A beautiful wedding celebration was marred after the father of the bride died in a shoot out having been mistaken for a robber. Henry Nsubuga talked to the driver.
Driving in a Mitsubishi Pajero at about 60km per hour, Fred Mutebi, 46, noticed a dark object in the middle of the murram road ahead. He switched to full light and then slowed down. His eyes opened wider. His heart beat faster. As the vehicle got closer, Mutebi noticed it was a roadblock mounted with logs. At the roadside were gunmen.
A resident of Bugoba zone in Seeta, Mukono district, Mutebi works with a security firm and is the LC1 defence secretary for Bugoba zone. He had done security work long enough to figure out that the men were robbers and not security personnel. He had to hatch a plan. The person he was driving was a senior army officer, Maj. Achilles Tumushabe and his family.
It was coming to 10:00pm and they were returning from the wedding of Tumushabe’s daughter in Mitooma, 50km off the Mbarara- Kasese highway from Ishaka. The fateful day Mutebi narrates:
“I received an early morning call on a Tuesday. It was Maj. Tumushabe. I had spent many years without driving him. He requested me to take him and his family to his daughter’s wedding in Mitooma. I agreed because Tumushabe had been a
good boss to me. He was the kind of person who would listen to his subordinates.
Mutebi's car was damaged by the gunfire
“I met with Tumushabe on Wednesday in Kampala as we had agreed. We drove to Bombo Army Barracks, where he delivered a report, before we proceeded to Mbuya Army Barracks. Before we left, I suggested that he carries a gun for protection, but he declined, saying there was no danger in Ishaka.
On Thursday, at about 6:00am, I picked him and his family from Kajjansi (along Kampala-Entebbe road). It was a very long journey. We reached his village home at about 11:00pm that same day. On Friday, we had the kuhingira, a prewedding function, in Ishaka.
On Saturday morning, we went to St. Stephen’s Catholic Church for the wedding. The army band played music. The occasion was really wonderful. After the service, the band led us to Mitooma, where we had the reception.
At the reception, things went on smoothly and we enjoyed the function. At about 9:00pm, Tumushabe gave his speech as the father of the bride and then we had to leave soon after, because his wife had developed a fever. Some family members had suggested that we use a different route through Kitagata.
But before we left, Maj. Tumushabe had a conversation with someone I did not recognise. When he came back, he suggested that we use the route we had used earlier in the day, saying it was better. Unfortunately, he did not reach home alive.” “We had just left the wedding and everyone was in a joyous mood,” Mutebi recalls.
Normally, the journey from Mitooma to Ishaka takes about 45 minutes, but luck was not on their side. They had driven for about 20 minutes when they entered an ambush. The ambush scene, near Kitenga trading centre, was bushy with no homes nearby. Mutebi slowed down as if to stop, then suddenly sped off, leaving the gunmen open-mouthed.
After covering a safe distance, Tumushabe voiced his concern that many of the guests at the wedding party would use the same route and fall into the ambush. So he communicated to the district internal security officer of Bushenyi district, requesting for manpower to kick out the thugs.
In the meantime, they drove to Kasenyi Police Station, where they picked up two armed Police officers and returned to the ambush scene.
Maj. Tumushabe left his family at the station not knowing that they would never see him alive again. His selfless act would lead to his demise.
“At the Police station, there was no patrol vehicle, so Tumushabe suggested that I drive him with the two Police officers,” Mutebi recalls. He says Tumushabe kept communicating with the Police officers who were in a police patrol pick-up at the wedding.
“They told us that they were advancing to the crime scene. Tumushabe told them we were also going to the same place since we had picked up police officers for reinforcement,” he says. Mutebi drove cautiously and as they approached the scene, he noticed vehicles parked where they had met the robbers.
“We thought it was the robbers terrorising people returning from the wedding,” he narrates. Mutebi parked about 60 metres from the scene, contemplating how to approach the situation. “It was at that point that bullets started raining on our vehicle,” he says. Apparently, soldiers and officers had got to the scene and flushed out the thugs.
They then thought the Pajero was part of the robbery mission.“The officers in our vehicle fired a bullet in the air to alert the other side that we were not dangerous, but the other side misunderstood the signal. They continued firing bullets and advancing. Tumushabe and the policeman shouted, but in vain.
“I heard Tumushabe, who was seated in the co-driver’s seat, breath his last. He had tirelessly shouted, ‘do not kill us, I am Maj. Tumushabe’, but the other side could not hear his shouts.” Mutebi squeezed himself between the front seat and the dashboard as Tumushabe and a policeman collapsed dead. Their blood splashed all over Mutebi’s body.
The second policeman dived from the back seat into the bush. Mutebi did not run. He did not know where to run as bullets were flying from all directions. The sound of rapid gunfire filled the air for nearly 30 minutes, but to Mutebi it was like eternity. When the firing finally stopped, the soldiers approached the car to see if there was still any movement.
“I heard them coming to our vehicle. The army men started checking us. They realised that Tumushabe and a policeman had been killed.”
Mutebi’s injury was minor, but he was soaked in Tumushabe’s blood. Still not sure of the motive of the shooting, he pretended to be severely injured, which was believable because he was covered in blood. He was thrown into a police pickup van beside the dead bodies and driven to Kampala International University teaching hospital in Ishaka.
“I asked the officers why they had shot at us like that. Their leader answered that it was not the Police, but army officers who had shot at us,” he says.
A police report from the District Criminal Investigation Intelligence Directorate boss (Mitooma Police Station), Frank Nyehangane, also indicated that it was soldiers and not the Police that had carried out the shooting. According to the report, the soldiers were responding to shots from the Pajero.
Nyehangane confirms that several rounds were fired at the Pajero. They found Tumushabe and a Police officer, Simon Bariyo dead. The bullets had damaged the vehicle’s body, windscreen, engine and several other parts.
“Even though we had two policemen with guns in our vehicle, they only fired once in the air as a way of alerting the other police that we were not dangerous. But, even that did not help,” Mutebi says.
Meanwhile, Mutebi’s wife, Faith, shook with fear when her phone rung at about 1:00am and a voice at the other end delivered the news. “I was shocked because I heard that Mutebi was shot at with his boss. I did not know whether he was still alive or not. From that time, I did not sleep. I kept thinking about how I could reach my husband,” she said.
Mutebi’s mother, Latifa Najjuma says the death of her son would have ended her life. “God blessed me with seven children, but four of them are dead. The death of those four left me with holes in my heart, therefore Mutebi’s death would have finished me,” she said.
As Mutebi narrated his experience to the congregation at St. Luke’s Church of Uganda in Seeta about a month after the incident, tears rolled down their cheeks. Mutebi had got a bank loan to buy the car. He was worried about how to repay it. Fortunately, the Government repaired the car. But he will never forget Saturday August 3, 2013.
I survived a hail of bullets