Faced with the unending killings by shooting of Muslim sheikhs in the country by suspected elements of the rebel Allied Democratic Forces, Haji Nsereko Mutumba, the spokesman of the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council, wonders why a government that has defeated the notorious Joseph Kony-led Lord's Resistance Army, has failed to annihilate ADF.
Asked in this interview by Baker Batte Lule about the rampant killings of Muslim clerics and the recent police raid on mosques, Mutumba said Muslims are very apprehensive about police's tendency of blaming the ADF before investigations are done, every time a cleric is gunned down.
There were disagreements between Uganda Muslim Supreme Council and the Tabliqs; how did you resolve them?
We are the umbrella organization of all Muslims in Uganda and, therefore, we are the parents of every Muslim organization in this country. Whenever you have misunderstandings, you have to make sure that as an elder, you bring everybody on board.
Our religious ideology and that of Tabliqs is a bit different from the orthodox Muslims who hold funeral rites and Mawlid [birthday party for Prophet Muhammad] but in other aspects we are one. When His Eminence the mufti [Shaban Ramathan Mubajje] was sworn in in 2000, he came with only two things on his agenda; unity and development.
So he will do everything possible to develop and unite all Muslims and other Ugandans. So, under such arrangement, we try to reach out to all people not only the Tabliqs of Nakasero but the Jamiat Tabliq of Sulaiman Kakeeto, the SPIDIQA and many other groups.
For me, I belong to the Juma Zukuli of Kyadondo but I’m here as the PRO, Sheikh Anasi Ssessimba belongs to the Muslim community of Bukoto Nateete, but he is also here. So, under that arrangement, we explained to our brothers that we can’t do much without unity. That’s how they came in. We had some problems with Muslim properties that were reportedly sold. We explained to these people that not all they heard was true.
The thing is, those properties were just leased in order for us to generate [money to buy] our own properties. For example we now have a commercial perimeter arcade from which we are generating a lot of funds to run our activities.
Some say challenges, especially after the death of several sheikhs, pushed the Tabliqs to seek allies. That they were not genuinely reconciled with you.
People are entitled to their opinion but if the idea was that, didn’t they arrest Sheikh Muhammad Yunus Kamoga [Tabliq Amir] days after coming here for unity talks? Even now he is in Luzira but urging Muslims to be united. He realized that misunderstandings had weakened them.
Have you tried to reach out to the Kibuli faction headed by the supreme Mufti Sheikh Siliman Kasule Ndirangwa?
The Uganda Muslim Supreme Council is the State House of Muslims of Uganda. Let those groups be there so that we can form a national organization, which will coordinate and unite all Muslims of Uganda.
We respect Kibuli a lot because in every initiative there must be a founder. Islam in Uganda came through the Buganda royal family. In 1972, UMSC was formed but it didn’t absorb the other organizations like Juma Zukuli and Kibuli. So, this is a national institution which is for everybody and whoever wants to be part of it, there is a modus operandi through which that is done.
What is your comment about the numerous killings of Muslim leaders in the country?
On many occasions we have asked the inspector general of police [Kale Kayihura] to show us who is killing these people. As Ugandans, we have to be protected by the state. We are worried.
From the killing of Sheikh Abdulkarim Ssentamu in 2012 to Maj Muhammad Kiggundu last November; on the first day, the IGP said it’s ADF killing people. If you rooted out Joseph Kony and other fighting groups, why is it hard to root out ADF that you say is continuing to kill people? One time, the IGP told the nation that somebody had confessed to murdering Sheikh Abdulkadir Muwaya in Mayuge but we don’t know what happened to that person.
We don’t know whether he was arraigned in court or not. To our surprise, a certain Hakim was arrested just days after it was alleged that he killed an Eritrean businessman. In our case, we don’t know what is going on. They had this so-called arrangement of giving sheikhs, who are allegedly targeted, policemen.
I want to know; if a beast is eating your cows one by one, do you give each and every cow a herdsman to look after it or you just kill the beast so that the herd remains peaceful? I think these people should be serious because every high-profile Muslim is living in fear; even me, I have got threatening messages that I’m on the list. If at all you can’t arrest those that kill, why don’t you at least arrest those who send these messages? We are not satisfied with the way police has been handling this.
What do you make of the recent raids on Nakasero and Kiwatule mosques?
That is unacceptable and contempt for our religion of the highest order. The police had all the means of getting information from those mosques. If you get information that there are some guns in the mosques, you besiege them with the knowledge of the local council leaders, LC, until daytime when their leaders come around.
I actually heard that after the expulsion of Amir Sulaiman Kakeeto from Nakasero mosque, an interim committee was set up with Haji Moses Kigongo as the chairman and IGP Kale Kayihura as the vice chairman and Felix Kaweesi as a committee member to manage the mosque. We have never heard that they were changed or retired.
If the IGP is the deputy chairman of that mosque, how come there are unscrupulous individuals doing unscrupulous activities in the mosque? The mosques are no longer regarded as holy places; people can break in at night and enter with shoes.
I heard of a church where guns were found, how did it end? I don’t know whether the IGP invaded that church. Much as we discourage crime, the police should also not lean on criminality when doing its work. You should use order, in order to keep order.
Do you find merit in talk that it’s Muslims killing fellow Muslims?
For us we don’t mind who is killing who; we want order. Does it mean that Muslims now are allowed to engage in criminality? Who has the monopoly of killing a fellow Ugandan because he belongs to a certain religion?
Does it mean that because Muslims are killing each other, you shouldn’t mind? These wrangles in the Muslim community have been around since the 1880s. To me, that is rubbish; let them arrest those people and charge them in court.
They have been arrested.
If they have arrested them, what explains the new killings? I think the government has all the machinery to bring these killings to an end and arrest all the perpetrators.
In 1997, we had bombs being thrown in Kampala but security organizations arrested all those who were engaged in these activities and the country was pacified. Up to now we have not got such cases again. But what we hear is allegation after allegation; does it mean that you don’t care because it’s Muslims dying? This is a government of Ugandans that should not exclude a certain group of people.
Some people accuse you of fusing religious institutions with different state organs, especially security agencies, and that some of the problems you are facing now are as result of a relationship gone bad.
I don’t know whether it’s rational for anyone to say that in order to perform my leadership roles I have to fight the state. For us at the UMSC, we said we can’t mix politics with religion.
That’s why you can hardly see any government official coming here, say for Eid day, to preside over our functions. We don’t entertain politics at the pulpit; outside, you’re free to belong to any political organization.
Do the current trends in the Muslim community worry the Mufti Sheikh Shaban Mubajje?
He has interfaced with the president on so many occasions and he has complained about the killings. He is very concerned with what is happening. When Sheikh Rashid Wafula was killed in Mbale, the mufti wanted to meet the IGP but I think he was very busy, he never met him.
We don’t have instruments of coercion; ours is to talk and if we ask for an appointment and you refuse, what to do we do? Are we the appointing authority?