Soldiers held us hostage for four days - Amama Mbabazi’s daughter
Posted Tuesday, January 21 2014 at 11:30
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 ninth part of the series, Risdel Kasasira talks to Rachel Mbabazi, the daughter of Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, about how she and her siblings were held hostage by soldiers.
“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.
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.