On the evening of Saturday, September 8, I received the unsettling news of the deaths of two citizens of Uganda from different walks of life.
The first news to come to me was that of my neighbour Madina Nabukalu, commonly known as Maama Saddam. The second bit of news was that of Muhammad Kirumira, whose death still dominates the national news headlines.
Both the deceased were in the same age bracket (Maama Saddam was 37 and Afande Kirumira was 35), were both Muslims, and were both Baganda. That was as far as the similarities went. But both deaths hit me with a bang, in different ways.
Maama Saddam was a shopkeeper in the neighbourhood of my local mosque in Seeta. Her secular education was modest, and her Islamic training was basic.
But the people around her felt the power of her personality. Her influence on the affairs of both the Bukhari Mosque community and the society around her stemmed from the power of her good heart.
She was known and loved by all in her neighbourhood, young, old, male, female, Muslim, Christian and others. She received customers with a genuine smile, and gave simple unconditional loans to neighbours who thronged her shop for household requirements.
For us at Bukhari Mosque, she provided the fallback position whenever we urgently needed cleaning items for the mosque and did not have ready cash.
She was a mother of five, all boys; and because of their mother’s outgoing personality, the boys were the darlings of the locals in Bugoba zone.
The news of her death came to me at about 9pm on Saturday evening, and it was obvious to everybody that we all had to alter the following day’s programme to attend the funeral.
She was the kind of person whose personality made her a local celebrity, and missing her funeral meant that you had to do a lot of explaining, not to the community alone, but to yourself as well.
The news of the death of Kirumira was broken to me by my son. He broke into my study with alarm written on his face and exclaimed: “Taata, Taata, obiwulidde? Kirumira abasajja bamusse!” (Father, father, have you heard the news? The men have killed Kirumira!)
We looked at each other in disbelief. Trailing close behind him was my 15-year-old daughter who was also equally alarmed and muttering as she came along: “Eh abasajja bamusse!” (Eh the men have killed him!)
Kirumira was known to us at home in the general political sense; the name has been trending for a long time, and we passionately associated with his struggle against the forces of darkness within the police force.
However, the name “Muhammad” added a special touch to the Kirumira story for us in the family.
There was no doubt for the three of us as we looked at each other in shock that this murder was a continuation of the brutal story in which prominent Muslims are murdered at regular intervals.
Likewise, the expression “abasajja bamusse!” used by my son and daughter in reporting the death suggested that there was a shared understanding of who we thought was responsible for the killing.
For a long moment before going to bed, I considered abandoning the plans of going to Maama Saddam’s funeral in favour of that of Kirumira. I reasoned that by attending Kirumira’s funeral, I would be witnessing national history in the making.
As National Chairman of Uganda Muslim Youth Assembly (UMYA), I had been following this matter for a long time, had addressed a press conference on the issue after the killing of Sheikh Hassan Kirya, and had had a public showdown on the matter with the late police spokesperson Andrew Felix Kaweesi. It was just right that I should be there.
My dilemma continued into the late hours of the morning. In the end, I decided to go and bury my neighbour.
The final reasoning that tipped the balance was that while my absence at Maama Saddam’s funeral would be conspicuous, I would hardly be missed at Kirumira’s funeral.
I also convinced myself that because Kirumira’s would be a national funeral, the news of the goings-on would be available via both national broadcasters and on social media. I was only partially correct in the above reasoning.
Yes, my neighbours were all happy to see me; and yes, the social media was awash with the dramatic pronouncements by mourners at Kirumira’s funeral; but no: my absence at Kirumira’s funeral did not go completely unnoticed.
Even before it ended, I received at least three phone calls from persons who had expected me to be there. Was I around somewhere at the funeral? And shouldn’t they arrange for a slot in the programme for me to say something on behalf of the Uganda Muslim Youth Assembly (UMYA)?
Maama Saddam’s funeral was a modest and somber affair, the kind of funeral that simple and honest citizens deserve. I occupied a secluded corner and observed it all.
There were no honourables, no doctors, no eminences, no politicians, not even LC chairpersons to be recognised. Just simple citizens burying a simple citizen.
The usual condolence messages were read, and those deserving thanks received them. I also witnessed something that is rare at funerals, and I found it very inspiring. The Imaam asked the congregation whether the deceased owed anybody any money. None raised their hands.
Then he asked whether there were any people who owed the deceased money; more than 10 people raised their hands.
The platform was dominated by Imaams and family members, and they eulogised Maama Saddam all the way – until the announcer suddenly reversed this trend. It was like bursting out to offload the heart of a heavy burden.
He declared without preamble: “Bakungubazi bannange, munzikirize mbakubagize olw’okufiirwa mwoyo gwa gwanga, mukwano gwammwe, muganda wammwe, Afande Muhammad Kirumira. Afande Kirumira abadde ayagala nnyo eggwanga lye, era abasajja abamusse tebeyibaalaa nti kino kyebakoze tebajja kukisasulira. Ne bwebuliba ddi, oba ddi, bajja kusasula.
Bwekuliba ku nsi kuno, bajja kugasimbaganda n’omukama nga essawa etuuse.”
This is loosely translated as: “Fellow mourners, allow me to convey to you my condolences upon the death of a patriot, your friend, your brother, Afande Muhammad Kirumira.
Afande Kirumira genuinely loved his country, and the people who have killed him should not delude themselves; sooner or later, they will pay for what they have done. However long it takes, they will pay. If they do not pay on this earth, they will pay when they meet face to face with their creator.”
With this declaration, the atmosphere of the funeral dramatically changed. The announcer appeared to have spoken for the majority of the mourners.
Everybody had something to say to their neighbours about who they thought had killed Kirumira, and what it meant for the country. Some loudly shouted a condemnation for the former Inspector General of Police (Gen Kale Kayihura), while others openly declared that the President was not innocent either.
For example, my neighbor said to me: “There are only two possibilities. Either the President is party to this killing, or he is in deep trouble. If he is not part of this operation, he will have sleepless nights.”
After sometime, the lead Imaam managed to re-establish some reasonable silence, and we performed the main prayer for the dead. But after the prayer, and throughout the burial, the discussion continued. It was no longer about Maama Saddam, it was about Afande Kirumira. The transformation was miraculous.
Mourners made open displays of anger against the killers, the police, Kayihura and the President. They even expressed dismay that he was going to address the country at night, to tell the usual lies. I wondered whether the police or the presidency still maintains informers in the audience to tell the system what the people think of them.
As I boarded a Kampala bound taxi and I had this feeling of someone who had attended two funerals in one, with Afande Kirumira’s dominating that of Maama Saddam. Inside the taxi, it was the same topic, and the same tone.
The President was addressing the nation. When he recounted the roads that the NRM government had constructed, one passenger angrily retorted: “Who will use the roads when they are killing us all?”
This got me wondering: For how long can a country so angry endure? How can we sustain a situation in which people openly express loss of confidence in the leadership, in the police and in the President? I bowed my head and said a prayer for my country.
Some of the previous murders
April 20, 2012: Sheikh Abdul Karim Sentamu, a prominent Muslim scholar, was gunned down on William Street, Kampala moments after he left a mosque on the same road.
June 22, 2012: Abubaker Kiweewa was shot dead by unknown assailants within the premises of his Prime Supermarket in Kyanja, a city suburb.
December 25, 2014: Abdul Kadir Muwaya, a Shiite leader popularly known as Dakhtur, was gunned down at his home in Mayuge District.
December 28, 2014: Sheikh Mustafa Bahiga was shot dead at Bwebajja Mosque on Entebbe Road.
March 30, 2015: Like the Muslim Sheikhs, unidentified assailants riding on a boda boda motorcycle gunned down Joan Kagezi, the senior principal state attorney in Kiwatule, a Kampala suburb, where she had made a stopover to buy fruits.
Kagezi, who was a prosecutor in the July 2010 twin bombing trial, was shot twice at close range by the assailants at around 7 am while she was seated in her official car.
May 21, 2015
Sheikh Abdulrashid Wafula, the Imam of Bilal Mosque in Mbale Town, was gunned down at around 9pm at the gate of his home in Kireka Village, Nakaloke Town Council, Mbale District.
June 30, 2015
Sheikh Ibrahim Hassan Kirya was shot dead by unknown assailants on a bodaboda motor cycle in Bweyogerere, Wakiso District.
The writer is a professor at the Department of Literature,Makerere University & National Chairman of Uganda Muslim Youth Assembly