After spending close to two years in custody, Brigadier Michael Ondoga, the former commander of the Ugandan peacekeeping contingent in Somalia has finally been set free
By Michael Odeng, Barbra Kabahumuza & Innocent Anguyo (Pictures by Micheal Odeng)
After spending close to two years in custody, Brigadier Michael Ondoga, the former commander of the Ugandan peacekeeping contingent in Somalia has finally been set free by the General Court Martial in Kampala.
Ondoga, 55, who had been on remanded at Makindye Military Police Headquarters’ cell, was on Friday freed by court session presided over by Court Martial Chairman- Maj. Gen. Levi Karuhanga.
The acquittal of the one-star general came after prosecution withdrew the remaining 12 counts of ‘making false accusations against his juniors to the Chief of Defence Forces (CDF), Gen. Katumba Wamala.’
This brought the number of counts dismissed against Ondoga to 22- making him a free man.
“The prosecution has discontinued criminal proceedings preferred against you (Ondoga). I accordingly discharge you unless otherwise held on other lawful charges,” Karuhanga stated.
Karuhanga nonetheless warned that the dismissal of the case does not bar the state from resurrecting the file if they get enough evidence.
Ondoga’s last days in court
On Tuesday, Ondoga who was deployed under African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) was freed of eight counts. They included- two counts of failure to brief; three counts of failure to execute one’s duties; offences related to operations; interfering with the process of law; and disobeying lawful orders.
This was after the state failed to prove its case as regards the eight counts beyond reasonable doubt, prompting court to shun any attempts to make Ondoga defend himself.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the same court acquitted Ondoga of another count of ‘failure to execute his duties’- after prosecution failed to prove the case.
The General Court Martial equally acquitted two other ex- AMISOM officers - Captain Joy Atugonza, the former Contingent Logistic Officer under AMISOM and Capt. Victor Chemsusu on charges of ‘failure to execute ones’ duties’ and ‘Fraudulent acts’ respectively.
Background to trail
At the onset of the trial nearly two years ago, prosecution led by Fredrick Kangwamu then making a case against Ondoga argued that the battle-hardened commander, a person subject to military law on Oct 3, 2013 made false accusations against his juniors to the CDF.
Kangwamu had said Ondoga made the false accusations against his juniors while appearing before the CDF at the UPDF headquarters in Mbuya, a Kampala suburb.
The junior officers said to have been falsely accused by Ondoga included- Brig. Sande Deus, Maj. Nasur Kibirige, Maj. Emmanuel Muhumuza, Maj. Amos Mukiibi and Maj. Mayanja Nkagi, Capt. Patrick Kuboyo, Capt. Mutwalib Labit Senyonga, Capt. Godfrey Muhoozi, Capt. Robert Kamara, Lt. Col. Edson Muhanguzi, Maj. Luziro Nuwagaba and Lt. Ali Muzoora.
September 2013: President Museveni summarily recalls at least 24 UPDF officers from Mogadishu- including Brig Michael Ondoga, the Commander of the Ugandan forces in Somalia, over alleged sale of food meant for soldiers.
It’s alleged that the President subsequently cancelled Brig Ondoga’s new appointment as military attaché to Nairobi and ordered that he and 23 others face court martial. Brig Ondoga was supposed to handover to Brig Dick Olum at the end of September 2013, to assume his new diplomatic job in Kenya.
Museveni’s decision followed an investigation by the military intelligence over reports of corruption involving top army officers in Mogadishu selling food and fuel.
October 2013: Ondoga is charged with eight offences before the General Court Martial at Makindye chaired by Brig Moses Ddiba Ssentongo.
He was remanded until November 5 for hearing of bail application.
According to the charge sheet, Ondoga allegedly failed to execute his duties in October 2012 when he failed to address food shortage despite complaints from the commander, and that he also failed to command and take control of his subordinates resulting into irregular transfer of Capt Julius Rubahimbya, who was reportedly opposed to the malpractices in the mission area.
It is alleged that the Brigadier failed to convene a board of inquiry to look into the circumstances under which his junior, Warrant Officer (WO) II Kenneth Mugusha, had deserted from the mission and that he diverted 15,000 litres of fuel thereby endangering the operational efficiency.
Ondoga was also charged with interfering with the process of law by allegedly obstructing investigators from taking documents that were important for their inquiries as well as abuse of and violence against inferiors in connection with detention of WOII Coleb Kashumbusha for seven days.
In a separate file, Brig Ondoga was charged jointly with Lt Col Sam Kirya, a former information officer at the mission, for allegedly giving false information about the enemy’s position at Janale and Sharambot. The duo was also charged with failing to stop an illegal power connection at Aljazeera Training Centre.
A junior officer, Capt Joy Atugonza, a former logistics officer was charged alone on five cases, including failure to ensure proper supply of food, failure to plan leading to shortage of food, water and issuing forged documents.
The other officer then on trial was the Operations Officer, Lt Col Chris Ogwal.
January 2014: The trial of Ondoga takes a new twist, with the charges changing from “theft” to “telling lies”. Ondoga would then be charged with 12 counts of telling lies or presenting false documents.
Army changes the charges to “telling lies” and lines up the then Chief of Defence Forces (CDF), Gen Katumba Wamala as the sole principal witness.
February 2014: Ondoga loses bid to have his trial conducted in the open court. Court martial ruled that Ondoga’s entire trial would be conducted behind closed doors to protect the country’s national interests.
March 2014: After spending over four months in the dungeons of Makindye Military Barracks, Ondoga is granted bail by the General Court Martial to receive specialised medical attention.
May 2014: Ondoga undergoes an emergency surgery procedure after he collapsed in military detention.
June 2014: Museveni appoints Maj. Gen. Levi Karuhanga as Court martial Chairman, replacing Moses Ddiba Ssentongo.
June 2014: The army court freezes the bank account of Ondoga, prompting his wife to level accusations of what she called a deliberate plot to destroy the one-star general’s 28-year “illustrious” military career and family.
November 2014: Ondoga fails to secure bail from the army’s General Court Martial for a fourth time- after being on remand for more than a year Though, the court martial offered a speedy trial for Ondoga.
April 2015: The military court sets May 4 to deliver the verdict on Ondoga and Lt. Col. Sam Kirya.
Brigadier Michael Ondoga finally freed by General Court Martial