5 years; family awaits justice for slain child

5 years; family awaits justice for slain child

As the Inspector General of Police admonished Mutabazi for guarding and trekking alongside the UPC leader, in Masaka’s densely-populated Nyendo township, security forces unleashed a hail

Heartbroken. Ms Olivia Naluwugge and Mr

Heartbroken. Ms Olivia Naluwugge and Mr Aloysius Walusimbi are the parents of the baby girl who was shot dead during the Walk-to-Work protests in Masaka District in 2011. Photos by Gillian Nantume

By Gillian Nantume

On April 21, 2011, Dr Besigye and his aides were arrested as they resumed Walk-to-Work, and remanded to Nakasongola Prison. Across town, the then Jinja Road Police Station Operations Commander Alphonse Mutabazi escorted the ex-president of the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC), Mr Olara Otunnu, from Nakawa, a city suburb, to Uganda House, the party headquarter in the city centre.

As the Inspector General of Police admonished Mutabazi for guarding and trekking alongside the UPC leader, in Masaka’s densely-populated Nyendo township, security forces unleashed a hail of bullets to stop a spontaneous demonstration over Dr Besigye’s arrest.

About 300 metres away, in Kitaka Zone, is the shop where 23-month-old Juliana Abigail Nalwanga, fondly called Abi, was shot dead. The events leading up to the catastrophe unfolded so rapidly and ended abruptly, in bloodletting, that the parents had neither the time nor the composition to make sense of it.

Baby Nalwanga’s mother, 28-year-old Olivia Naluwugge, however has a vivid recollection of the gruesome incident as if it happened yesterday. “I can never forget that day; it was a Thursday. Our women’s group had a meeting, so I locked the shop and took Abi to the salon.”

As the women were concluding their meeting, someone called to inform them that there was a riot at Nyendo trading centre. Naluwugge left the meeting at once, relocating to her shop where she stood at the doorway holding the baby.

The rioting had not spread Kitaka, the Nyendo neighbourhood where the victims lived, but plain-clothed soldiers from the sub-county headquarters arrived and began beating up people indiscriminately, forcing them into their houses and shops.

Naluwugge’s neighbour refused and fought back, telling the soldiers he was not a rioter so they had no right to beat him. Other young men joined in. The soldiers ran away but the young men, now charged, lit old tyres on the road. Rioters fleeing bullets in the trading centre joined them. “When I saw the burning tyres, I entered my shop, with my neighbour’s daughter, Fina, and locked the (metal) door. I had prepared matooke so I went outside, through the back door, to mash the food. Abi followed me while Fina remained in the shop watching TV.”

Soon, Ms Naluwugge heard gunshot ringing and and people shouting. She continued mashing the matooke, ignoring the cacophony for a while.

Suddenly, a bullet tore through the door, filling the shop with smoke, and cracked soda bottles stacked in the fridges.

Ms Naluwugge dashed into the shop. Abi was standing still. “I rushed to her, asking what was wrong.” There was no response.

On gripping her, Ms Naluwugge saw blood gushing out of the baby’s forehead. She said: “I wondered if this was the teargas people talked about. I grabbed a jerrycan and poured water on her. She fell down.”

The bullet had gone through Nalwanga’s forehead, and exited to hit the fridge. Another one hit the top of her head, searing her hair. A third bullet singed her fingers, hitting Fina’s breast. “I screamed. I called the salon and told them Abi had been hit by something. They were afraid to come out. I could hear more blasts outside,” narrates Ms Naluwugge.

Customer at the nearby salon and pork joint crouched to the ground, but the doors remained ajar.

They could see what was happening outside. One witness, who later testified in court, said they saw Warrant Office Class I (WOI) Paul Mugenyi, a reserve soldier known in the area as Mulokole (born-again Christian), firing shots into every shop. Some brave people shouted to alert him that he had killed someone. Mugenyi reportedly sprinted behind the shops, discharging suppressive fire or covering shots.
Ms Naluwugge screamed louder, frightened and confused.

She said: “I forgot how to open the lock. When I finally opened the door, I saw, in the light, that my child looked dead. I fainted.”
An armoured UPDF vehicle drove down the road, with uniformed soldiers aboard shooting indiscriminately.

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