Paulo Muwanga is an unforgettable Ugandan. For long, the Muwanga family has been taciturn about their patriarch. Ephraim Muwanga, a Cuban-trained agronomist, finally speaks out.
The 66-year-old Muwanga was born when his father had just resigned from a job with the East African Posts and Telecommunications. “I am one of the few people left who know what Muwanga was really like in life. He was a very calculative man,” the agronomist says.
Paulo Frobisher Muwanga Seddugge Muyanja was born on April 4, 1924 in Ndoddo, Kamengo sub-county, Mpigi District, the second child of Semioni Sejjombwe, an Anglican, and Victoria Kinafuye, a Roman Catholic.
“In 1943, he qualified to join Makerere College. However, the school intake quota was only for three students and it happened that Muwanga was among them together with Benedicto Kiwanuka (pre-independence Chief minister and later Chief Justice), and a one, Tamale (first African surveyor). St Peters, being a Catholic school, could only send Catholic students of which, Muwanga was not. When his uncle asked him to convert to Catholicism, my father consulted with his father. He returned to Nsambya and told his uncle he would not convert. His slot was given to another student, Lawrence Kalule Settala (second finance minister of independent Uganda).”
Muwanga joined a friend, Kikonyogo, in Ttula, Kawempe who was working in the East African Posts and Telecommunications, where he began working in 1945 as a postal clerk. Later that year, he went to Dar-es-Salaam to train in telegraphic transmission and communication.
“While in Dar-es-Salaam, he made friends with ex-servicemen and Tanzanian political elites. It is also there that he met his bosom friend, (Eric) Otema Allimadi. These friendships were an important cornerstone in my father’s political life,” Muwanga says.”
It was in Dar-es-Salaam where Muwanga was recruited into the Bataaka Movement by I. K.Musaazi, though he worked clandestinely since he was a civil servant.
Beginnings of political activism
On return, Muwanga was assigned to open post office stations across the country. In 1947 he was posted to Mbarara as Post Master. He had access to the telegrams of colonial leaders and could listen to them on the manual switchboard as they made calls.
“Because the British were not aware of his political affiliations, Muwanga was a major source of the information that inflamed the Bataka Movement. He was privy to colonial plans and identified Ugandans who secretly collaborated with the regime. When he passed on the information to his networks, these collaborators were beaten and their houses and bicycles torched. During the Bataka Uprising of 1949, some lost their lives.”
In 1948, Muwanga married Catherine Zawedde, and two years later, he was transferred to Mpigi, then Masaka. In 1951, when a Sikh Indian insulted him, Muwanga beat him up, and then, resigned. He retired to a modest home in Kagoma, Maganjo (now in Wakiso district).
When Muwanga joined politics, the issue of the day was the torture of prisoners held over the Bataka Uprising. There was also information floating around that the British colonies were to be handed over to migrant Briton settler communities under an East and Central Africa Federation that would include Uganda, Kenya, Tanganyika and Zanzibar.
By this time, Musaazi had started the Uganda National Congress (UNC) and Muwanga, Ssengendo, Kimbowa, Jolly Joy Kiwanuka, Kasule, and others formed the Youth League, a semi-autonomous and radical organisation.
In January and February 1953, Muwanga and two other UNC leaders travelled to Egypt, India, and other free countries to negotiate for resources for the anti-colonial struggle in Uganda. In India, he negotiated that Indians in Uganda should not stand in the way of the people’s freedom.
With the exile of Kabaka Muteesa II, the political landscape changed drastically.
“Muwanga began publishing a newspaper, Emmambya Esaze, dedicated to the release of the Kabaka. He wrote against Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to celebrate 60 years of British rule and to commission the Owen Falls Dam, issuing a statement calling for the boycott of the British Government in Uganda. At that time, he was a shadowy father. We almost never saw him. He was always on the move, recruiting for UNC. He was elusive, although he managed to build Kanyange Primary School in Kagoma.”
In 1955, Muwanga did a stint in Luzira Prison . After the Kabaka’s return, the focus changed to the “Independence Now” Movement. Emmambya Esaze became pivotal in the struggle and in 1956 Muwanga was imprisoned again for publishing malicious information and militantism. After his release, in 1957, he travelled to India on the invitation of the Indian Congress Party.
“When he was leaving the post service, my father ‘left with’ a police radio communications gadget. With this gadget, he intercepted colonial government information, thoroughly distorted it, and then, disseminated it through his brainchild, Radio Katwe. When an arrest was ordered, Muwanga would send messengers to alert that targeted person to disappear. One of his messengers was the late John Ssebaana Kizito.”
Clashing with other heroes
By the time the LEGCO elections were held, Muwanga had begun clashing with other politicians in the struggle. He had fallen out with Musaazi over the latter’s fronting of only Buganda issues in the UNC.
He clashed with Paulo Ssengendo and John Kale over their insistence that Banyarwanda should dominate the armed cells of Uganda’s Independence struggle. The disagreement deepened when the colonial government said Indians had greatly contributed to the development of Uganda and should be naturalized.
The representative of Ankole, Hon Kappa and Kale submitted a petition that even Banyarwanda migrants should be naturalized for their labour in the coffee and cotton sectors.
In 1958 the UNC leadership split into the external (led by Kale and Sheikh Ali Senyonga) and based in Cairo, Egypt) and internal wing.
“In 1958, when the UNC organized a boycott of colonial rule, the internal wing was exiled. Godfrey Lukongwa Binaisa was exiled to Karamoja while Muwanga was banished to Teso. Dad left us with nothing. After nine months of solitary confinement, Mum was allowed to join him. However, the government brought us food every weekend. My parents gave birth to twins during that time but they died a few weeks later. He was denied the chance to bury then, so his friend, Abu Mayanja, traveled to Soroti and picked the bodies.”
Careening towards Independence
In 1960, political prisoners were released. “Dad had to fend for his family, so it was arranged that he be employed in Coca Cola Beverage Company as one of the deputy managers. From that time, life became better and we have never suffered again as a family. As children, it was an exciting because he used to bring soda with him from work everyday.”
On his release though, Muwanga found a split in the UNC between the conservatives and the progressives. While the former believed Buganda issues should be at the forefront of the Independence struggle, the latter believed the party should front national interests. Muwanga joined the progressives under Milton Obote and Abu Mayanja.
“Musaazi, leading the conservative cause, made himself irrelevant to Uganda’s politics. How could one front Buganda’s issues when sitting people like William Rwetsiba, Cuthbert Obwangor, Otema Allimadi, and Grace Ibingira? Of course, there was also the shock of Kale’s death, which had left a political vacuum. He had been killed in a suspicious plane crash over Ukraine. The Russians had been funding UNC activities in Cairo but Kale had gone to China and professed allegiance to the Chinese. At that time, Russia and China were bitter enemies.”
The progressives, under Obote, united with Rwetsiba’s Uganda Progressive Party and on March 9, 1960 in Mbale, formed the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC). “Obote had been sick in Mulago Hospital but Abu Mayanja was sent to bring him to Mbale. They agreed that the leader should come from a minority tribe to avoid wrangles. That is how Cuthbert Obwangor from Teso, who had been widely expected to become president, missed out. You know, Obote was a gifted speaker. He could convince you to eat a rat.”