Exactly 41 years ago today, 12 high profile Ugandans were executed by firing squad on the orders of then president Idi Amin.
On September 9, 1977, shock gripped the country when 12 high profile Ugandans, including the former chairperson of the Public Service Commission, Abdalla Anyuru, were executed by firing squad at Clock Tower in Kampala.
The public executions were one of the most brutal acts committed by Idi Amin during his eight-year reign as president.
That evening, Amin came out on radio amid international condemnation and termed the killing as “a staunch warning to potential others”.
Abdalla Anyuru was appointed chairperson of the Public Service Commission by then president Milton Obote in the 1960s, but his single most significant role could have been introducing 26-year-old Yoweri Museveni to president Milton Obote in 1970.
The young Museveni whom he helped find a job at the President’s Office in 1970 himself became president 16 years later in 1986 after the five-year Bush War and has held a tight grip onto power for more than three decades.
In his book Sowing the Mustard Seed, President Museveni recounts how he met Anyuru. Museveni, a fresh graduate from Dar-es -Salam University, had only returned to Uganda to find a job and settle down.
“When I met him, he interviewed me and found me quite brilliant. Then he asked me, ‘can you work at the President’s Office? The president wants some young men around him’... and that is how I got to work at President’s Office,” writes Museveni, who intended to go for interviews at the Foreign Affairs ministry, but decided to go to Public Service and met Anyuru.
Museveni’s job title at the President’s Office is not clear. But Obote in 2004 in an interview with Andrew Mwenda said Museveni was a research assistant in charge of records. Museveni himself in his book says his main work was to compile journals.
However, Museveni would only work for some months before his boss president Obote was overthrown in the January 25, 1971, military coup by his army commander Idi Amin.
Obote was in Singapore attending a Commonwealth meeting. Obote then opted to take refuge in Tanzania where his friend Julius Nyerere was president.
Whereas many close associates of Obote, fled Uganda to join him in Tanzania, there were also many who remained in Uganda with the hope of serving their country. Anyuru was one of them.
His turning point would be in 1972 when exiles from Tanzania invaded Uganda. Obote in 2004 said the invasion was poorly organised but expected to fight against heavy odds and was beaten.
Out of the 700 fighters, only 40 survived. Former information minister Alex Ojera, Picho Ali and a one Oyile were captured and later executed by Amin.
After that invasion, Amin became increasingly suspicious of Obote’s former officials who were living in Uganda. He suspected they were recruiting and sending fighters to Tanzania.
Many were arrested and kept in the Nakasero dungeon. Anyuru, being a high profile Langi – Obote’s tribes mate – found himself at the peak of the suspicion. He tried so hard to elude the suspicion by living a quiet life, but that did not save him.
He was eventually arrested in early 1977 and sent to the dungeon until September 6, 1977, when he and 11 others were tried by a military tribunal on charges of treason. They were sentenced to death by firing squad.
On the afternoon of September 9, 1977, the 12 were led to Kampala Clock Tower where they were tied to trees and sprayed with a volley of bullets in the presence of crowds who had gathered to witness.
Those killed that day included Anyuru, John Kabandize, the former superintendent of prison in charge of Mubuku Farm, E.N. Mutabazi, the former superintendent of prison headquarters, Peter Otoa, the former principal officer of Murchison Bay prison in Luzira, Daniel Nsereko, the former assistant commissioner of Police/ undersecretary Ministry of Internal Affairs, and Lt Ben Ogwang, a former military intelligence officer in the Malire regiment.
Others were Y.Y. Okot, the former inspector of schools in Ministry of Education, John Leji Olobo, a former senior industrial relation officer in the Ministry of Labour, Elias Okidi Menya, the general manager of Lake Victoria Bottling Company, Ben Ongom, a businessman, Julius Peter Adupa, a former teacher at Lira Polytechnic institute, and Gerison S. Onono, the former principal of Bobi Foundation School.
In a recent phone interview with Mr Peter Nam, Anyuru’s nephew who witnessed his execution in 1977, he said Amin’s officers from the State Research Bureau arrested the commissioner from his residence at Naguru flats in Kampala and he was kept in two different cells at a time; Luzira prison and the Nakasero dungeon.
Nam says the arrest was not a surprise because many important personalities like him were disappearing from time to time. He says had the former commissioner heeded the family’s plea to leave the country, he would probably have survived.
Nam says at the time Anyuru was arrested, he had retired from Public Service and was living a quiet life at home.
Nam remembers hearing an account from someone whose name he can no longer remember narrating Anyuru’s ordeal in prison.
According to the man, Amin visited the cell one morning in the company of Maj Farouk Minawa. He looked around at the prisoners one by one and his eyes landed on the retired commissioner who was in bad shape due to torture.
He went towards Anyuru and looked at him intently. Amin then turned to Minawa and shouted with a false concern, “who has beaten the commissioner badly like this?”
Minawa replied that he did not know, but promised to investigate.
Amin then turned to the commissioner, “I like you very much my friend and I will work towards your immediate release.”
He then turned to Maj Minawa and said, “Take them to Kalasi (meaning death in Nubian dialect).”
Nam notes that the 12 were brought from Luzira prison on the afternoon of September 9, 1977, in a prison bus to Clock Tower on Entebbe Road with their heads masked with black clothes. They were immediately tied on trees and shot several times in the head and chest, Nam says.
After the execution, the bodies were not handed to the respective relatives for burial. Instead, they were immediately wrapped into sacks and given to prison officers with a strict instruction to go and dispose them.
Nam says some people saw the bodies being ferried from Kampala towards Jinja. Not much is known of where the bodies were buried, but there is speculation that they were either buried in a secret grave in Mabira Forest or thrown in River Nile, says Nam.
According to him, when Obote came back to power, his government organised a big memorial service in Anyuru’s honour at his home village in Aber Sub-county, Oyam District in 1982.
Obote’s government also founded a school in his memory, Abdalla Anyuru Memorial School, in the same district.
Nam also says President Museveni rewarded the family with a good house in Kampala where the widow, Mary Anyuru, now lives.
Nam describes Anyuru as a great man who always put people’s interests ahead of his own and advises leaders to follow Anyuru’s examples.