In 1989, a Finnish organisation was in Kiswera Sub country, Tororo District on a quest to equip primary schools in the area with necessary tools and facilities so that the children would have the best possible education. The country had been reborn some three years before in a military takeover that promised to turn a new page in the history of Uganda.
The future portended a country devoid of insecurity, bloodshed and fear that had dogged the people since independence and beyond. The president and his rag-tag army were all young, fairly educated people that had managed to convince not just the whole nation but the whole world that they were focused on a fundamental transformation of the tattered nation. The Finnish organization was here to lend a helping hand.
How events unfolded
The events of the night of Friday May 12, 1989 were sparked by a village meeting earlier that day. The meeting was held in the Soni village shops in Budaka Parish, Kiswera Sub County. It had been convened by the Finnish organisation to try and engage people in all sorts of leadership positions including teachers, head teachers, members of the then Resistance Council (RC) and so on, in a bid to identify areas to focus on.
Forty-two-year-old Lucy Akoth had attended that meeting with her husband, Lawrence Owora Ojumbo. It was necessary that both attend the meeting because 45-year-old Owora was an employee of the Finish organisation while Akot was one of the leaders in the RC. The meeting had ended so late that the exhausted couple had reached home after 8pm.
On arrival at home, Akot had gone about trying to make a quick supper for her seven young children. Her father-in-law, with whom they had stayed for years was sitting by the fireplace, warming his old frame.
“As I started to prepare a meal for the whole family,” Akot narrates, “my husband stopped me and asked that I make a soup first, just for him. This took me by surprise and upset me slightly. Could he not see that I was under so much pressure to serve the children before they started to doze? Couldn’t he see that I was pregnant and lacking in energy to waste on making two meals? But he insisted that he was really famished. This unusual request was very unlike him so I went ahead and made him the soup.”
Akoth finished making the soup and served it to her husband. He ate it in silence. That night, the usually friendly Owora did not even talk to his father. He seemed to be lost in thought and his father said nothing to him. An ominous silence hang over the homestead, save for a faint hooting of an owl a few kilometres away, toward the centre of the village. Owora finished eating his soup and leaned back.
The horror begins
Suddenly, there was a faint sound outside. The sound grew louder and louder until it could be recognised as footsteps of several people. The ruffle of their clothes was getting louder and more distinct but not a word came from the group. One look outside revealed that it was a large group of more than 100 people carrying all sorts of household items. They were walking very fast towards the homestead. There was not enough time to form theories of what was going on.
In just a moment, the incongruous party outside was spreading out, with each man finding a place to stand guard in the compound, surrounding the homestead like lions surrounding a kill. A man with a rough beard looked into the kitchen and shouted, “He is here! That is him.” Only and only then did the rest of the group start to talk. It was at that point we realised this was a covert operation.
“‘What is going on?’ my husband asked very alarmed. ‘What have I done?’
“‘Get him!’ the man with the rough beard shouted.
“On that command, a man emerged from outside and pulled my husband out of the hut. Two other men crashed in and pulled me out together with my 14-year-old son. Everything happened so unbelievably fast it left everyone stunned. Not a word was said by any family member except my husband,” Lucy remembers.
“‘We are going to punish you, and we are going to make sure your family watches,’ the man with the rough beard said. “And if any of you makes any noise, we shall kill you,” he growled, looking Lucy and her son.
“It was like mist or like a dream. Everything was happening too fast for my brain to register. After they had positioned my son and I in a focal position a few metres away from my husband, the man with the rough beard shouted a command.
“‘Finish him!’ he cracked like lightening.
“At that command, a man appeared swiftly, as if from nowhere. In his left hand was what appeared to be the biggest panga on earth. He came and stood behind my husband. Without pausing, he raised it and brought it down to my husband’s neck, in the left side. My husband fell down in a rain of his own blood. As he was reaching the ground, they grabbed my young son and made him lie down next to his dying father.
“All of a sudden, the mist lifted and my brained finally registered what was happening. I started to scream, not just because I was absolutely horrified but mostly because I hoped they would follow through with their threat and kill me too,” Akoth says.
The men went ahead to inflict untold injuries to Owora’s motionless body using all manner of paraphernalia until they had sapped any sign of life out of it. Right next to him was his 14 year-old-son, lying stunned in the pool of his father’s blood. But they didn’t touch him.
“He is too young to retaliate,” they said and left him unharmed. All the while Akoth screamed at the top of her voice, and trying everything she could to incite them to kill her too. But they did not touch her.
They proceeded to rob the family of everything that could be lifted. From the pots in the kitchen, to the blankets and mats, and the children’s clothes, to the goats. Everything. The group then left.
Akoth started running as if by instinct. She wanted to run fast enough so she would arrive in a place where everything was normal. She hoped to wake up from the dream and rejoin her family for supper but alas! That was just a dream. She needed the comfort of her friends and neighbours so she ran to their homes.
No help anywhere
Akoth reached the first neighbour’s house screaming her breath out. She knocked on the doors and windows crying for help, but not a soul stirred. Maybe they were not home, she thought. Off she flew to the second home, and the same thing happened. Why was no one heeding to her cry for help? Now, more than ever she needed people but she could not find any.
Having tried a few more homes in vain, Akoth would run to her brother’s home a short distance away. If everybody else didn’t want to be by her side in this dark moment, her brother would be her only hope.
“I arrived at my brother’s house ready to unload my heavy heart. I had more than a million questions in my head. I could not feel my legs. I was floating in a dark cloud of evil. I needed to talk to my brother. Just to see his supportive face. But this was never to be because soon enough, I found out that he too had been attacked. His body was lying in a pool of blood on his threshold,” she remembers.
Akoth knew then that she was on her own. It became clear why no one had opened their door.
The terror had reached many in the village. Many had fled the village and those who were still in their homes were too afraid to come out. She ran back home in despair.
Back to the scene
“At home, I found my children and father-in-law standing around the body not knowing what to do. I told them that no one was coming to mourn with us. The mysterious minions of Satan had visited several other families, including my brother. They were all too shocked to react. I carried my husband’s body into the house, with strained help from the old man, washed it and embalmed it. I laid him on a bed whose beddings had been stolen an hour earlier and mourned him with my little children,” Akoth recalls.
In the morning, it turned out that five people had been killed in Soni village alone. The men who had fled for their lives the night before had returned to mourn the dead and the reason behind the killings had been established.
“There was a dissenting political group that had sprung up after Museveni’s military takeover in 1986.
The group, calling itself Force Obote Back Again (FOBA), was comprised of Obote supporters who did not approve of Museveni’s rule and were hell-bent on sabotaging his grasp on power,” says 80-year-old Owori Moses Deya, a survivor of that night’s massacre.
The day after the attack, Akoth was accused by some people of being behind the killing of her husband.
The accusers opined that she should never have tampered with the body by removing it from the scene and washing it.
Picking up the pieces
“When they arrived at my home,” Akoth says, “the body of my husband was lying inside the hut, washed and clothed. I had been told the police was coming to arrest me for my crime but when they entered, they comforted me and shook my hand. They thanked me for being brave and complimented me for having good sense. All those who had been meting animosity onto me were silenced and I was able to mourn my husband in peace.”
A few months later, Akot gave birth to a son and aptly named him Lazarous. Based on the Biblical character whom Jesus brought back from the grave after four days.
Lazarous would be the anchor that Akoth held onto as she faced the impossible task of raising nine little children without any help.
The day after the attack, Akot was accused by some people of being behind the killing of her husband. The accusers opined that if she was not behind her husband’s killing, she should never have tampered with the body by removing it from the scene and washing it.
Every other family that had lost a person had not touched the crime scene except her. When the police came to the village later that day, all the bodies were still lying where they had been left by the killers.
On the advice of police, the bodies were removed and washed, and taken inside for proper mourning.
“When they arrived at my home,” Akot says, “the body of my husband was lying inside the hut, washed and clothed. I had been told the police was coming to arrest me for my crime but when they entered, they comforted me and shook my hand.
They thanked me for being brave and complimented me for having good sense. All those who had been meting animosity onto me were silenced and I was able to mourn my husband in peace.”