- Workers, spouses use Butabika mental hospital to
- Mulago staff gives testimony
Lying on the shores of Lake Victoria, east of Kampala
is Butabika Mental Rehabilitation Hospital. It is home
to between 500-700 patients, according to its director,
Dr Fred Kigozi. But apparently Butabika is not exclusively
a hospital for mental patients but also “patients
The hospital, which enjoys a cool breeze with well-groomed
open spaces, clean wards and an enthralling ambience,
is supposed to host people with mental impairment. But
interestingly the facility has also been used to admit
people of sound mind. How and why it's done, is a combination
of treachery and outright criminality.
MENTALLY ILL? Mr Lubanga
narrates his Butabika ordeal to Monitor. Photo
by Uthman Kiyaga
|We made an educated guess:
Mulago boss Dr Dumba
If your spouse wants to divorce you, it's just a call
away to the police and says you are mentally sick. Without,
further delay, the police will bundle you out of the
house to Butabika. Then the divorce petition will succeed
on grounds of mental illness. When your relatives want
to grab your property or want to deny you inheritance,
they just do the same thing. A mere pronouncement that
you are mentally ill is enough to earn you a booking
Many civil servants, whose termination from work is
not an outright decision by their bosses, have been
branded mentally ill and booked at Butabika, to get
basis for dismissal from employment.
"We have seen several cases where some people
are brought here [Butabika] because individuals want
to take advantage of them. Mental illness is used as
an escape route," Dr Kigozi said.
He told Sunday Monitor in his office on Monday that
although some cases had been referred to Butabika by
court, others were manoeuvres by individuals. On the
way out after interviewing Dr Kigozi, Sunday Monitor
met a civil servant who had been referred to Butabika
on allegations that he was not of sound mind.
Mr Jamada Lubanga, a medical equipment technical officer
at Mulago National Referral Hospital, was sent to Butabika
by the ministry's Permanent Secretary for mental check
up because his bosses at Mulago had insisted he was
mentally ill. The senior staff at Butabika knew Mr Lubanga
because he used to repair their medical equipment.
Mr Lubanga, who had lots of documents, sat down with
Sunday Monitor and recounted his story: My problem started
in 2004 when mortuary trolleys [used for keeping dead
bodies] were taken for repair. The repairers wanted
Shs6 million but some people in my department wanted
to inflate repair costs. I refused. The repairers [B.C
Engineering & Fabricators] insisted on me going
to clear the bills and pick the trolleys but the bosses
Later they had me transferred to Masaka Hospital.
I moved to Masaka but they had already informed the
bosses there that I was mentally ill. They tried to
instigate Masaka Hospital against me but I stayed there.
The hospital administrator in Masaka threatened to throw
me out of the house I had been allocated.
(Sunday Monitor saw copies of documents indicating
that several top leaders in Masaka were petitioned and
they intervened to help Mr Lubanga. The CID officer
and the Chief Magistrate wrote to the Resident District
Commissioner to help Mr Lubanga).
Later the PS noticed the anomaly. She transferred me
back to Mulago. When I reported to duty at Mulago, the
management denied me access to the office. But I stayed
on hoping their attitude would change.
Later I reported the matter to the ministry. The PS
rang the director of Mulago Hospital Dr Robert Dumba
asking him why they were not allowing me to access my
office yet I am the only experienced mechanical engineer
with 15 years of service at Mulago.
The director told the PS that I am mentally ill. The
PS refused to buy his explanation because she was aware
of my issue.
The PS asked Dr Dumba whether he had examined me and
found me mentally ill.
She asked me to come to Butabika so that experts examine
me and give a report.
When I arrived here, most of the workers know me because
I used to repair their medical equipment. I was referred
to Dr Tom Onen, a senior consultant psychiatrist. I
have had talk with him and he says he will write a report
to the PS. The whole plot is to get rid of me at Mulago.
But Dr Dumba disagrees.
“Mr Lubanga is mentally ill. He is just a technical
person and junior; he is not persecuted. He has real
problems and the ministry of health is handling his
“In civil service, there are procedures of complaining,
he should not talk to the media.
“The gentleman is mentally disturbed.”
Asked how he concluded that Mr Lubanga is mentally
ill when he is not a psychiatrist, Dr Dumba said: "
We are also doctors, that is how we made an educated
Asked whether guesswork was part of medical practice,
he said: "That man is mad, that's why he was referred
Dr Dumba denied the allegations that some officials
at Mulago wanted to get rid of Mr Lubanga, so as to
gain access to equipment for use in private clinics.
He also denied knowledge of the case involving mortuary
"Maybe it's known to him. He is a very low officer,"
Dr Dumba said.
But Dr Onen who received and interviewed Mr Lubanga
at Butabika said he had examined him and did not find
sufficient ground to show he is mentally sick.
He declined to divulge details.
“In psychiatry, you can only keep someone if
they are neglecting themselves or are a threat to others.
We get people brought here that they are mentally ill
and we find they are not. We have had people come because
there are squabbles in jobs. Either the bosses do not
want their juniors or the subordinates too brand their
superiors as funny.”
“In most cases we find no grounds to say the accused
are mentally ill.
“For instance, a PS has sent here a person.
They don't want the chap in the job.
“A lot of such cases are from the public service
because it is very difficult to dismiss somebody from
public service. In a week, I handle at least three cases
of that nature – who are falsely branded mentally
“Some of those referred here, we find they may
have simple depression; they feel headache all the time.
Some have lost their loved ones or are suffering from
HIV/Aids. There are many people out there suffering.
Giving them a simple rest from daily routine would help
them. But instead they are declared mentally ill and
Dr Kigozi says:
“We had a case where a woman attempted to divorce
her husband by declaring him mentally abnormal but we
found the man normal. “By law, if a case is referred
here from court, we take 28 days to observe the person
before writing a report.
“If it’s involuntary admission largely
resulting from urgency orders, we observe the person
for 10 days. Any story of concoction will be subjected
to scientific assessment and in most cases they fail.
“To declare somebody mentally ill, a committee
set up by the Director General of Health Services must
sit and make an assessment. That committee must include
a neurologist physician and a psychiatrist. “So
people can escape being declared mentally ill by writing
to the Director General of Health Services.”
He said there are also cases of patients who have
recovered but their relatives have refused to take them
back home. He said the hospital holds between 30- 50
such patients. There is also a 14-year-old boy, Charles
Lwanga, a slow learner and lame but not mentally ill.
Moving with a hospital guide, Lwanga came running
and embraced the nurse in the hospital yard. "Mummy...
mummy... mummy... where is my sweet. Mummy you didn't
see me yesterday," Lwanga said as he embraced the
This writer chatted with Lwanga and he had this to
say: “I was brought here in 1997. I want to go
home; I want to go to school. My father is Lt. Col.
Lwanga Mutumba [now a Brigadier]. He works in Bombo
as a soldier. He is a doctor. They don't want me at
home. Mummy [stepmother] doesn’t want me.”
However, Brig. Lwanga on Friday said he took his son
to Butabika because he was not alright. "I took
him there sometime but not 1997.
“He has been chronically sick. I would prefer
you leave him there. It was a painful decision. He has
had a mental problem since birth. You can’t trust
so much what he says. There is no stepmother at home.”
The young Lwanga was dressed in a striped hospital
uniform which the hospital officials said is only worn
by patients who pose no danger to themselves or others.
Police say malicious booking of people to Butabika is
“When somebody reports that their relative is
mentally ill, the police acts and takes the person to
Butabika. For us we genuinely think it’s a true
report,” said Mr Asan Kasingye, the police spokesman.
“The blame should be put on a person who gave
police wrong information.”