Was Top Uganda Officer Eliminated?

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Ugandan Armed Forces have been placed on full alert following the sudden and untimely death of Brigadier Noble Mayombo, a top officer and confidante of President Yoweri K. Museveni.

While foul play hasn’t been ruled out or confirmed, some staff members at a leading hotel where he had a last drink have been arrested. Suspicion of death by poisoning hasn’t been ruled out. Mayombo had been investigating high-level corruption at the Defense ministry, The Black Star News has learned.

In a normal world the death of a permanent secretary in a country’s ministry of defense would not have raised many eyebrows. But Brig. Mayombo has not been your normal type of civil servant.

Until he was recently promoted to the rank of Brigadier, Mayombo was head of Uganda’s much feared Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI). It is alleged that CMI is involved in the widespread torture and killing of thousands of Ugandans opposed to the regime of President Yoweri Museveni.

Putting the armed forces on full alert shouldn’t be seen as there being an outside threat against Uganda. Reliable sources tell The Black Star News that Mayombo’s death has caused a severe rift within the armed forces and this may be the reason why President Museveni feels unsure as to how to respond. He was seen as a very popular army officer and many ordinary soldiers from poor backgrounds easily related to him.

Born 1965 in Fort Portal, Western Uganda to an Anglican priest, the Rev. James Rwabwoni, Mayombo attended Ntare High School, also attended by Museveni and many would-be leading Ugandan politicians. He then went to Makerere from where he joined the National Resistance Army (NRA) then a guerrilla movement on the verge of successfully overthrowing the government of then President Milton Obote. His intellect helped him get quick army promotions, rising to the rank of Lt. Col by 2001.

Brig. Mayombo suddenly fell ill last Thursday after attending a series of meetings in his office at the Ministry of Defense headquarters in Kampala, the Uganda capital. He is said to have told friends that he was having stomach pains. These became acute within hours and he was admitted to Kampala’s International Hospital. Matters worsened when he went into a coma. Doctors from several countries in Uganda tried in vain to save his life. As the situation deteriorated, he was swiftly flown in Museveni’s presidential jet to neighboring Kenya where he was admitted at the Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.

Despite receiving first class treatment, doctors at the hospital couldn’t save him. He was pronounced dead shortly afterwards. His boss the Defense Minister, Dr. Crispus Kiyonga, told journalists he had died due to “an attack on the pancreas. “At a press conference, Kiyonga, a medical practitioner, said Mayombo had died from “acute pancreatitis.� He explained there were many reasons for this. “It can be caused by many things. It can be a virus, an infection by
bacteria…poison, alcohol, many things.�

However, those close to Mayombo’s family believe he died from a poison that could have been administered through a drink he had at Kampala’s Serena Hotel that Thursday May 1, a day celebrated by many African countries as Labor Day. The police have since arrested a number of members of staff on duty at the hotel that day.

Mayombo’s death comes at a time when many in Uganda are becoming suspicious at the way prominent Ugandans seen as likely to replace President Museveni are meeting their deaths in very suspicious circumstances. A number of Ugandans either opposed to Museveni or seen to be quite popular among the Ugandan populace have met untimely and unexplained deaths in various ways.

Chief among these is Dr. Andrew Kayiira, a former resident of Boston, Mass., in the United States and later Energy Minister in the first Museveni government.

Kayiira was gunned down in March 1987 shortly after being released by a Kampala court where he had been arraigned for trumped up treason charges. James Wapakhabulo, Francis Ayume, Henry Mugisa are but a few names that come to mind concerning the type of people who have met their deaths in very questionable circumstances.

A similar fate is said to have  befallen any officer within the NRA who was seen to be attracting admiration among the guerrilla movement. Best known among the many killed in the bush were Commanders Kaggwa, Musisi ‘Kalampenge’, Emmy Byaruhanga and Lts. Tinkamanyire and Musisi. It is alleged the then guerrilla leader, Yoweri Museveni, saw them as a future threat. They were quickly eliminated.

Mayombo, a Makerere University law graduate is said to have been investigating massive corruption in the Defense Ministry. Our sources in this ministry say corruption there is so rampant and is organized from the very top within the Ugandan government. A prominent case of corruption in the ministry surfaced a few years ago when the ministry’s high ranking officials led by Museveni’s brother Gen ‘Salim Saleh’ Akandwaho were implicated in the sale of outmoded and
nearly useless military helicopters. No one was ever brought to book.

But as head of the dreaded CMI, Mayombo was alleged to have taken part in the looting of neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo and was named by the United Nations report on the looting of that country by foreign powers. He created what is locally known as ‘safe houses.’ But safe they aren’t. Many Ugandans who have escaped from these ‘safe houses’ speak of having been severely tortured and left for dead. Among them are members of parliament, his fellow lawyers and an untold number of members of the general public.

Meanwhile, several high ranking military officials were seen openly weeping when Mayombo’s death was confirmed by Dr. Kiyonga. Many of these officers say they saw Mayombo as their future commander-in-chief. This could have been his outdoing.

I met Mayombo, then a Lieutenant Colonel and head of military intelligence a few years ago. During an exclusive interview with him and the then National Resistance Movement’s Chief Political Commissar James Wapakhabulo, I told him how painful it was for me to be kept in exile (I fled Uganda in 1987 after Dr. Kayiira was killed in my own house) when I had done nothing wrong.

Both men assured me there would be no problem for me if and when I chose to return to the
country. Am I glad I treated these assurances with the contempt they deserve, for both men are now dead. Although Wapakhabulo was the senior man, it was quite clear to me that Mayombo was articulate, knew what he wanted and a very bright and clever young man. Before him I had interviewed and spoken to many senior Ugandan army officers. None came near him in stature.

He was indeed presidential material and I made this very clear in a story I filed for the Ugandan Daily Monitor Newspaper. Said to have been very close to President Museveni, Brigadier Mayombo leaves a young wife Juliet and three youngsters.

He was just about to celebrate his 42nd birthday.

Gombya, once the BBC’s reporter in Uganda, writes for The Black Star News from London.

To subscribe to or advertise in New York’s leading Pan African weekly investigative newspaper, please call (212) 481-7745 or send a note to Milton@blackstarnews.com

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