Why Muslim leaders are being killed in Uganda


A woman mourns the shooting of a Muslim cleric in Kampala, Uganda – December 2014

Around 1844 Arab traders from the coast of present day Tanzania reached the Kingdom of Buganda and brought with them the religion of Islam.

They were coming from Unguja (Zanzibar) Island and in Mengo the capital of Buganda they set up their base at a place that came to be known as Lungujja.

This was during the reign of Kabaka Suna II who embraced Islam though he could not be circumcised owing to Buganda tradition of the Kabaka not shading blood.

Kabaka Suna II was succeeded by Kabaka Mutesa I who became Imam after declaring Islam as the official religion of his kingdom. He was also not circumcised and in 1976 arrived Moslems from Sudan who criticised other faithfuls for being led by an uncircumcised Imam/Kabaka.

These new entrants instigated a rebellion against the Kabaka that saw 140 local Muslims being executed on orders of the Kabaka.

It was amidst that dilemma that the first European explorers arrived at the King’s palace and he wrote a letter to England inviting Christian missionaries into Buganda. In 1877 the first Protestant missionaries arrived followed by the Catholics in 1879.

The King allied with the Christian missionaries thus replacing Islam with Christianity as the state religion in Buganda. Muslim influence in the palace was contained but till his death Mutesa I had not denounced the Islamic faith. His step brother Prince Nuhu Mbogo remained a committed Muslim.

When Kabaka Mwanga II fell out with the Christian missionaries and executed local Christian converts, he was deposed. His brother Kiwewa was installed as the Kabaka but was soon replaced by Kabaka Kalema who professed the Islamic faith and accepted to be circumcised.

His reign witnessed the first Muslim Katikiro (Prime Minister) Abdu Kadir Kyambade. Soon after Christians united with the traditionalists and deposed Kabaka Kalema, expelled Muslims from the palace, and exiled prominent Muslims from Buganda.

Prince Nuhu Mbogo was exiled in Bunyoro while other Muslims took refuge in Ankole. The Muslims continued to regard Prince Nuhu Mbogo as the King of Muslims in exile.

In 1890 when the IBEA took over the administration of the territory, Capt Lugard persuaded Prince Mbogo and the sons of Kalema to return to Buganda.

Instead upon return Prince Mbogo was detained and the Muslims attempted to regain power using Sudanese and Egyptian troops. The scheme was foiled and Prince Nuhu Mbogo was exiled to the Seychelles Islands till 1898 when he returned from exile.

The 1900 Buganda agreement allotted only one county of Butambala to Muslims out of the 20 counties that made up Buganda at the time. Prince Nuhu Mbogo was released and recognised at the leader of the Muslims.

He was given 250 Pounds pension and 24 sq km of land on behalf of Muslims. In 1921 Prince Nuhu Mbogo died and was succeeded by his son Prince Kakungulu as the leader of the Muslims.

A county chief of Butambala challenged Prince Kakungulu’s leadership credentials prompting the later to go to Zanzibar for religious studies. Soon a wrangle erupted among the Muslim community based on the Juma and Zukuli prayers.

It took the intervention of Mecca for the two groups to co-exist. Again, another wrangle over Juma Nkade and Juma Mpya cropped up with the former opposed to the Matali and Hadith.

Juma Nkadde established its headquarters at Bukoto Nateete mosque with prominent leaders such as Abdu Kadir Mbogo and Mugenyi Asooka and came to be known as the African Muslim Community Juma Sect. The Juma Mpya was led by Prince Badru Kakungulu and Muhamad Ssemakula and came to be known as the Jamiatil Islamia with its headquarters at Kibuli Mosque.

It advocated for the citing of the moon first before starting to fast and also it celebrated Idd. Because of its links with the royal family, Juma Mpya got closer to the political powers of the time.

After independence in 1962, the Kabaka of Buganda who was also the President helped the Kibuli faction of Jumiat Islamia to become Uganda Muslim Community (UMC) to cater for all the Muslims of Uganda. After the events of 1966, President Obote used the educated non Baganda Muslims to form National Association for the Advancement of Muslims (NAAM).

This brought on board the likes of Abasi Balinda, Adoko Nekyon, and Ishak Magezi on one hand and the the likes of Sheikh Obed Kamulegeya, Swaibu Ssemakula, Abu Matovu and others. UMC remained attached to the royal family, elderly and the uneducated.

In 1968 UMC clashed with NAAM at Kemishango in Kajara, Ankole where by Idd Kawaganya (father to Imam Kasozi) and Dauda Moshi (son of Mutasa) were killed by the Police that was commanded by Rwakanengyere (father of Kale Kayihura – Museveni’s IGP) and the government official Abasi Balinda.

In 1972 under the reign of President Iddi Amin, a national conference convened in Kabale whereby Uganda Muslim Supreme Council (UMSC) was born. Its constitution was formulated whereby among other provisions Muslims in Uganda were to be led by a Chief Khadhi. UMSC was registered as a company that could sue and be sued.

Sheikh Abdu Razak Matovu was elected as Chief Kadhi with Sheikh Ali Kulumba as Deputy Chief Kadhi. UMSC took up Old Kampala mosque as its headquarters.

In 1973 Sheikh Abdu Razak Matovu was replaced by Sheikh Sulaiman Matovu till 1978 during the war when he resigned. Haji Mufanjala took over as Acting Chief Kadhi. During that time (1972 – 1978) Islam in Uganda enjoyed unity and progress.

It acquired land, property, factories, Headquarters at ld Kampala, Registered with OIC, Iddi was celebrated on same day by all Muslims, and scholarships for Muslim students were available.

However, Muslims in some parts of Ankole and Buganda suffered gruesome reprisal attacks following the overthrow of Iddi Amin.

The post Iddi Amin UNLF government sought to reconcile with Muslims over atrocities meted against them during the war: Prince Badru Kakungulu recommended Sheikh Kassim Mulumba as the new Chief Khadhi.

At a Mauledi in Mbarara, Sheikh Kasim Mulumba cited the slaughter of Muslims at Kiziba and declared that the liberation had come finish Muslims.

In 1980, Sheikh Mulumba refused to organise elections and instead Prince Badru Kakungulu organised a meeting at Makerere University where a new team of leaders was put in place with its headquarters at Kibuli. At the meeting a new position of Mufti was created and occupied by Sheikh Abdu Razak Matovu.

Sheikh Obed Kamulegeya was made the Chief Kadhi, and Prince Badru Kakungulu made the Chairman of UMSC.

A rivalry ensued and in 1982 the matter was referred to the Muslim World League which ruled that the two factions should merge.

Sheikh Abdu Rizak Matovu came in as Mufti, Sheikh Kassim Mulumba as Chief Khadhi, Sheikh Obed Kamulegeya as Chairman and Issa Lukwago as Secretary General.

Sheikh Kassim Mulumba was replaced by Sheikh Obed Kamulegeya as Chief Khadhi. Sheikh Kassim Mulumba insisted that he was rightful Chief Kadhi and set up his headquarters at Masjid Noor Mosque on William Street.

Sheikh Obed Kamulegeya using his old connections with President Obote (during the days of NAAM in the 1960s), chased Sheikh Kassim Mulumba from William Street but he instead relocated to Rubaga road mosque where he continued to thrive on the political support of UPC’s Paulo Muwanga.

The 1985 military coup of the Okellos took place when the two rivaling Muslim leaders were in Mecca from where they agreed to unite. Upon return from Mecca, Sheikh Mulumba chased Sheikh bed Kamulegeya from the UMSC headquarters at Old Kampala.

Sheikh Obed Kamulegeya appealed to the Muslim World League (MWL) who ruled that the two should step aside to pave way for election of new leaders.

An interim leadership saw Sheikh Rajab Kakooza as Chief Kadhi, Alhaji Ntege Lubwama as Secretary General and Sheikh Ibrahim Luwemba as Deputy Chief Kadhi.

Later on, Sheikh Rajab Kakooza organised elections that saw Sheikh Luwemba become the Mufti and Ali Ssenyonga as the Chairman UMSC.

The Prince Badru Kakungulu faction led by Abu Mayanja proposed that the elections be nullified on grounds that Sheikh Luwemba had no qualifications. Sheikh Rajab Kakooza allied with the Tabliq Salaf sect and refused to hand over office.

Sheikh Luwemba set up his headquarters at Rubaga Road Mosque before going to court. In 1991 court ruled that Sheikh Luwemba’s certificate in Islamic law from Libya was the equivalency of the constitutional Degree in Islamic Law.

The Tabliq stormed UMSC headquarters at Old Kampala but were neutralised by the NRA MP under the Command of then Maj James Kaziini.

Sheikh Ibrahim Luwemba took office at UMSC headquarters at Old Kampala while the defiant Sheikh Rajab Kakooza moved and set up headquarters at Kibuli Mosque.

It is during Luwemba’s tenure that with guidance of the central government some UMSC property was returned to the Indians. In 1993 Museveni initiated a Muslim Unity and Reconciliation Conference that was overseen by Prof George Kanyeihamba.

During the sessions in Kampala and the followup meeting in Mbarara, it was resolved to drop both Kakooza and Luwemba and instead Sheikh Ahamed Mukasa was elected as Mufti and Deputised by Sheikh Zubair Kayongo (both from the Kibuli faction).

Museveni rejected the elections arguing that he had expected the assembly to make recommendations instead of electing new leaders. A swearing in ceremony slated for the Clock Tower grounds was stopped by the Police under the directive of then Vice President Samson Kiseka.

The function went ahead at Wandegeya mosque and the Sheikh Mukasa faction established its headquarters at Kibuli mosque.

Sheikh Kakoza’s reign had ended but it gave rise to the fresh Mukasa – Luwemba rivalry. The Museveni regime recognised both such that on one occasion during a public function where both had been invited they had to fight over a microphone.

In 1997 upon the death of Sheikh Luwemba, he was replaced by Sheikh Semakula. In 2001 the two groups agreed to hold general elections for a new leadership that would unify the Muslim community.

The Kibuli faction fronted Sheikh Kakooza for Mufti and Hassan Basajjabalaba for Chairman UMSC. Old Kampala faction’s Sheikh Ramadhan Mubajje was elected Mufti and Hassan Basajjabalaba became the Vice Chairman of UMSC.

10 Sheikhs from the Kibuli faction led by Sheikh Zubair Kayongo denounced the election of Sheikh Ramadhan Zubair Mubajje. There was some semblance of peace during the next five years of the Sheikh Mubajje administration.

A land title for the Old Kampala UMSC headquarters was secured, construction of the National Mosque was completed, and confrontations between the Tabliqs and other Muslims was contained.

However, in 2006 discontent over sale of UMSC property divided the UMSC into two factions. The Chairman UMSC resigned paving way for his Deputy Hassan Basajjabalaba to take over.

Mufti Mubajje, Chairman Hassan Basajjabalaba and Secretary General Edrisa Kasenene were implicated in the irregular sale of those property. The property in question are the three plots – two on William Street and one in ld Kampala bought by Hassan Basajjabalaba and Drake Lubega.

In 2006 a number of top clerics including Sheikh Hassan Kirya (recently murdered took the matter to court. In court, Mufti Mubajje was exonerated but court made a finding that property had been sold by UMSC which was constitutionally permissible.

The decision brought about further discontent among the top clerics resulting into the dissidents electing Sheikh Zubair Sowed Kayongo as Supreme Mufti of Uganda with Sheikh Abdu Hakim Ssekimpi as his deputy.

Consequently, some District Kadhis and Imams who declared support for Supreme Mufti Kayongo were sacked by Mufti Mubajje.

In 2012 alone a number of leading Muslim Clerics were murdered including Sheikh Ssentamu. Museveni said that shortly before his killing Sheikh Ssentamu had had telephone conversation with ADF rebel leader Jamil Mukulu.

Around late April 2012 Sheikh Abdu Karim Ssentamu of the controversial William Street Mosque was gunned down in the city center.

Around the same UMSC organised elections that were opposed by the Kibuli faction. Government provided security coverage for the elections to take place. The irritated Kibuli faction moves to forcefully take over the Old Kampala mosque.

Minutes before setting off to attack their rivals, leading clerics addressed the visibly charged crowd of faithfuls thus: Sheikh Muzaata who declared Museveni as the number one enemyof Islam added “Museveni should receive a medal for harassing Muslims.”

Sheikh Kisambira said: “We have met Museveni seven occasions. On one of them he promised to help sort out the leadership wrangles but only after his election in 2011. But what has he done instead? He has sided with Mubajje the thief.”

Sheikh Umar Sadiq Ndaula told faithfuls that: “Behind all this is no one, but the government. There is no one responsible but this government.I want to assure you that Museveni and all his people are the ones behind all this. We were one community, but this government connived with Mubajje to change the land titles.”

As the charged crowds were heading for Old Kampala, they were met by a heavy deployment of Anti riot Police at around the Clock Tower who used tear gas. At Old Kampala, Military Police was firing live bullets.

The security forces managed to overpower the irate crowds and some of them were arrested. Following the incident Museveni summoned the leaders of the Kibuli faction for a meeting.

Sheikh Muzaata while addressing the faithfuls at Kyabadaaza in Mpigi said that their meeting with Museveni was full of threats and insults and nothing constructive was reached: “President Museveni has opened war against all religious leaders but he will not win. Some of us have already written our wills because we know that we shall be arrested and killed anytime but they will not stop us from fighting for the same cause.”

In late June 2012 Hajji Kiwewa of the Kibuli faction was gunned down in the city suburb. In August 2012 Sheikh Mudungu was gunned down, followed by Maganda and Ssentunga.

In June 2012 Museveni put in place a committee under Prof Taracis Kabwegyere charged with probing the causes and solutions to the Muslim wrangles.

The Committee that was comprised of three government officials had three representatives from each of the two factions. Museveni had given them two weeks to have completed the probe but it pleaded for three months.

Instead it took eight months to finish its work when in February 2013 its report was ready for submission. Instead the committee got stuck with its report for another 16 months while waiting for an opportunity to have audience with Museveni and hand in its report.

In August 2013 Muslims in Luwero district led by Hajji Naduli decried government failure to release the report but the Nakaseke RDC defended the delay arguing that “the President needs time to study it and investigate allegations that Muslims are incited by people abroad.”

It was on 14th June 2014 when the committee finally met Museveni. Committee Chairman Prof Kabwegyere attempted to read a 20 page executive summary of the 60 page report but Museveni stopped him preferring to read it himself. For the next 30 minutes the room fell silent as Museveni went through the executive summary.

Thereafter, Museveni engaged the committee in a three hour discussion of the report. He promised to meet the committee again after one week and a half to discuss the eventual implementation of the report’s recommendations.

As the committee members were leaving, Museveni tasked them to furnish him with information on why Muslims live mostly in townships at their next meeting.

The committee had found that UMSC had a lot of land (including 11 acres of land near the Clock Tower in the heart of Kampala city), industrial and commercial holdings, ranches in Masindi, Nakasongola and Sembabule (mistakenly confiscated during the ranches restructuring exercise) and 814 properties formerly of Asians given to UMSC.

The report among others recommended that all the Muslim properties should be placed under a Property Trust so that they are registered and protected against encroachment.

Further, that the UMSC needed a new constitution through a constitutional review commission since all the parties wanted unity.

Unfortunately, since then Museveni has never met the committee again and instead what followed was the mysterious killing Muslim clerics that has persisted to this day.

Government without substantiating has persistently claimed that the killings are carried out by rebel ADF which it associates with Islamic fundamentalist terror groups like Al-shabab and Al-queda. Locally government associates ADF with the Tabliq sect.

A number of Muslims more especially of the Tabliq sect;including their their leader Sheikh Kamoga have been arrested and indicted before court.

Among the other suspects still at large are Jamil Mukulu (the ADF rebel leader) who is currently detained in Tanzania while undergoing an extradition process and Dr Agrey Kiyingi the Australia based Ugandan Cardiologist who expressed intentions to contest for the Presidency. Muslim clerics from the Kibuli sect continue to be killed and government has no clear explanation.

The so called Tabliq sect originated from the early 1980s when young Muslims opted to spread Islam through voluntary service.

Later their movement came to be known as Society for Propagation of Islam and Distration of Quadianism (SPIDIQA). It was started by Sheikhs Mazinga and Kizito Ziwa.

The group’s revolutionary preaching appealed to the youth more especially in and around Kampala. That is how the likes of Jamil Mukulu converted to Islam from Christianity.

Soon the movement turned into a faction based at Nakasero and independent of Kibuli and Old Kampala.

Sheikh Idrisa Lutaaya was made the Mufti while Kizito Ziwa became the Chief Khadhi and among other leaders was Sheikh Zubair Bakari. Ziwa’s radical teaching forced Lutaaya to pull out and very soon Zziwa was expelled from the group.

Kizito relocated to the neighborhood of Nakasero mosque but was quickly forced out by the government backed Zubair Bakari faction and he relocated to Kisenyi. The main Tabliq sect established base at Nakasero under Muhamad Kamoga.

The Tabliq grew more intolerant to UMSC but during Sheikh Kakooza’s administration a number of Tabliq leaders on board – Abdalah Kalenzi appointed District Kadhi for Kisoro and Kabale while Mubajje was appointed District Khadhi for Mbale. The Kamoga group became more radical such that at one time they invaded and occupied the ld Kampala Mosque for a few days but failed to consolidate their hold.

The second attempt was led by Jamil Mukulu in the early 1991 that ended up in bloody clashes with the army led by then Maj James Kaziini.

One Policeman and two Police dogs were killed during the clashes. A number of Tabliqs were arrested including Jamil Mukulu while Kamoga fled to Kenya. Kakeeto took over as the Emir Daula and established Districtand regional Emirs.

While in Luzira Prison Jamil Mukulu moblised Muslim youths with radicalism and militant views. When they were released from prison they defied the leadership of those who had not been to prison – less Iman (faith).

They formed the Salaf faction of the Tabliq and established strongholds in Itendero,Kyazanga and parts of Busoga.

When the army’s 1st Battalion under Maj Rwija flushed out suspected rebels from their hide out in Buseruka in Hoima, Jamil Mukulu managed to escape.

A few years later in 1996 a rebel force with bases in Congo attacked western Uganda. Since then the group has been called ADF, linked to Islamic fundamentalism and Jamil Mukulu alleged to be its leader.

Since then government has linked some sections of Muslims to terrorism, arrested, detained, tortured, killed them.

Most if not all those who have been targeted in the ongoing systematic killing of Clerics have ever been linked to treasonous activities, either detained and released on amnesty or held and questioned by security services.

They all belong to the Kibuli faction that is opposing the government backed Old Kampala faction.

The Kibuli faction is historically linked to Buganda kingdom which Museveni is struggling to weaken.

There is an ongoing government backed land grabbing and Islam in Uganda has valuable land thus why Museveni rubbished the Kabwegyere report.

The killings serve to divert Muslims from resolving their wrangles through the implementation of the recommendations of the Kabwegyere report.

With the end of the northern Uganda insurgency, its only the Islamic linked ADF rebel group that is still active thus the need to eliminate its pillars.

The current killing Muslim Clerics does not pose any threat to the Museveni regime thus why the perpetrators cant be got.

In the late 1990s when there was bomb explosions in Kampala, government moved very fast to neutralize the perpetrators.

If the killers were targeting government or other public figures, the perpetrators would be got within hours.

However,now that the Muslims have passed a vote of no confidence in government efforts to protect their lives and have threatened to defend themselves, obviously the killings will automatically stop for now only to resume after elections in mid 2016.

For now Museveni has donated tons of Sugar, maize flour and cooking oil to both factions for the Ramadhan fasting.

Sarah Nalukenge, the author, is a social and political commentator

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