In 1980, for reasons similar to what has led FDC leader Kizza Besigye to be confined to his home, Fronasa’s Yoweri Museveni was arrested for fear that he would use unconstitutional means to overthrow the government.
It took the bravery of 2nd Lt Caleb Akandwanaho, aka Salim Saleh, to save Museveni, then vice chairman of the Military Commission and minister for Regional Cooperation, from being put under house arrest or even possible elimination on the orders of Paulo Muwanga and David Oyite-Ojok.
Museveni had been cornered at a roadblock in Kireka in Kampala, but Salim Saleh – his younger brother – managed to save him. Saleh, however, had to pay the price for defying military orders and releasing his brother.
After former president Godfrey Binaisa was ousted by the Military Commission on May 12, 1980, and put under house arrest in Entebbe, next on the list was Museveni.
The fear that Museveni could stage a coup was reason the Muwanga-led Military Commission wanted him confined.
After the fall of Kampala on April 11, 1979, the Museveni-led Fronasa became a force to reckon with. At 35 years, Museveni was the vice chairman of the Military Commission and deputy minister of Defence.
With these two portfolios, Museveni was the highest ranked person from western Uganda. Though not so popular in the eyes of the public, Museveni had become a power to worry about.
His becoming powerful had started earlier during the war to oust former president Idi Amin. Kikosi Maalum senior commanders who were from northern Uganda realised that Museveni had recruited many fighters from western Uganda into his Fronasa ranks.
After they became suspicious of his motive, Museveni was summoned to Tanzania by then president Julius Nyerere to explain the allegations.
Meanwhile, Kikosi Maalum senior commanders had nicknamed Museveni “Law-abilo” (the man with seven eyes in their Acholi). They named him so because they believed he was able to foresee situations better than them.
Around the time Museveni was arrested, Milton Obote had just returned from exile and the political tempo in the country was so tense, especially with the removal of Binaisa after Yusuf Lule, another Muganda.
“Even people who had not been DP supporters before decided to join the party in order to present a front against the hated Obote,” says Museveni on page 116 of this book Sowing the Mustard Seed.
“We could bide our time, knowing fully well that the politicians would fail, and when our position was strong enough, we could use our military position to get rid of the whole lot of them,” Museveni wrote of his coup plot on page 117.
It was believed that Museveni wanted to join forces with others opposed to Obote to stage a coup. And it was for that reason that he was supposed to be incarcerated until Obote had settled in State House.
Sunday Monitor caught up with a source who asked not to be named who was close to the National Security Service (NSS) headed by Amon Bazira, a Mukonjo from Kasese District.
The source believes that Museveni was arrested in May 1980 shortly after Binaisa had been toppled. And while Museveni has always insisted that his arrest was caused by Muwanga and Oyite-Ojok, the source thinks otherwise.
“As a matter of fact, Museveni was arrested by Bazilio [Okello] who had a grudge with him since their days in Tanzania,” the source says, adding “Bazilio used to despise Museveni saying, ‘Museveni ajui mambo za jeshi, ajui siasi. Anajua kucunga ngombe peke’ (Museveni doesn’t know military affairs, he doesn’t know politics, he only knows how to keep cattle).”
“He [Museveni] was not interrogated and was treated well at the roadblock. While still there, his people rescued him and took him to his home in Kololo.”
Asked how he knew that Museveni had been arrested, source says: “When the coup [against Binaisa] was boiling, I got wind of it. It was planned in Room 206 at the Nile Mansions [now Kampala Serena Hotel].
Because of the intrigue between the Acholi and Langi, especially in the army, and having known that Museveni had a good number of soldiers he had trained in the army, we wanted to share with him the idea of him taking over after the removal of Binaisa. He [Museveni] was from what would be a neutral tribe.”
“I and other two colleagues went looking for Museveni to tell him to be ready to take over. But the man was nowhere to be seen. We went to his home in Kololo and he was not there. Then in the evening, through one of my colleagues in government, we heard that Museveni had been arrested but no one could tell where he had been taken.”