Grieving Death Of Ten Students A Year After Rakai School Fire

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Nabasaji, a resident of Kalisizo Town Council in Kyotera district, says the delayed trial of the suspects has denied them justice.
Caroline Nabasaji, who lost his son Charles Ssuuna in the inferno. photo by Davis Buyondo

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Sunday November 11, 2019, marked one year since ten students were killed in a dormitory fire at St. Bernard’s -Manya SS in Kifamba Sub-county in Rakai district. Unknown arsonists sneaked into the school last year locked up the senior three dormitory to ensure that none of the 60 occupants leave and torched it. At least ten students were killed. 

They included Charles Ssuuna (16), Sam Nsubuga (15), Timothy Bukenya (16), Geoffrey Lutaaya (21), Remegious Tamale (16), Anthony Ssekitende (15), Hudson Byamukama (22), Emmanuel Kasozi (15), Sharif Dodiye (15) and Maurice Basiita (15).  

Their bodies were charred beyond recognition. It only took a DNA tests to identify the deceased before handing their remains to their respective families. Thirty seven other students were severely wounded. Few other students escaped with minor injuries. Student’s property worth millions of Shillings was lost in the fire. The deceased’s families are still grieving and struggling to cope with the recurring painful memories.   

They demand justice through a speedy trial of the suspects.  Caroline Nabasaji, says her son Charles Ssuuna, would have been among thousands that sat their Uganda Certificate Exams this year to pursue his dream of becoming an engineer.  Nabasaji, a resident of Kalisizo Town Council in Kyotera district, says the delayed trial of the suspects has denied them justice.    

//Cue in; “Mubutuufu okutereera…….   

Cue out….maziga na biwoobe.”//

She appeals to government and court to use the first anniversary to expedite the trial of the suspects for justice to prevail  

//Cue in; “Twali ne Janet……. 

Cue out….tewali kyenja kukolebwa.”// 

Another parent, Betty Namuwonge of Katwe north in Kalisizo town council declined to speak on the matter, saying nothing will return her son, Anthony Ssekitende.    Goodman Manigaruhanga, the elder brother to the late Maurice Basiita, says the family chose to ignore the matter because the more it comes up the more it torments them.    

Betty Nakatte, whose two sons, Julius Kanwagi and Derrick Muyombya escaped with severe burns, says they still get intense nightmares. Nakatte says the suspect’s trial has delayed and urges government to intervene.   

//Cue in; “Abange bo…….   

Cue out….kubava kumutima.”//      

Nakatte says she took her sons back to the ill-fated school after the new headmaster; Geoffrey Alingasha put in place a strict security mechanism.    

//Cue in; “Naye abaana baffe…….   

Cue out….bino byona tebyalikozeeki?.”//     

Management has since deployed at least more security personnel to watch over the school in addition to procuring surveillance cameras.  The burn dormitory was refurbished in February and is now home to more than 80 students. 

It was inaugurated by former Masaka Diocesan Bishop, John Baptist Kaggwa who cleansed it with holy water and prayer. The dormitory has two sections, each with two doors, one for regular entrance and exit and another for an emergency.    

The burglar proofing was removed from all the dormitories.   

The suspects    

On May 31, 2019, the four key suspects all students were committed to the high court. They are Alex Taremwa 18, Junior Mugarura 18, Dickson Kisuule 18 and Edison Niyo 21.   

They first appeared before the Masaka Grade One Magistrate’s Court on November 27, 2018. Other subsequent sessions were December 13, 2018, January 10, 2019, February 15, 2019, March 22, 2019, April 26, 2019 and May 30, 2019 all presided over by Christopher Adyeri.    

Michael Tayebwa, a security guard and Corporal Steven Nzeyimana, a police officer, were charged separately with negligence of duty and were tried in the magistrates’ court. Relatives of the four suspects say they were longing for committal to pave way for their trial.   

Josephine Ingabire, the sister to Edison Niyo, says the trial will determine the fate of the suspects other than keeping them behind bars without being heard in court.