Thought and Ideas
‘All we wanted in 1972 was freedom’
Posted Sunday, October 27 2013 at 01:00
Power matters. He left the comfort of a bank job to become a freedom fighter, only to return as an ordinary citizen. Years later, he went on to become Uganda’s first ombudsman. Augustine Ruzindana talked to Sunday Monitor’sHenry Lubega about how he become a civil servant in Tanzania when Tanzania signed peace accords with Uganda.
Having been part of the last batch of students to graduate from the University of East Africa in 1970, the 1971 coup found me already working in Grindlays Bank, one of the commercial banks at the time. I did not go to exile because of any immediate threat from the new regime.
However, after the coup that brought Idi Amin to power in January 1971, a number of us who had been discussing politics at university, got together and concluded that this was not the type of regime suitable for the country and we decided to take action.
February 1972 is when I left the country, not going into exile, but to be involved in the type of action we had been discussing. By then there were facilities, procured by colleagues who had gone earlier, for a number of people to go for military training. I was in the first group of six Ugandans, including Mwesigwa, Valeriano Rwaheru, Wuuku Mpima and two others, who left the country to go and start training.
We trained at Nachingwea with Frelimo, the Mozambican liberation movement. Therefore, I would not consider my going out of the country as going into exile as I knew we were going for a specific objective after which we would come back.
After the training, we were in and out of the country for various tasks, including taking more people for training. By the September 1972 invasion, in which I took part in the Mbarara axis, two other groups had been trained.
The last groups trained in early 1973. In early 1973, a number of us – Museveni, Kategaya and his wife and son Julius, Maumbe Mukwana and members of his family, Zubairi Bakari and others, who in were Dar es Salaam - were arrested and detained.
This was after Tanzania and Uganda had entered the Addis Ababa Accord and Mogadishu Agreement which barred Tanzania from hosting any group hostile to Uganda. These agreements affected our activities.
Starting exile life
This was the beginning of my exile life. Tanzania is an organised country so we had to register as refugees in order to be able to work.
Before that, we were not refugees; we were freedom fighters. When that happened, the authorities said we had to get proper status, and in fact, some people ended up being put in refugee camps in Morogoro and Tabora. Those of us who were employable were employed through the government manpower department which allocated people jobs depending on their qualifications.
That is how in 1973 I joined the Tanzanian civil service in the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Everybody who was employable managed to get a job. Museveni went to teach at the Moshi Cooperative College and others like the late Eriya Kategaya went to Zambia.
Later I changed employment when I joined Tanzania Electricity Service Company TANESCO in their training department until 1978 when Amin invaded the Kagera Salient.
Our group was FRONASA but we interacted with everybody, particularly those in Dar es Salaam, including people like the late Dan Nabudere, Mahmood Mamdani, Tumusiime Mutebile, Omwony Ojok, Yash Tandon and others at Dar es Salaam University. We kept contact with those in Lusaka like Prince John Barigye, Ruhakana Rugunda, Rugumayo, Amanya Mushega and others.
When the war started in 1978, we got active in various activities of the time. Some got involved on the war front, others were involved in organiSing assistance for the war, and others got involved in the preparation of the Moshi conference.
When the war ended in 1979, I came back with the rest of the “returnees” who were called Wakombozi. I was not a member of the National Consultative Council NCC, but I remained politically active even after I integrated into the ordinary civilian life.
Exile life in a country like Tanzania was not that traumatic, what made it easier was that by that time we were East Africans. I had studied in Nairobi and knew many people in Tanzania in different walks of life. For example, it was these connections with other East Africans that helped me move from the Ministry of Trade and Industry to TANESCO where a former college mate was the personnel manager. I moved because it was easier to get housing than in the ministry.
After the transition from being a Mukombozi, I worked with a department called Uganda Advisory Board of Trade which was responsible for granting licenses for imports and exports under the Ministry of Trade. It was while in that office that I was appointed the IGG. I started with no funds and no staff. At the time there was an ad hoc Commission of Inquiry into Corruption, chaired by Omulangira Besweri Mulondo and I was allowed to get some staff from that commission. That is how I got the initial staff of the IGG.