During the 2020 campaigns, Regan Fred Lule, a former bodyguard and intelligence officer of Robert Kyagulanyi, typically wielded his power in the shadows of his former boss and presidential candidate of the opposition National Unity Platform, NUP.
In this second interview, Lule gives a rare inside look into the twists and turns of the Kyagulanyi campaign, which was closely shadowed by the police and military. He lays out in detail how an ebullient Christmas holiday turned ugly on December 27, 2020. December 27 was the sad day Kyagulanyi’s other bodyguard Francis Senteza Kalibbala was run over by an alleged military vehicle Reg. N0. H4DF 2382.
It was also the day, Ashiraf Saif-Allah Kasirye, a reporter with Ghetto Media, an online TV affiliated to Kyagulanyi’s NUP, was shot in the head.
After over 22 days on the road – worming their way around various security hurdles, arrests and beatings, Kyagulanyi hosted his entire campaign team of about 150 people at his wife’s village home in Kyempene in the western district of Ntungamo district from December 23 to December 25. For the two days, Lule says security respectfully stayed away and Kyagulanyi was able to freely mingle with his team and even do a mini-concert for them and the locals.
“We reviewed in an informal way how the campaign trail had been. For us as security, we had our concerns we needed to relay to Kyagulanyi. The politicians on the trail were driving badly and the boda boda riders were not security-conscious. They would drive in front of police patrol cars while taunting them and police would knock them over. They got injured. So, we used that occasion to tell the president to caution them,” Lule said.
“We also informed him that some people were fraudulently soliciting money on our behalf as security. We also told him that although we had managed to root out majority of (gangster) Sobi and Sipapa’s gangsters, we were seeing so many police informants taking notes and recordings, making some of Kyagulanyi’s team members uncomfortable. But Kyagulanyi said if they are just recording you at my rallies, there is no harm, don’t mind them, they are just doing their spying job.”
In Ntungamo, he said locals were angry with the now acquitted minister of Labour Mwesigwa Rukutana for grabbing a gun from his bodyguard and attempting to shoot at people.
“The locals said they were very angry with Rukutana and were not going to vote for him, which indeed came to pass. They said they did not like the other NRM candidate Naome Kabasharira but Rukutana had forced them to make that decision,” he said.
From Kyempene, the team headed to Rakai and Kyotera for a rally but police blocked them. After the botched rallies, the locals then lined the roads to at least have a glimpse of Kyagulanyi. But police fired teargas and bullets, which incensed the villagers even more. The angry locals surrounded the vehicle of the police operation commander and threatened to beat him up.
The villagers started attacking police officers and they in turn fired bullets and tear gas. In the process, they shot the tyres of Kyagulanyi’s vehicle. The locals brought a spare tyre, and with police retreating, Kyagulanyi and team drove to Masaka. According to Lule, Kyagulanyi for security reasons always kept his final destinations and stopovers to himself.
“You could be driving to a certain destination and then suddenly he makes a 360-degree turn and you start heading in the opposite direction. Even his core security detail would not know. To stay undetected, in Masaka he switched cars several times and we also lost him at some point. We were also surprised to see him in church with [Masaka Municipality MP] Mathias Mpuuga,” he said.
Perhaps angry that he had beaten their security surveillance detail, when he returned from church, police started lobbing teargas canisters inside Mpuuga’s home. The campaign team was unceremoniously driven out and headed towards Lwengo district. But along the way, they were treated to bouts of teargas.
“One canister hit NBS TV’s Daniel Lutaaya directly in the leg. Moments later, I saw him struggling to the point of almost losing his camera. I had to surrender my boda boda to him. This time the police was targeting journalists. A police patrol car deliberately knocked one of our vans, which knocked about six boda bodas in front including Lutaaya’s. They all fell down. This time, I couldn’t help Lutaaya but luckily, I saw him get up on his own.” Lule narrates.
With Kyagulanyi refusing to bow to police orders to use the longer route to Lwengo, a standoff ensured in Kyabakuza, pitting police against the army. The army was blocking his way while police was firing teargas canisters. The Counter-Terrorism (CT) commandant didn’t want the situation to escalate further.
“There was an arrogant guy called Afande Mukiibi; he always moved with four patrol cars. Kyagulanyi exchanged bitter words with him telling him he had blocked his earlier rallies in Rakai and Kyotera and now he was here in Masaka blocking the road. The CT commandant told the army guys, ‘you say you don’t want him in Masaka; so, let him drive off. Let him go. How will he leave Masaka if you’re blocking the road?’ He was joined by the district police commander but as they were still talking, a teargas canister landed between them. They took cover. Afterwards, the commanders started quarrelling between themselves.”
Journalists including NTV’s Ali Mivule, according to Lule, were recording the quarrel between the commanders. A bitter Kyagulanyi told Afande Mukiibi, “You have blocked all my rallies in the region, but the good thing is, all this has been captured on camera and is on record.”
“A certain officer came and told Mivule; switch off your camera. Switch off your camera, Mivule refused and told him I am a journalist doing my work. I then saw the guy loading his gun with a canister and I told Mivule to take cover and hide behind the vehicle. Amazingly, Mivule stayed there still recording. The guy fired and the canister hit him (Mivule) and he fell. After shooting at Mivule, the same officer now took aim at Ashraf who was doing a live broadcast – saying, you see because what they are doing is illegal they are now even fighting between themselves.”
The now angrier officer told Ashraf who was atop Kyagulanyi’s car to stop recording and get down. He again ordered him to switch off the camera, but he refused. This time he switched to the AK-47 rifle.
“Kyagulanyi was standing with a woman politician in the vehicle and we told her to get into the vehicle because the teargas was too much. Afterwards, we also told Kyagulanyi to pick his helmet. When Kyagulanyi climbed down to pick his head helmet that is when this officer fired directly at Ashraf. If a teargas canister can be loaded on an AK-47 rifle, then he shot him with a canister but what I saw was an AK-47. Within that moment, Ashraf had fallen off the vehicle and blood was oozing out of his head. I am one of those who believe that that shot was not meant for Kyagulanyi as some claimed. Kyagulanyi didn’t even initially notice until he saw us running towards him,” Lule says.
Kyagulanyi reportedly told his team to try to save Ashraf’s life but many thought he had died. He warned them against retaliating because many by this time had picked stones to start engaging the police.
“It was my first time to see Kyagulanyi cry. He cried after seeing Ashraf motionless. We carried Ashraf’s body to the commander’s vehicle but he locked the doors and later drove away. One-by-one all the Masaka police officers started disappearing. We drove to Masaka hospital but there was no surgeon, no oxygen, no doctor – just nurses who gave him first aid. Kyagulanyi then asked if there was oxygen in the hospital’s ambulance. Later, he said we should drive straight to Kampala.”
Kyagulanyi’s campaign trail ambulance didn’t have oxygen therein and even then it was among the trail vehicles that had been blocked by police.
KALIBBALA KNOCKED DEAD
As the convoy carrying the injured Ashraf drove to Kampala, at Busega roundabout, they found another military roadblock. Kalibbala, with his head out of the window, gestured to the officers wondering whether they had brains to block a vehicle carrying an injured person.
When the police driver saw him, he rammed his vehicle into the side of the van. It lost control and in the process Kalibbala was thrown onto the road. The military vehicle then allegedly ran over him and killed him instantly. The remaining security officers and Kyagulanyi’s campaign team all froze for a moment.