People & Power
Picked from a scooter, Obote took me to study - Rwakasisi
Posted Sunday, February 23 2014 at 02:00
Political journey. Chris Rwakasisi was the Minister for Security in the Milton Obote II government. He was arrested during the 1985 coup. When the NRA took over, they found him in prison, tried him and sentenced him to life in jail in 1988. He was only freed recently and is now a senior advisor to President Museveni. In a three-part series: My Life With Obote, Henry Lubega talked to him.
I first met Milton Obote before he became prime minister in 1961. He had come to address some political rallies in Mbarara District ahead of the Independence elections. During the time of the visit, I was head of the UPC youth league in Ankole. It so happened that I joined politics when I was still young. It was the youth political excitement that really drew me into the events of the day.
Obote had a meeting at Bugamba in Rwampara, and other places. I was riding my scooter ahead of his Ford Feline to the venue. I was also singing at the different rally venues. When Obote retired to Ankole Hotel, I rode my scooter there ahead of him still.
At the hotel, he asked the people around to “get the young man who was moving on a scooter”. I was within the hotel premises and I was called in. When I was asked to meet him, it was an exciting moment for me.
When I met him, we exchanged pleasantries, and he cautioned me against riding the scooter. “That scooter is very dangerous, it’s not stable, it will kill you,” he said to which I replied that, “Sir, I am used to it.” After a few minutes I left. A week later, I got a telegram inviting me to the party headquarters. This was very exciting for me.
Journey to Kampala
I immediately prepared to travel to Kampala; I boarded the Uganda Transport Company (UTC) night express bus coming from Kabale to Kampala. By 8am, I was at UPC offices then located at Radiant House on Kampala Road opposite Amber House. Obote used to come to the party headquarters every Wednesday and Friday. When he came, he was told of my presence and he called me into the office to see him.
We talked for a few minutes and he asked me if I knew how to drive. I said yes. He called the party’s finance secretary Silver Baguma and asked him if party cars were still available. Baguma said only one car meant for Mbale was left. He ordered that it should be given to me with money for fuel. I was given a brand new Peugeot 403, registration number URT 449.
Two weeks later, I got another telegram transferring me to Kampala at the party headquarters as the party’s youth organiser. In my new post, I had a free car, fuel, house and a good salary. At that time, I was being paid Shs2,700 while ministers earned Shs5,000 and fresh graduates from Makerere University earned Shs1,333.33cts per month.
The party was getting many scholarship offers from America, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, USSR and other countries. John Kakonge (the party secretary general) was in charge of allocating students the scholarships. From my position, I did not see why I should take up any one of the available scholarship; I told myself, “you study to get money; I’m getting money so why go to study?”
People like Frank Mwine, the once managing director of the defunct Uganda Commercial Bank (UCB) and Kakuru, were the first people to take the American scholarship.
At the headquarters, we had two groups; the pro-East and the pro-West. Kintu Musoke, Kirunda Kivejinja and John Kakonge were pro-East while Grace Ibingira and others were pro-West. I was part of the pro-East group.
On one occasion, John Kakonge called me to his office and said: “You Chris, you refused to study; without education you will never manage politics, time will come when you will need your papers.” But I was not bothered.
In November 1963, there was a batch of 11 students (three of them had been expelled from Kings’ College Budo) destined for Moscow. Obote was the last person to sign on the approved list of students to go abroad.
On November 3, 1963, he [Obote] received the list of students and asked: “Where is Chris among these?” He was told I had refused to go for studies. He crossed out the name of Bright Omongin, replaced it with mine, and called me to his office where he told me “tomorrow you are going”.
An officer from the Immigration Department was called and told to immediately prepare my passport, it was ready that afternoon. The next morning, I boarded a Sudan Airways flight to Khartoum to connect to Aeroflot, the Soviet national airline to Moscow.
In Russia, I studied law and had a ticket to come home every holiday. I graduated late 1968 and at the beginning of 1969, I got a job with the Foreign Office. I worked there for four days and I was told I would be sent to New York in the diplomatic service as the third secretary at the Uganda Embassy.
My posting to New York was because the people in the Foreign Office did not want me closer to the President because they feared I would report them to him. I refused to go. My reasoning was that I had been out of the country for a long time and before I settle back, they were sending me out again.
A few weeks later, the President found me at Uganda Club and called me over to his table. He asked me: “Where are you working these days?” I told him my predicament and he said: “Oh I understand”. He called Mkombe Mpambara, the managing director of National Trading Corporation, and told him to give me a job. The next day, I reported to National Trading Corporation where I was made the company’s legal secretary and public relations officer.
After three months, a letter came to Mpambara to cause my immediate transfer to the President’s Office.
In 1969, I joined the President’s Office as head of the legal and political affairs desk. That is where a young Yoweri Museveni met me in 1970. He came in as a research assistant reporting to me. I worked in the President’s Office until the 1971 coup. I was arrested and imprisoned at Makindye Military Police Barracks for six months.