In the second part of former Security minister Chris Rwakasisi’s life with Obote, the former minister explains how he was shortlisted for arrest and execution, and how he stood before a jury of his former juniors, writes Henry Lubega.
The 1985 coup was not a one-day event, we knew what was being planned; it took days of planning by the different factions in the army. I got minutes of the last planning meeting held in Gulu. The synopsis of that meeting was that arrest Chris Rwakasisi, Luwuliza Kirunda, Peter Otai and Smith Opon Acak, kill them instantly and arrest Obote, but don’t kill him.
A few days before the coup, we knew that it was eminent and unstoppable. The minister of Internal Affairs had gone to Zambia and Peter Otai, the minister of State for Defence, had gone to Addis Ababa. In their absence I was literally the man at the centre of everything.
The opposing troops moved by train from Gulu to take Lira, at around 4am they set off for Kampala. I had asked the chief of staff to remove all troops in Luweero triangle to concentrate on countering the ‘invading’ forces from the north. They assembled at Bombo in the morning of 27th to be addressed by the chief of Staff.
Information reached at 3pm that the chief of staff, for unknown reasons, did not show up to address and deploy our troops. As the soldiers waited, rumour circulated among them about who was going to take over government, one group was prepared to welcome them while another was prepared to fight them.
I dispatched Lt Kato with arms to Nakasongola to arm about 370 new recruits based there to counter the invading forces on their way to Kampala.
Unfortunately after Bombo he landed on the advancing opposing forces.
He communicated back what was happening and I told him to retreat. Lutwa’s forces were steadily advancing towards Kampala. When they encountered the first batch of the UNLA forces, one commander would order them to fire and the other would tell them not to.
I recall in that desperate situation, at around 5pm, I called the commissioner of prisons to bring me about 170 soldiers we had sent to prison at Luzira for misbehaving in public.
I took them to the chief of staff in Kololo and I told him, “You have got this good manpower, deploy them.” In the meantime, I asked the commander of General Service to open the armoury to allow them get uniform and guns, ready for battle.
Immediately after Kawempe, they met a group of our soldiers running away from Lutwa’s forces; they almost shot at each other. Fortunately I was following the proceedings on radio and I intervened. All this was happening when I was at the Nile Mansions with the president.
At around 11pm, I took the president to a safe house in Kololo; it was Dr Opieto’s house. At about 2am, I went to the president and told him he had to leave, he refused, saying he was not going to go anywhere.
He said: “Chris if it needs, I will die here. I’m not going to go.” I told him, “I don’t mind if it is straight death, but I cannot afford to see you being flogged on Kampala Road, you have to go.” He still refused.
I went ahead to organise his transport and security. I told him if you are not willing to go, I will pull you into the car. At around 4am, he reluctantly sat in the car, the convoy had a few artillery pieces ready to fight their way out if the need arose. At that time Mama Miria [Obote] had gone to Nairobi to visit a friend, and the children were at school, unfortunately they were left behind.
I was not going out of the country and leaving my wife and children in danger. After seeing the president off, I rushed home, picked a few belongings, but the most important thing was my wife and children. I took off in a convoy of six cars. I was about 30 minutes behind the president. At the bridge in Jinja, the army had received orders not to allow any vehicle from Kampala to cross.
I told my escorts to fight our way through, but the head of my security, Apollo, was a very intelligent man. He said, “We are outnumbered, there are so many soldiers we cannot fight them.” It was a very wise move.
It was me they wanted, they had orders to have me arrested and killed. Luckily, those who arrested me did not mistreat me because they were some of the soldiers I had recruited.