When a story first broke that a man with the motive of harming the family of musician Joseph Mayanja, popularly known as Jose Chameleone, had been nabbed and had burnt himself, Ugandans sympathised with the artiste.
But testimonies from neighbours and eye witnesses now leave many asking questions. Did 27-year-old Robert Karamagi really burn himself, or was he set on fire? Charles Etukuri weighs the evidence so far.
On December 26 last year, 27-year-old Robert Karamagi entered the home of Joseph Mayanja, popularly known as Jose Chameleone, in Seguku, in the wee hours of the morning. Shortly after, the Police was called in and told that an intruder had set himself on fire.
A day later, he succumbed to injuries he had sustained and died at Mulago Hospital. Conflicting reports have emerged from the musician, the deceased’s family and eye witnesses, as each tries to explain what exactly happened.
Was Karamagi an intruder as alleged by the Mayanja family or was he known to them? If he was known to them, why did they rush to deny him? Did he douse himself or was he doused by the musician and part of his Leone Island crew? Why has the Mayanja family refused to hand over the Close Circuit Camera (CCTV) footage to the Police, yet they claim they had the recordings of what transpired? Why did the Police rush to declare Karamagi an intruder, yet they had information to the contrary? Why did they fail to take a statement from him? Will Karamagi’s family get justice?
Piecing up the mystery
According to initial reports, Karamagi, 27, went to Chameleone’s house in the wee hours of Boxing Day. A statement issued by Leone Island reads in part:
“The intruder took advantage of the fact that the Police guards Chameleone’s home between 6:00pm and 7:00am. He jumped over a gate that had no guard and managed to make his way to the living room.”
Sunday Vision has, however, learnt that the gate was open at the time Karamagi entered the home. Leon Island claims that the musician was asleep at the time, having come back at 4:00am from his Christmas performances. Eye witnesses, however, say the musician was present when Karamagi was being burnt.
The storied building is occupied by six people, including Chameleone, his wife Daniella Atim, their three children and a
After entering into the home, Karamagi then proceeded to the living room and started collecting the musician’s valuables, which included a laptop, phones and wallet. He then proceeded to forcefully open the drawers. The noise woke Atim, who came downstairs to see what was happening. As she approached the living room, she came face-to-face with the intruder
and demanded to know who he was and what he was doing in the house.
After he failed to explain himself, she made an alarm, waking her husband and Leone Island crew members, who were in the boys’ quarters of the same building.
Fearing that he had been cornered, Karamagi ran out of the house and purportedly returned with a five-litre jerrycan containing a flammable liquid and a lighter. He then stood at the main door of the house and threatened to burn them down if they moved near him.
He started shaking the jerrycan in an attempt to spill the contents on Atim and the houseboy. In the process, some of it spilt on him and it was then that he set himself alight.
In her earlier statement, however, Atim told the Police that she had called Chameleone, who was sleeping in their bedroom for help when she found Karamagi in their living room.
Karamagi not a stranger
But even as Chameleone and his family deny ever dealing or meeting Karamagi, Sunday Vision has learnt that the deceased was a regular visitor to the family.
On several occasions, whenever he was not selling second hand clothes, he would be at the musician’s home doing errands for the family.
The area LC1 Chairperson of Seguku Zone 5, Godfrey Kitongolo, confirms that the deceased was known to the musician.
“He is the one who even dug the foundation of the house Chameleone is living in,” says Kitongolo.
Three weeks before his death, Karamagi had reportedly mowed and cleaned the musician’s compound, but the family had refused to pay him for his services.
Karamagi wanted the money for Christmas and despite attempts to get the musician to pay him, his pleas fell on deaf ears. Sources also say he had been supplying part of the musician’s crew with a certain substance meant to keep them high. A member of the crew who spoke to Sunday Vision says they knew Karamagi well.
According to this member, tired of the way he was being taken for granted, Karamagi threatened to do harm to the family if he was not paid by December 23.
Chameleone’s family insists that all that happened was captured by the CCTV cameras that are installed at the residence. But when the Police asked the family to hand over the footage, they claimed the system did not store recordings, but could only relay happening events in real time.
The deceased’s father, Maj. Benedict Kyamanywa, says his son had mental problems as a result of continuous drug abuse and the whole village knew about it. “We had taken him to Butabika Hospital for treatment and he had stabilised,” says Kyamanya.
It is believed that on the day he was allegedly burnt, he had come to demand his money, but in the process disagreed with
the occupants he found in the compound.
“Shortly after we saw him enter through the gate, we heard a scuffle, then somebody wailing and calling out for help,” says a neighbour. Moments later, the Police arrived and picked the badly burnt Karamagi.
According to Kyamanywa, his son called him when he was admitted at Mulago Hospital and told him that the musician had ordered his bodyguards to seize him, pour an inflammable substance on him and burn him.
“He never told me what they had disagreed about,” Kyamanywa says. The father says his son told him that Chameleone himself tied him with ropes as his guards pinned him down.
“He told me that it was only when his condition worsened that his wife called the Police to come and take him away,” Kyamanya says.
The father’s statement has been corroborated by a 13-year-old boy who claims he witnessed the incident. He recorded his statement with the Police. According to the boy, Karamagi was burnt by members of the Leone Island.
The local Police has also been put on the spot over the manner in which they handled the matter. The district Police commander of Kajjansi, Ibrahim Saiga, says Karamagi had been caught stealing and that he had burnt himself using petrol that he had carried.
A neighbour disputes this statement, saying he saw the deceased enter the home that morning and he was not carrying anything like a jerry can.
Asked why he rushed to accept the family’s version of events without further investigation, Saiga said: “We received information that there was an intruder in the home, who had burned himself and we acted on the information based
on what the complainant had told us.”
Despite efforts by Karamagi to try and explain his case before the Police, they quickly handcuffed him and pushed him under the Police patrol car seats and took him to Kajjansi Police Station, before dumping him at the casualty wing in Mulago Hospital.
The Police say when they came to the home, Karamagi was violent, so they had to handcuff him. “He wanted to grab a gun from the Police. It took the effort of five policemen to control him,” says Saiga.
However, neighbours say it was the pain that had been inflicted on him that made him cry out. “He was writhing in pain, crying out that he had been burnt and wanted help, but instead, they continued pushing him under the car,” the neighbour says. “What did you expect us to do at the time? This was a suspect and there was no time to ask because we had a complainant who told us his life was at stake,” says Saiga.
Something does not add up
A highly placed source privy to the investigation told Sunday Vision that the story being presented by the complainants did not add up.
“There are a lot of contradictions and we highly doubt that the events being presented by both the musician’s family and friends paint a picture of what actually transpired at the home. If it was really petrol, then definitely the damage would have
been bigger and we would have seen the whole house or parts of the compound burnt. Besides, a burning man would have run around the compound writhing in pain and as a result, he would have spread the fire as he ran to try and extinguish it,” the source said.
When Sunday Vision visited Chameleone’s home, we established that the only area that got burnt was a small part that had lowers. The family says despite calls that a proper investigation be done, the Police did not take a statement from
the deceased even when he was still alive.
Investigators have not looked into the conduct of Chameleone immediately after the incident. He suddenly left for Juba for a musical show.
On his return, Chameleone, in an exclusive interview, said the event has traumatised him and his family. “I will never forget this event because it has put me in the middle of a rock and hard place. I am being implicated in something which just jumped into my life by a whisker, it is very traumatising,” he said.
He said the public was judging him and making baseless conclusions. “People are saying I beat him, burnt him up and so many things, but I am a parent who cannot inflict pain on someone’s child; he intruded my house and I acted as a responsible citizen by calling the Police,” Chameleone insists.
He says he is sorry that Karamagi lost his life, yet he did his best to save him by alerting the Police.
“I sincerely pass on my condolences to the bereaved family and friends of Karamagi,but I am very interested in the final investigation report by the Police such that the truth comes out. I am not above the law and I am ready for the outcome,” says Chameleone.
Saiga, however, says they have fresh leads into the case and have opened up a new file and recorded statements.
“The facts have now changed and we are no longer going by the statements we were first given by the family,” Saiga says. Karamagi was buried on December 30 in Fort Portal.