On February 29, 1996 Barclays Bank staff were coming from Entebbe International Airport with $500,000, which they were bringing to Kampala. As they approached Kitoro, they were stopped by gun-wielding men in military uniform.
trueForget his old life and his conviction, John Kamya Wavamuno who is facing life imprisonment, opens up to Charles Etukuri about life in prison and how salvation has transformed him
On February 29, 1996 Barclays Bank staff were coming from Entebbe International Airport with $500,000, which they were bringing to Kampala.
As they approached Kitoro, they were stopped by gun-wielding men in military uniform. A scuffle ensued and an escort Police officer identified as Wedulo was shot dead while the others fled. The thugs then grabbed half the amount of money and took off.
Meanwhile, John Kamya Wavamuno, a businessman, had borrowed $20,000 (then sh40m) from then Third Prime Minister Paul Etyang. Five days after the robbery, on March 4, 1996, Wavamunno went to pay off the debt. Etyang later noticed that the dollars paid to him were part of the stolen money because Police had published the serial numbers. He reported the matter to the Police.
Upon receiving the news that he was facing arrest, Wavamuno fled to Germany. He later acquired a European Union passport under the name Thomas Kabanda, supposedly born in Congo. This was after his Ugandan passport, number A027083, acquired in 1992, expired in 1997.
On leaving Germany, he settled in Mombasa, Kenya. Police detective John Martin Opio travelled to Mombasa. With the help of the Kenyan Police, he arrested Wavamuno and brought him to Kampala.
Sentenced to death
After a gruelling three years, the High Court Judge Constance Byamugisha sentenced the then 49-year-old to death on February 9, 1999 for aggravated robbery and murder.
He appealed and lost twice. He stayed on death row until the constitutional court ruled in 2006 that if a death sentence is not executed within three years, it is automatically turned into life imprisonment.
In real terms, life imprisonment means 20 years in jail, after which the inmate is free to go home.
Asked how he felt when the sentence was pronounced on him, he says: “At first I thought it was a dream but as days passed by, I knew it was the bitter truth I had to live with.”
Journey to salvation
Wavamuno says his sojourn in prison has taught him a lot and has given him an emotional experience that made him renounce his old habits and embrace salvation. He wants to use the rest of his days on earth to mend fences with God.
He has done a correspondence diploma in theology from Kampala International University, and is the head of the inmate’s Church of Uganda.
Reflecting on his life before detention, Wavamuno says he used to drive posh cars and would go to church to spot beautiful girls rather than pray. “I am a different person now. The old is gone. I have realised the true value of salvation.”
An avid newspaper reader, Wavamuno has kept himself up to date with the events happening in the country by getting a copy of his favourite newspaper through the welfare office every morning. Prison authorities say he now speaks fluent English.
Pro-active Wavamunno is chatty, witty and always ready to lend an ear to anybody who approaches him. He is actively involved in counselling people living with HIV in prison and encouraging them to take their medication.
He is also involved in giving them their medication every fortnight. “Currently we have over 392 clients. I work with two other counsellors and we are supervised by the doctor in charge of medical facilities at Luzira Upper Prison.”
Asked how he became a counsellor, Wavamuno says: “Professionally, I am a Germany trained mechanic. I was trained as a counselor while in prison and even acquired a certificate.”
But one thing still disturbs him. “Most of those I used to do business with have died under mysterious circumstances. I don’t understand why the rest died and I remain alive.
Maybe if I was out, I would also be dead by now.”
Despite suffering from a heart problem, Wavamuno is thankful to the prison administration for being so humane and allowing him to visit the Uganda Heart Institute Mulago for regular check-ups.
Born in a business family in Rugaaga, Isingiro district, Wavamunno started out as a trader in Mbarara town before moving to Kampala. His elder brother Gordon Wavamunno would later help transform him into a fully-fledged businessman. Today, he thinks greed was the root cause of his troubles, but all that has changed.
Prison series: Kamya Wavamuno, from robber to preacher