, Sembabule and Budaka.
Accident-prone highways and roads include Mityana-Mubende Fort Portal highway, Mengo-Nateete road, Masaka-Kyotera road, Entebbe road, Masaka-Mbarara highway, Kampala-Gulu-(Nimule-Juba) highway, and Kyotera-Kalisizo road.
However, according to Stephen Kasiima, the police director of traffic and road safety, the numbers of road accidents have reduced this year, although he would not share his statistics so far. This type of planned attacks by groups of people happened fairly regularly, leaving death in its wake in the districts of Bundibugyo, Kasese and Ntoroko districts and raising tensions across the country.
The biggest such attack happened in Kasese district, led by men with guns and machetes. Defence Minister Crispus Kiyonga told Parliament that the death toll was 92. These included 68 attackers, five policemen, five soldiers and 14 civilians. It took the intervention of the army to quell the situation.
These natural disasters resulted in up to 96 deaths. However, the most prominent incident in the news was the boat that was reportedly carrying more than 150 people, mainly Congolese refugees. Sailing from Senjojo landing site in Hoima district to Ntoroko, the boat capsized near Kitebere landing site in Ntoroko district. Police confirmed that 82 people lost their lives.
River Nyamwamba in Kasese district also broke its banks and flooded, killing several people and displacing many.
Shootings and murderers
These left at least 98 people dead, mostly businessmen, robbers, police officers and married couples. In some cases, ordinary people were strangled and their bodies dumped by the roadside, in swamps and forests. In villages, people committed suicide while others were killed by their partners over incidents like cheating, refusal to buy meat and good clothes, and excessive drinking.
Prominent Ugandans who were murdered include businessman Eria Sebunnya Bugembe, alias Kasiwukira; the Unilever Uganda area manager for Iganga, Busia, Tororo and Bugiri, Shadrack Makanga and Charles Lwanga, a leading businessman on Mabirizi Complex. The Police spokesman, Fred Enanga, attributed the murder cases and other crimes in 2014, especially those orchestrated by local criminals, to poor gun control.
“The laws are so weak that even civilians and private security companies are allowed to own guns,” said Enanga, warning of more robust police action in 2015. “Police will not hesitate to shoot back at any armed robbers who target it.”
Police officers and guards who were gunned down in the line of duty include Joseph Bigirwa (Kajjansi Police post), Godfrey Jatiem (Nankondo Police post), Hajj Abdul Ssebaggala (Namirembe Church police post), Jumah Deogratius Jaaya and Muhammad Kiwana (Police Flying Squad).
These killings were a nightmare for the force in a year when it was celebrating its centenary celebrations. The fallen officers were murdered as they attempted to foil robberies in banks, supermarkets and fuel stations. Others were killed on their way home by armed robbers.
According to media reports, most teenage girls and university students who were murdered were kidnapped and slain when their families failed to meet demands of kidnappers such as depositing certain amounts of money as a ransom. Many robbers were also gunned down in fire exchanges with the police.