The General Service Unit was established as a military and public intelligence agency. It was the design of the British and the Israel’s helped in its setting up, just as they did in Kenya and Tanzania with a similar name.
When Uganda got independence in 1962, the country had no military or public intelligence. It was the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) and the Special Branch of police that existed as it was thought that there was no need to have a military intelligence agency.
But the December 1963 humiliation by Rwanda, China and Kenya and the February 1964 attempted mutiny as Jinja barracks forced the Ugandan government to swiftly establish one.
In late November 1963, China’s leader Chairman Mao shipped military equipment, including firearms and ammunition, to Tutsi rebels in Zaire fighting to recapture power in Kigali after their overthrow in 1959 followed by genocide against the Tutsi.
The equipment from Port Mombasa passed Kampala with the consent of Kenya’s leader Jomo Kenyatta. Uganda’s prime minister Milton Obote was kept in the dark and only came to know about it a week after the equipment had crossed Katuna border and was in Zaire (now DR Congo).
This infuriated Obote who sought answers from Mzee Kenyatta, but in vain. And so the answer was to establish a military intelligence to do both internal and external spying.
The GSU was established on April 1, 1964, by an Act of Parliament during the first amendment of the 1962 Constitution.
Its founding head, Dr Adoko Akena Naphtali, had the official title of Chief Intelligence Officer and reported directly to prime minister Milton Obote. Adoko, an Israeli-trained spy, and Obote were cousins.
Adoko was a smart lawyer and intellectual and he recruited intelligent people, including students from universities such the University of Dar es Salaam. Tanzania in the 1960s and 1970s was among the homes for political movements in Africa.
Ugandan students then became Adoko’s listening posts in Tanzania. The GSU wanted political intelligence from students who interacted with African politicians and experts.
But in 1964 onwards, the GSU got caught up in scandals. The earliest was the November 1964 Nakulabye killings in which at least 10 civilians were shot dead in what began as a love-crime between a Special Force operative and his Congolese girlfriend.
The operative was said to have found his girlfriend making love to a man believed to be a GSU operative disguised as a shopkeeper in Nakulabye, a suburb of Kampala. At the end of the brawl that started in a bar, a dozen people had been shot dead.
It was also the GSU that pioneered the crackdown on the Opposition and media in Uganda. Adoko being an orator and good debater often engaged journalists and Opposition politicians in debates about the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) government. But whenever he was defeated, he would use the GSU to silence that person.
For instance, during the debate on amendment of the 1966 Constitution, which a sizable number of Ugandans were opposed to, dissenting voices as well as newspapers were silenced, except for the international monthly magazine, The Transition, published by Rajat Neogy, a Ugandan of Indian descent, and famous politician Abu Mayanja who refused to be silenced and had to pay the price.
Mayanja, Rajat arrested
In August 1967, a month to the promulgation of the new Constitution to replace the 1966 Constitution, Member of Parliament and advocate Abu Mayanja wrote in The Transition an opinion opposing the constitutional proposals.
The article also warned about unchecked powers of the presidency and attacked the Detention Act. This incensed the presidency. In the following edition of The Transition, GSU boss Adoko wrote answering Mayanja. In the subsequent editions, readers attacked Adoko and the government.
Before dawn on October 18, 1968, a year after the new Constitution had been passed, Special Forces under the command of the GSU’s arrested Mayanja as he approached his home. He was taken to court and by noon he was at Luzira Maximum Security Prison.
Interestingly, the army which was under instructions to arrest that editor of The Transition ended up arresting the wrong person, Daniel Nelson, a British editor of The People newspaper, the government paper. He was later set free after hours in detention.
By noon, the right editor Neogy was arrested and sent to Luzira where he joined Mayanja, but in solitary confinement.
Police invades court
On November 24, 1968, for the first time in Uganda court was invaded by armed security operatives. Earlier, Neogy and Mayanja had appeared at Kampala High Court in handcuffs, escorted by the Special Forces from Luzira prison.
The State charged the duo with sedition, but the magistrate granted them bail. As they stepped outside the courtroom amid jubilations from friends, relatives and well-wishers, they were re-arrested by the Special Forces at the stairway and taken back to Luzira in separate vans. The Uganda Argus and People newspapers of November 25 and 26, 1968, reported. No journalist was allowed to take any photos.
Neogy tried inside the prison
In early January 1968, Adoko, the head of the Security Council, secretary to Cabinet, chief adviser of president Obote and Uganda’s second most powerful man, caused another irregularity when he forced Neogy to be tried in jail – Luzira Maximum Security Prison.
A few days after his charges were read to him while in prison, Neogy was brought before a tribunal held within the walls of Upper Prison.
The chairman of the tribunal was a High Court judge. He asked the prosecutor if he had any charges he wanted to add. The prosecutor answered said no.
With no lawyer, Neogy defended himself by arguing that he had given ample space for the government to respond to the said criticism, which government did. Neogy quoted Obote’s earlier statement he made while in Britain applauding The Transition magazine.
Neogy died in 1995 in exile in the United States.
GSU in Kabaka Muteesa’s death
There are two versions used to explain Kabaka Edward Muteesa’s death in 1969 while in exile in London.
The official one is that he died of poisoning as a result of acute alcohol consumption over a long period of time, which destroyed his internal organs.
The other version is that Muteesa was poisoned by a Muganda girl who was a known GSU undercover operative in Kampala.
It is said that she left Kampala and went to London ostensibly to attend Kabaka Muteesa’s 45th birthday on November 19, 1969. It is said that she was the last to leave the Kabaka’s house. And within hours after her departure, Muteesa started complaining of acute stomach pains.
On November 21, 1969, he passed on in a London hospital. The Uganda government denied any involvement, but what they could not deny was that the girl was a known GSU agent and was not known to be in close contact with the Kabaka since 1966 when he fled Uganda.
Museveni condemns brutality
Condemned. After signing the Nairobi peace talks on December 17, 1985, Yoweri Museveni condemned security agencies for killing innocent Ugandans. He said: “Violence in Uganda was not started by the people but by those in power in 1964. The government started killing the people at Nakulabye. The people who had guns were paid to protect us turned those guns against us. They killed people with impunity. The government of the day did nothing. And the process of state-inspired violence has been going ever since.”
He went on to say: “People were killed in 1964. Our people were killed 1966. Amin killed our people from 1971 to 1979. Milton Obote killed our people from 1981 to 1985. And the Military Council has been killing our people even recently.”