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Death by poisoning: Politicians express fear

The Sunday Monitor of May 20, 2007, broke the story of plan to poison certain politicians then

The Sunday Monitor of May 20, 2007, broke the story of plan to poison certain politicians then. COURTESY PHOTO 



Posted  Sunday, December 23  2012 at  02:00

In Summary

Precincts of Parliament. An attempt on the lives of top opposition potiticians around 2004, was allegedly to be executed in the Parliament canteen. A flask containing “poisoned tea” had already been served to Gen. Muntu and Mr Sabiiti, when Mr Wacha, who reportedly was not a target for the poisoning, joined them.

KAMPALA

With the sudden death of outspoken Butaleja Woman MP Cerinah Nebanda due to suspected poisoning, a monster, the powerful in this country are very scared of but rarely address publicly, has been brought to the fore again.

To Bunyole County MP Emmanuel Dombo, a parliamentary commissioner, it is once again that point in time when politicians raise their guard. “Whenever allegations of poisoning come up,” Mr Dombo says, “We exercise extra care but then drop our guard as time passes.”

Fears and allegations of poisoning in recent times have come in thick and fast. A few months ago, Makindye East MP Hussein Kyanjo, a tough government critic, said he feared he had been poisoned following a long illness. The hitherto eloquent Justice Forum (Jeema) secretary-general now speaks with difficulty and has not attended Parliament for several months.

Former FDC president Kizza Besigye and his party’s Women’s League chairperson, Ms Ingrid Turinawe, also recently raised fears of possible poisoning when members of their families reportedly contracted strange illnesses. Dr Besigye has claimed more than once in the past that he has heard of plots to import poison for the purpose of killing political opponents.

Bi-partisan threat
But Mr Dombo, a member of the ruling party, says the fear of possible poisoning is “bi-partisan”, afflicting politicians on both sides of the political divide. President Yoweri Museveni has supported this view in the past, particularly in 2007 when he insinuated that former Defence ministry Permanent Secretary Noble Mayombo could have been poisoned. Brig. Mayombo fell ill and died of what doctors called multiple organ failure occasioned by acute pancreatitis.

A report of the medical investigation into Brig. Mayombo’s death was never made public and in the wake of Nebanda’s death, Mayombo’s family has resurrected the matter. By the time Mayombo, a former intelligence chief, died of suspected poisoning, there was an inconclusive inquest into an alleged plot to poison Maj. Gen. Mugisha Muntu, now the FDC president, Rukiga County MP Jack Sabiiti and former Oyam North MP Ben Wacha.

Mission from within
The attempt on the trio’s lives, around 2004, was allegedly to be executed in the Parliament canteen. A flask containing “poisoned tea” had already been served to Gen. Muntu and Mr Sabiiti, when Mr Wacha, who reportedly was not a target for the poisoning, joined them.

Mr Sabiiti says they were tipped off about the plot to poison them by a former employee at the canteen, whose identity they gave to then Speaker Edward Ssekandi to cause an investigation into the matter. As a result, Mr Sabiiti says, Mr Ssekandi invited then Minister of Internal Affairs Ruhakana Rugunda to discuss the matter in the presence of the would-be victims but the investigations were never concluded. “The suspect was also quizzed by the Speaker,” Mr Sabiiti says. “But we have not seen any developments about the case since.” Mr Sabiiti says he wrote a number of letters to Mr Ssekandi, asking about the status of investigations but received no conclusive answer.

Mr Sabiiti says they also divulged the details of the canteen staffer who tipped them off about the plot and the employee was summoned to brief the Speaker. But Mr Sabiiti does not know what became of his “saviour” afterwards, although he is sure he no longer works at the canteen.
Gen. Muntu also confirmed the incident of suspected poisoning but, he says, he decided to move on when he failed to get “concrete” facts about what exactly happened. He was already used to a strict life as a former military officer, who once worked in intelligence.

Failed attempts
A repeated attempt to get Mr Ssekandi, who is now the Vice-President was futile. Mr Dombo was already in Parliament when the poison allegations came up but he says that on assuming office as parliamentary commissioner, he found nothing to show that the Parliamentary Commission ever took up the matter. “It seems it was solely handled by the Speaker,” Mr Dombo says.

The impasse about the handling of the investigation into Nebanda’s death, Mr Sabiiti says, is borne of the distrust the public harbours about the will and ability of state institutions to “seriously deal with suspected cases of poisoning”.

Nebanda’s family, in conjunction with Parliament, has insisted on a parallel investigation into the cause of her death, leading to the arrest of Mulago hospital pathologist Dr Sylvestre Onzivua on his way to South Africa to carry out an independent investigation.

Scared political class
But regardless of how the impasse over Nebanda’s death ends and whether the threat posed by political poisoning is real or imagined, the political class is very scared of the possibility of being poisoned. Mr Sabiiti says he is very strict with what he eats and drinks in hotels, bars or public gatherings and even in Parliament. He says: “I make sure I eat and drink of what others have taken.”

For a long time when Mayombo run affairs at military intelligence and defence, his former colleagues say he would carry along a tea flask and didn’t eat anything provided at his places of work, all in the fear of being poisoned. Strangely, opposition politicians usually accused him of harbouring plans to poison them.

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