Muwanga’s silent war against Obote

Saturday June 6 2020

An illustration of Paulo Muwanga. Illustration

An illustration of Paulo Muwanga. Illustration by Ivan Ssenyonjo 


The National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) was not allowed to participate in the April 25, 1962 elections. Instead, they were nominated to Parliament on the winning party’s 10 special interest seats.

“Dad resigned from Coca-Cola and we shifted from Kagoma to Kololo in Kampala. Buganda, under Kabaka Yekka (KY) had 21 seats,” says Ephraim Muwanga, adding: “[Sepiriya Kisawuzi] Masembe-Kabali had tried to convince my father to stand in Buganda on the KY ticket, but my father refused because he believed Buganda’s interests could not be pursued at the expense of national interests. He hated the idea that Buganda should be given anything on a silver platter.”

Earlier, in 1953, Muwanga had clashed with Kabaka Muteesa II over the latter’s support for a ‘Kakamega’ Club of elite Baganda yet he had agreed to support Muwanga’s pseudo Mau Mau Movement.

Muwanga was also bitter with the Baganda for giving away the coercive wing of the Uganda National Movement (that had organised Augustine Kamya’s boycott) to a one Adereya Museveni, a Munyarwanda. He was also bitter that through KY, Buganda had surrendered its political leadership to Daudi Ocheng, an Acholi. Through his phone tappings, Muwanga had known Ocheng to be a collaborator of the colonial government.
When time came to convince KY to form an alliance with UPC, according to his son, he was among those who travelled to Bamunanika Palace.

“Obote and Abu Mayanja convinced Muteesa to become executive president. The Kabaka was very excited about the prospect. However, when the duo left, Muwanga and Jolly Joe Kiwanuka returned to Bamunanika and tried to dissuade Muteesa, telling him it was a job for bacopi (peasants). They told him according to the constitution, the most senior cultural leader – Sir Tito Winyi [Gafabusa IV of Bunyoro Kingdom] should be the first president. My father said Muteesa seemed convinced. But of course, the rest is history.”

Crisis in UPC
In January 1963, veterans of the Independence struggle had decorated Muwanga as having suffered most for the cause. John Kale and Jolly Joe Kiwanuka came second and third, respectively. This earned him enemies in UPC.
When Parliament opened, John Kakonge, the UPC secretary general, had been left out of the 10 special interest Parliamentary seats. In anger, Kakonge had gone to Dar-es-Salaam to cool his heels. Unhappy at Kakonge’s exclusion, Muwanga met Obote and demanded answers.

“My father offered to resign his seat to make way for Kakonge. Obote called this a bluff. When the speaker, Narendra Patel, sanctioned the move, Muwanga travelled to Dar-es-Salaam and berated Kakonge for running away in the heat of the battle. Kakonge was sworn in as MP and appointed minister of Agriculture. Muwanga returned to journalism, running The African Pilot with Kintu Musuke as editor-in-chief.”
In 1964, at a UPC delegates conference in Gulu, Kakonge and his supporters, suspected of communist leanings, lost.


“The communists were very bitter. Muwanga boldly told Obote that unlike him (Obote), he had paid a price (imprisonment and exile) for the party. The relationship between Obote and Muwanga was not as rosy as people want to believe. I can tell you that Obote was just bidding his time to finish off Muwanga and in 1965, he appointed him Uganda’s High Commissioner to Ghana. Muwanga rejected the position.”

Next, Obote offered Muwanga Egypt and sent Binaisa to convince him. “Binaisa came to our home in Kololo and they sat in the compound. He told my father Obote would send him to Luzira prison if he rejected the appointment. My mother convinced dad by telling him our family was still young and needed him. He grudgingly accepted the position.”

Events leading to the 1971 coup
In 1969, after his tour of duty in Egypt, Muwanga returned to Kampala, and spent his evenings at Kampala Club discussing politics with other elites.
“Dad was angry that ministers were kneeling before Obote, almost worshiping him. He berated (Patrick Munyagwa) Nsibirwa, the minister of information and national broadcasting, telling him:

‘You left a wife at home to come and kneel before Obote? Why let him sprinkle the ash from his cigarette on you?’ One time, he angrily told Obote off: ‘Milton, is this what we fought for? For you to be a semi-god?’”
Obote was uncomfortable with Muwanga idling around Kampala. He offered to make him chief of protocol.

Muwanga refused to be a desk officer, unless the position was elevated to Cabinet level. Obote then gave him the same powers as the minister of foreign affairs, with his own office.

Former president Apollo Milton Obote. File
Former president Apollo Milton Obote. File Photo

Immediately, Muwanga recruited people loyal to him, such as Ibrahim Mukiibi, Abubakar Nadduli, Badru Bunkeddeko, Yunus Kinene, and Mustapha Ramathan. In later years, they all served as ambassadors.

“In 1970, the Guyanese prime minister (Forbes Burnham) visited Uganda. Obote had sent my father a list of those to welcome the prime minister and he had omitted Idi Amin’s name. Dad told Obote Amin was above him (Muwanga) in rank so only Obote could stop his army commander from attending the function.”

At the airport, as dignitaries waited for the prime minister, Amin arrived and sat in the VIP tent.
“Obote called Muwanga and berated him for inviting Amin. He (Amin) had already declared publicly that he feared no one but God. Muwanga told Obote: ‘Your Excellency, I told you I do not have authority over that man. If you want, just instruct me to chase him away and I will.’ Amin overheard this conversation and left the function.”
A few months later, on January 24, 1971, as Obote was at the airport leaving to attend the Commonwealth Summit in Singapore, he said farewells to his ministers.

“My father told me Kakonge told Obote: ‘Mr President, you should not go, but if you go, it will be your last time to see the Ugandan sky.’ When the plane took off, Kakonge turned to Muwanga and said: Owange, omusajja ye tabilaba? Talaba nti ensi etabuse? Yandibaddewo n’azikiza omuliro. (Doesn’t this man see that the situation is out of hand? He should have remained behind to put out the fire.)”

Obote had left instructions for Amin’s arrest. According to Uganda’s Presidents: An Illustrated Biography, on January 11, 1971, Obote had summoned Amin to his office and informed him of the report on the murder of Brig Pierino Okoya and corruption in the ministry of defence to a tune of £2,691,343. Both pointed to Amin.

Felix Onama, the minister of foreign affairs, showed Muwanga Obote’s letter sanctioning Amin’s arrest. “Dad told me Obote gave the instructions based on the advice of the one who says Amin ruled him for only one day (President Yoweri Museveni). At the time, he was Obote’s trusted friend.”

1965 coup plot
Muwanga dragged into plot
By the dawn of 1965, Ibingira and his followers wanted to overthrow Obote through the UPC party’s structures. From July 1965, the Baganda began crossing over to UPC with the aim of using their numerical strength to take over the party leadership. They aligned themselves with Ibingira. However, when this plot did not work out, the military option took centre stage.

“They met at a house on Prince Phillip Drive in Kololo belonging to a minister (George Magezi). The conspirators were Ibingira, Dr Emmanuel Lumu, George Magezi, Balaki Kirya, and Mathias Ngobi, all government ministers. They approached the Kabaka and convinced him that if their plot succeeded, he would be president. Of course, like Obote, they were using him since he was a political novice. Next, they convinced Brig Shaban Opolot [then army commander] to join them. Ibingira and Kirya were the chief architects of the plot.”

In October 1965, as Muwanga was preparing his family to travel to Egypt, the conspirators approached him.
“They trusted him because they knew dad had more reason to hate Obote. Muwanga was eager to oust Obote, but he did not agree with their plan to use military force. He told them if they decided to use party structures, they could count on his support. He walked out of the house, leaving them in suspense. He left for Egypt and in February 1966, the conspirators were rounded up during a Cabinet meeting.”
While Muwanga was in Egypt, the Buganda crisis occurred, when the dust had settled down, there was a purge in the party. Muwanga was recalled to defend himself against accusations that he was one of the conspirators.

“His friends, Fred Ssemaganda (working at the High Commission in London, UK, and later mayor of Kampala City) and (Prince) Stephen Karamagi (second secretary at Uganda’s Embassy in Washington D.C), begged him not to return. But, after writing his Will, he flew to Entebbe. He told us he would play on Obote’s weaknesses – compassion and lack of decisiveness. Indeed, against the advice of spy agency General Service Unit chief Akena Adoko, who had written a damning dossier on my father, Obote gave Muwanga a hearing. The meeting was attended by Basil Bataringaya, Felix Onama, CID commander Hussein, and Akena Adoko. Muwanga agreed that he had met with the conspirators at their invitation, since they were colleagues in the party. He also confirmed that everything in Adoko’s dossier was true. He wanted to use party structures to remove Obote because his position as party president was not permanent. After all, they had done the same to Kakonge.”

When Muwanga was asked why he did not report the treasonous meeting, he replied that while meeting the conspirators, he had seen those who had been paid to report back whatever transpired (spies). Obote exonerated Muwanga and sent him back to Egypt.