Ugandan Judge Mike Chibita (52) was enjoying the freedom of being in South Africa, although it was an overcast, cold winter’s day in Cape Town. Enjoying the luxury of not having to look over his shoulder, he looked out over the Atlantic Ocean at Robben Island, sipped his tea and talked about the assassination of a fellow prosecutor in Uganda.
Chibita, the chairperson of Advocates Africa, was in Cape Town this week for its 11th biennial convocation to discuss national and continental issues, particularly religious intolerance and persecution.
Five months ago Chibita’s colleague Joan Kagezi, the lead prosecutor in a case involving the terror organisation al-Shabab, was on her way home in the capital Kampala. The widowed single mother had three of her four children in the vehicle with her and she stopped at a roadside store to buy some groceries.
As she leaned over to the passenger side to pay for them, a motorbike, which had been following her, drew up alongside her vehicle. Shots were fired and she died on her way to hospital.
Was it a random killing? “No, no, it was not a random killing,” said Chibita, the director of public prosecutions in Uganda. “It was well-orchestrated. She was targeted. They had been trailing her. Later we learned that some people on motorbikes had been going to her gates. They were doing a surveillance. She was targeted because she stopped at that place regularly.”
Kagezi was prosecuting al-Shabab members allegedly involved in the suicide bomb attack that killed 75 people who were in a restaurant watching the 2010 World Cup finals.
A lot of evidence
“I think her murder was a message to us. Two suicide bombers were involved in 2010. We managed to arrest all the masterminds. Thankfully for us, she had managed to get one of the people in that group of nine to confess and become a state witness. She had just finished leading his evidence. He gave us a lot of evidence. So we think that definitely they were infuriated. They knew she was the one who had managed it.”
Ugandan Judge Mike Chibita. (Picture Supplied)
During our conversation, he let slip that the Ugandan police, during the course of investigating the execution of his colleague, had found a hit list compiled by al-Shabab, the Somalian offshoot of al-Qaeda, and his name was on it.
He too has been followed but he said he would not be intimidated. “This is not something we are used to … that somebody will come after you for just doing your job. But you realise you cannot be intimidated.
“As I said at Joan’s funeral, what is our option? Our option is to continue doing the job for the sake of Joan, for the sake of members of the public, and for the sake of the rule of law. We cannot let the criminals run us out of town. I will continue to do my job even if my name is on a hit list.”
No more walking
But the killing of Kagezi has led to him making some lifestyle changes. “Of course, when we took office we didn’t know that it would be life or death. I have had to change my lifestyle. I used to walk 10km every weekend. I can no longer walk because one of the things we have been taught is that routine is the greatest enemy. Because people study your routine, it will be easier for them to eliminate you. You shouldn’t make it easier for them. I have changed routine. The greatest comfort for me is that the Lord watches me. The Lord has not said your time is up.”
Chibita warned against the temptation to describe al-Shabab’s terror campaign as a battle by Muslims against other people. “I have very good friends who are Muslim, God-fearing and law-abiding, therefore I don’t want to jump to that conclusion. This is a very small group. They’re killing Muslims as well. They’re criminals.”
He said the whole continent was threatened by terrorism and he urged all African countries to work closer together. “The survival of the continent is at stake. States must co-operate. Some of the accused persons have travelled to South Africa. We have found that some of them have had a stint here in South Africa.
“Terrorism in this age, because of mobility, both physical and telephonic, cannot be restricted to one area. These people are very mobile. I think African states need to take a common stand because, if you leave it to a few nations, these nations will be targeted and intimidated. But, if all the others come together, it will be more difficult for those people to target a few because they’ll know that this is a continental effort.”
But terrorism is not the only threat to Africa. Kenya’s senior assistant director of public prosecutions, Paul Ndemo, who also attended the convocation, believes corruption is another enemy. In fact, he described it as the greatest threat to African statehood because it compromised security, affected development, increased the cost of living and unnecessarily shackled generations still to be born. He said successful prosecution sent a strong message to all citizens that no one was above the law.
Notwithstanding limited capacity, understaffing, the politicisation of the fight against corruption and the habit of some communities to exalt the wealthy without asking where the money came from, it was important that those high up should realise they were not above prosecution.