Paulo Muwanga: From liberation hero to prisoner

Saturday June 13 2020

NRA rebels at the battlefront shortly before

NRA rebels at the battlefront shortly before they captured power. There is a school of thought that subscribes to the view that Muwanga was instrumental in the NRA overthrow of the Okellos’ government. File Photo  

By GILLIAN NANTUME

When Tanzania responded to Uganda’s aggression in the Kagera Salient, according to Ephraim Muwanga, the Acholi exiles chose his father to lead them in the war.

“They said they would not fight unless he was with them. That is how he came to be at the war front. As they were approaching Mpigi, the Ugandans run out of ammunition.
MI6 (at the urging of Muwanga), through Bulgaria, shipped the weapons to Tanzania. They, through former Tanzania president Benjamin Mkapa, said Muwanga was too close to Obote for their comfort.”

However, the men at the battle front were clamouring for Muwanga and Bishop Yona Okoth advised those at the Moshi Conference to listen to them. “Tito Okello broke the impasse by suggesting that two governments should be in place – a political government and a military government. That is how dad came to head the Military Commission.”

Later, Muwanga and president Yusuf Lule fell out.
“Dad hated the statement Lule had made during his swearing in at Parliament, ‘Kyetwayagaliza embazzi, kibuyaga asudde (What we were hoping the axe would fell, a gust of wind has instead caused to fall). It was (Tanzanian) president Julius Nyerere who forced Lule to give Muwanga the position of minister of internal affairs, which he had first offered to Dr Andrew Kayiira.”

Obote’s second coming
The fall of Amin caused a lot of insecurity in Kampala, with killings of prominent people. Muwanga blamed Kayiira and Robert Ssebunya for supporting these criminal acts. According to Uganda’s Presidents – An Illustrated Biography, in his 1990 paper, Notes on Concealment of Genocide in Uganda, Obote blamed the minister of defence, Yoweri Museveni, for these acts.

At the time, Museveni’s Front for National Salvation (FRONASA) and Lt Col David Oyite Ojok’s Kikosi Maalum were the most powerful factions in the army. Muwanga was affiliated to Kikosi Maalum.

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On May 22, 1980, with the Military Commission in charge of Uganda’s affairs, Muwanga became de facto president. Many believed he was paving way for the return of Obote to power. However, his son disagrees.

“Muwanga would have been the last person to organise Obote’s return. They did not like each other. That is what people have failed to understand. We always asked him (Muwanga) why he did not prevent it but he told us he was helpless. He was uncomfortable with the military leadership. The elections were supposed to take place on September 30, 1980, but ‘someone’ in the Commission threatened him. I will not mention names. Honestly, dad was between a rock and a hard place. As his children, we always blamed him for not taking the presidency yet he had the power and the opportunity. Dad said becoming president had never been his desire.”

The events that led to the much-contested December 1980 elections have been much written about. When UPC won the election, Obote appointed Muwanga vice president and minister of defence.

“When the (National Resistance Army) rebels attacked Kabamba Barracks (February 6, 1981), Muwanga proposed that a new election be held with only children (Museveni and Kayiira) contesting amongst themselves. His advice was dismissed. Every government has purists, and Obote II had Rwakasisi, whom Obote listened to more than he did Muwanga, Allimadi, and (Edward) Rurangaranga. That war (1981-1986) had only two victims - the Baganda civilians and the Acholi soldiers.”

1985 coup
In 1984, as Muwanga was being driven from Republic House to Equatorial Hotel, he came across an old friend, Lord Andrew Bendicto Adimola.

“He told the driver to stop the car and asked Adimola to hop in. He was surprised that the deputy president of the Democratic Party was living in the ruins of Equatorial Hotel. My father gave him the entire well-furnished top floor of our house on Plot 33 Kololo Hill. My father lived on the ground floor and shared his private cars with Adimola. Jokingly, he told Adimola, ‘If things change, do not treat me badly.”

Mr Muwanga claims his father did not know Adimola was the chief architect of the 1985 coup against Obote, although they were sharing the same house. When, on the morning of July 27, 1985, the Tito Okello and Bazilio Okello staged a successful coup, they chose Muwanga as their executive prime minister. The Okellos – under pressure from the NRA – dropped Muwanga from his position 24 days later and replaced him with Abraham Waliggo.

Did he die a happy man?
Muwanga’s son says his father’s greatest joy was that he did not bury any of his children. “His only regret was that what he had given his entire life for had not been achieved in Uganda, except for Independence. It is a well-known fact that many Baganda hated Muwanga, but life offers us options and we are free to take them. I only wish they could take time to understand him. If you hate Muwanga, what did he do to you personally?”

After 1986 NRA takeover
Muwanga arrested and charged with treason

There is a school of thought that subscribes to the view that Muwanga was instrumental in the NRA overthrow of the Okellos’ government. However, his son puts it this way: “Dad said he had been the pillar of the Acholi (in power) for a long time and enough was enough. As the NRA was advancing on Kampala, Tito Okello sent a helicopter to Church Road in Entebbe to pick dad. He refused to go into exile, saying: ‘Enzige bweziba nga zakundya, kazijje zindiire wano.’(If the locusts are to eat me, let them find me here). The man always spoke in parables.”

On October 3, 1986, Muwanga, together with three cabinet ministers, three senior army officers, and 17 others, were arrested for treason.
“Putting him in prison was very unfortunate,” Muwanga’s son says, continuing: “There are people who are still alive today, who profess that if it had not been for Muwanga, they would not have survived the exile in Tanzania. Why did he (Museveni) lock him up?

That is a question you should ask him. My father was accused of kidnap with intent to murder. President Nyerere twice begged him (Museveni) to release Muwanga. He said he could not because the Baganda hated him. Nyerere told him it was better for the Baganda to deal with Muwanga themselves. Museveni sent someone – I will not mention the name – to tell Muwanga that he had forgiven him. Dad was sick but he thanked Museveni for his forgiveness and asked him to take him to court on those very charges he had forgiven him for if the cases were genuine.”

On October 25, 1990, the state prosecutor, Mac Dusman Kabega, informed court that the State had lost interest in the case. Six months after his release, Muwanga died on April 1, 1991 at Nsambya hospital in Kampala.
The announcement of his death was aired on Radio Uganda at 1pm, by Jaberi Bidandi Ssali, Kintu Musoke, and Ali Kirunda Kivejinja, his three protégées in the 1960s UPC Youth League.

gnantume@ug.nationmedia.com

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