ORDEAL :Novelist Kakwenza’s 360 Hours Of Detention Revealed

Novelist Kakwenza and one of his books, the Greedy Barbarian that landed him in trouble PHOTO/GRAPEVINE

By Our Reporter

KAMPALA, Uganda| SHIFTMEDIA|  At 4:20pm on December 28, 2021, minutes before gun-toting men cut down his apartment door in Kisaasi, a Kampala suburb, author and harsh government critic Kakwenza Rukirabashaija tweeted frantically, “Currently under house arrest. Gunmen are breaking into my house by force.”

And 360 hours after that highly publicized brutal arrest; Kakwenza hasn’t been seen in public or produced in court for formal arraignment. On Monday, January 10, the civil division of the High court ordered the government to produce Kakwenza in court before Justice Musa Sekaana on January 12, 2022.

Interviews with his lawyer, Eron Kiiza and wife Eva Basiima help reconstruct a horrifying portrait of a deeply traumatizing arrest and complicated path to freeing Kakwenza from the tight claws of his captors.

Interviewed on separate days, Eron Kiiza said the violent arrest of his client left him personally traumatized.

“I was on phone with Kakwenza during the entire process of his arrest. I felt helpless because I could not help him as these Special Forces Command (SFC) goons broke into his home. The whole process of arrest was violent and torturous.”

He said he spoke to Kakwenza for about 30 minutes before his captors finally cut their way, from door-to-door into his apartment and arrested him.

The lawyer recorded Kakwenza’s hysterical conversation with him and soldiers outside as they muscled their way into the house. Below is a short excerpt.

Kakwenza on phone: These men are here, they have pistols. They have broken my door and I have locked myself inside. One has threatened that the moment he enters, he shall break my legs. He is saying that is the reality. I have locked myself inside. I have told them that they are not going to arrest me without an arrest warrant and my lawyer must be here. I do not know whether you [Eron] have reached.

Lawyer: What are they using to break the window? I don’t know what they used to cut the door. They all have guns. They want to cut the window and enter forcefully. They want to shoot me. I have to wait for my lawyer to come then I open the door.

Soldier: Now your funny brain is telling you that you are safe inside.

Kakwenza: Why are you saying funny brain? You cannot come to arrest me without an arrest warrant and you are telling me to open the door yet you are breaking it. Everything must happen when my lawyer is here. [Heavy bangs on the door are heard, as an electric saw runs in the background]. Conversation stops abruptly.


The lawyer said the entire manner of Kakwenza’s arrest traumatized him personally and forced him to put all his other work on hold and concentrate on Kakwenza’s rescue. He said he has been frustrated by the police.

“I have almost visited all police stations around Kampala trying to locate Kakwenza but didn’t find him,” he said.


“When he was arrested on December 28, I rushed to Kisaasi police station, checked with CPS, Kampala. He wasn’t there. It was only at Jinja Road Police Station that I got to know that he was arrested at CIID in Bukoto. I couldn’t go there because it was already curfew time (7pm). When I went there on December 29, he had been moved to another location,” he said.


He said he learned from Kakwenza’s wife that he had been tortured. She saw him during the guided search of his home on January 3, 2022 by his captors.

“I corroborated this with People Power former prisoners who told us they were held at the SFC base in Entebbe, which is an illegal detention facility. The wife said Kakwenza bore torture marks, was vomiting and urinating blood, and also had bloodstains on his body. That is how the wife stealthily shared photos of his blood-stained clothes with me.”

He said he has been threatened and called all sorts of names by people on social media advancing propaganda that he represents Rwandans in Uganda and should be crushed mercilessly.


“Representing Kakwenza has stolen me from my other work at the office because I have to be following up on Kakwenza daily. The confusion of his current whereabouts notwithstanding,” he said.

He said there’s no official complainant in Kakwenza’s case.

“We applied for the unconditional release of Kakwenza after the mandatory detention of 48 hours had elapsed but the court order was ignored. Instead, the office of the Attorney General applied for court proceedings for a court order that they had ignored,” he said.


Kiiza said disregard for the court order is a harbinger for chaos, lawlessness, and ultimately civil war. He said courts exist to substitute violence and jungle law, which militarism promotes.

“We are going to push for contempt remedies if Kakwenza is not released,” Kiiza said.




Interviewed, Kakwenza’s wife, Eva Basiima, said the family has been incomplete since his arrest.

“When my husband is not around, he communicates with the children on phone every day. They have been trying to reach him but the phone is not available. I had nothing to tell them,” she said.

The couple has three children. The eldest is eight years old and the youngest is one year old. A teary Basiima said they didn’t celebrate Christmas like most families do because she was sick.

“When the mother is sick, there are no celebrations in the house. My husband had been looking after us till December 28, 2021 when he said he had errands to run in Kampala between December 28 and December 29. He had promised to return either on December 30 or December 31 for New Year’s day only for him to be arrested on the fateful day he left home. I did not even see the things he wrote that led him into trouble…”

Basiima said it was a horrible ordeal for the children to see their battered father when he was brought home in Iganga for the house search on January 3, 2022.

“The security men told me to first take the children outside the house and the gate but I decided to stay inside. I did not want to bother my neighbors. My children talk to their father via phone daily when he is not around but now his phones were off and it was the opportunity they had to see their father,” she said.

She said Kakwenza bore torture marks. He had difficulty walking and had wounds under his feet pointing to the possibility that he had been forced to walk on nails.

“My eldest child feared him because he was in a sorry state. My three-year-old second born is a daddy’s girl. When she saw him, she run to him much as he didn’t wish her to see him in that state. He tried telling me to take the baby away but the baby wanted to keep with the father…” she said before crying.

Basiima said she got to know about her husband’s arrest through the best man at their wedding. She said he called and said he learned about the arrest on social media.

During the search of the home, Basiima said the security men tried using very many languages to ensure the family did not understand what they were looking for.

“They tried using English but they realized we understood it. Then, they turned to Runyankore until they discovered we were understanding it too. Then they resorted to Kiswahili which we did not understand at all,” she said.

She said they carefully checked every document in the house including receipts but they didn’t disclose what they were looking for.

“It was after a long search that one of the security men asked my husband in Runyankore where the computer was. My husband informed them that the computer had been stolen the previous week.”

Basiima said her children haven’t returned to school because the father is under detention. Asked how the family is surviving, Basiima said she is a hustler and cannot allow her children to go without food.

“I have a one-year-old baby who needs milk. He weaned off early when I got Covid-19 during the second wave; so, he now survives on milk.”

Her memories with Kakwenza date back to their student days at Kyambogo University.


“I met Kakwenza in 2012 at Kyambogo University. He was doing his first bachelor’s degree in Development Studies while I was doing mine in Social Sciences. In 2013, he left for the University of Cape Town, South Africa to pursue his second degree in Journalism until 2016 when he returned.”


On returning, Kakwenza stayed with Basiima until they got married in 2017. They agreed to stay in Iganga as farmers after both failed to find a job in Kampala. She said she got to know that her husband was good at writing critical documents after they got married.

“I had nothing to do. I had vowed in the church that for better or worse we will keep together. He is the husband I chose and I am his sacrifice mentally, emotionally, and physically.”


She said she never thought that Kakwenza’s literature would land him in trouble.

Basiima said, “Greedy Barbarian was written as an assignment for a course he was pursuing with a US university. He wrote it within days. After submission, the lecturers told him to publish it because it was very good. Everyone at home knows that he loves reading and no one can tamper with his reading material. He made me his editor. He would tell me to proofread his work but never at any one time had I thought that it would lead to his arrest. ”


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