At around 2pm, on July 5, 2014, Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces Corporal, Grace Nabimanya, was resting in his house after a long days work in his farm in Bigando Village, Kitswamba Sub-County, Kasese District.
He was utilising his time on leave after years on the battlefront to organise his farm. His children were busy completing their chores before sunset.
Suddenly, about 20 men arrived at Cpl Nabimanya’s home.
They calmly asked Cpl Nabimanya’s daughter whether her father was around. She naively told them that he was resting in the house and continued with her work.
The men entered the house and after a few minutes, she heard her father making an alarm.
She rushed into the house to see what had happened only to find her father on his knees pleading with the men to spare his life. The men, who were now armed with sticks and machetes which they had earlier concealed, hacked him to death.
After killing Cpl Nabimanya, the men hacked also his children: Pofia Karungi, Joseline Tarindeka, Rosette Kwarikunda, Endi Nabagye, Alice Akankunda and Monica Bariho to death.
They left the crime scene after burning the bodies of Cpl Nabimanya and his children and torching all houses in his homestead.
Neighbours who heard the assailants’ attack Cpl Nabimanya and his family; the victims’ plead for mercy and terrifying cries in pain as the thugs mercilessly hacked them to death, fled to the nearby bushes where they hid until the thugs had left the area.
Colleb Beinoburyo, a neighbour, rushed to the nearby Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) to seek help. He was, however, pursued by the assailants, who only broke off their chase when he reached near the UWA camp.
When Beinoburyo informed the UWA game rangers what had happened to his neighbours, armed with AK47 rifles, the rangers visited the scene but the assailants were long gone.
The police were later called in to investigate the matter.
Preliminary investigations indicated that the case was related to numerous incidents in which Basongora and those perceived to belong to the ethnic group were attacked by indigenous Bakonjo in Kasese District. Cpl Nabimanya was a Musongora.
The police investigators arrived at 6pm when the day was fading. Hope of finding the killers at night was a difficult thing in a mountainous area.
In the previous incidents, the assailants would run up the mountains after the attack, making it hard for security personnel to find the suspects.
Scene of crime officers carried out their work at the scene as police officers hunted for the suspects before the darkness fell.
Beinoburyo told police that he had seen the attackers and would identify them if he was given an opportunity.
The police officers carried out an operation in which they arrested several people who were suspicious with the hope of enabling witnesses identify the assailants.
Mathias Muhindo, a detective, carried out screening. Those arrested gave convincing alibis that proved they were not at the crime scene. Eyewitnesses too could not identify anyone they had seen in the attack among those who had been arrested.
Without forensic evidence and eyewitness account against the arrested suspects, Muhindo could not succeed in convincing officials of the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to sanction the charges.
However, through information garnered from the arrested people, the police were able to get more clues on who the assailants were.
Richard Natukunda, a resident of the village where the attack occured, told the police that he had seen a man he identified as Mawazo leading the assailants.
Muhindo’s investigation revealed that Mawazo’s true name was Mustaffa Ngongo.
Another eyewitness, Ronald Mpirirwe, strengthened the detective’s evidence when he also claimed to have seen Ngongo at the scene burning houses.
Beinoburyo told police that he saw another suspect nicknamed Bakamwega participating in the crime. Investigators’ background search revealed that Bakamwega’s real name was Hamisi Walina.
Other residents named more suspects.
The hunt for Ngongo and Walina started. When the duo were informed that the police were hunting for them, they fled their homes and went into hiding.
The police were joined in the search for the suspects by the army. Ngongo was later arrested and taken to Kasese Police Station where he was put in a suspect parade and identified by the Beinoburyo and Natukunda as the prime suspect in the attack.
Ngongo denied the allegations insisting that he was far away from the scene of crime on the fateful day.
The police searched his home for weapons used in committing the crime but found none. The hunt for Walina was futile.
Nevertheless, Muhindo’s report on Ngongo to the DPP was satisfactory and the file was sanction as the hunt for Walina continued.
Ngongo was taken to court and remanded on eight counts of murder. It took Muhindo’s team another seven months to trace Walina. The officers raided his new home.
“When we told him that he was under arrest, he removed his machete and threatened to cut us if we came near him. We had to use force to overpower him and arrest,” Muhindo said.
In his statement to the police, Walina maintained his innocence. He was subjected to the same criminal procedure Ngongo had gone through and several eyewitnesses picked him out in the suspects’ parade.
The same murder charges were slapped against him and he was taken to court and also remanded.
When the trial at Kasese High Court before Justice Anthony Ojok started, the duo denied the charges.
Most witnesses maintained what they told police detectives except Beinoburyo who couldn’t tell the sequence of events as he claimed to have seen them in the police statement.
Later, the assessors were called to give their verdict. Basing on Beinoburyo’s contradictions in his testimony, they doubted the evidence and agreed that the accused were not guilty of the eight offences.
Justice Ojok, in his judgment, disagreed with the assessors, saying that the inconsistencies in Beinoburyo’s statement were too minor to affect the strength of the evidence.
He was convinced that the two accused participated in the murder of Cpl Nabimanya and six others.
“The circumstances of his (Walina) arrest also speak volumes since he wanted to cut the arresting officers with a panga (machete), alleging that he thought that he was being attacked by thugs. Generally the conduct of Walina was not one of an innocent person,” Judge Ojok said.
“Both accused persons denied all the eight counts and raised the defence of alibi. However, the prosecution through its witnesses managed to sufficiently place the accused persons at the scene of crime because the offences were committed during the day, thus there was sufficient lighting. The accused were known to the witness for some time and there was close proximity,” Judge Ojok said.
“I find the accused persons guilty of all the eight counts and they are hereby each convicted as indicted,” he ruled on April 3, 2017.
Before the convicts, were sentenced, they pleaded with the judge to be given lighter sentences, saying it was their first time to commit a crime.
Ngongo said he had a big family of six which would suffer if he was given a long sentence.
Wanila said it was unfair to prosecute only them when the crime was committed by many people.
He asked the judge to spare his life because he had a family of six that he said would have no one to fend for them.
Justice Ojok ruled: “The convicts are first offenders and have been on remand for some time. They are family people and this was a group of about 20 people. On counts 1 to eight, I sentence each of the convicts to 40 years imprisonment and on count eight, I sentence each of the convicts to five years imprisonment. The sentences will run concurrently. Right of appeal explained.”