Akena’s gruesome murder reawakens sleeping Ugandans to currents burbling underneath

Moses Odokonyero_closeup pix

The writer, Moses Odokonyero

Kenneth Akena Watmon was buried in Kitgum on Wednesday last week. The burial marked his final journey on earth at the young age of 33.

The man who allegedly pulled the trigger that let out a bullet(s) which cut Akena’s life is a Mathew Kanyamunyu, a businessman.

The cause of the shooting was reportedly a scratch on Kanyamunyu’s luxury car by Akena as the deceased reversed his car. Where the shooting took place and almost everything else about the murder remains a matter of speculation.

Kanyamunyu and his girlfriend, Cynthia Munwangari, a Burundian national are in custody to help police with investigations on the homicide. Two of Kanyamunyu’s brothers have also since been arrested.

Akena is no more but his gruesome murder let out ugly undercurrents burbling underneath Uganda.

HELLO, a raunchy publication owned by the Red Pepper led with a sinful screamer a day after the murder: ‘‘Munyankore Man shoots Acholi Guy Dead To Impress Babe @Game Mall.’’ For this sin, the newspaper’s parent company, the Red Pepper, received a swift rebuke from the Media Council, the regulator.

The screaming HELLO headline appeared leisurely but it was an attempt to connect to the undercurrents beneath Uganda.  On dusty streets and in drab gin bars away from politically correct polished talk of an ‘‘integrated multi tribal Uganda,’’ tribe remains very much an identifier. HELLO’s crassness was meant to connect to that.

HELLO is not an ideological publication. It is a gossipy outfit with characteristics of the 1830’s penny press in America that were big on sensationalism, sex and scandal but inadequate on quality journalism.

By trumpeting a divisive headline, the publication’s primary interest was unlikely stoking sectarianism but rather profits. The risk of the headline though is that it unwittingly fed into old historical feuds between north and south, the widening class gulf in Uganda and the widely held perception that people from a certain part of the country are rolling down a bigger chunk of the pie.

A fundamental change of the NRM’s long rule has been the shift of the military from its ‘‘historical home’’ in the north to western Uganda, debunking a fat colonial legacy in the process. The unintended consequence (from the NRM perspective) of this shift has been a change in perception that the guns are now in western Uganda as they were in the north in the 1980’s. From this viewpoint, the HELLO headline about a Munyankore man shooting an Acholi man inadvertently reinforces an existing perception.

News of Akena’s tragic death was followed by talk of ‘‘unity for justice’’ in the Acholi community.  The quick retreat to tribe to organise and seek support and comfort in trying times is a damnation of the Uganda state in its ability to be just and fair to citizens. This perception about the state is not from Mars.  You can always literally hear the groaning of the Uganda justice system whenever a big fish gets caught in its cogs.

‘‘In public affairs perception is as bad as reality,’’ wrote Victor Karamagi (Daily Monitor, November 18). In September 2009, when the Kabaka was blocked from visiting Kayunga riots broke out in Kampala and people of a certain physical appearance were targeted. Akena’s death and the sectarian undertones that followed is also based on the same perceptions. His murder serves to reawaken sleeping Ugandans to what is burbling beneath. Fortunately this burbles also provide a pointer to the managers of our public affairs on what to do. For as long as the perception that Uganda does not serve Ugandans but the oligarch class persists, sectarianism will continue to pose a threat to the country.