Sunday March 9 2014

I hated Museveni, but he saved my life - Rwakasisi

Mr Rwakasisi during the interview. He says

Mr Rwakasisi during the interview. He says Museveni prayed before pardoning him. photo by Dominic Bukenya 

By Henry Lubega

When I came back with the Uganda National Liberation Front army of 1979, I was an equivalent of the minister of commerce in Yusuf Lule’s regime. When he was removed and replaced with Godfrey Lukongwa Binaisa, I was appointed the National Political Advisor.

Binaisa was very fearful of the situation at the time and it was until I devised a strategy of touring other parts of the country besides Buganda that things somehow normalised. We started from Ankole, Kigezi, Tooro, and then to the north. In all these places Binaisa was well- received. Our first rally in Buganda was in Mubende.
On our way back to Entebbe, we found banana stems had been planted on the roads to welcome us.

Meanwhile, all this time I was pushing for restoration of political parties. We needed to go back to our political parties and it was during one of the National Consultative Council meetings that I brought up the issues.
The next day after I had raised the issue of going back to our party colours I had to escort the president to preside over the promotion of some officers in Gaddafi Barracks in Jinja.
Those to be promoted included Lt Col Oyite Ojok and Tito Okello. After inspecting the guard of honour in the pavilion, Binaisa whispered to me in Luganda “Nze sigenda ku bi promontinga nze” (I am not going to promote those things) I said to him this will be terrible Mr President the order had been passed.

He went on “nkugambye sija kukikola” (I have told you I am not going to do it) and indeed he refused to promote them.
I was so annoyed with Binaisa that he realised it and invited me to lunch at Nile Mansions. During lunch, he tried explaining why he had refused to promote the soldiers; his reasons bordered on tribalism. I told him count on me no more. “From today I am going to work against you and to remove you,” I told him before walking away. His reason was that if he promoted the largely northerner officers, they would turn against him and overthrow his regime.
That very day I was summoned by Obote to Dar es saalam. I went with Dr Luwuliza Kirunda, David Anyoti and Osindek Wangor. Soon after our arrival at Obote’s house, Julius Nyerere also arrived and asked what was happening, Obote told him I would explain.

After my explanation, Nyerere said: “You go and raise dust and remove Binaisa.” I asked him how. He responded: “Has Binaisa got the police or the army? The police and the army are mine, you go and remove him.” When we returned, we kicked off with rallies to give Binaisa an ouster. The first was in Kabwohe and the second was to be in Bushenyi.
As I was driving to Bushenyi for the rally I heard on radio that Oyite Ojok had been appointed Uganda’s ambassador to Algeria. When Luwuliza arrived at the venue I told him of the news and it is then that we decided to call off the rally and head back to Kampala.

Meantime, Binaisa had sent police to come and arrest us in Bushenyi. We by passed the police at Lukaya heading to Bushenyi to arrest us. Soon after, Binaisa was overthrown by the military commission.
I started preparing for the return of our party president [Obote] by making several trips to Tanzania. I looked for where he was going to land. If he landed in the north it would be seen as a tribal return, so we decided to take him to Ankole to prove that UPC was a national party.
Two buffalo planes were availed to him. One by Kenneth Kaunda and another by the Tanzanian Forces. They landed in Bushenyi where we started planning for the campaigns and the elections.

1980 Elections
Paulo Muwanga is accused of having taken over the responsibility of announcing the results, forgetting that Akbar Nekyon, a DP member, started announcing results from the DP headquarters, including those of my constituency when elections were still going on. It was causing commotion in town; the chairman of the Military Commission had to take an administrative decision. When Obote heard the news he called me to know the truth.

As soon as he got the results he sent a helicopter to bring me to Entebbe. At State House, I found Muwanga and the late Otema Allimadi in a room next to the president’s office. During the campaigns Obote had told people that I was going to be his prime minister. When I was ushered in his office he told me “You recall what I told you but these gentleman here Paulo is campaigning for his friend Otema Allimadi for the post and I don’t know what to do,” I told him so be it, but he insisted.

He brought out a list of proposed cabinet posts and told me to choose one I wanted but I declined to choose. Obote said: “But I still want you in my office but if I say you are a minister of state people will say you are a junior minister, a minister without portfolio. The Baganda will say minister atalina mulimo. For a minister for the presidency they will say you are running my errands.

In the end for the convenience of everybody, I was regarded as a state minister which I was not. In the circles of the fourth floor of the Nile Mansions I was referred to as the prime minister. I have been referred to as the former head of Nasa yet I have never been. Its head was Kasendwa Ddumba. I was minister of national security, a post I took reluctantly.
Let me also clear the air on allegations that president Museveni was once a member of General Service. He has never been. He was a staff of State Research which Amin turned into an intelligence organ. The State Research Bureau under Obote I was never a security organ. It was doing research which the president’s state of the nation speech was drawn from. It is Amin who turned this office into an intelligence outfit.

1981 rebellion
We had heard of the rebellion plans and several reports were seen but we dismissed them, no one took them seriously. It was until they attacked Kabamba that we realised the reports were genuine. After the attack the rebellion went on developing up to the time when our very own army turned against us and toppled the government.

When the rebellion started, it took a financial toll on us. We had to keep soldiers on the front lines, and the cost of doing so was doubling in terms of all military supplies.
One of the reasons why we failed to stop the war was the big gap in our command structure.

President Obote being a civilian was not willing to interfere in military affairs; he concentrated on the economy and literally left the military issues to Oyite Ojok. Even Oyite Ojok had limitations in terms of material; there was no money in government.

Panda gari
This was a child of military intelligence; which came about as a result of rivalry between security organisations. In a situation like what Uganda was going through then it was difficult to control soldiers who had just emerged victors in a war.

Panda gari came up as a random surprise, in the security situation we were in at the time. It had nothing to do with the National Security Agency, it was military intelligence at work.
There was a term in the army then known as (NYA) Not Yet Approved. These are the people recruited from the village and trained on gun basics before going to the battlefield.

The indiscipline is also attributed to the quest for revenge. Majority of the army was from Lango and Acholi, and these are the people who had suffered a lot during the Amin regime.

These were defectors from the different insurgent groups at that time bedsides the NRA. These people were being used to identify the moles and traffickers of the rebel groups.

Life in prison
I was taken to Luzira on August 20, 1985 and all inmates were saying: “come and take your own medicine you sent us here.” All of a sudden, everyone claimed I signed their detention orders when I had not. It was the internal affairs minister not the national security minister. However, two weeks later, we were interacting well.

On my first night in prison, I was taken into a library section where there were two cells. One was occupied by a Pakistani inmate and I took the other. After two months, I was moved to share with Bob Astles, he was a good cook and cellmate. His food used to come from England; he also kept some cats in the cell whose food used to come from Australia. After three years, he was released.

A day in condemned section
In prison I was a very busy man. I would wake up early have breakfast and go for the morning worship from 7:30am to about 9am have a little rest then go teach scriptures up to lunch time. After lunch I would have a siesta and at around 2:30pm go for the last worship for the day up to 4pm which was the lockup time. When they introduced computers we would go for computer lessons after lunch

The law provided that a condemned person should be fed the way he was before being imprisoned, but because the prison services could not maintain that prisoners were allowed to get food from outside at their cost and have it prepared in the prison kitchen. For the 24 years of my time in Luzira, I never ate prison food.

Worst and best moments
The days of the executions were my worst moments. Not knowing whether you were the next or not was scary. During my time there were four executions.
The best days were what were known as Kayide in prison language. Those are the days when a pardon is going to be announced.
But my strongest moment was when Jesus found me. It was him that kept me through that situation. Had I remained the bitter and proud Rwakasisi, I don’t think I would have made it through.

On June 30, 1988, I was condemned by a judge in Mbarara High Court. The judge started reading his judgment from 10am until 8:30pm.
At 8:30pm he removed his white wig and put on a black hood and said he was going to pronounce a death sentence. He banged the table and the entire court stood up, a prayer was read out by the clerk. I did not hear much of it but caught the tail end, saying: “May his soul rest in internal peace” and we all said amen. Then the judge pronounced the death sentence. “You are going to suffer by hanging until you die”. Some people jubilated while others including my relatives cried.

After condemnation I became very bitter and President Museveni was top on my hate list. I was in isolation for the first six months after condemnation and that’s where Jesus found me. After receiving salvation Jesus himself said to me “Chris no one will kill you”. It was a turning point of my life. After receiving the Grace of God I recalled my old friendship between me and the President.

When I came out of isolation I established a church in the condemned section which is still vibrant and I visit it regularly.
In 1998, I read in the papers that while in Kasese, the President promised to forgive ADF fighters as he forgave Rwakasisi. When I read that it gave me reassurance that I would survive hanging.
Earlier in 1995, I suffered from diabetes and the President sent me his personal doctors to come and check on me. He first sent his legal men Fox Odoi and Mike Chibita who came to see me first. I don’t think this would have come from Museveni unless it was Jesus working through him.

Meeting Museveni
When I came out we met on June 3, 2009 at his office in Nakasero. He has a way of putting people at ease. When I entered he stood up and met me mid-way and said: “Welcome from the prison” and I also said welcome from the bush. He told me the story of how on three different occasions he failed to sign my death warrant.

He said: “I am not a very strong Christian but I fear God, I went to that table over there,knelt and prayed and God told me audibly ‘don’t sign it’”. I thanked him for listening to the voice of God.
When people see me with the President as a senior presidential advisor they don’t know the secret he knows.

Receiving pardon
It was on a Tuesday. I had gone through my morning routine and had received a team of missionaries from Australia. As I settled for my lunch an officer came and told me I was needed in the OC’s office. I asked myself what I had done this time.

In the OC’s office for the first time in 24 years, I was offered a seat. He pulled a letter from a file and gave it to me. It was from State House. The caption was the instrument of release and was signed by President Yoweri K. Museveni. In the middle it read “by the power conferred upon me by the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda …….. I hereby order the Commissioner General and OC Upper Prisons to cause the release of Chris Rwakasisi unconditionally with immediate effect”. When I read the letter I just said praise the Lord and walked out.

Prison is a very interesting place, when I asked to go back and collet my things from the cell I was asked I go back as who, am no longer a prisoner, nor a visitor. I just went to the reception were my clothes were and I changed from the prison uniform and walk out. It took me less than an hour from the time I received the letter to the time I walked out.