Today, most of the well-known independence heroes are dead. Their histories and passions have been written about in great detail.
Fortunately, Ausi Luzinda, an 80-year-old revolutionary, is still alive. Besides, he owns a garage and drives himself to work every morning.
I meet him on a rainy afternoon, he seems relaxed, having just come from the Juma prayers at Kibuli Mosque.
Since he was 13, in 1952, Luzinda has worked in the environs of Katwe, a Kampala suburb –at the time known as the Black Man’s town, as a mechanic.
At his garage he works with a number of younger mechanics who do the menial work.
Luzinda spends most of the day hanging around the shops and makeshift restaurants that neighbour his garage, engaging the owners in raunchy conversations.
He spares some time, though, to feed the six fat grey and black cats that live in his garage.
Now, in the sunset of his life, Luzinda’s mind is still versatile, picking off memories from the 1950s and 1960s as if the events happened yesterday.
Becoming a revolutionary
Luzinda, who was born in Nakifuma (in present day Mukono District), left school at 13 and made his way to Katwe to apprentice as a mechanic.
Incidentally, that was around the time when Ugandans were waking up in droves to the prospect of the country throwing off the yoke of colonial rule.
Like many other young men, Luzinda was caught up in the wave. He threw himself, body and soul, into the struggle.
“Everyone was born a politician. We are all political animals by nature. In 1952, the governor (Sir Andrew Cohen) introduced a proposal to the Legislative Council, about joining Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania in an East African Political Federation. In Katwe, we heard rumours that the Lukiiko (the parliament of Buganda Kingdom) and the Kabaka (Sir Frederick Muteesa II) rejected the move,” he says.
He adds: “We left our workstation, near Katwe market, and walked to the parliament. We stood outside, waiting to hear more about this proposal. When the session ended, the representatives walked out and the governor entered the Kabaka’s Rolls Royce,” he narrates.
“We knew they were going to the Lubiri so we followed them, on foot. There were many people and all of us were shouting, ‘Tetwagala Federation ya East Africa.’ (We don’t want the East African Federation). All the way to the Lubiri, the Kabaka was waving at us. We spent the night in the Lubiri [palace], playing drums to show our discontent.”
At the time, Uganda’s first political party, the Uganda National Congress (UNC), had been formed at a house near the Kabaka’s lake in Rubaga.
The party’s membership was mainly drawn from the elites, who, like Mahatma Gandhi’s Indian National Congress party, shunned violence. Their approach to self-rule was to negotiate for it with the British.
However, many anarchists existed, even in the UNC, who used youth in Katwe, like Luzinda, to advance their agenda.
These anarchists were in the communist-inspired UNC Youth League and some of them were John Kale and Paulo Muwanga, who came out of the woodwork when the Kabaka was exiled to Britain in 1953. There were others who operated alone, like a group of Banyarwanda who called themselves the Abadehemuka.
Katwe, the epicenter of the movement
Paulo Muwanga owned a radical newspaper, Emambya Esaze, which had its offices in Katwe. Two other radical newspapers, Uganda Post and Uganda Express, owned by Jolly Joe Kiwanuka, the UNC chairperson, also had offices in Katwe.
Most successful Uganda business owners run their business ventures out of Katwe.
In fact, Dr Barnabas Nyamayarwo Kununka, the UNC secretary-general operated a clinic in Katwe. Other politicians were mechanics, welders, and market vendors.
“Katwe was the centre of everything because one could clandestinely turn their workplace into a meeting place for politicians and activists. This arrangement was much cheaper than renting two office spaces. While we worked in the garage during day, at lunchtime, and in the evenings, we would meet in the stalls of Katwe market to discuss politics,” Luzinda says.
Every evening, political rallies would be held near the Old Taxi Park. At first, these rallies called for the return of the Kabaka, but after 1955, they began calling for Independence.
“We hated Cohen!” Luzinda says, continuing: “Every day, he travelled from the State House in Entebbe to Kampala and he had to drive through Katwe. But whenever his car passed us, we heckled him, shouting, ‘Wuuyo! Aduyi wuuyo!’ (There he is! There is our enemy). We also demonstrated against the Queen’s (Queen of England, Elizabeth II)visit in 1954. We wondered why she wanted to come here yet they had taken our king away from us.”
In 1955, Luzinda took part in the demonstrations around the Lubiri on October 18, 1955, when Cohen and Muteesa signed The Buganda Agreement that facilitated the return of the Kabaka from exile as a constitutional monarch.
The agreement was an amendment to the earlier 1900 Buganda Agreement.
“Few people in Buganda wanted that agreement. We urged the Kabaka not to sign it in the palace, and we were happy when a table was placed outside the palace. Cohen and the Kabaka signed the agreement on that table. We called it a ‘fake document’ and that is when we became very vocal about Independence.”
In February 1957, Cohen was recalled and replaced by Sir Frederick Crawford.
The UNC Youth League levied a tax of 50 cents on Africans, assuring them that once they paid, they would no longer be part of the colonial government.
Grace Mukupe, the UNC Youth League treasurer at the time, says the money was needed to run party activities.
“Most of the money we got was used to transport party member to different parts of the country. We had little money so when we traveled we often stayed in the homes of party members and sympathisers. But even when we stayed there, we had to buy food.”
The economic boycott
In 1959, a semi-literate Augustine Kamya organised a boycott of all Asian and European commodoties. The boycott brought the economy to a complete standstill.
“We refused to buy anything from an Indian or European shop. We moved around Buganda, and Uganda, encouraging people not to buy. Kamya was arrested and locked up for three months. But what an orator he was! At that time, anyone who spoke about Independence was assured of support. When he was released, we welcomed him,” Luzinda says.
At first, the UNC political elites did not support the boycott. Kavuma Kaggwa, a member of the UNC Youth League at the time, says their refusal to endorse the boycott was for purely patriotic reasons.
“We felt that our fellow Ugandans would suffer the most during the boycott because many of them were working in the Asian and European shops. Kamya’s people did not even allow us to drink beer from Uganda Breweries. I remember, a bar owner called Mubiru, continued to defy the boycott. He secretly sold beer in his bar, but one night, a group of people shot into the bar and killed one man. That is when we decided that the boycott people were really serious.”
Kaggwa, who was at the time working as a journalist with Uganda Post, was staying with his brother in Sseta, Mukono District.
“One night as I was bathing on the verandah, I heard a commotion. I left the basin outside and run back into the house. In the morning, we discovered that our banana plantation had been completely destroyed by the boycott people.”
Under the guise of the boycott, other activities were also taking place, to dislodge the colonialists. In 1965, the UNC had opened up an office in Egypt, headed by John Kale.
Through this office, all the international funds – specifically from Russia – were channeled and sent to Kampala. Later on, funds began coming in from China.
Some of these funds were used to set up welding shops in Katwe. These shops were a front because they were used for the manufacture of petrol bombs from Ideal Milk cans. A group of youth were selected from Katwe and trained on how to throw these Molotov Cocktails. Luzinda was one of those youth.
“The person who led us in that particular segment of the struggle was John Kale. He took us to Kitiko (in Mutungo, Kampala District) and trained us in how to throw those bombs. There were other trainers, some of them Kenyans, who were studying at Makerere University. They took pictures of us as we were training.”
The bombs were disguised and transported through metallic pipes prepared in the welding shops. They were used on district and county headquarters in Busoga and Bukedi regions.
“We threw those petrol bombs around Nakasero and other areas in Kampala. I think they went a long way in shortening the amount of time the colonialists wanted to remain in Uganda. They understood that we wanted Independence and that is probably why the 1961 elections were held.”
In 1960, John Kale died in a suspicious plane crash as he was travelling back from China and his death left a deep void in the struggle for Independence.
Life after Independence
Luzinda continued working in Katwe as a mechanic, but he religiously followed current affairs in the country.
“When (President Apollo Milton) Obote attacked the Lubiri, I rushed there, just like any other Muganda young man. I was arrested and imprisoned in Luzira Prison for four years. That was a very trying time for me, for many Baganda.”
On December 19, 1969 – while he was still in prison – Luzinda’s younger brother, Muhammad Ssebadduka, shot at President Obote in an assassination attempt at Lugogo Stadium. This was on the final day of the Uganda People’s Congress delegates’ conference.
Ssebadduka was arrested, but, surprisingly, he was released after three months.
“In 1980, I repaired the Land Rover of Yoweri Museveni, the then state minister for Defence in the UNLF government. This chance meeting encouraged me to see Museveni as the solution to Uganda’s problems. However, I had to flee to Nairobi, Kenya for a few years. In 1986, after the war, I was taken to the President and he asked me what I wanted as payment for my efforts. I asked for a bus. He wrote something on a piece of paper and sent me to the ministry. I got the bus.”
When asked if he has any regrets from the 1950s, he says: “I believe we have not reaped much – as a country – from Independence because we have been living from one war to the other. Uganda was named the ‘Pearl of Africa’ but are we really living up to that name with all the environmental degradation and lack of democracy? I do not even want to talk about politics because we are living in bad times.”