My family endured persecution, exile and survived poisoning - Jack Sabiiti’s son
Posted Thursday, January 23 2014 at 12:18
On January 26, the National Resistance Movement (NRM/A) government will mark 28 years in power. In a countdown to this day, Daily Monitor is running a series dubbed CHILDREN OF REVOLUTIONARIES, where we interview children of those who fought or facilitated the 1981-86 Bush War. In this 11th part of the series, Risdel Kasasira talks to Moses Sabiiti, son of Jack Sabiiti, on how his family was forced to flee to exile.
“There are so many things that have happened to my family; changed identities, moving in and out of places in secrecy and attempted poisoning, among others. Much of what we know from our childhood is from stories mum would tell us.
My family members became refugees in 1978/79 when my father was an assistant district commissioner in Gulu. One of his duties was to distribute hoes to all farmers in the district.
As he set out to implement the strategy for the distribution, he learnt that the hoes had been sold off by one of the big shots in Idi Amin’s government. He complained about it but was blocked.
Late one night, an intelligence officer came and told my mom and dad not to talk about the hoes anymore because if my father did, he would be killed. Shortly after that, two armed men came to our residence to kill dad but he escaped through the back door where a friend was waiting in a car and they drove to Kampala.
Dad reported this to the minister who advised him to flee the country immediately. Our family friends, including Gen Moses Ali and James Katono helped us flee to Canada where I was born in a small snowy town called Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1979.
My father named me Moses in remembrance of his close friend, Moses Ali, who saved our lives. It is after the liberation that we came back to Uganda and dad rejoined the Public Service.
We were too young to recall much from the period between 1979 and 1980s. Much of what we remember are from old family photos, old postcards and stories.
Through the intelligence circles we heard stories that the Idi Amin government had a hit list of the top 10 enemies of the state and that my father was enemy number three.
After the 1980 elections, we were on the run again, this time headed to Kenya. We were helped by many friends like Dr Crispus Kiyonga and the late king of Tooro Patrick Kaboyo Olimi.
We were many Ugandan families living in exile in Kenya. I remember a very close-knit social structure of friends of the revolution. They all used to protect one another. They exchanged foodstuffs during times of scarcity and hid in each other’s homes whenever spies would come.
Those that were very supportive were President Museveni and his family, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda and family, Dr Crispus Kiyonga and family, Mr Amama Mbabazi and family, the Kakwano family, the Akanyijuka family, Maate Mukasa and family, Sam Njuba (RIP), Mr Moses Ali and family, among others.
As a member of the external wing of the NRM, dad left us in Kenya and went to Libya for guerilla training for two years. Mum was an international journalist and later joined the UN in Nairobi.
I remember this dark period. Ugandan and Kenyan intelligence officers and spies used to come home looking for weapons in the house and looking for dad, it was terrible.
My mum taught us from an early age how to differentiate between friends and spies and how to treat them. When enemies entered the house, we were taught to smile, offer them coffee or food and sit on their laps and engage them in idle conversation. Our uncle, Godfrey Nyerwanire, and his family really supported us at this time.
As children, my brother and sisters remember walking through security check points and assuming different identities to evade capture. Things became even more intense when dad and his friends came back. The government was actively looking for them. Dad was imprisoned and tortured twice and also kidnapped and taken to Nairobi airport to be deported back to Uganda.
Fortunately, my mother saved his life by rushing to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and informing her friends and the Kenyan government and they tactfully rescued dad.
It was no longer safe to live in Kenya so the UNHCR arranged for us to go to Australia, but my mother did not want her family living so far away so she chose the Netherlands. Our sister Tabitha Kentaro Nichole was born in the Netherlands in 1985. Dad left us again and went to the bush in Uganda. He was based in Kyagwe and Buikwe areas where he trained many young fighters around Kisiita training camp.
After the liberation, dad joined the Uganda Public Service. He competed on the Movement ticket to become a member of the Constituent Assembly in 1995. He then went back to Public Service as an undersecretary, both in the Ministry of Water and Ministry of Justice. He became an MP for Rukiga County in the Seventh Parliament under the Movement system. My father, who is now a member of the FDC, is still Rukiga County MP and is also chairman of the Local Government Accountability Committee.
My mum is now a team leader, capacity building programme for the African Union Peace and Security Committee and regional economic communities like IGAD, East African Community and ECOWAS in west Africa. She also lectures at the European Peace University in Austria and at the University of Basel in Switzerland. She is also an international consultant on peace and security.