Sensing danger and a cat and mouse like drama akin to â€œThe Search For Red October,â€ Otunnuâ€™s driver exploited a small gap between the barricading cars, climbed over the embankment, avoiding a crowd of children and people burning charcoal, and came to a stop under a mango bush.
[Global: Africa Commentary]
Last Monday, 21 December 2009, former UN Undersecretary General for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu, survived a spectacularly “unusual” road “accident” that only a Hollywood action flick could conjure.
Everything about the accident, as Dr. Otunnu characterized it in a press conference later that afternoon, was “unusual.”
Strangely, New Vision, the Uganda state-owned daily, was the first to break the story. Capt. Edison Kwesiga, the Presidential Guard Brigade (PGB) spokesperson was quoted to have said that Otunnu’s vehicle was over speeding, hit one of the military jeeps [part of the presidential protection convoy—president Yoweri Museveni was not traveling with the convoy], then an anthill, and veered off the road into the bushes.
Contrarily, I have seen video footages of the accident scene, shot by an American journalist who was traveling in Otunnu’s car, which shows a straight road without any anthills in site, but tall grass, mango bushes and shrubs.
Another military spokesman, Capt. Ronald Kakurunguhe, of the [national army] Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF)-a force that has lost out to the PGB on the favorites game and is treated like the cat that ate the family canary-was quoted by Daily Monitor [Uganda’s privately owned newspaper] to have said the PGB could not have contrived to harm Otunnu, because it was the soldiers who helped pull Otunnu’s car out of the bushes and back onto the road.
At the press conference, Otunnu and the team traveling with him narrated that about 0930 hours or thereabout, they came upon a convoy of military vehicles at Minakulu. A couple or so of other vehicles ahead of them signaled and were given the go ahead to overtake the stationary or slow moving Phalanx of military wares. As they approached, Otunnu’s party too signaled to be let by, and they were accordingly given the sign to drive past.
No sooner had they gone by two of the seven vehicles, when the third military truck pulled out of the formation to block their way. Otunnu’s driver attempted a maneuver to avoid high impact collision, but was also promptly blocked by the second car which moved to cut them off.
Meanwhile, the first car they had passed, a heavy military truck, was veering at them without any apparent intention to stop. Sensing danger and a cat and mouse like drama akin to “The Search For Red October,” Otunnu’s driver exploited a small gap between the barricading cars, climbed over the embankment, avoiding a crowd of children and people burning charcoal, and came to a stop under a mango bush.
Once stopped, they were surrounded by more than 30 PGB soldiers, brandishing weapons and shouting Otunnu’s name, the name of one of the men in his security team, and that of the American journalist.
At this point, villagers, witnessing the drama, abandoned their charcoal pits, tending their fields and whatever else they were doing in the vicinity, to inquire what had so terribly disturbed the quiet and tranquility of their still sleepy village.
Not cowed by the sight of menacing military men with their guns trained on hapless civilians, villagers exasperatedly demanded to know what had befallen Otunnu. Once he emerged from the banged-up vehicle, they questioned what the men in uniform had done or wanted to do to him.
Confronted by Otunnu and his party as to why guns were being pointed at them, who they were and who their commander was, the cats apparently took the tongues of the Doberman pinschers. At which point, they started to strip off their Velcro name tags, while lamely accusing Otunnu’s party of ramming their vehicles.
Significantly, the soldiers never said Otunnu’s driver was speeding or driving recklessly. Instead, one of the PGB corporals was awed by the skills and maneuvers of Otunnu’s driver, asking in wonderment, where on earth the man learnt his driving skills!
Perhaps they thought there would be no escape? As Otunnu has implored, I will stick to the facts and sequences of events, and avoid speculations.
Another thing of interest is that, the soldiers blocked Otunnu’s cameraman from filming the scene of the accident. At one point, they grabbed the cameraman and wanted to bundle him into their car and confiscate his equipment, but travelers in a Kampala-bound bus who recognized Otunnu and his entourage, jumped out of their bus, to tussle and rescue the cameraman, the camera and all from the grasp of armed PGB boys!
Realizing that the police and the press had been called and were on their way to the scene of the accident, the two cars that had blocked Otunnu’s land cruiser were moved from the middle to the side of the road. As well, four of the military vehicles that were part of the convoy and incident, dashed off towards Gulu, instead of proceeding in the original direction they had been headed.
Shortly afterwards, a PGB van that had earlier fled the scene of the “accident”, returned. When Otunnu and his party transferred into a bus and left for Kampala, with his damaged car hobbling along, the PGB boys were left still camped in the bushes of Minakulu, like a flock of scavenger birds disappointed they had arrived too late after a swarm of locusts had flown off.
Indeed, as Olara Otunnu has emphasized in his press conference and interviews, the “accident” was “unusual” by all accounts.
First, it involved members of the elite Presidential Guard Brigade (PGB), Dictator Yoweri Museveni’s Doberman Pinschers-ferocious, aggressive, intimidating, fearless curs; loyal and protective of the master, at the sound of whose voice, they obsequiously spring to action.
Second, whenever the president goes upcountry, by air or by road, it is normal practice to see the PGB personnel scurry away at breakneck speed to get back to base, once the head of state concludes his visit and departs. Sometimes, the hurried pace at which they leave a venue, airfield, or heliport, leave you wondering whether they are under stern instructions to get back to Entebbe or Kampala, before the helicopter bearing their boss does.
Third, on this particular Sunday of 20th December 2009, eye witnesses at Gulu Caltex petrol station had observed a part of the PGB troops leave town that evening unhurried. Early travelers on the Gulu-Kampala highway early morning of Monday 21st December 2009 thought they passed what they remembered as a stationary convoy of military vehicles similar to the ones described to have been involved in the “accident” at or close to the place of the mishap.
The question is, why did the troops uncharacteristically stay back in Gulu or sleep by the roadside?
Fourth, eye witnesses at the coronation of the bishop of Northern Uganda diocese, which event the president attended, observed that all the PGB vehicles in the president’s convoy on Sunday had number plates prefixed by “UG.”
However, at the scene of the accident on Monday morning, all the vehicles had their registration plates removed or missing. Similarly, all the PGB personnel at the venue on Sunday, the day before, wore name tags, but at the scene of the accident at Minakulu, none of them wore name tags.
One might be tempted to think that may be these were a different group or a group of “unknown gunmen in uniform.” Fortunately or unfortunately, one PGB boy who was overzealous about cameras at the church the previous day, had actually personally blocked Otunnu’s cameraman from taking his equipment onto the grounds of the church where the coronation took place.
As Otunnu quizzed them for their names, they began to give fictitious names but the cameraman remembered one particular soldier who gave a different name from the one he recalled from his name tag the previous day at the church.
Finally, if Otunnu’s driver drove recklessly, hit a military vehicle, hit an anthill and came to a stop in the bushes, why would soldiers who are rushing to help-if we are foolish enough to believe Captains Kwesiga and Kakurunguhe-point guns at citizens who might be injured and staggering out shocked and dazed?
Where were their name tags, vehicle number plates, and why did they remain behind?