Destroyed tree hinders investigation into murder of Gulu high school student :: Uganda Radionetwork

Rwot Yusuf Okwonga Adek, the chief of Pageya chiefdom in Acholi, told URN in an interview on Friday that the school administration was right to destroy the tree. He explains that the tree not only brings bad omens, but would also encourage such tragic events in the future.

The Fourth Division Court Martial in Gulu is hampered by the destruction of a mango tree on which a student from Gulu Central High School was shot dead in March this year.

Gabriel Rwotomiya, 17, a ninth grader at the school was reportedly shot dead by Private Denis Ochora, who was deployed to quell a violent student strike at Gulu Central High School. Students were protesting at the school over the management’s failure to relay a live English football match on the night of March 6, 2022 when Rwotomiya died.

Witnesses told the court on Thursday that Rwotomiya had climbed onto the mango tree in the school grounds to escape bullets from security personnel who were suppressing the hard hitting but was instead shot. His lifeless body was discovered hours later when students and staff noticed blood dripping from the tree.

However, a few days later, the administration of Gulu Central High School uprooted

the tree and reduced the stamp to ashes. They say it was done in accordance with Acholi tradition, which requires that a tree where someone was killed or met their death be destroyed to prevent bad omens, similar events and bad memories.

On Thursday, Lt. Col. George Nambafu, chairman of the Fourth Army Division Court Martial Barracks, ordered the reconstruction of the crime scene to gather facts and evidence, which could lead to d prosecution against the accused soldier.

Court officials, witnesses and the prosecution team led by Lt. Col. Nambafu traveled to the scene of the murder, approximately four kilometers from the courthouse, but were astonished to discover that the tree had been uprooted and reduced to ashes.

Nambafu asked the school administration why they destroyed the tree, noting that it would compromise evidence and undermine investigations. However, Geoffrey Acaye, the estate principal of Gulu Central High School, who is also a prosecution witness, told the presiding judge that the tree was uprooted and destroyed in consultation with police detectives, noting that traditionally in the Acholi it is not permitted to keep trees where death has occurred as this would bring a bad omen and encourage the recurrence of such an event.

Rwot Yusuf Okwonga Adek, the chief of Pageya chiefdom in Acholi, told URN in an interview on Friday that the school administration was right to destroy the tree. He explains that the tree not only brings bad omens, but would also encourage such tragic events in the future. Rwot Adek added that a person who died or was similarly killed is also buried with their head held high to prevent such an occurrence from happening again in their family line.

//Cue in: ”dano ka odere…

Express yourself: …kum ngati mo.”//

The court-martial of the fourth division opened the trial on Thursday of soldier Denis Ochora, accused of having killed Rwotomiya. The prosecution is led by Captain Augustine Tumwebaze while the defense is led by lawyer Lieutenant Julius Nkomejimana.

The accused soldier pleaded not guilty to the offence. Nine witnesses have been lined up to prosecute Ochora, who is charged with shooting murder. Six witnesses, including a teacher, a guard, a student and an area director at Gulu Central Secondary School, as well as a UPDF soldier, pinned Ochora for the alleged crime, noting that he was drunk and was drinking more alcohol during the operation when security responded to quell the violence.

Lt. Col. Nambafu adjourned the case to September 7, 2022 and consequently remanded Ochora to Gulu Main Jail. Gulu Central High School is privately owned by Dr. David Onen. It is one of the leading coeducational and boarding schools in Northern Uganda. It has about 961 students.

Martha K. Merrill