Attackers who raided Lhubiriha Secondary School in Kasese District and killed 37 students on Friday night, could have been hired by rivals claiming ownership of the institution, Education Minister Janet Museveni has said.
“There is an impression that perhaps the terrorist group may have been used by the people who were fighting to take over the school to do what they have done,” the minister said, citing a long rivalry between some members of the host community and Canadian sponsors over ownership of the school.
“… there have been groups in Kasese who wanted to take it over, but because the school was built by a non-governmental organisation (NGO), there has been that conflict,” she added.
This revelation during a press conference in Kampala late on Saturday flies in the face of conclusions by Maj Gen *** Prit Olum, the commander for Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) Mountain Division, that the deadly incursion was orchestrated by Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) “terrorists”.
On a visit to the school on Saturday, Maj Gen Olum said the ADF elements hibernated in the community for a couple of days and staged the attack as a spectacle to divert attention from UPDF pressure on them inside the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and to show the world it is still kicking.
The ADF, now designated by the United States as a terrorist group before the Islamic State a few years ago designated it as its central Africa affiliate, is originally a Ugandan rebel group that operated mainly in western parts in the 1990s before the UPDF dislodged them to DRC.
The Ugandan military claims to have dismantled the command and control of the group, captured territories it occupied and killed its notable commanders and fighter since the start of the Operation Shujaa counter-offensive jointly with the Congolese army 18 months ago.
Maj Gen Olum as the UPDF Mountain Division Commander oversees Operation Shujaa and commands the forces responsible for safeguarding Uganda’s western frontier including Kasese District where the Friday attack happened, resurrecting memories of ADF’s June 1998 raid on Kichwamba Technical Institute in the neighboring Kabarole District in which 80 students were burned to death.
Minister Janet Museveni, however, appeared to question the account blaming raid on Lhubiriha SS on ADF, saying another nearby school with about 700 students was untouched.
The targeted institution had only 63 boarders and 37 of them were largely bludgeoned or hacked to death while others burnt beyond recognition after the assailants torched both the girls’ and boys’ dormitories.
Ms Janet Museveni, who doubles as Uganda’s First Lady clarified that a final determination of the identity and motivation of the raiders will be established “at a later stage” through ongoing inquiries, but preliminary information suggests ownership wrangle may have had a role to play.
It is unclear whether the First Lady received her information from the State minister for Higher Education, Dr Chrysostom Muyingo, and Education Ministry Permanent Secretary, Ms Ketty Lamaro, who she deployed to the school on Saturday, or benefitted from intelligence brief to her husband, President Museveni, as commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
The comments, however, mirror earlier statements UPDF/Defence Spokesperson, Brig Felix Kulayigye, made on KFM’s Views, People and News talk show on Saturday morning hosted by Mr Kwezi Tabaro that security agencies were “leaving room open” in investigations on whether attack was linked to ownership contestation.
These revelations add a twist different from explanations by Maj Gen Olum that the attack was the handiwork of ADF as a result of pressure exerted on its fighters by UPDF in North Kivu and Ituri provinces through Operation Shujaa.
Brig Kulayigye said whereas the brutality meted was suggestive of “ADF signature”, they would not foreclose consideration of other possibilities.
“The signature [of the raiders] is ADF, but given the fact that this school has been having ownership wrangles, we are leaving [a] room open [to other lines of inquiry],” he said.
While addressing journalists at State Lodge Nakasero in Kampala late on Saturday, minister Janet Museveni said it was suspicious that the attack happened a day after auditors brought in by Canadian sponsors of the school ended checking financial records at the institution.
“That is not to say that we relate these auditors being there [to the attacks], but those are the facts we have,” she added.
The school which is gated was built by a Canadian citizen named Peter Hunter, who lives in both Uganda and DRC, and reportedly affords better quality education and welfare for learners compared to other government and private schools.
Investigators are looking into concerns of disquiet among some locals that majority students at the institution are children of poachers or reformed poachers, yet they enjoyed better perks than children of law-abiding citizens.
The sponsors of the school reportedly visited on the Friday of the attack, and security and intelligence agencies are investigating whether they were targets of the attackers who may have believed they spent the night at the school.
A senior security official, speaking on condition of anonymity in order not to conflict with colleagues, said the fact that neither the ADF nor its parent Islamist State has claimed responsibility for such a deadly attack when the group ran ahead with credit for small-impact 2021 Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blasts in Kampala, is telling.
In the Saturday press conference, minister Janet Museveni, citing a pre-existing conflict at the ill-fated institution, said “there was that background also. Those are facts that are not yet very clear, but that is the information that is coming in, and that we have received so far”.
The raid was a “terrible tragedy”, minister Janet said, assuring parents that the government would guarantee safety of their children at all educational institutions.
“So, on behalf of the government of Uganda, and the Ministry of Education and Sports and my own behalf, I express our sincere condolences and deepest sympathies to the bereaved families, the students and staff of [Lhubiriha Secondary] School on this terrible tragedy,” she said.
Of the 37 students killed, 17 were boys while 20 were girls. Ms Janet yesterday said the girls were hacked to death while fleeing.
An abridged version of Janet’s statement “I am compelled to communicate to you a message that is very sad for our country because this [Saturday] morning we were informed that a terrorist group attacked a secondary school in Mpondwe near the border with [the] Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The School is a boarding School – it is called Lhubiriha Secondary School … [in] Kasese District.
This terrorist group killed 37 children altogether … The boys’ dormitory had been locked; so, these terrorists couldn’t enter, so they threw in a [petrol] bomb.
The girls on the other hand opened the door and tried to run out and this evil group got them and killed them with pangas. They did not shoot. With the girls, they killed them with pangas. The 17 children who were burnt in the dormitory are not easily recogni]sable].
This school is a private school. Apparently it was built by an Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), led by somebody called Peter Hunter, a Canadian [who] works both in DRC and Uganda. Recently, apparently, his group sent in auditors to his school to audit the finances that they send to the school.
The auditors spent some two days at that school auditing the books of the school, and they finished on Thursday and left … and the children were killed on Friday. That is not to say that we relate these auditors being there [to the attacks], but those are the facts we have.
… there have been groups in Kasese who wanted to take over [the school] … there has been that conflict between those groups that wanted to take over the school and the NGO which actually built the school, so there was that background also. Those are facts that are not yet very clear, but that is the information that is coming in, and that we have received so far…
And apparently, there is another school in the area, Nyabughando Baptists Secondary School. It is a larger school, but that one is safe. Nothing happened to that one and it shouldn’t be confused with this other one.
In this school, the one we are talking about had 63 students only in the school, and now 37 have been killed. This other school, Nyabughando Baptists Secondary School was a larger school, and by God’s grace it is safe, it had some 700 students but it is safe , nothing happened so it shouldn’t be mixed up with this other school that had a problem; Lhubiriha (SS).
There is an impression that perhaps the terrorist group may have been used by the people who were fighting to take over the school to do what they have done, but that information will come out at a later stage because the government is going to have to find out and get the actual information. For now the government is in charge, the security agencies are trying to follow up and we will get all the information.”