Tuesday January 21 2014

Soldiers held us hostage for four days - Amama Mbabazi’s daughter

Rachel Mbabazi, Premier Amama Mbabazi’s daughter.

Rachel Mbabazi, Premier Amama Mbabazi’s daughter. PHOTO BY RACHEL MABALA 

By Risdel Kasasira

“I was born on March 29, 1974. I started my education at MacKinnon Kindergarten, Kampala. My primary school was Buganda Road before I went to exile. We went to Kenya, where we attended other schools and later to Sweden where we continued our education. By the time we came back from exile, I was ready to go to Senior One and I went to Gayaza High School.

The problems started when I was in Primary One. We were living on Bandali Rise in Bugolobi. Weird things used to happen. You would be seated in class and you see people running and then there would confusion. That’s when I realised there was something wrong.

The first time to know that things were wrong was when I started seeing people running on Buganda Road. My very first real experience was when my father was driving us to school, on Luthuli Avenue at the T-junction joining Port Bell Road, there was a crowd surrounding a man. They had tied his hands on his back. They were calling him Anyanya and I suspected he was from the north.

They were hitting him with machetes and sticks. We drove to school but I was thinking this was not right. In the evening, my father picked us from school and as we drove through the same spot, we saw the man’s mutilated body.

That’s when I started asking questions. What is an Anyanya? Why were people cutting a man with machetes? What was going on? My parents started slowly explaining what was going on.
I think my father was state attorney. That vehicle that took us to school would later be used to do reconnaissance to attack a barracks called Kabamba in 1981.

One day, we were home around March 1980 and I had just celebrated my sixth birthday.
Uncle Eriya Kategaya, who was living with us, had gone jogging. He came back but I remember for some reason, soldiers had invaded the home of a family across the road opposite us. My father was not there. He was an active participant in the “banditry” as President Obote used to call NRA rebellion.

Uncle Eriya ran into the house and he told my mother in a hush tone: “Soldiers have surrounded Enid Kanyengyeyo’s home.” My mother and uncle Kategaya run out of the house, across the backyard, climbed the fence and jumped into what I later came to know was Garuga’s house.

Held hostage
As they fled, soldiers were budging into our home. There were truckloads of soldiers, surrounding the house, coming in with guns pointed at children. We were left with my cousin, looking after us. We were held hostage for four days in that house. Our nanny, an old lady called Katarina got us out. She carried our baby brother Marx on her back. We were four children at the time. It was me, Nina Mbabazi, Mao and Marx.

I remember the first night, my mother tried to call, the soldier picked up the call and started yelling in Swahili. It has taken me years to get used to Swahili. It’s now that I have started learning it. When I was in Kenya, I would speak it as a child but if I didn’t have to speak Swahili, I wouldn’t speak it because to me, Swahili was death.

The people who spoke Swahili were Pandagali. They interrogated us kids. They were asking, where is that light-skinned man who came into the gate? (Kategaya) They saw him entering. They pointed guns at us. I don’t think Obote ordered that these soldiers should come and put us at gunpoint. There was total breakdown. Everyone who had a big position in government was an authority unto themselves.

They put us in a room upstairs, allowed us to take a basket of fruits from the fridge and they started lifting everything from the house. The first night, they put us at gunpoint in the living room. My little brother Mao was crying. He was three years. He was crying: I want mum. They asked him; where is your mum? They put him at gunpoint to shut up and my cousin fell on her knees and begged them not to shoot him. I also fell on my knees and begged. Nina fell on her knees and begged. We tried to stop him from crying and he stopped.

The next thing I remember was telling a lie that our mother had gone to the market. I don’t know what my siblings knew but I, personally had seen them jump over the fence. I wasn’t about to say anything. I didn’t acknowledge knowing Eriya Kategaya.
On the fourth day, the soldiers left and the following morning, the nanny walked us to her mother’s house.

Flight to Kenya
Eventually, were taken to Aunt Hope Mwesigye’s home where my mother had gone. I discovered that time that my father was in exile in Kenya. A plan was hatched to join him. We were separated. Two of us were given to my mother’s sister and taken to her home in Makindye. My mother flew to Kenya with the two boys. How she did it and how it happened, I’m not sure.

When it came to our turn to leave, a lady called Regina, who is a maternal aunt of my husband, came to pick us up from my aunt’s house to go with us to Nairobi. The person who drove us to the airport was the late Thomson Sabiiti. He was murdered for involving himself in the rebel activities. We got onto the plane and arrived in Kenya. For a relatively short time, it was total peace. But we went to Kenya with nothing. We found Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, Ernest Kakwano and Amanya Mushega there.

We were a big group of Ugandans. It was home away from home until President Obote made a deal with President Moi and they started raiding Ugandans’ homes. They would knock at your door and ask you; what is your name? Where is your identity card? What is your tribe? My mother used to say she was a Munyoro. I think they were targeting certain tribes.

Eventually, we were put under house arrest and two policemen were put at our gate. We lived in Kirimani. My father was now Dr Karyaburo and I also didn’t question. A lot of people had pseudo names.

My mother and her female friends: Ms Joslyn Rugunda, Ms Alice Kakwano and others, devised a plan to escape from Nairobi. Ms Rugunda had this Mini Cooper and she would drive disguising as coming to visit, parks home, pack our clothes in bits and drive off. I started wondering why aunt Joslyn was taking our clothes. Then, Alice Kakwano drove to our house and mum called me and Nina to tell us we were going to visit Aunt Alice the following day.

The following day, she told us to put empty beer bottles in a bag, walk through the gate and tell the policemen at the gate that we were going to buy them beers. Tell them that mum has offered you beers, walk in the direction of the mini mall, make a turn and go to Alice Kakwano’s place. These were her instructions to us. We did as instructed. Soldiers believed we were bringing them beer. They kind of liked us. When we reached there, we were told; you are sleeping here and this is your bedroom.

Again, we were separated. We were told not to worry. But it was scary. Aunt Alice drove back to our home, mum and the boys entered the Benz, lay low, and aunt Alice drove with full lights on, passed the soldiers guarding the house. These soldiers were used to seeing Aunt Alice visiting us. That’s how we escaped the planned arrest in Kenya.

It was a matter of days and I remember we were at the airport and many people were there to say bye. I saw Aunt Joslyn coming with us. But Dr Karyaburo and Dr Rugunda were missing and I later got to know they were already in Sweden.

We took an evening flight. It’s only on the flight, that mum told us we were going to meet dad. We were received by people handling refugees in Sweden and taken to a refugee camp in south Sweden. It was snowing. Our house was not far from Ms Museveni and her children. They had arrived earlier, apparently accompanied by my father and Dr Rugunda.”

Life in exile and return to uganda

As a child, Sweden was angelic. It was idyllic. But my mother was permanently distressed by bad news from Uganda about killings and others disappearing. One I remember most was the death of Sam Katabarwa. We need a truth and reconciliation committee. He was one of our favourite uncles.

But in 1985, President Museveni, then, the rebel leader came to Sweden and many people went to Stockholm to meet him. You could really see the situation was changing in Uganda and he was talking about fundamental change.

I think my father fought a worthwhile war. But should there be change? Yes. Why should we drive on roads that have potholes and yet we pay taxes? I know we need a better health care.
When I was told we were coming back to Uganda, I was thinking about bullets. We were given a safe haven in Sweden and from then, I appreciate what it means to be given a safe haven.

We came to Uganda in February 1987 but my father had long been here. He has never “disappeared” again as he used to do. I joined Gayaza High School for O-Level. I went to Makerere High for A-Level and Makerere University. After Makerere University, I went to Paris and then America where I studied business. I worked in America until I came back here in 2002 and I now manage Tilo Group of Companies.