People & Power
Lupembe: How presidents Lule, Binaisa were juggled
Posted Sunday, May 18 2014 at 01:00
Series. In the eighth part of our series, Kagera War, we bring you the account of Brigadier Burton Richard Lupembe, also known as Mwilipanga Richard Lupembe in the military circles. The 71-year-old witnessed the war from the battle front and the war planning and administration as a staff officer to General Msuguri who headed the operation. Sunday Monitor’s Henry Lubega caught up with him at Msasane beach in Dar es Salaam
During the 1980 general elections, I was in Pakwach. One thing I observed during that time was how divided Ugandans returning from exile were. The only people who were united were those from Tanzania and Zambia. The rest from Europe, America and other African countries were divided along tribal lines.
Obote was well prepared, with a good network of people which monitored everything going on in all polling stations. But Democratic Party was very much disorganised; Paul Semwogerere thought that elections are something very simple; he thought being supported by Baganda is enough for him to win the elections. But there were two factors - the Catholics being DP and the Anglicans who were UPC. The other factor was the Baganda who were not Catholics and yet there were other Catholics who were in the North, East and other parts of the country who supported Obote.
That is why when they went to polling, the DP faction started creating rumours, saying they had won in this and that area but Obote was very clever. He had all the data at his home in Kololo, he had people feeding him with timely happenings during the polling countrywide.
At the end when we asked him, Obote said he had won fairly showing us his data collected from the different places. However later on, Obote involved himself in drinking and he ended up misusing the power, a thing which annoyed Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and I suspect that is why when he went into exile the second time, he did not bother coming to Tanzania.
Within the TPDF, we had no discipline problem but the Baganda didn’t like us, and I never got to know why. It was different from other parts of the country, especially in the north. The Baganda were talking ill of us, calling us looters, saying we were controlling their country and calling us all sorts of derogatory names. We knew they didn’t like us and we didn’t mind since we knew we were not going to stay there forever; we were going to get back home at some point.
Baganda blamed Tanzanians for removing Yusuf Lule but we never did it. Msuguri and I witnessed the events leading to Lule’s removal; also present was Tanzanian minister of State in the prime minister’s office Hussein Shekilango. Shekilango told us at our head office in Entebbe that he had come because they had got information in Dar es Salaam that there was a problem in Kampala. While at our offices in Entebbe, Msuguri told us that he had heard that UNLF was going to have a meeting. Msuguri sent me and Shekilango to State House to go and listen in to what was being discussed. It was a heated debate and arguing within the members of the National Consultative Council and Lule.
Lule was chosen not because all Ugandans in exile wanted him; Tito Okello helped him become the UNLF leader. When Tito Okello was called to Moshi during the conference, UPC people wanted Paulo Muwanga, other people especially those who had been in Britain and other places, wanted Lule. The meeting was very hot, then they all decided to ask Tito who was on the front line fighting. Tito went for Lule as their leader and that’s how Lule was appointed to be the leader of the new government created in exile.
The argument at State House was that since Lule took over power, he was pro-Baganda. He was once close to the kingship. So he was thinking of a Kabaka type of leadership. When he appointed ministers he started changing his attitude favouring the Baganda. He was asked why he was favouring Baganda and that is why they decided to go for a vote of no confidence. By that time they had arranged for Godfrey Binaisa who was in Nairobi to come and take over. As the meeting progressed in Entebbe, Binaisa flew back to Kampala.
Shekilango and I called Paulo Muwanga aside and asked him what was going on and he said they had finished. “We have voted a vote of no confidence against Lule,” he said. Shekilango asked him what was to come next. Muwanga said: “We have got one guy in Kampala. We will telephone somebody and he will be brought here.” Shekilango told Muwanga: “You are wrong, you are not wrong that you have voted out Lule but you haven’t finished the job. Go back the whole world is listening to you and announce that from now on our leader will be Binaisa.”
From the conversation between Paulo Muwanga and Yoweri Museveni we heard Muwanga asking Museveni: “Is our friend already in Kampala?” and Museveni answered “Yes”. That’s how Binaisa got to Entebbe and he was introduced to the Tanzanian minister Shekilango. Binaisa would be brought to us past midnight and Muwanga introduced him to us.
Lule had an impromptu press conference in which he told the world that he had been removed from power on accusations of favouring the Baganda. The next day, there was a problem in Kampala - people burnt tyres and demonstrated, demanding for the reinstatement of Lule. Lule left for Tanzania though he claimed to have been put under house arrest. After Lule, Muwanga took over but from judgment of how events unfolded later, he was there just to keep the chair for Obote.
Binaisa was a very timid person. I don’t think he thought he could rule the country. It was a Tanzanian commander - Imran Kombe - who told him: “Look you are a president now whether you like it or not people must see you, you must face the people.” Kombe arranged for him to have a rally at Kololo where a huge crowd turned up. When we got him back to Entebbe, Binaisa said: “I didn’t know so many people will be there.”
Then there was an American woman called Mrs Wells, she was so close to Binaisa. She relocated from Nairobi when Binaisa took over and she suggested to him that the Lake Victoria Hotel should be renovated for her to stay there, leaving her husband in Nairobi.
With this woman besides Binaisa things started going wrong. All of a sudden many Americans started coming to Uganda, we discovered that some of them were not coming direct from America but from West Africa. We played it low to see what would happen but kept our intelligence alert on what was happening.
It was after the Kololo rally that Binaisa found the courage to tour the rest of the country. I went with him to Gulu, attending all the closed-door meetings he held while there. But whatever was being discussed, Binaisa with all his intelligence, he had to first ask Mrs Wells before he gave his views or reaction.
I started doubting Binaisa’s ability to lead, because whatever Mrs Wells said Binaisa did not object to. From Gulu we went to other places and Binaisa was doing the same thing.
The second point of his weakness was when he started ignoring the old Tito Okello who was the commander of UNLA. Tito went to Msuguri and complained, saying the old man who had only come with a briefcase was now ignoring them.
To make matters worse there was an internal memo in the government, saying if the army was commanded by people from the north, then the intelligence should be headed by a Muganda. This annoyed Tito and his friends. We decided that Binaisa goes and talks to his soldiers. He went and talked to them about the press reports. I was sent there by Msuguri to go and follow what was happening and report back to him.
After the address, Binaisa went back to Entebbe, and there was a sequence of events after that document. Muwanga was staying in Entebbe when Tito came to see us about his complaints. We asked him whether he had reported to Muwanga, the head of the military commission and Museveni his deputy. We told him to go and tell Muwanga and after a few hours the two came back together.
As soon as they came back to our base in the presence of Shekilango, Muwanga said: “From today we are going to strip him of his presidency.” The same evening, Muwanga went to Nile Mansions and Radio Uganda and announced that we had not stripped Binaisa of his presidency but we had trimmed his powers.
On the second or third day, they said Binaisa was no longer our president. Msuguri told me to go to State House and see if Binaisa was comfortable. The only thing Binaisa told me when I found him in the bedroom was: “Are these people going to kill me?” I said no. I assured him that we were going to arrange for his safety and that’s how we ended up taking him out of State House and entrusted his security with one of our officer’s residence in Entebbe. By then his wife was in the United States for treatment.