As Uganda held out for news of the fate of Christopher Aine, an apparently old video was circulated, momentarily gripping conspiracy theorists before President Museveni and candidate Amama Mbabazi showed the gulf between them on the matter, write SADAB KITATTA KAAYA & JOHNSON TAREMWA
The controversy stirred up by the disappearance of Christopher Aine has continued to set government, police and independent presidential candidate Amama Mbabazi on a collision course.
On Friday, a five-minute video was circulated on social media, in which Aine, the head of Mbabazi’s security team, claims he was tortured by Nalufenya prison staff, when he was detained there in September. Aine shows his fingers, chest and back that appear to bear fresh wounds – allegedly sustained from torture in prison.
The timing of the video added an intriguing twist to the saga. While Mbabazi supporters took it as a sign that the state was capable of inflicting grievous harm, Mbabazi critics saw it as evidence his people were hiding something. Some social media users said it showed that Mbabazi’s Go Forward team knew where Aine was.
Later on Friday, police arrested Charles Rwomushana, the former head of the political intelligence unit at the Internal Security Organisation (ISO), on suspicion of circulating the controversial picture of a dead body purported to be Aine’s.
On Saturday, President Museveni and Mbabazi addressed separate press conferences that showed they were worlds apart on the issue. While Mbabazi spoke of known threats to Aine, Museveni suggested that Mbabazi’s team was hiding Aine.
NO SUCH KILLINGS
Speaking at his wife’s country home in Irenga, Ntungamo district, at the start of his campaign in Ankole sub-region, Museveni said he believed Aine was alive. He said his government could never condone extra-judicial killings.
“I have serious intentions of going to heaven. So, I cannot allow such dirty things to happen under my care,” Museveni said.
Uganda has, however, high-profile cases of abuse, and state security agencies have been persistently accused of torturing suspects. In 2002, Patrick Mamenero was arrested for treason and tortured to death in military intelligence cells. The government said Mamenero had died of malaria, but a post-mortem report spoke of a head injury inflicted by a blunt object.
The Mamenero family were known supporters of presidential candidate Kizza Besigye. The government has often said that such acts are by undisciplined individuals who punished.
At Mt Elgon hotel in Mbale, Mbabazi told a press conference on Saturday morning that he was not surprised by the arrest and subsequent disappearance of Aine. Without divulging details, Mbabazi said his team was aware of the threats against Aine before his disappearance.
He declined to discuss the source and nature of the threats. Mbabazi also refused to speculate about whether the pictures doing rounds on social media are truly those of a dead Aine.
“I am waiting for police to produce Aine’s body or produce him [alive]; then I can comment…I hope the police are doing their job and I hope they will respond appropriately in court,” Mbabazi said, before taking a swipe at the police spokesman.
“I have been seeing some belligerent statements from the police spokesman, Mr Enanga, but I don’t think they merit my response…I don’t think he deserves my attention,” Mbabazi said.
Mbabazi spokeswoman Josephine Mayanja-Nkangi also refuted claims that the latest Aine video showed that they were keeping him. She said that the video, titled I Cry For Justice, was produced last September, days after Aine had been released on bail from Nalufenya.
“Whoever thinks that that is a recent video should check our social media platforms because we shared its link before the campaigns kicked off,” she said.
Mbabazi spoke a day after Aine’s family accused the police of trying to cover up Aine’s disappearance and alleged death. The family spent most of Thursday locked up in meetings with police chiefs led by Enanga in the hope that police would help them find Aine. But according to Aine’s twin sister, Ritah Babirye, the family were disappointed.
“After recording statements, they made us sit outside [their offices] until we got tired and went away,” Babirye said on Friday evening.
“Enanga told us that there were some people we were waiting for to come and take us to Red Pepper so that we could get leads to the source of the photo and eventually where the body is, but up to now, the police has not contacted us again,” Babirye said.
But in Ntungamo, Museveni said it is possible ‘those people’ (an indirect reference to Mbabazi) could have hidden Aine. The president said there is video evidence implicating Aine and others beating up NRM supporters in Ntungamo. “Those who beat up people including Aine will pay back heavily,” Museveni said.
The president also roundly denied claims that the NRM government had neglected children of fallen revolutionaries, Aine, inclusive. In a national exclusive on Friday,
The Observer carried a story of Aine complaining about how government neglected his family, yet his father was one of the original bush war revolutionaries [See Aine: Museveni forgot my family, The Observer, January 8, 2016].
Museveni said his government has built schools in barracks to support the education of children of fallen soldiers. Aine disappeared about three weeks ago after police launched a manhunt for him and other Mbabazi supporters accused of assaulting NRM party supporters in Ntungamo district.
Police chief Kale Kayihura put up a Shs 20m cash award for anyone with useful information that would lead to Aine’s arrest. Mbabazi’s legal team has also applied for habeas corpus to compel police to produce Aine in court.
On Friday, Rwomushana was arrested shortly before 9pm as he drove from Radio One, in the city centre, after appearing on a talk show there, to the Naguru-based WBS TV where he is a panelist on the television’s Friday night talk show, Face-off.
Aine’s photo was discussed on Radio One, where Rwomushana was hosted alongside Makerere university law lecturer Robert Kirunda, social critic Dismas Nkunda and NRM mobiliser Henry Mayega.
“I knew beforehand that he was going to be arrested. Someone had tipped us off, he [Rwomushana] was also aware and ready but didn’t know the actual time they [police] were coming for him,” WBS TV talk show host Peter Kibazo told The Observer on Saturday.
The arrest, according to the deputy police spokesperson Polly Namaye, was done after Rwomushana ignored police summons to appear at the Kireka-based Special Investigations Division (SID). On January 7, Rwomushana posted this on his Facebook page;
“I am all in tears, Christopher Aine is dead.” The post, according to police, offered credence to The Red Pepper picture and story.
According to Namaye, Rwomushana was arrested from the SID complex at Kireka.
“He was called [on Friday] and he brought himself to SID Kireka where he was finally arrested,” Namaye told The Observer, adding that the former spy was questioned about the source of the photo and “where the body is currently hidden because police has visited all mortuaries and it is nowhere to be seen.”
Kibazo, however, contradicted Namaye’s account. He told The Observer that he was in contact with Rwomushana moments before his arrest.
“He was arrested between Radio One and WBS TV because he was coming to prepare for the show [Face-off],” Kibazo said.
In a statement on Saturday, Enanga said Rwomushana’s arrest was hinged on credible information that he had circulated the dangerous and questionable pictures of a “dead Aine”.