Ambiguous Loss and Political Disappearances: The Hidden Tragedy in Uganda
In Uganda, the families of missing National Unity Platform (NUP) supporters grapple with the concept of “ambiguous loss,” a psychological term that describes the heart-wrenching situation of being unable to grieve because there are no remains to mourn and bury. At the same time, they cannot entirely give up hope of reuniting with their missing loved ones. This article delves into the curious case of NUP supporters who have gone missing, exploring the complexities, contradictions, and unanswered questions surrounding their disappearances.
The Vanishing Act
It all began on June 3, 2019, when John-Bosco Kibalama, a devoted NUP supporter, mysteriously disappeared. The details of his abduction remain shrouded in ambiguity, with only his abandoned car found on Kampala-Gayaza Road by the police. Kibalama’s case is just one of many, as scores of NUP supporters have either gone incommunicado in undisclosed detention facilities or, as some relatives fear, may have met a grim fate.
The Human Rights Commission’s Probe
The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) launched an investigation into these disappearances. On October 10, UHRC Chairperson Mariam Wangadya disclosed that they had closed the files of 18 missing persons. She pointed out that it would be futile to keep these files open when the next of kin, who should be interested parties, showed no interest in pursuing these cases.
The Elusive Search
Monica Nabukeera, Kibalama’s wife, revealed during a news conference on October 12 that she had never received any requests for her input on her husband’s disappearance. She also shared their fruitless visits to various detention centers and the financial scams they had encountered in the quest to find him. Kibalama, a political hopeful in the Busiro North Parliamentary race and a potential rival to the incumbent, was expected to make a significant impact.
The Prime Minister’s Controversial Revelation
In February, Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja stirred controversy by characterizing Kibalama as a “hard-core criminal” who had been detained in 2022 for allegedly killing police officers. This revelation raised numerous questions, particularly regarding the timeline of events. How could a man abducted in 2019 be responsible for a crime committed in 2022?
Accusations and Denials
Tensions escalated within Parliament during a recent session when Leader of the Opposition Mathias Mpuuga accused Prime Minister Nabbanja of inaction. Nabbanja vehemently defended herself, leading to a heated exchange. This back-and-forth, coupled with numerous contradictions and denials, has raised concerns about the UHRC’s ability to conduct a comprehensive probe into the missing NUP supporters.
Families in Limbo
Families like that of Vincent Nalumonso, who disappeared in 2020, are caught in the emotional turmoil of “ambiguous loss.” With no remains to grieve, they are unable to move on, yet the hope of reuniting with their loved ones remains uncertain. The Estates of Missing Persons (Management) Act provides a framework for handling such cases, but it also poses the difficult question of when to presume a missing person as deceased.
A Troubled History
Uganda has a history marred by political violence and human rights violations. A commission established in 1986 to investigate past atrocities revealed the extent of brutality and cruelty in the country’s history, with countless lives lost at the hands of government agents and agencies. Torture and extra-judicial executions have been recurrent themes in Uganda’s history.
An Ongoing Challenge
The disappearance of NUP supporters is not an isolated incident but fits into a broader pattern of human rights abuses and political violence in Uganda. The challenges faced by the families of the missing, the government’s response, and the ambiguous nature of their loss all contribute to the complexity of this issue.
In Uganda, the families of missing NUP supporters continue to grapple with uncertainty and anguish, unable to find closure or answers about their loved ones’ whereabouts. Theirs is a story of unresolved mysteries, unaddressed contradictions, and the ongoing struggle to determine the fate of those who have vanished.