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Former AMISOM soldier kills Ugandan government minister and himself, sparking mental health debate

Sunday May 7, 2023



Mogadishu (HOL) - Private Wilson Sabiti, a former Ugandan soldier serving with the African Union Special Mission (AMISOM) in Somalia, fatally shot Uganda's Minister of State for Labour and Industrial Relations Charles Okello Engola on Tuesday. Sabiti, Engola's bodyguard, committed the crime at Engola's Kyanja home near Kampala. Sabiti, who had joined Engola's security team a month before, also injured the minister's assistant, Ronald Otim, before killing himself.

This murder follows a January event where a Ugandan soldier, part of an African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia, killed three colleagues before being apprehended.

Sabiti, a 33-year-old Mubali village native, joined the army in 2007 after his family could no longer afford tuition. As the primary provider for his family since his father's 2016 death, Sabiti supported his four children, two of his uncle's children, and additional family members. He had been struggling financially and had previously separated from his two wives.

In the years leading up to the tragic incident, Sabiti had served in Somalia between 2020 and 2021 as part of the AMISOM mission. Despite holding the military's lowest rank, he was chosen for a mid-level officer course, which he completed in February. He then returned to the Guards Brigade in Bombo before being assigned to protect Engola.

Col. Deo Akiiki, the deputy spokesperson of the Ministry of Defense, acknowledged the need for more mental health examinations of soldiers returning from war zones to avoid similar incidents in the future. "We have a department under the Directorate General of Health Services, which provides advice and guidance. But yes, we must do more to ensure the health of our soldiers who return from war zones to avoid such regrettable actions," he said.

The tragic event has raised concerns over mental health support for soldiers serving in peacekeeping missions, such as AMISOM. In 2017, Uganda's national psychiatric hospital opened a unit to help soldiers, especially those who served in Somalia, overcome trauma following a rise in soldiers killing people in public places. In April 2023, the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) conducted a five-day mental health and psychosocial support training in collaboration with the United Nations Support Office in Somalia (UNSOS), the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC), and the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ).

Ambassador Mohamed El-Amine Souef, the Special Representative of the African Union Commission Chairperson for Somalia, emphasized the African Union's need to create post-deployment psychosocial support and treatment guidelines for peace support operation personnel like ATMIS.

Sabiti's body remains in Bombo, with funeral plans unannounced. As the investigation continues, questions surrounding the mental health support for soldiers like Sabiti, who have served in war zones and transitioned to roles like bodyguarding government officials, remain at the forefront of the discussion.


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