Poets and those who love poetry will sigh with pleasure while reading – or listening to – the opening lines of Henry Barlow’s masterpiece, Building the Nation: Today I did my share in building the nation. I drove a Permanent Secretary to an important urgent function; in fact, to a lunch at the Vic. One such a person who could easily associate with Barlow’s words is Casimir Kadoma.
“If you want to know anything about important people, talk to their house helps (domestic staff) or drivers,” says Casimir Kadoma, continuing, “Those people talk and do things, thinking we never see or hear them. In reality, our eyes and ears are always wide open.”
As a professional driver based at the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) party headquarters in the 1950s and 1960s, the 89-year-old Kadoma chauffeured the big shots, including party president, Dr Apollo Milton Obote. However, he is reluctant to discuss his former bosses, as though afraid of being castigated by an invisible hand.
Entering the world of politics
“I was introduced to politics in 1952 by Ignatius Musaazi,” he says, adding, “We met in Kampala, became friends, and he convinced me to join his Uganda National Congress (UNC) party.”
Born in Ntezi village, Rusekyere in Fort Portal on February 28, 1928, Kadoma began working at the post office in 1946 after failing to complete Junior Three at Virika Junior Secondary School due to lack of school fees. The colonial government had just introduced telephones and Kadoma, together with six others from different countries, was taken to Nairobi for a course in telephone operation. After the course, he was posted to Entebbe to work at the post office and Government House (State House). He lived on the grounds of European Hospital (Grade A Hospital).
By the time Kadoma and Musaazi met, the former had only been married for a year. He and his wife, Florence Nyangoma, were joined in holy matrimony at Virika Cathedral of Our Lady of Snows in Fort Portal on March 12, 1951.
“Obote was still working in Nairobi, but when he returned to Kampala (1956), he joined us in UNC. He began asking why the majority of members and the leadership were Baganda.”
At the UNC Delegates Conference held in Mbale on January 12, 1959, Musaazi was expelled from his party and Obote elected to replace him. On March 9, 1960, Obote merged UNC with Uganda Peoples Union – a UNC breakaway faction led by non-Baganda – to form UPC.
“I was in Mbale and the one thing that stands out in my memory was Obote talking about the need to include people from all the regions of Uganda into the leadership of the party. We all welcomed the idea.”
Throughout the interview, Kadoma laughs softly and shakes his head, remembering Obote’s cunning. “Did you know he once knelt before Muteesa? We wanted to take power (after April 25, 1962 election) and I drove him and six others to Bamunanika (Palace). When the Kabaka came into the room, we all knelt before him, and then Obote began convincing him about the wisdom of him becoming executive president and Kabaka Yekka (KY) forming an alliance with UPC. Obote could make you do things you never even dreamt of doing.”
After independence, Kadoma was made chairman of the UPC branch in Kamwokya and his judisiction extended from Luzira, Naguru, Kamwokya, and Mulago. In 1963, he was among the 31 people Jaberi Bidandi Ssali chose as councillors for the newly created Mpigi District.
The wild parties
Besides politics, there was another side to Obote. He loved to party, and he found good company with Kadoma and other heavy drinkers in the UPC. “I had three houses – in Wandegeya, Kamwokya, and when we came to power, a government house in Nakasero,” Kadoma reminisces, adding, “In the evenings, I would leave my home in Wandegeya to meet up with colleagues in Ntinda, and go drinking. Obote always joined us since he lived in Ntinda. We were heavy drinkers! We were all UPC members and no one cared about titles in the bar. We had no preferences; we drunk whatever came our way. At about midnight, Obote would dismiss his driver, and tell him, ‘Kadoma will take me home.’ I always drove him home at about 4am.”
When Obote became prime minister, the drinking sprees continued. “Besides Ntinda, we frequented bars in Mengo, Zana and Nakulabye. Luckily, we never got any serious accident while driving back home. I only got a minor accident in Lubowa (along Entebbe Road) at 4am as I was driving back home from a party at State House. My Volkswagen overturned and I got a small cut above my left eye.”
During his wild life, Kadoma fathered 17 children from different women.
The party comes to an end
In 1971, when Idi Amin, took power, many UPC members, including Kadoma went into hiding. “Amin had been one of us – a fellow UPC member. We knew each other because I had chauffeured him a number of times. I guess his soldiers thought I knew too much.”
Obote (R) with Kabaka Muteesa at a party, back in the day.
Obote (R) with Kabaka Muteesa at a party, back in the day.
After hiding for a few months, Kadoma went to live with a friend in Wandegeya. “I hid in his chicken coop for seven days. By that time, my wife had died but I had a girlfriend, who brought me food every day. My friend, Paulo Muwanga, got to know where I was hiding. One night, he picked me up and drove me to a house, where I bathed and changed clothes. Then, at 4am, he drove me to the airport and I boarded a plane to Egypt. After a few months, I flew to France.”
Kadoma registered as a refugee and was granted French citizenship. When Muwanga became Uganda’s ambassador to France, with his help Kadoma secured a job as the ambassador’s driver. “When Muwanga left the Embassy, I remained in France. Life was good and the French are good people who treated me well.”
Kadoma hints at meeting Kabaka Ronald Mutebi and his sister in France, and later London but he declines to be drawn deeper into that particular conversation.
When Obote returned to power in 1980, Kadoma did not feel the need to return home because he was a French civil servant.
Returning to Uganda
In 1986, he met a girl, Gladys, who had gone to France for kyeyo (casual jobs). They fell in love and got married that same year. They were married for 28 years but never had children together.
“In 1988, I made 60 years and I retired. Luckily, President Museveni had taken power and I was free to return. I rented a house at the corner of the road in Mpala (where Entebbe Road joins Entebbe Express Highway) before I built my home in Lyamutundwe.”
In 1994, Kadoma became vice chairman of Lyamutundwe and in 1997, during the LC elections, he was elected chairman, a position he has held to-date. Despite his busy schedule, he continued to drink heavily until one Sunday in 2013 when he abruptly stopped drinking. He was 85 years old. The next year, after his wife died, he stopped driving.
About Kadoma’s family
Of his 17 children, only two – all women – are alive. One lives in France and works for the UN as a linguist. The second daughter lives in Fort Portal. All his grandchildren live in France.
Kadoma still receives his pension from the French government. He lives a comfortable quiet life. Every day, at 3pm, he leaves his compound to stand by the road named after him and see a view of the world that his huge flat screen TV cannot show him.
Coming from a religious family, which has produced brothers and nuns, Kadoma is a loyal Catholic and his New Testament (Vangiri) is always within reach.
At 89, he is satisfied that he did his part in building the nation, if only by alleviating Obote’s stress during the early years of governing a young nation.
His daughter says…
I am very proud of my Dad for being our family anchor, shield and a pillar. He is my hero. His love and care has always carried me through this life’s trials and kept our family united.
He is much loved and respected both at home and abroad, notably in Paris, France where he lived and worked for over 15 years and much referred to by many who have crossed his path as a generous and a man of integrity.
When my elder brother, Gregory Bahemuka, was killed in 1985 (whose body was never found), we both took on the responsibilities of rising and educating his two sons, Elvis Kweezi and Ronald Baguma. Dad also welcomed many more relatives in his home, many of whom graduated from Nkumba University.
He is a very generous person and I thank God for guiding and protecting my Dad to this day.
Margaret Birungi Kadoma, Paris
Kadoma’s other friendships
I met President Museveni when he was a student at Ntare School. He was a friend of Obote. In fact, such was their friendship that we called him Mutabani w’Obote (Obote’s son). Obote used to send me to Ntare to take sugar to Museveni. He loved him so much and he would tell us that the boy would one day become president of Uganda because he was very intelligent. You could not say anything bad about Museveni in front of Obote. However, since I returned to Uganda in 1988, I have never met him because I am not one to seek favours from people.