One day after Uganda celebrated Labour Day with colour and pomp in a ceremony that was officiated by President Yoweri Museveni, Charles Okello Engola, the country’s Minister of State for Labour, Employment and Industrial Relations was shot dead by one of his bodyguards over alleged lack of pay.
The bodyguard, who has since been identified as Private William Sabiiti, a member of the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF), allegedly opened fire, shooting Ronald Otim, the Minister’s Aid de-Camp (ADC) in the stomach and legs first.
While Otim did not die and is currently in hospital, Private Sabiiti’s next shots, which targeted the Minister, were fatal.
Eyewitnesses say that after killing the Minister at his home in Kyanja, a Kampala suburb, Sabiiti went out of the compound and started shooting in the air, which prompted residents to take cover.
Private Sabiiti, however, insisted he would not be harming anyone else, as he was only angry with his employers that he claimed were living comfortably, even as he failed to take care of his family’s basic needs.
Eyewitnesses say the bodyguard who later entered a neighborhood hair saloon and told everyone to leave before shooting himself to death, lamented having a pregnant wife he was unable to look after and children that had dropped out of school for lack of fees, yet his employers owed him Ush4 million ($1,065).
The claim that he had not been paid has also been backed by Anita Ttendo, a resident in Kyanja who owns a kiosk that has been selling tea and small bites to the drivers and bodyguards of Mr. Engola.
According to her, she often interacts with Mr. Engola’s drivers and bodyguards, as she sells food to them often.
Ms. Ttendo says that on the night before Sabiiti shot Engola, she asked the soldiers to pay her, as she had been supplying them food on credit. According to her, the drivers and bodyguards all told her they were struggling and could not immediately settle their debts, which she understood to mean they had not been paid.
Ms. Ttendo was in Mr Engola’s compound serving the soldiers breakfast on the day of the shooting. She also says that as she run away from the scene of the shooting, she met two of Engola’s bodyguards and alerted them to what had happened.
The army has since disputed the claim of failure to pay Private Sabiiti. Col Deo Akiiki the Spokesperson for the UPDF insists Sabiiti had already received his salary, as soldiers are always paid on the 27th of every month.
Uganda is currently suffering significant financial pressure. Examples of the Uganda government being short on funds, include medical facilities reporting drug stock outs that have in some cases lasted more than six months.
According to the National Medical Stores, which is the government agency responsible for stocking health facilities, the stock outs are a result of the Ministry of Finance’s failure to provide the necessary resources for buying and supplying medicine.
Other examples of a government under financial pressure include refusal by the Ministry of Health to deploy intern doctors. Players in the medical field say interns constitute about 70 per cent of the work force in government health facilities, but it is now over a month since this group should have been deployed.
Senior House Officers, who are doctors pursuing a second degree so that they can specialize is another important category of the health workforce that is currently threating to put down their tools over government’s failure to pay them.
In the education sector, students on government sponsorship have also complained because they have not received their upkeep allowances. The Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development has also been accused by Parliament of cutting the education sector’s budget by close to 30 per cent.
Despite the clear financial pressure that is in part attributed to an increase in debt servicing obligations, analysts have always assumed that President Museveni’s government would never fail to pay soldiers, as he considers them an important tool for maintaining power in Uganda.
Since independence in 1962, soldiers always helped Uganda’s Presidents maintain power. In cases when Presidents such as Edward Muteesa, Milton Obote and Idi Amin lost power, the army still played an important role.