Kannabulemu is a small village located in Kyebe Sub-county on the Uganda Tanzania border in Rakai district. For a first time visitor, a stroll through it reports two divergent tales— prosperity and ruin.
At its foot end is the breathtaking sight of the great Maramagambo forest that sprawl into Tanzania.
Ironically, the paths that lead you to this splendor are dotted with ruins of abandoned houses that were once homes to people who locals say were wiped out by the HIV/AIDS scourge; this area being the epicenter of the killer disease in the late 1970s.
“What you have seen is a true depiction of this village’s history. We have experienced periods of great prosperity as well as hardships,” says Mzee Paul Ssekkonda, who has spent all the 65 years of his life at the village. Ssekkonda explains that the AIDS story put aside, the lush forest poses as much pride as it does calamity.
From the forest our people are guaranteed of fertile soils and good climate; which is why you see many plantations there.
However, it is also the home of many elephants that occasionally come and ravage the village,” says Ssekkonda, citing a recent incident in which elephants killed a resident’s child.
He however adds that a few years ago, the village was on a steady road to recovery especially now that the HIV/AIDS scourge is no longer as much a death sentence as it were in the 1980s and 90s
On the night of January 13, 2013 however, a tragedy struck the village and to date, the residents are still grappling to overcome the shock.
Steven Mugambe, a prominent pastor of Kyebe Pentecostal Church was attacked and slain with his wife, Noelina Nalinya.
On the fateful day, Mugambe had visitors with whom he had attended a burial of a relative.
These seven people had planned to sleep over at his house and later head to their homes in Busoga and Kabale.
They included his mother Maria Namatovu, 80, Christine Nassimbwa, Maxensia Nakirijja, Jane Nakiwala, Dan Ssemwanga, and Christine Nakiwala, and Andrew Mpeirwe.
By God’s grace however, Julius Kiryowa, Josephine Naiga, Margie Namugambe and Ronald Mbaziira, 18 survived the sordid incident.
Peter Muwawu, the area LC1 chairperson says that ever since this ‘massacre’, a dark cloud has hovered over the village, breeding panic and unprecedented insecurity.
Area elder Paul Ssekonda echoes his chairman’s observation. “Ours is now a haunted village.
What befell us is beyond human understanding and only God can explain why this happened to us,” Ssekkonda says.
Mzee Mutaawe, another area elder and trader at Kyebe trading centre also bemoans the once peaceful village’s changed fortunes and is particularly burdened by the surprise arrests of residents in relation with the murder.
“The whole village is on tension because you may never know who will be arrested next.
They have picked about five people from this village and detained them over that murder.
Luckily they have been released but our biggest concern is that the incident is being exploited by people with selfish motives to settle scores with their enemies and rivals,” Mutaawe says.
Reports from residents indicate that the first suspect to be arrested was Noe Nakyejwe, as well as two brothers to the late Pr. Mugambe’s wife Nalinya; identified only as Yuda and Joseph. The pair is sons to Mzee Lawulio Kato, the Kyebe LC2 boss.
Other people so far arrested in connection with this murder are Muddu Asuman, a resident of Bukomansimbi, Vincent Fangesi aka Kanyama, a Tanzanian national and rally ace Ponsiano Lwakataka.
Police is also looking for Fred Mujulizi, a hardcore criminal over the same case registered vide reference CRB 015/13 of Kasensero.
Ironically, most of these arrests were made months after the murder following a petition by residents.
A preliminary Police report had linked the murder to terrorism, an assertion that residents vehemently rejected.
Citing family wrangles as a possible cause for the murder, the residents went ahead to blame for ignoring the leads they were giving them. It is against this background that late Nalinya’s brothers were later arrested before being released.
Fear and Tension
Following the residents’ action, fear and tension has gripped the village, making it a no-go zone for ‘any’ strangers.
“There’s so much suspicion here that we no longer take chances. Any stranger sighted becomes a threat because our wounds are still fresh,” said Ssekkonda.
This tension is however not limited to locals. Even the area and entire Rakai District Police are on tenterhooks because of this murder.
Ironically, not even journalists are safe (I happened to fall victim after I was arrested and charged with criminal trespass when I went to file this story).
“We’re under untold tension, so we respond immediately to the slightest call because we have to be seen to be working; otherwise you can never predict the next action from the residents.
This is a very vulnerable place for us as police,” Sam, a detective in the area confessed to me when I asked him why I had been ‘arrested for doing my work’.
Residents Relive Pain
The Kyebe mass murder may have happened several months ago, but the residents recount the misery they witnessed that day as if it happened a few minutes ago.
The general mood though is that of confusion, fear and despair for the truth to come out one day— for no one seems to fathom the heartless killers’ motive or identity.
Joseph Ssenkubuge is late Pr. Mugambe’s elder brother who also lost a mother in the nerve-wrecking massacre.
He, together with his wife, was fortunate to survive the killing parted with the deceased just a few hours before their death. He says:
What I witnessed that day will haunt me until my death. When we returned from burial at Katongero village, my brother implored me and my wife to sleep over at his place for a housewarming celebration since he had just entered his new house at Mutegombwa zone on Christmas Eve (December 24, 2013) having shifted from Ssentamu zone.
We had actually agreed to spend night there but at around 8:00pm, I longed for my favourite drink (waragi) that I had left at home after I got fed up of the soda that my brother served us; so I told my wife that we go home.
My wife, persuaded by the other celebrants, hesitated but I insisted and after three attempts they succumbed to my insistence.
They thus they requested my wife to lead them in a hymn and prayer before leaving— which she did and we went home at around 9:00pm.
In the morning, we heard wails from residents and moments later I learnt that my brother and his wife had been butchered together with my mother and the visitors.
Today I’m still haunted by the images of their slit bodies lying in ponds of blood. Ssenkubuge says life is so hard for him especially because he has many orphans to look after yet he is not that financially stable.
“I’m literally dead and that’s why these days I stopped working for long hours. I just grow a few crops and burn a few bags of charcoal to keep me going; otherwise the pain is unbearable,” Ssenkubuge says.
He adds that pursuing his relatives’ killers is the last thing on his mind as he neither has the means nor clues about the assailants.
I’ve heard several media reports saying we (relatives) are petitioning police over the murderers.
Probably those are other people but not me. First of all I didn’t see any of the killers so it would be hypocritical for me to start naming anybody.
Recently I read in the newspapers that my brother was dealing in drugs with Lwakataka; which I find highly derogatory because I had never heard him speak about Lwakataka nor suspected or seen him engaging in drugs.
I even have no evidence that Lwakataka killed my brother so I leave everything in the hands of god and the police to try and find out the truth. For Christ sake my brother was a pastor and I strongly doubt he could trade in drugs.
Ssenkubuge partly attributes his survival to local bar tender, a one Bazir, who sold him the waragi and even implored him to go home after they met on the fateful day.
Kenneth Busuulwa was pastor Mugambe’s former neighbor at Ssentamu zone. He says:
To date I can’t believe what befell our village. It is also very unfortunate that God chose to take Mugambe at the time he did.
For a very long time his dream had been to build nearer to the trading center.
Sadly, he realised his dream but hardly spent a month in his new house. He however refutes media reports linking the pastor to drugs or shady money deals that some media reports say could have led to a fallout between him and Lwakataka, thus leading to his murder.
“I was his neighbor for many years but all I can say is that he loved living holy and despised pleasures of the world. That’s why he even abandoned his catholic faith and become born-again despite disapproval from his staunch catholic relatives,” the ex neighbour says.
The 70-year-old woman who stays just a few metres from the murder scene says:
Each time I put my head down I see images of the dead people. My life has never been the same again.
These days I can’t stay out beyond 7:00pm while you cannot find me in the trading centre the moment it clocks 6:00pm.
The incident brought a curse to our village. She also says she has no clue of the killers and is now clinging on the will of hope that the murderers will be nabbed one day.
The shocking sight of the slain bodies put aside, residents now have to grapple with the presence of a haunted house in their midst.
A visit to the scene sends instant shock at how the neighbours failed to hear a single wail or bang as they admit.
The house from which the nine people were murdered is surrounded by several houses with many occupants.
“This is what has baffled all of us and that’s why we decided to put the matter in God’s hands.
Several murders have happened but usually nieghbours get to hear some scuffle and either reach when the assailants have fled or even arrest some of the attackers.
This particular incident is just extraordinary,” says Ssekkonda.
Today the deceased pastor’s house is a haunted house, totally swallowed up by bushes.
“Nobody can dare step in that place for various reasons. There’s a general fear that the spirits of the dead occupy it, while many people think going there would mean linking them to the murder; the occasional abrupt arrests complicate matters further,” says………… .
Peter Muwawu, the Kanabulemu village chairperson, says that none of the survivors or other family members stayed to look after the house while neighbours fear to slash the compound for fear of being attacked by the spirits of the slain victims.
The Kyebe murder has brought untold tension to Kanabulemu village residents, but general consensus from the resident’s desperate cries shows that only a fair court process and thorough investigations by police will restore calm to all the affected.
For now though, the haunt at the small border village seems to have no sign of abating.