The fall of Foreign minister Ondoga and rise of Bagaya

Sunday March 15 2020

Appointed. An illustration of former president

Appointed. An illustration of former president Idi Amin (right) and his Foreign Affairs minister Michael Ondoga. ILLUSTRATION BY IVAN SENYONJO  

By Felix Ocen

On February 22, 1973, then president Idi Amin sent most of his Cabinet ministers to a forced one-month leave and directed permanent secretaries to take over their respective ministries.
The new development was announced on Radio Uganda and was to take immediate effect.
All ministers were affected, except for Charles Oboth Ofumbi, Emmanuel Wakweya, Justus Byagagaire and Lt Col Wilson Erinayo Oryema, all of whom were tasked with assessing the departed Asians’ properties.
By this time some ministers, including that of Foreign Affairs Wanume Kibedi, had defected and fled the country in the wake of endless killings around the country by State agents.

Ondoga appointed
Following the flight of Kibedi in early 1973, Amin recalled Lt Col Michael Ondoga to take up the position of minister of Foreign Affairs. Lt Col Ondoga had been posted as ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1971.
He came back quickly to receive his new appointment, but returned to the Soviet Union to wind up his duties and hand over office. Amin would later announced over the radio that Ondoga was delaying and if he did not report within 48 hours he would be fired.
Ondoga returned in time to take up the assignment. He brought along a beautiful accordion which he offered to Amin.

According to John Kato in his book The Eight Years of Tension, when Ondoga returned, the government assigned him an abandoned Asian residence in Kololo near the military command post, without president Amin’s approval.
Amin later sent his Military Police, without warning Ondoga, and threw his family out of the house. Ondoga then became more security conscious and then onwards moved in the company of four bodyguards.
Kato says this annoyed Amin who in one of the Cabinet meetings, pointed out that “some of the ministers think they are so important that they can make themselves immune by appointing extra bodyguards.”
This statement, according to Kato, made it clear that Amin’s henchmen had started following Ondoga.

Princess Elizabeth Bagaya of Tooro Kingdom
Princess Elizabeth Bagaya of Tooro Kingdom greets former president Idi Amin in the 1970s.

The announcement of Ondoga’s dismissal came during a graduation at Makerere University in mid-1973. In attendance was Princess Elizabeth Bagaya of Tooro Kingdom. She was a trained lawyer and senior member of the foreign service.
“She was so much good looking and Amin had always expressed open admiration of her, though she had always rejected his proposals,” Kato writes.
As Amin spoke, without giving apparent reason and in the presence of diplomats, lecturers and students, he announced that he had fired Foreign Affairs minister Ondoga and replaced him with Ms Bagaya.
Shocked and humiliated, Kato says, Ondoga nevertheless clapped like everyone else at the function.
At this point Ondoga might have felt a false sense of relief, thinking since he was no longer in government he was at last safe. This could have informed the reason why he did not make any move to flee to exile.

One morning, weeks later, operatives from the notorious State Research Bureau led by Lt Col Hussein Malera, traced Ondoga to a nearby school where he always took his daughter only identified as Peace.
Kato says as he arrived, the operatives attacked his car and ordered him out. They promptly embarked on beating up the former minister as his daughter, teachers, pupils and other parents watched helplessly.


“You will kill me, but remember I have done nothing wrong against you, your president, or your government,” he repeatedly cried out as his attackers forced him into a car before speeding off. One of them followed with Ondoga’s car.
No account is told of what happened to Ondoga that night. However, the following day Ondoga’s body was picked from Owen Falls Dam and taken to Jinja Referral Hospital.
Amin then sent Lt Col Isaac Maliyamungu to identify the dead and Maliyamungu “confirmed” that it was the body of the former minister.
Amin then said Ondoga’s killers could have been ousted president Milton Obote’s guerrillas. He then directed Crawden, an English doctor, to conduct post-mortem. The report indicated that Ondoga had been shot repeatedly, stubbed multiple times, his skull smashed and ribs broken by a heavy tool before being thrown in the lake.

George Rukidi, the Omukama of Tooro Kingdom,
George Rukidi, the Omukama of Tooro Kingdom, with his daughter Princess Elizabeth Bagaya.

Appointing Bagaya
When appointing Ms Bagaya, Amin had other intentions in mind. Kato says Amin appointed her in a bid to win her affection, but he was disappointed in the end.
He says Bagaya always got preferential treatment before Amin, who was determined to please her as much as possible, even at the expense of other ministers.
Sometime in 1974, Amin sent Bagaya to represent him at the Saba Saba Day celebrations in Dar es Salam, Tanzania.

In an interview in 2004 in Lusaka, Zambia, Obote said at the celebration, Bagaya sat near him.
Obote says Bagaya informed him that Uganda under Amin was very peaceful and stable. She then invited Obote to return to Uganda.
“My dear own sister, I am inviting you to join us in exile. Amin is not a man to trust. This is an opportunity for you to run away before he kills you,” Obote replied, to which he says Bagaya waved at him to stop the conversation.
Weeks later, Amin sent Bagaya to New York to defend his government against a report that his government was causing terror in Uganda.

However, according to Kato, when Bagaya returned Amin wanted “some more” from her. And when she objected, she was promptly put under house arrest. She was later given another chance to come to a Cabinet meeting and meet Amin one more time.
During a break, Kato says, Bagaya was summoned to the president’s office from which she returned shortly to the meeting hall, picked up her bag and left without saying a word. It was quite obvious to the ministers where the disagreement had been with the president.
Kato writes that that evening Amin made announcement over the radio that he had dismissed Foreign Affairs minister Bagaya because of gross indiscipline and acting indecently by “making love” with White men in the lavatory at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, France, on her return from New York.

At this point, Obote says, Amin sent his men to kill Bagaya, but fortunately she escaped to Kenya where she stayed with a one Dr Mungai’s family in Nairobi.
“When I learnt of this, I called Dr Mungai’s home and asked to talk with her. After exchanging greetings, I asked her, ‘Didn’t I tell you?’ She said, ‘Ahh Dr Obote, don’t say I told you so.’ I think I was too hard on her.”
Obote says Bagaya lived briefly in Kenya before relocating to the UK.
She would later work as a mobiliser for National Resistance Movement’s (NRM) External Committee from 1980 to 1986. She later served as Uganda’s Ambassador to US between 1986 and 1988.