INSIGHT: Whose guns are killing Ugandans?

Last Friday, Arua Municipality Member of Parliament, Col. Ibrahim Abiriga and his brother and bodyguard Saidi Butele Kongo met their death at Kawanda in Wakiso district when gunmen travelling on boda-bodas rained bullets on the yellow Volkswagen Beetle, killing all the occupants.

What was perhaps surprising about this assassination was the target – a humble, cool-headed fellow who meant no harm – but the style and mode of execution has been repeatedly used for instance in the brutal murder AIGP Andrew Felix Kaweesi in March 2017 together with his bodyguard and driver, Sheikh Maj. Kiggundu in November 2017, Joan Kagezi in 2015 and a host of Muslim Sheikhs.

The real puzzle lies in the guns used in these assassinations and their possible sources. According to police records, on average, 167 Ugandans are shot dead every year.

Other 492 survive shootings with major injuries. Between 2014 and 2016 alone, 503 gun killings were recorded and whereas an overwhelming 1, 477 people survived narrowly but not without serious injuries.

That number has since grown to 715 for killings and 2,013 for survivors according to the Uganda police crime statistics.

These figures can be easily attributed to the high prevalence of guns in the wrongful hands. Gen. Jeje Odongo told Matooke Republic that Uganda has 6,000 guns in the hands of private citizens and another 16,783 in the hands of private security companies.

But when the Police Spokesperson Emilian Kayima was asked via telephone how many guns were in the hands of private individuals, he said: “I can’t tell for certain.”

Independent investigations by the Gun Policy Statistics estimate that over 400,000 guns are held by civilians in Uganda but only 3,000 of these are legally registered.

This means that 397,000 guns are in the hands of civilians and are beyond the control of authorities and also partly explains why gun-related crime in Uganda is higher than other East African countries with over 50,000 gun crime incidents reported between 2010 and now.

Ochola gun audit; a solution or formality?

It was no secret that during the tenure of Gen. Kale Kayihura, several rogue groups such as Boda-Boda 2010, Kifeesi, and Crime Preventers were actively armed.

It is against this background that Kayihura’s successor, Martins Okoth Ochola ordered a mandatory gun audit by his commanders countrywide to establish how many guns were in the possession of the police, private security and civilians in their areas of jurisdiction.

Ochola hopes this will isolate the guns held by wrong elements so that in case a non-registered gun is used, they can use the narrow scope to zero down on the shooter and “neutralise’ them. The same is true for registered guns. When a police officer or security guard hires out their weapon or uses it, it will be easily traced back to them.

Activist and Lawyer Andrew Karamagi told the Matooke Republic is a useless waste of time and money that will yield no results.

“I don’t understand how a gun audit stop lawlessness and impunity? After the audit, what happens to guns that aren’t officially registered and those that get in through our very porous borders?” he wondered.

“If this was an isolated case of random assassination, a gun audit would be welcome. But we’re dealing with a situation in which the proliferation of especially small and light weapons is so high, to say nothing of the impunity, that a gun audit is akin to closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.”