On September 15, buy more about 2006, a youthful man born in Katakwi District took a decision to join the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF).
Putting his life on the line in defence of his country was a dream Richard Ekunyuk was eager to realise.
After intense training in Uganda, RA/202501 Ekunyuk was deployed in the 33 Battalion and later UGABAG VIII which served in the war-torn Somalia.
The then Chief of Personnel and Administration, Col Charles Bakahumura described Ekunyuk as “among the chosen few who were entrusted with international duty of restoring peace and stability in a sister country of Somalia that had been chaotic for more than two decades.”
Hell broke loose on August 5, 2011 at 1200 hours at the Red Mosque in Mogadishu, Somalia.
According to RA/152967 Cpl Mathew Odur Ochira, he was deployed with Ekunyuk at the Red Mosque which had turned into a battleground between UPDF and Al Shabaab snipers.
Ochira and Ekunyuk had an observation hole called a ‘Blue Tooth.’
“At that time, the opposing forces began firing in our positions,” recalled Ochira.
“This prompted Ekunyuk to peep through the Blue Tooth and see where the insurgents were positioned. He saw the fighters and informed me of their position. Together we started returning fire,” he added.
A heavy exchange of gunfire ensued as Al Shabaab combatants showered bullets on the UPDF position.
In that process, a bullet struck Ekunyuk.
“I heard Ekunyuk saying loudly that he had been shot in the head. When I turned, I saw him lying on the ground and later died,” said Ochira.
Despite wearing a protective gear on the head, Ekunyuk was shot in the eye. The sniper’s bullet came through the neck.
The bullet shattered Ekunyuk’s eye, base skull and injured branches of the carotid arteries which led to hemorrhage and hemorrhagic shock.
That would mark an end to the blossoming career of the 29-year-old Pte Ekunyuk.
The death would break his father’s heart as his son whom many looked up to was no more.
Killed in action, Ekunyuk also was a source of bread for the poor family.
Col Dr V Kawooya who examined Ekunyuk’s body testified before the AMISOM Board of Inquiry that the soldier succumbed to “extensive hemorrhage” and that he “died after some minutes.”
The board of Inquiry said in its report dated October 19, 2011 that it didn’t find any evidence of negligence into Ekunyuk’s death.
The committee chaired by Lt Col Miyaga and comprising Maj Ojok, Capt Nduga and Lt Mungatihe; recommended that the family of the deceased “be compensated by AU.”
The then top Ugandan commanders in Somalia, Paul Lokech and Maj Gen Fred Mugisha also endorsed the idea of compensating Ekunyuk’s family.
AMISOM pays $50,000 (Shs 180m) to the family of every soldier killed on peacekeeping or enforcement mission in Somalia.
Yet, six years down the road, the family of Ekunyuk has never received a penny as compensation.
Ekunyuk’s father, Peter Akongoi says he has tried to secure his son’s death compensation in vain.
The development underscores the challenges families of the deceased endure in pursuit of compensation for the loss of their loved ones.
Akongoi was instructed by the UPDF to organize a family meeting to secure rights to pursue the compensation.
The guidelines for family meetings are: Clan leader and area LC 1 to bring together family members; meeting should identify dependants, guardians, widows, children left behind and their age.
The family meeting is also required to identify properties left behind by the deceased and if some have been given away.
It’s also expected to select the person to follow up on the benefits. The minutes must be signed and endorsed by the LC 1 chairman.
All this was done at Abelebuku Village in Aliakamer Parish, Katakwi Sub-county on May 19, 2015.
On October 7, 2015, a claim for the survival benefits was duly filed with the AMISOM Coordination Office in Bombo barracks and the family was promised payment within two months.
Akongoi says “the UPDF have to date remained adamant and negligent to fulfill the claim of the plaintiff despite several pleas and reminders” to pay his son’s death compensation.
Through his lawyer Emmanuel Wanimba & Co. Advocates, Akongoi said in a plaint before Kampala High Court that the family of the deceased has “suffered untold mental anguish for which we claim general damages.”
UPDF Speak out
In a letter to Akongoi’s lawyers seen by ChimpReports, Lt Col GR Owor, a military assistant to then Chief of Defence Forces Gen Katumba Wamala, said the office had “crosschecked with the AMISOM Coordination office and the available information indicated that the file regarding payment of the said survivor benefits is still with the African Union (AU) awaiting clearance for payment.”
Military sources told this investigative website that frustration and anger with AU’s bureaucracy has been rising in recent years.
“At one time we wanted to pull out of Somalia because of such reasons,” said a source who preferred anonymity so as to speak freely.
“The High Command chaired by President Museveni at Entebbe even resolved that we disengage but AU and international community persuaded him to stay in these foreign missions,” a source added.
But the UPDF needs to be seen doing more to obtain it’s killed soldiers’ compensation.
Other sources said “bureaucracy within the UPDF and failure to honour timelines in seeking compensation” were also partly responsible for the mess.
Efforts to obtain a response from AU didn’t materialize as our queries went unanswered.
UPDF Spokesperson, Brigadier Richard Karemire told ChimpReports he had “checked and indeed his case is among those pending payment by the African Union.”
He said the “delay is regrettable but efforts are being exerted to ensure that such backlogs are cleared,” adding, UPDF “share the pain with the family of the late Comrade.”
Pressed to shed more light on the delayed compensation, Brig Karemire responded: “Inadequate funding and professional bureaucracy from our funding partners and the AU.”