When Idi Amin government was toppled in April 1979, Ugandan and other politicians who had animosity towards him, and leaders in the post-Amin government in unison, chose to imprison whoever was in the Uganda Army as of April 1979.
President Yusuf Lule had announced that all former Uganda Army soldiers surrender. And they were rounded up without any screening. Guilty or not, they were sent to various jails across the country. Some were extradited to Tanzania.
But because they had been branded “Amin’s soldiers” by propagandists, they were all seen as criminals; who had raped, robbed and murdered Ugandans. Not even lawyers, judges and the intellectuals in Prof Lule’s government could reason otherwise.
Last commander to withdraw
Lt Col Abdulatif Tiyua was in 1979 the Commander of Eastern Brigade and was based in Mbale, eastern Uganda. “I was the last commander to withdraw from eastern Uganda,” the Col who hails from Maracha District, said recently. On April 10, as Amin fled from Kampala, he passed Mbale Town and Tiyua as the most senior officer in the sector met him.
Asked what Amin told him, Tiyua replied: “He told us to fight the enemy who had invaded our country. And that is why I was the last commander to withdraw from eastern Uganda.”
When he decided to withdraw, Tiyua and some of his soldiers crossed into Kenya with intention to walk to south Sudan. Why couldn’t he run home to West Nile like his colleagues had done having lost the war?
“There was no way from Mbale to Arua. The road had been blocked and people in those areas had become hostile against us. It was no longer safe for us to use that route,” he said adding, “That is why we decided to cross into Kenya so that we could walk to Sudan.” In Kenya, Tiyua and about 100 soldiers were arrested and extradited to Uganda.
Jailed without being condemned
Tiyua said the worst moment in his life came in 1979 when he was incarcerated at the Maximum Security Prison, Luzira. “I was put in the condemned [death row section] without being condemned by any court. I was not taken to court. I was not accused of any crime apart from being ‘Amin’s soldier’.
In the prison, we were treated like animals. The food was not enough. No medicine and yet there were many people there,” he says smiling.
But asked why he can afford to smile at such a statement, Tiyua says: “I was bitter then, but now I am happy. I have children and grandchildren who make me happy when I see them around me.”
Frank Baine, the spokesperson Uganda Prisons Service, said the condemned section at the Maximum Security Prison, Luzira is for those who have been condemned by court for murder. In the condemned section, Tiyua and others stayed from 1979 till 1985 when Gen Tito Okello Lutwa ousted Milton Obote and freed them.
Tiyua joins the rebellion
From jail, Tiyua returned home to Arua District. While contemplating what to do, the National Resistance Army (NRA) led by Yoweri Museveni toppled Lutwa’s military government. Because of divisive politics of the day, Tiyua and others fled to South Sudan.
Tiyua says they ran into exile because they were afraid of Museveni. “We feared Museveni.” he said. It was discovered later that the paranoia that existed was artificial having been created by propagandists who claimed Museveni hated former Uganda Army soldiers from West Nile.
In 1986, Tiyua with members of the former Uganda Army and the defeated Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) soldiers joined hands in Sudan and formed the Uganda Peoples Democratic Movement/Army (UPDM/A) to fight Uganda government.
But later a row emerged and the force was split into two groups. The one operating in West Nile and the other on the East Nile side (northern Uganda). “I wish I knew that Museveni had a vision for this country. I wound not have gone to the bush to fight him.” Tiyua says regretting the time and life lost in the futile war against Museveni’s government.
On March 13, 1997, Tiyua and other fighters were captured in Yei in south Sudan by the Sudan People Liberation Army (SPLA) of John Garang and were handed over to the Uganda government. Again Tiyua was taken to Maximum Security Prison, Luzira.
On April 21, 1989 Tiyua and 17 others were released but re-arrested on the same day and returned to prison where they were incarcerated until June 21, 2000, when they were set free. Animu Angupale one of Tiyua’s children is former Arua district Woman MP (NRM) in the 7th Parliament.