Those who dare to take a long stare at the sun are often left in darkness. But then, if you are a 19-year-old girl from a wealthy family, partying in Nairobi of 1981, and you meet a 42-year-old American-educated man, wouldn’t you fall in love with him?
Samali Bamutiire stands in the doorway, smiling. This is a good sign. She almost cancelled the appointment in the morning. Although she has just returned from her garden, the dash of red lipstick is conspicuous, as is the jet black cat laying on the sofa, giving me a hostile look.
Reminiscing about the old days
In her mid-50s, Bamutiire is living in genteel poverty – dignified poverty, not the kind that strips one of all sense of decency. She is still good looking.
“My father used to import Exide batteries from Kenya. Sometimes, he took us on his trips. That time, I was there with my siblings, Christine and Henry. I was just a girl when I met Andrew. We fell in love, enjoyed Nairobi life, and then, I followed him to the bush.”
Andrew Kayiira attained a Bachelor of Science degree, an MA and PhD in Criminal Justice. His doctoral dissertation was titled: Kondoism in Uganda. He became an assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of New Haven in Connecticut. He joined Yusuf Kironde Lule’s government in 1979. In 1980, after UFM was founded, Kayiira became its military commander.
The bush was a thick forest in Bujuuko on Mityana Road offered by the Mugwanya family. Bamutiire’s greatest fear was encountering caterpillars, but she boldly entered the forest. “Sometimes, I wonder at the courage I had. Maybe I was young. That forest was so thick that smoke could not penetrate the canopies.”
For months, the group underwent intensive training, including how to handle guns. Every day, new recruits were brought in. The recruiting centre was Kikuubo Lane, a timber hub in 1982.
“We needed more arms, so we planned to attack Lubiri Barracks armoury. However, before we attacked, the armoury was shifted. Someone had betrayed us.”
There is talk of a lorry full of arms that Kayiira captured from Lubiri. Bamutiire claims the guns on the lorry were a gift from Libya to Kayiira. “After Lubiri government forces attacked our camps. That Tata lorry was driven to Kayiira’s camp but we had decamped. My brother, Henry, an ex-Amin soldier, commandeered the truck but we do not know how Museveni’s people got to know of it. They came and took it.
Accusations of being a spy
In a 2005 interview, Francis Bwengye, a former member of UFM’s external wing, accused the Bamutiire girls (Samali and Christine) of being UPC youth wingers sent by Major General David Oyite Ojok to spy on UFM commanders. When I put these accusations to Bamutiire, she flares up. For a moment, it looks like she will stop the interview.
“I do not like Bwengye! Is this the price of freedom he fought for? Who asked him to sell his book for a kagoyo (piece of bread)? My father was Obote’s close friend. But, I was never a spy.”
The genesis of the accusations, she says, stems from a time when UFM relocated to Mpigi. “When Andrew travelled to Nairobi (August 1982) he left (Commander) George Nkwanga in charge. Nkwanga wanted to overthrow Andrew so he planned to kill his close friends. He mobilised the boys who had just returned from Libya. My sister heard them discussing the plot and told us we had to escape to (Commander) Steven Ndugute’s camp.”
That evening, the two girls, their brother Henry, and nine others escaped. As the financial controller, Bamutiire had a list of UFM’s financers in her bag. Her sister, being the secretary, had other incriminating documents on her.
Bamutiire was captured by youth wingers in Kibibi, led by Sergeant Maj Sokolo. “They beat us every hour. I was three months pregnant. Sokolo beat us! If you are captured you cannot think you will not talk. The torture they put you through!”
Her sister, Christine (Askari Sharp), was also captured. With the arrest of the two sisters, UFM collaborators were arrested in central region and paraded at City Square (now Constitutional Square). Some were incarcerated, but the majority were executed at Nile Mansions (Kampala Serena Hotel).
Oyite-Ojok instructed that Askari Sharp, be brought to him at Nile Mansions. He assured her that she would not be killed. In turn, she asked him to rescue her two siblings from Mpigi.
“Captain Babu drove me to Kampala. However, they had discovered that I was Kayiira’s woman, so I was beaten at every roadblock from Mpigi to Kampala. At vice president, (Paulo) Muwanga’s home, he said in his small voice, ‘Kati ggwe omwana omuto? Ha! Kati obadde ogenda kujjako gavumenti y’Obote? Kale mumutwale ku Nayiro Mansoni.’” (Translation: Now you child, were you going to overthrow Obote’s government? Take her to Nile Mansions).
Bamutiire and her brother were spared because Askari Sharp spilled UFM’s secrets. Oyite-Ojok made it clear that by holding the siblings in Nile Mansions, he was saving their lives. UFM’s supporters would have murdered them on the streets of Kampala.
UFM’s operations came to an end in September 1982.
After a few months in Nile Mansions, Captain Otim, the commander of the Military Police, without Oyite-Ojok’s knowledge, incarcerated Bamutiire in the go-down at Mbuya Barracks for five months.
“We were 20 women in a tiny cell. It was so dark that you could not see your neighbour. We could not stretch. Four of us were pregnant. For nature’s call, we used a small Kimbo tin. One kind soldier occasionally let us out to bathe.”
Help came when military officers arrived to inspect the prisoners and were horrified to find emaciated and nearly blind women there. While the other women were transferred to Luzira prison, a heavily pregnant Bamutiire was confined to a hospital bed in the barracks. Oyite-Ojok and her sister soon rescued her. The siblings were given a house in Old Kampala.
After the 1985 coup, the Bamutiires moved back to Nile Mansions and lived in (then) Lt Col Sam Nanyumba’s suite. However, the threat to their lives never ended. Before Kayiira joined the Military Commission having been invited by Tito Okello, they were hunted down in Mengo – in a hail of bullets. Even then, Nanyumba discouraged them from going into exile.
When NRA took power, Kampala south, from Nsambya to Ggaba, was Kayiira’s stronghold. “Museveni took a long time to appoint Kayiira to the cabinet. Andrew told me to leave Uganda, saying the war had not yet ended. He begged me to go to London, promising to come and see me often. I refused.”
When Kayiira kept insisting, Bamutiire confided in her cousin, Capt Chris Kimeze. He advised her to heed Kayiira’s words. She then travelled to Jinja with her brother, Henry, to consult with her father.
“I stayed in Jinja for a week. One evening, as I was boiling milk, soldiers surrounded the house. They said they had intelligence that there was a lorry of arms in the compound. There was only my father’s gun in the compound.”
Bamutiire and her brother were taken to Jinja Police Station where they spent two weeks. They were then transferred to CPS Kampala where they met Christine. The three spent four months at CPS before being locked up in Luzira prison on a kidnap charge.
“When I was arrested, Andrew was out of the country. On his return, my young sister informed him at the airport. He was so angry. He sent me money to hire the best lawyers – about Shs2 million. He said, ‘Samali, sala amagezi olabe ng’ova mu komera! Kubanga nze bwenajja, njakulimenya!’ Translation: Samali, do everything you can to get out of jail because if I am to come, I will break it. (She speaks loudly, imitating Kayiira’s voice). He was capable of doing it.”
In October 1986, Kayiira was arrested and charged with treason. The jailbirds used to meet in the court cells. The prison warders always placed Kayiira in the women’s cell. “He confided a lot in me. He had no fear. He knew he was innocent.”
Kayiira is murdered
In the six days after he left prison, Bamutiire and Kayiira kept in touch through a prison warder, Baseka. “That Friday evening, when we went to bed, there was an almost physical emptiness in me. I could not sleep. I got off the bed and walked to the window. Holding the bars, I stared out at an expanse that included Muyenga, Bukasa, and Kisugu. Looking at the lights. Then, I heard bullets. Many bullets. They lit the sky. They were tracer bullets. I pitied the person who had been attacked, and then walked back to my bed. I did not sleep.”
On Saturday morning, a prison warder excused her from digging duty. “I wondered why she was being very kind. When I returned to the ward, I found my one pair of knickers had been eaten by red ants. While my sister laughed, I knew this was bad omen.”
At about 4pm, Baseka came to the ward, looking distressed. She took Bamutiire outside and switched on a radio. “Andrew had been murdered. I remembered the bullets. The pain…the pain. I sat down. I could not wail. I could not cry. It dawned on me that I was going to rot in prison.”
The Bamutiire siblings spent 10 years and six months in prison. For six and a half years, they never saw a witness in court. In 1994, Kampala Chief Magistrate, Edward Bamwite released them on bail. Two months later, they were rearrested and sentenced to death.
Visiting their brother
“We appealed but there was no hope. By God’s grace, in 1996, we were summoned before the court of appeal. However, the White judge on the panel refused to hear our case because Henry was not in court. He told us to return in 17 days with Henry. We had spent one year and two months without seeing Henry, so when we returned to Luzira, we asked for permission to see him in Upper Prison.”
With a heavy military police escort, they were taken to Upper prison where they found a bony man. “He had been placed on a concrete bench in the sick bay, naked, with a thin blanket thrown over him. He could not talk. There was a large black mark on his arm. It looked like he had been injected but the drug had remained in one place. The prisoner looking after him told us the soldiers were deliberately not giving him drugs. On the fourteenth day, a Friday, Henry died. Why couldn’t he have lived for three more days? I failed to cry. Christine sat beside me and we kept quiet. All the wardens and prisoners came and consoled us.”
Three days later, Justice Arthur Oder released the two sisters. “After reading his statement, he told me to stand up. I remained seated. He left the panel and came and took my hand. He said, ‘Stand up. From today, you are free.’ I fainted. We got no justice. Our mother had died while we were in prison. (She is silent for a long time). The stigma. You cannot fit into society again because the real you is gone.”
In later years, Bamutiire got married (she requests that her husband be left out of the interview). I ask her if she regrets meeting Kayiira.
“No!” she exclaims, continuing, “Andrew was my hero. He loved me so much that I thought every man was like him. I cannot compare his love to anything. Sometimes, when I am down, I remember his love and it brings me back to life. I’m a quiet person, and sometimes in those forests, I would sit alone. He would pour out his heart, giving me gifts to make me happy. People loved him. As a fighter, he was a very daring man. Once he made a decision to attack, he never changed his mind.”
Bamutiire had two sons with Kayiira and after his death they suffered.
They had to be taken to Mombasa for their safety. Later, the NRM government made them believe that it would care for Kayiira’s children, but Bamutiire says every time her sons names appeared on a scholarship list, they were struck off. None of them completed university.
Recently, one of them, David Kayiira, resurrected his father’s party. “Throughout the poverty and suffering, I tried to protect my children. But now, he is above 18. I cannot make decisions for him anymore. People have to understand that.”
Bamutiire is now an evangelist, with a prisons ministry. Her sister is a pastor. As I am leaving, I get the feeling that there is a lot more that this former student of Maggwa Crescent Primary School and Kiribaki Secondary School has left unsaid.