By ChimpReports Investigations Unit
In the chilly wee hours of Sunday, November 1, 2020, a Joint Security team comprising counter terrorism experts, military intelligence personnel, police detectives and elite Special Forces units raided different Kampala suburbs.
Uganda’s security services had completed investigations into plans by suspected criminals to burn down some sections of Kampala especially fuel stations and fuel depots.
ChimpReports broke news about the security raids in which dozens were arrested and detained at different police stations for interrogation.
According to Deputy Kampala Police spokesperson Luke Owoyesigire, security forces swung into action after being informed that a group of suspected thugs was planning to disrupt the presidential nomination exercise starting, November 2.
“We have moved to different places of Kampala such as Kawempe, Makindye and Mutungo where we recovered pangas, tyres, fuel in jerry cans and drums among other items which suspects intended to use for the violence,” said Owoyesigire on Nov. 1.
This investigative website has now learned that during interrogation, the suspects who were rounded up in security raids, agreed to “cooperate” with detectives to shed more light on the plot to burn down Kampala.
The revelations were a big shocker for the country’s political establishment.
The plotters had a command structure, passwords and well-facilitated coordinators.
“We would avoid phone calls because security can listen to telecommunication conversations,” said one of the suspects only identified as Musa.
“So, we would cover parts of our boda boda number plates with mud and then meet in quiet places which are not covered by CCTV. We kept our helmets on as we held our small meetings at stages. Anyone would think we are waiting for customers but we would meet in groups of two of four,” Musa further told interrogators.
These suspects said they were under the command of a militia group known as Magic 17 which is loyal to presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi alias Bobi Wine.
The group is led by a one Gordon Ssebbagala – who serves as the main link between Bobi Wine and Magic 17.
Ssebbagala is said to have been arrested by security services.
In Kampala alone, Magic 17 reportedly boasts of 1,500 members.
ChimpReports does not have evidence implicating Bobi Wine in Magic 17’s alleged crimes. Efforts to reach his campaign team for comment did not bear fruit.
The ‘kidnap’ plot
However, what we know is that security is investigating claims that Magic 17 worked with Bobi’s team to fake his kidnap.
At the time, Bobi hinted on the state’s plans to block him from appearing on the presidential ballot paper.
According to the alleged plan under investigation, Bobi would have disappeared on the eve of the presidential nomination with plans to resurface later.
The propaganda arm of Magic 17 would have claimed that Bobi had been kidnapped and killed to create tension as it was the case with Amama Mbabazi’s bodyguard, Christopher Aine, in the 2016 general elections.
Thereafter, a fake video of Bobi being kidnapped beaten and tortured by men wearing fake UPDF uniform was to be circulated on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp.
The Magic 17 ‘forces’ would then use this situation to start the riots all over Kampala and other parts of the country especially Mbale, Soroti, Jinja, Gulu and Masaka.
Little did National Unity Platform (NUP) know that Magic 17 was heavily infiltrated by agents of the Islamic fundamentalist movement, Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), which is facing intense military pressure in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where new tarmac roads will be constructed.
Interestingly, this Magic 17 group and NUP’s foreign advisors, had other plans which Bobi’s Kampala-based associates had not foreseen.
For example, according to Magic 17 members who were interrogated by police detectives, Bobi Wine would have actually been killed and his body dumped on Kampala streets.
“While some of Bobi’s close advisors supported the idea of a fake kidnap to generate more interest in his presidential bid, they didn’t know what our real plan was,” said a suspect who is now in police custody, adding, “Bobi was to be killed to give justification for an uprising and foreign intervention to remove President Museveni from power.”
Magic 17’s alleged foreign funders living in different parts of the world including East Africa, United States and Australia would have called on international bodies such as United Nations to intervene – Libya style – to remove President Museveni from power.
During this period, Magic 17 members had reportedly stocked pangas to attack NRM loyalists especially Members of Parliament in Buganda region and burn down their residences.
Additionally, fuel stations along Entebbe road such as Mogas, Total and Shell and others along Jinja road and Bombo road were to be set ablaze.
Hundreds of Magic 17 members were to be ferried from different parts of the country to participate in the violence in the central region with the promise of Shs 700,000 each.
Fuel reserves of Shell and Total in different places would have been set on fire. Other fuel depots in Kyengera, Banda and petrol stations were to be bombed with Molotov cocktails.
A Molotov cocktail is a breakable glass bottle containing a flammable substance such as petrol (gasoline), alcohol, or a napalm-like mixture, with some motor oil added, and usually a source of ignition such as a burning cloth wick held in place by the bottle’s stopper.
On November 1, Owoyesigire said police were able to recover empty beer bottles and petrol which rioters intended to use to disrupt the presidential nomination ceremony.
Due to the relative ease of production, Molotov cocktails have been used by criminals, protesters, rioters, urban guerrillas, terrorists, irregular soldiers, or even regular soldiers short on equivalent military-issue weapons.
They are primarily intended to ignite rather than completely destroy targets, and are often used just as much to cause chaos as to actually do damage, sometimes being used as weapons during riots and mass protest.
Throwing Molotov cocktails would have sparked fire at fuel depots and fuel stations, leading to unprecedented destruction of property and mass deaths especially in Kyengera, Banda and Industrial Area.
During the 2009 ‘Kayunga protests’ Molotov cocktails were used to burn passenger buses in Kampala and Nateete Police station.
The same fire bombs were used to torch a grader belonging to DOTT Services in Kawempe and a government vehicle in Kasubi.
ChimpReports understands President Museveni was fully briefed about this situation.
He reportedly asked why intelligence organs had taken long to pick this information.
A few months earlier, the Internal Security Organisation (ISO) had been rocked by power struggles and abuse of operational funds – literally bringing the spy agency’s work to a standstill.
Nevertheless, President Museveni directed all security agencies including Special Forces Command (SFC) to beef up security in crowded areas such as markets and busy downtown streets, identify hotspots such as Bwaise and Makindye to gather more intelligence and also keep an eye on fuel stations and fuel depots.
The sophisticated plan of Magic 17 came to light in a video of last week’s protests.
In the video, unknown men delivered old tyres along the northern bypass and set them ablaze.
The tyres, which were carried on a small white truck, were covered with tarpaulin.
The men, who were expecting the tyres, quickly removed them from the truck while others brought fuel to set them on fire. The truck sped off while the rioters melted in crowds.
The process of delivering tyres and setting them on fire lasted only 17 seconds, underscoring the level of preparation and training by these groups.
Notably, Magic 17 knew the economic effects of the Coronavirus pandemic on the economy and livelihoods would serve as a lightning rod for the planned uprising.
Containment measures such as restrictions on travel, public gatherings, closure of businesses and schools have had severe impact on the economy and people’s means of survival.
According to World Bank, an estimated 3.15 million could fall deeper into poverty, adding to the 8.7 million people Ugandans currently living below the poverty line.
A recent survey conducted by the Uganda National Bureau of Statistics (UBOS), every fifth household had to borrow money to face the COVID-19 emergency since March 2020 irrespective of whether they were living in urban or rural areas.
The main reasons for borrowing ranged from employment shocks to loss of assistance from family or neighbors.
The UBOS report showed that about 18 percent of respondents mentioned closure of business, 24 percent inability to sell produce and 25 percent mentioned a reduction in sales.
The situation was worsened by the onset of heavy rains and flooding, and a locust invasion whose impact was expected during April-June of 2020. Overall economic growth is projected at 3 to 4 percent in FY2019/20, lower than the 6.3 percent that had been anticipated for the year.
According to UBOS, Two third of households are worried about the repayment of borrowed money within the repayment period, with higher levels of concern among the poorest and rural residents.
This partly created a fertile ground for wrong groups to plan an insurrection which authorities said has since been nipped in the bud.
It’s understood Bobi’s foreign advisors are taking advantage of his naivety and inexperience in global politics and cloak and dagger activities in the region to serve their own interests.
“Bobi Wine has the much-needed charm to pull crowds but he is being advised by evil-minded people he should distance himself from,” said a close associate of the NUP presidential candidate.
ChimpReports understands security agencies have since deepened investigations into the riots and also bolstered its presence in hotspots.
Deputy defence spokesperson Lt Col Deo Akiiki said the army would put in place “robust reinforced deployment” to protect critical infrastructure and installations and that all roads feeding into Kampala would jointly be manned.
The developments underscore the dangers of lapses in the intelligence organs on the county’s political stability.
They further underline the need to take youth unemployment more seriously by investing more resources in SMEs, vocational schools and increasing access to cheap capital.
Uganda is the world’s second youngest country with a median age of just 15.9. Some 800,000 young people reach working age every year and will continue to rise to around a million on average in the next 10 years to 2030.