Makerere University lecturer and critical writer fears for his life

Dr. Kahyana explains that just a few meters from Total Petrol Station while approaching Kasangati along Gayaza Road

KAMPALA, UGANDA: Makerere University lecturer, Dr. Danson Sylvester Kahyana, known for his critical writings on good governance and the rule of law, lives in constant fear for his life following an attack in April this year. According to Kahyana, the attack occurred around 11 p.m. on April 26th, 2022, while he was riding a Boda Boda back from a Vigil in Seeta.

Dr. Kahyana explains that just a few meters from Total Petrol Station while approaching Kasangati along Gayaza Road, three men riding on motorcycles stopped them. They first pretended to be asking for directions to one of Mzee Kironda’s homes before they pulled out machetes and demanded that he give them all his belongings.

Looking at the attackers, Dr. Kahyana didn’t try to resist. Nevertheless, his cooperation didn’t earn him any sympathy from the attackers.

They made off with his phone, a Samsung Galaxy M5A worth 1.5 million, at least 40,000, which he had in his pockets, and his bag containing his National Identity Card, ATM cards, and over US $200.

But the attackers were not satisfied; they also cut his chin and broke three of his lower incisors. At first, the incident appeared to Dr. Kahyana as a simple robbery; after all, it had happened in an area not so familiar to him. But events after his attacks prompted him to think otherwise.

First, his phone was active more than seven days after the attack, quite uncommon as robbers usually immediately discard lines from stolen phones to minimize the chances of being tracked. Soon, his email password was changed, blocking his access for the days the phone was being used by the attackers.

Dr. Kahyana made an attempt to track his phone using GPS technology, and that’s when the phone was turned off immediately. Keeping the lines active after the attack, changing his Gmail password, and switching off the phone immediately after he made an attempt to track the telephone triggered suspicion in Dr. Kahyana that perhaps this was no simple robbery.

On December 28, 2021, novelist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija was arrested from his home in Kisaasi, a Kampala suburb, and held incommunicado until January 11, 2022, when he was produced in court on cases of offensive communication against President Yoweri Museveni and his son, Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba.

While under abduction, he would later narrate that he was tortured by military officers who worked on the orders of the first son. He was later released on bail and fled to Germany, where he said he needed to get thorough treatment for the injuries inflicted on him by his tormentors.

Dr. Kahyana says that when Kakwenza came out, he warned him about his work and urged him to be cautious. Dr. Kahyana’s name was featured severally when military officers interrogated him about his work and the people he worked with.

Both Dr. Kahyana and Kakwenza are members of PEN International, a worldwide association of writers that promotes literature and intellectual cooperation among writers. Dr. Kahyana, a board member of PEN, was the President of PEN Uganda when Kakwenza Rukirabashaija was awarded the 2021 International Writer of Courage by the prestigious PEN Pinter Prize in recognition of his fictional story titled “The Greedy Barbarian,” which depicted bad leadership and corruption in a fictional country.

A scholarly and creative writer himself, Dr. Kahyana is famous for his works about the government’s attack on Buhikira Palace in the Rwenzururu Kingdom in 2016, which left over 100 people dead and scores, including King Omusinga Charles Wesley Mumbere, arrested (the King is out on bail). Having remembered how Kakwenza severally warned him, Dr. Kahyana doubts that his attackers were merely robbers.

Dr. Kahyana is still recovering from the wounds inflicted on him. It’s not yet two weeks since dentists at Makerere University Dental School operated on his gums to fix his dental formula. After three months, he will have a second surgery to place crowns in the spaces left by his missing teeth.

Whereas Dr. Kahyana is steadily recovering from physical wounds and scars, he has not yet healed psychologically. With his attackers still at large and the motive of their actions still unknown, Dr. Kahyana fears that he could be attacked again.

He has become skeptical of people, not knowing if the waitress at the restaurant isn’t serving him poison-laced food, if a driver on the road isn’t deliberately running him over deliberately to cause harm or kill him, or if a friend close to him isn’t seeking out for his blood.

The attack on Dr. Kahyana has left him in a tricky situation; to write or not to write; yet he believes that it’s through speaking or writing or expressing ourselves that we heal ourselves of specific anxieties and problems. He says it is difficult for the writer not to write, but at the same time, it’s difficult for a writer to live a long time if he or she continues writing critical stuff like the kind that Kahyana writes.

Should I keep writing despite the risk of losing my life, or should I stop, put down my pen, and do something else, perhaps praise the government or bad leadership?Should I join the fray and take part in the sharing of the evil pie so that I am not attacked? Or should I continue healing myself and healing my country by writing the way I do, which is critical writing? ” wonders Dr. Kahyana, who wants to be safe from attacks, adversity, and sudden deaths without dropping the pen.

But am I willing to abandon my writing for that comfort? The answer is No. Am I ready to be a martyr, to die because of my writing? The answer is No. I am not able. So that’s the kind of situation I am in,” adds Dr. Kahyana.

In all tone and action, Dr. Kahyana isn’t giving up on writing; he’s only worried that he might not write as critically as he has been. Before his wounds heal, he is already writing a poem about the events of the night of April 26th, 2022. His friend, a senior lecturer, has already cautioned him against publishing the poem for fear that it could land him in more trouble.


Does it matter being mugged so savagely as you return home from a Kingsman’s Vigil in a country that claims to be very secure with a President who first says he has a cure for every problem afflicting the restless nation, for instance, crashing dissenters’ damnation?

Does it matter that you lose your teeth so quickly with a machete blow executed so viciously in a country where leaders make wild claims of being the best at securing people’s dreams even when it’s clear the goal doesn’t serve anything but selfish accumulation that stings and appalls?

Does it matter if you lose your life for your writing that condemns every form of wrongdoing, naively imagining a pen can uproot a dictator and make him submit his power to an author for the country’s choking on numerous misdeeds to breathe for us in many many decades?

The tyrant shall break your legs and you wheal, for it is his hobby to plunder, destroy, and kill. International bodies will condemn his actions, but being swerved and sowing hatred and divisions, he will play one superpower against the other as he tramples you to death one after the other.

The police at Kira Road are still investigating the attack on Dr. Kahyana but have yet to arrest any suspects, track the phone or provide any tangible results of the investigations. Dr. Kahyana doesn’t have a lot of faith that the police will find the attackers since time is passing and not even the number to which airtime was shared from Kahyana’s line was sent.

Dr. Kahyana claims that the goal of his writings is to encourage better governance and that he will continue to fight for a better Uganda.He doesn’t want to go into exile because he loves his home and hopes that the freedom of expression as guaranteed in the Constitution will be upheld.

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