Why Oyite-Ojok and Museveni developed bad blood in the ‘80s

Sunday December 22 2013

After Oyite-Ojok was announced as Army Chief of Staff by president Yusuf Lule,

After Oyite-Ojok was announced as Army Chief of Staff by president Yusuf Lule, he was lifted shoulder-high by the crowd and paraded through the streets of Kampala. This is after the city fell to the liberation forces. Illustration by Kwizera 

By Timothy Kalyegira

When the Uganda Army invaded Tanzania in late 1978 and Tanzania declared war on Uganda, Kikoosi Maalum, the pro-Obote’s fighting group, was one of the exile forces that joined the Tanzanian army and Jeshi Wanainchi (JW) militia.

Lt Col Oyite-Ojok, along with the former commanding officer of the army’s artillery school at Masindi, Col Tito Okello, led Kikoosi Maalum while the former General Service Unit (GSU) intelligence operative, Yoweri Museveni, led the second major group, the Front for National Salvation (FRONASA).

As Amin’s government fell on April 11, 1979, Oyite-Ojok was among the advance Tanzanian units in Kampala. He was asked to make the announcement of the fall of the regime but did not know how to go about the protocol.

Standing in the streets of Kampala, he asked a telecommunications engineer, Chris Opio, to get him through to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania by phone. With all radio and telephone links cut off at that time, Opio set up the phone link and Oyite-Ojok spoke to Obote.

Announcing Amin fall
He explained that he was in Kampala and sought Obote’s advice on the announcement over Radio Uganda. As Obote dictated the message, Oyite-Ojok scribbled the words on an envelope he was handed by a soldier.

That was how millions of anxious Ugandans on April 11 came to hear Lt Col David Oyite-Ojok announce that the “fascist regime of Idi Amin is no longer in power.”

At the swearing-in of the cabinet of president Yusufu Lule at the Parliament Buildings in Kampala, Oyite-Ojok, dressed in battle fatigues and wearing a steel helmet, was introduced as the new Army Chief of Staff.

Following the ceremonies at the Parliament, Oyite-Ojok was lifted shoulder-high by the crowd and paraded through the streets of Kampala. When the liberation forces reached the town of Lira in Oyite-Ojok’s Lango place of birth, a crowd also lifted him shoulder-high.

It is not clear if these public displays of affection for Oyite-Ojok were the spontaneous reaction of a grateful public unable to believe that the Amin nightmare was over, or they were somehow staged to reinforce Oyite-Ojok’s military and war hero image.

According to former president Obote, writing in 1990, Museveni, who had been one of the leading anti-Amin guerrillas in the 1970s, had badly wanted to be the one to issue the announcement of Amin’s fall and when he heard Oyite-Ojok make the broadcast, Museveni, at that time in Fort Portal with the western axis of the liberation forces), lost his temper.

From this point on, there grew a rivalry between Oyite-Ojok and Museveni in the post-Amin UNLF government and army, the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA).

Starting in late May 1979, just weeks after the fall of Idi Amin, a wave of insecurity gripped Kampala.

Kampala insecurity
There were almost daily car robberies, break-ins into shops, mysterious fires and even more sinister, the systematic gunning down of prominent bankers, civil servants, medical doctors, army officers, engineers and others in the respectable professional ranks.

A rumour started spreading -alleging - that this hooliganism was the work of Oyite-Ojok, the new Minister of Internal Affairs Paulo Muwanga and a UPC stalwart Chris Rwakasisi to make Uganda seem ungovernable and by that, prepare the way for the return to power of Obote as the only man who could restore the peace and order.

Other reports, by the UNLA military intelligence and police, claimed that these acts of banditry and violent robbery were actually being perpetuated by Museveni’s FRONASA in order to blame them on these pro-Obote loyalists and thus deepen the Baganda’s and other Ugandans’ hatred of Obote in order that he never stands a chance of returning to power again.

The truth of those mysterious 1979 and 1980 shootings of prominent Ugandans has never been formally made public.

The UNLA was made up mainly of Kikoosi Maalum and FRONASA. Rivalry soon spilled out in the open. Both Museveni and Tito Okello were reported to be recruiting heavily and secretly their own loyalists into the army to beef up their respective numbers and influence.

After the initial image as a crowd-pleasing man of the people during Lule’s swearing-in, and following the return to power by Obote’s UPC in 1980, Oyite-Ojok now became a “feared” man.
He was rumoured to be very powerful indeed. Both Oyite-Ojok and the vice president Paulo Muwanga were perceived as Uganda’s kingmakers.

Obote appointed Brig Oyite-Ojok as the chairman of the country’s coffee trading authority, the Coffee Marketing Board. At that time in 1981, coffee was Uganda’s only real export revenue earner and was being widely smuggled.

This former smuggler of coffee during the anti-Amin days in the 1970s might be what was needed to curb the rampant coffee smuggling. President Obote stated that Oyite-Ojok was also an honest man, one who could be trusted not to steal coffee money.

Yet more rumours, however, claimed that the army chief of staff was indeed looting the Coffee Marketing Board and had stashed away millions of dollars in a bank account in London.

Who was Oyite-Ojok as a person?
The general impression in the 1980s was of a jolly, social man who liked to be part of the crowd.
When President Godfrey Binaisa sacked Oyite-Ojok as Chief of Staff in May 1980 and replaced him with Col Sam Nanyumba, Nanyumba was out of the country.

On returning home, a nervous Nanyumba was met by Oyite-Ojok at the Nile Mansions Hotel in Kampala and Oyite-Ojok proceeded to tease Nanyumba, addressing him as “Chief of Staff” and trying to put Nanyumba at ease.

When the Leader of the Opposition, Paulo Ssemogerere, fell ill and was hospitalised, Oyite-Ojok was one of the first to visit him.

Whenever the army commander, Lt Gen Tito Okello, summoned Oyite-Ojok for a discussion, Oyite-Ojok in Okello’s presence was on bended knee on the ground, his view being that he respected his “elder” Tito Okello and that was his way of showing his loyalty and honour. Tito Okello grew to like Oyite-Ojok very much because of this kind of gesture.

Oyite-Ojok clamped down on indisciplined soldiers and when reports came to him that two Museveni loyalists in the army, Salim Saleh and Pecos Kuteesa, were misbehaving in early 1981, Oyite-Ojok moved swiftly to punish their misdeeds.

In February 1982, when the UFM guerrilla group attacked the Lubiri in Kampala, as Chief of Staff, Brig Oyite-Ojok, used the army radio and took command of the counter-insurgency operation.

A Landrover from the Presidential Escort Unit was sent to backup Oyite-Ojok. The UNLA beat off the UFM using Bereta sub-machine guns, AK-47s, and 82mm mortars.
Andrew Kayiira, the leader of UFM, escaped to Bwaise and later went to Gaba Seminary, then took a speedboat to Kenya via Lake Victoria.

The lover man
Meanwhile, like most men with immense power, Oyite-Ojok had an eye for women. There were two attractive women in Kampala, sisters Sarah and Christine (surname withheld for legal reasons) who were rumoured to be close to power.

They were reported to be intelligence informers and Christine was said to be a secret lover of Dr Andrew Kayira and was a member of his UFM. At the same time, she was also said to have a secret affair with Oyite-Ojok and it is claimed she had a baby with him.

How this could have compromised national security, for the army chief of staff to have a concurrent affair with the lover of a leading anti-government guerrilla, can only be imagined.
It is more than plausible that she gathered intelligence on and from Oyite-Ojok and passed it on to Kayira, helping the UFM counter army operations to smash it.

Cursed by wife?
On the morning of Saturday December 2, 1983, Oyite-Ojok was preparing to fly to Nakasongola to oversee the army’s counter-insurgency operations against a rebel group called the National Resistance Army (NRA) headed by the former Defence minister Yoweri Museveni.
He had an argument that morning with his wife Becky, most probably over a woman. It is claimed that Rebecca Oyite-Ojok, in a moment of anger during the argument, said something that would later haunt her. Something like, “Fine, you go. You’ll see what will happen to you if you continue with what you are doing!”

Her angry statement was well-known within government circles at the time. Some superstitious types claimed that Oyite-Ojok’s wife had inadvertently cursed him and caused his death.

However, in November 2006 when this writer mentioned that argument in a report on Oyite-Ojok’s death, Becky Oyite-Ojok (who died about two or three years ago) denied ever having made that utterance.

Oyite-Ojok while on his way first stopped over at the President’s Office at the Parliament Buildings. In a cheerful mood as usual, he started a conversation with President Obote’s personal secretaries who were at work that morning.

As he was leaving, he called out “Ladies, anyone wants to go with me?”, to which they replied that they would have loved to take a ride on the helicopter but had much office work to attend to.

The Chief of Staff then set off for Luweero Triangle. Several hours later came the shocking announcement that the Bell Augusta army helicopter in which he had travelled had crashed and David Oyite-Ojok, along with the two pilots, an army engineer and a military intelligence officer, among others, had all been killed.

The cause of this accident (or sabotage) remains one of the most mysterious and widely-discussed episodes in Ugandan history. What really happened that day?
The latest details and insider information on this tragic accident will be discussed next week in the third and final part of this series on the death, 30 years ago this month, of Major-General David Oyite-Ojok.

The reasons for rift

According to former president Obote (pictured), writing in 1990, Museveni, who had been one of the leading anti-Amin guerrillas in the 1970s, had badly wanted to be the one to issue the announcement of Amin’s fall and when he heard Oyite-Ojok make the broadcast on Radio Uganda, Museveni, at that time in Fort Portal with the western axis of the liberation forces), lost his temper. From this point on, there grew a rivalry between Oyite-Ojok and Museveni in the post-Amin UNLF government and army, the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA).

Other players

Lt Gen Tito Okello

Whenever the army commander, Lt Gen Tito Okello, summoned Oyite-Ojok for a discussion, Oyite-Ojok in Okello’s presence was on bended knee on the ground, his view being that he respected his “elder”. Tito Okello grew to like Oyite-Ojok very much because of this kind of gesture.

Yusufu Lule

At the swearing-in of the cabinet of president Yusufu Lule at the Parliament Buildings in Kampala, Oyite-Ojok, dressed in battle fatigues and wearing a steel helmet, was introduced as the new Army Chief of Staff.

Godfrey Binaisa

President Godfrey Binaisa sacked Oyite-Ojok as Chief of Staff in May 1980 and replaced him with Col Sam Nanyumba, who was out of the country by then.

About oyite-ojok

Oyite-Ojok was born on 15th April 1940 in Loro in the then Lango District. He attended Loro Primary School. For his junior secondary school he enrolled in the Kyebando African High School in Kampala, between 1957 and 1958.
He then went on to Nabumali High School in Mbale from 1958 to 1962. After joining the army, then called the Uganda Rifles, in 1963, he was sent to the Mons Officer Cadet School in England.
Upon his return, he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant that same year, 1963, and posted the First Infantry Battalion in Jinja, where he served as Platoon Commander, Intelligence Officer, adjutant, and Company Commander.

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