By Yiga Stuart, Kampala Uganda – Tom Kitandwe, owner of Galiraaya and Gazaland buildings, among other properties, was one of the over 100 people rounded-up in relation to AIP Ariong’s death.
The owner of a construction site where a stone that killed Assistant Inspector of Police John Michael Ariong reportedly originated was among the people rounded up on Saturday and seriously tortured at the offices of the Special Investigations Unit in Kireka.
In what appears to be a vicious campaign to avenge the death of Ariong, police officers and a motley gang of security operatives stormed the site on Ben Kiwanuka Street, which is still under construction, and arrested businessman Tom Kitandwe, who owns the building, site engineers, workers and anyone in the vicinity.
By the time he was rescued, Kitandwe had to be put on oxygen at Daniels’ Clinic in Bweyogerere. Efforts to establish contact with the police were fruitless after deputy publicist, Judith Nabakooba, said she was locked up in a meeting on Sunday. Kampala Metropolitan Police boss, Andrew Kaweesi, did not pick his phone either. The latest act of brutality from the police draws parallels with the overtones from senior police officers in the aftermath of Ariong’s death.
According to the police, Ariong was killed after a stone was hurled at him during a riot that broke out after the police faced off with opposition leaders and their supporters, down-town Kampala on Wednesday. During Ariong’s requiem mass at Christ the King Church where emotions ran high on Friday, the Deputy Inspector General of Police, Okoth Ochola, said the police would avenge his death.
Trumpeting a clarion call to battle, Ochola said, “The death of Ariong should re-energise us. As police we are going to be more resolute, more so with lawlessness. The battle-lines are now drawn. The red flag is [up].”
During the raid, police officers took brutality a notch higher when they used batons and logs at the site to beat up those arrested. The raid came a day after 10 people had been charged with Ariong’s murder at the Nakawa court, leaving observers baffled at how many people could have hurled the single stone that ended Ariong’s life. According to people who witnessed the arrests, police arrived at the place in buses and pick-up trucks as early as 9:00am.
“They arrested anyone in sight, including the girls who sell tea, boda boda riders and those that were passing by,” said a source who did not want to be named.
The owner of the building was not spared either. Kitandwe, who owns a number of properties in the city, had gone to inspect construction work at the site. Alongside the others, he was carted off to the notorious Kireka detention centre, which only recently changed its name from Rapid Response Unit (RRU) to Special Investigations Unit (SIU). The change was expected to give the detention centre a human face. But this has clearly not been the case as the detainees found out.
“People were beaten and some got cracked skulls,” said a source. Kitandwe, who The Observer visited at Kampala Imaging Centre in Kololo, where he was undergoing x-rays on Sunday following the torture, said he did not want to comment about his horrendous ordeal.
However, his friends revealed he had been beaten with batons on his back, hands and toes.
“Perhaps he could be dead had we not rescued him,” said a colleague. Kitandwe is a member of the Kwagalana Group, an association of wealthy businessmen and women, and amongst those who came to his rescue was businessman Godfrey Kirumira, chairman of the group.
Kitandwe had earlier called his business partner, Godfrey Kyeswa, upon his arrest. Kyeswa later called Kirumira who then rang the Kampala Metropolitan police boss, Andrew Kaweesi. Kirumira later rushed to the SIU offices to check on his colleague. At Kireka, Kitandwe was found lying on the floor. He could barely walk as a result of the torture that was inflicted on him.
“He could not walk and the officers first dressed his wounds. Others were bleeding from wounds on their heads,” said a source.
Kirumira and another Kwagalana member, Gaster Lule, offered Shs 2.5 million non-cash bond for Kitandwe’s release. Who is Kitandwe?
Kitandwe was born in Maawe, Maganjo, where his parents moved from their ancestry home in Kasaka, Gomba district. A man who immersed himself in business at an early age, Kitandwe sold sugar, maize and wheat to grain milling companies in Jinja in the 1980s. He also sold merchandise in Kikuubo. Though he is wealthy, his peers say he prefers to keep a low profile.
Today he owns at least 12 storeyed buildings in Kampala. Amongst the prominent malls he owns are Gazaland and Galiraaya. The businessman recently acquired People’s Plaza on Ben Kiwanuka Street from Hajj Majid Bagalaaliwo. Kitandwe also owns Giant Shopping Arcade in Kikuubo, Nakasero Complex on Nakivubo Road, Mid City Arcade on Nakivubo Road and Mackay Building on Old Rashid Khamis Road near the New Taxi Park.
He is also the sole distributor of Mukwano products. His business partners are Kyeswa, Gaster Lule and Hajj Badru Muwanga.