Kenya’s National Assembly is addressing the situation of its citizens imprisoned in Uganda due to their involvement in an incident where Ugandan soldiers were killed during cattle rustling.
This week, Protus Akuja, a Member of Parliament representing Loima in Turkana County, has submitted a petition to Parliament. In his petition, he is seeking the intervention of the Ministry of Foreign and Diaspora Affairs to secure the return of 41 Kenyans imprisoned in Uganda.
Akuja states in his petition that these Kenyan nationals were apprehended, detained, and swiftly convicted, receiving sentences ranging from eight to 20 years. This occurred after a cordon-and-search operation conducted by the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), and currently, their whereabouts remain unknown.
According to Akuja, “The Turkana pastoralists were subjected to a one-day court martial without legal representation or the right to appeal, contrary to the principle that every individual is presumed innocent until proven guilty.”
He further points out, “There is a lack of clear information regarding the prison facilities where the convicts are held, and there is no evidence to confirm their current status.”
Akuja also expressed concern that most of those convicted were minors who were rounded up from their kraals on charges of possessing illegal firearms and ammunition. These individuals were prosecuted under Ugandan law, specifically under Section 119 of the UPDF Act, which stipulates that anyone found with weapons, ammunition, or equipment designated for the armed forces is subject to military law and trial by a court martial, a provision not applicable in Kenya.
Under the East African Community Treaty, Uganda and Kenya have established a mutual legal assistance framework, which includes the potential repatriation of suspects to the country where they committed the crime. However, there is uncertainty regarding whether this framework covers the exchange of prisoners. Ugandan authorities frequently detain pastoralists and fishermen on trespassing charges, often imposing fines before releasing them.
Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign and Diaspora Affairs has reported engaging with their counterparts in Kampala. Still, Uganda has allegedly demanded that the imprisoned Kenyan nationals identify the individuals responsible for the killings before their release can be considered.
In April, the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) crossed into Kenya following the murder of three Ugandan geologists and two UPDF soldiers who were guarding the geologists in Lotisan Sub-County in Moroto District. The UPDF was pursuing herdsmen believed to have committed these acts in Uganda and then fled into Kenya. During the operation, the UPDF confiscated 27 AK-47 rifles, one self-loading rifle, 751 rounds of ammunition, 32 magazines, three sets of UPDF uniforms, and 19 bows and arrows.
Over the years, the regions of Karamoja and Turkana have faced the impact of illegal firearms being transported across the porous borders of Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, and Somalia. These weapons are often used in cattle raids, which have seen an increase in recent times in both countries.
Mr. Akuja holds the Kenyan government responsible for neglecting the plight of its citizens who are facing mistreatment in a foreign nation. He asserts, “All these incidents were brought to the government’s attention, but no action has been taken to secure the release of the Kenyan nationals who were unjustly convicted.”
The lawmaker is calling on parliament to compel the Ministry of Foreign and Diaspora Affairs, through the High Commission in Uganda, to request the extradition and surrender of the accused individuals to Kenyan authorities for a fair trial.
The petition will undergo review by the National Assembly Public Petitions Committee, and a report will be presented to the House within 60 days. However, it should be noted that the legal weight of this matter may be limited, as it involves a foreign state.