A brief encounter with Museveni in exile, and return to Amin’s Uganda

Saturday November 23 2019

Training. President Museveni and his troops

Training. President Museveni and his troops during the Bush War. FILE PHOTO 

“While in Arusha, Yoweri Museveni visited me at my house; he was in the company of Martin Mwesiga and James Wapakhabulo. Museveni had fled Uganda in the wake of Amin’s coup and sought refuge in Tanzania.
He had been working in the President’s office, as I understood it, in the much-feared General Service Unit, and would have been a target of Amin had he stayed in Uganda.
Museveni saw the rise of Amin as a legitimate reason to organise to free Uganda.

His task was, therefore, to mobilise and organise political opposition against Amin and his regime.
Museveni’s visit was part of that mobilisation and his immediate task was to dissuade me from going back to Uganda.
Neither Museveni nor Mwesiga were new to me. In fact, Mwesiga – a younger brother of Dr Frank Mwine, later the managing director of Uganda Commercial Bank, was Sheba’s nephew.
I knew both from my days as a student-teacher at Ntare School. Apart from reminiscing about school experiences, there was little to remember in terms of interaction, ours having been a short-lived teacher-student relationship.
However, my memory of Museveni at Ntare was one of a strong- willed young man, seemingly lost in his own world. I did not hear more about Museveni until he went to Dar-es-Salaam University in 1967.
Between 1966 and 1971, one heard about Museveni’s Marxist tendencies, his military training in Mozambique, his writings, especially his essay on Frantz Fanon’s theory on violence.

I was rather alarmed by his ideological tendencies.
I, too, in my days at King’s College Budo and in my First Year at Makerere, had toyed with Marxist theories and idolised revolutionaries such as Che Guevara and Lenin.
In fact, the only portrait on the wall in my room at Makerere, apart from that of my girlfriend Sheba, was of Che Guevara.
But I had changed my political orientation after I failed to reconcile Marxist ideals with the fundamental ideals of human freedom, liberty and democracy.

With this perception of him in mind, when I met Museveni in Arusha in 1971, we had little in common, ideologically.
I told him and his colleagues that I saw Obote as a socialist pretender who had oppressed people and trampled on their democratic rights like so many other emerging African leaders.
My point was that the revolutionary zeal lately exhibited by many African leaders also carried with it something new – dictatorial tendencies, oppression of people and the trampling of democratic ideals.
With the passage of decades, and with Museveni himself having emerged as a leader, I am sure that he would be the first one to agree that I was right.

Mwesiga and Wapakhabulo listened to what I had to say and wanted Museveni to see and understand my point, but Museveni’s mind was set and he was uncompromising in his revolutionary stance and zeal.
In the days following Obote’s ouster, the mood in Uganda was euphoric – not because Idi Amin, a somewhat unknown entity, had taken power, but because Obote, so hated by most Ugandans, had been deposed.
Amin had released all political prisoners, including my wife’s two brothers; he had created a broad-based non-sectarian government, and even initially spared the lives of Basil Bataringaya, Obote’s Minister of Internal Affairs, and Erinayo Oryema, the Inspector General of Police, both known to have been Obote’s collaborators until the last hour of his presidency.

Ugandans in exile were streaming back home and trying to pick up the pieces of their lives again.
I was soon to be one of those returning home.
I parted with Museveni and his colleagues on friendly terms, and shortly afterwards, I was on my way to Kampala to take up my new job as Supplies and Distribution Manager at Shell/BP Uganda.

Reign of terror
Although Amin’s entire rule was characterised by killings of both soldiers and civilians, there were two concentrated waves of killing; one followed the 1972 invasion of Uganda by exiles based in Tanzania aided by Nyerere, and the second wave was in 1977-78 prior to the full-fledged war against Amin led by the Tanzanian Army.
We have seen that in the first wave, most political leaders in Obote’s first government who had not fled the country were killed.

Amin considered his victims to be, in one way or another, linked to Obote in Dar-es- Salaam; of course, some of them may have been framed.
This also applied to those suspected of being Museveni’s internal contacts or his “guerrillas” as they were labelled.
Maj Rutaasyangabo, my wife’s brother, was picked up from his home in Rutooma, Mbarara District, in October 1977.
He was briefly detained at the army barracks in Mbarara, before being moved to the infamous State Research Bureau at Nakasero, Kampala, where he was murdered.


There is a group photograph hanging in my living-room of Major Katabarwa, Lt Col Sarapio Kakuhikire, Col William Ndahendekire, Maj Agustine Karugaba and Brig Opolot.
Of these five, only Opolot and Karugaba survived Amin’s onslaught.
The second wave included the brutal murder of Janani Luwum, the Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, together with Oboth Ofumbi, the minister of internal affairs, and Erinayo Oryema, the minister for lands, in February 1977.

By the time of the murder of Archbishop Luwum, I had been living in Uganda for five years since my return from the first exile. Leaving one’s country and home is a painful experience.
Even when one is comfortable, as my family and I were, living in a foreign land, dependent on the hospitality of others, can be traumatic.

It is even more mentally torturous when leaving one’s country creates security risks for relatives and friends left behind.
Such was the case with my first exile, and would also be the case with the second one.
In the intervening years, my family had grown; Sheba and I now had four children, Eva-Marie Ngonzi, seven, Timothy Kainamura, five, Philip Karamira, three, and Enid Kagore, only three months old; all of them a blessing.
They filled us with happiness. With the help of a Shell/BP home ownership scheme, I had bought a residential house in Makindye, an up-scale suburb of Kampala.

I had also purchased a ranch in Sembabule, and a farm in Wakyato, Bulemezi, later to be the heartland of the 1981-85 Bush War. I had to abandon all these projects for the next 10 years.
That the two exiles combined took a chunk of 15 years of my life speaks volumes about how political conflicts in Africa have destabilised nations and the lives of individuals.

Author. Matthew Rukikaire. Courtesy Photo
Author. Matthew Rukikaire. Courtesy Photo

The causes for my exit from Uganda in 1977, were several, all of them linked to the insecurity gripping the country.
My position as the custodian of Shell/BP (U) fuel had placed me in a vulnerable position.

I was besieged daily by unauthorised demands for fuel, many of them from highly- placed security operatives, often with veiled threats of dire consequences if I did not oblige.
Then, Bishop Kivengere, whose wife was my aunt, an outspoken voice against Amin’s brutality, and who was with Archbishop Luwum the day he was arrested and murdered, was advised to leave the country as it was clear that his life, and that others’ close to him, were in imminent danger.
Rumours in Kampala were rife about persons whose lives were in danger. After consultations with family members, it was agreed that my brother Sam Baingana and his family, and my family, leave Uganda.

Meeting Museveni again
My second encounter with Museveni came in 1978, in Nairobi, when the struggle to remove Idi Amin had gained critical momentum, with Nyerere having resolved that Amin’s impunity must be brought to an end.
Museveni was, and had been for many years, a clandestine operator traversing East and Central Africa organising under the banner of Fronasa (Front for National Salvation), a military/political operation, to rid Uganda of Amin.

At the time, Ugandan exiles were frantically working to create a unified front to fill the imminent post-Amin void.
In the process, they were also stampeding one another to secure positions in the post-Amin regime. I met Museveni through an arrangement made by Sam Kutesa, who was working and living in Nairobi.
Kutesa was related to Museveni through marriage – his wife, Jennifer, and Museveni’s wife Janet, were cousins.

Sam Kutesa had not only become a close personal friend of mine, but the two of us shared many political views and ideological positions.
For one thing, we found the ideological positions projected by Museveni at that time to be too radical, too left wing and, belonging to that category of African leaders who, in the name of “revolution”, were becoming increasingly repressive and authoritarian.

Kutesa’s ideological leanings were more capitalist, Western European oriented, while mine were more liberal; we both supported free market economies, without the sharp edges of unbridled capitalism.
So this was my mindset when the three of us met in Nairobi, a meeting that lasted about three hours.
Seven years had elapsed since I had last met with Museveni.
This time he made a totally different impression on me than I had formed of him earlier at our Arusha meeting.
I found Museveni to be in the mainstream of the views of the broad opposition, internally and externally, in terms of organising to overthrow Amin, and what the interim arrangements should look like.
He now advocated a broad front of all political forces in preparation for a transitional government in Uganda.

He was not even advocating socialism, let alone communism, as previously perceived, and was not against a free market economy.
He defended his active support for Frelimo in Mozambique to rid that country of colonialism, and his involvement in the 1972 invasion in Uganda, and now in the on-going military mobilisation aimed at liberating Uganda from oppression; the only difference was that in Mozambique, it was against White colonialists, whereas in Uganda, it was against an African dictator.
This was an even more compelling reason for me to support Museveni. His Fronasa was an armed organisation superior to all the others except for Obote’s armed wing, Kikosi Maluum; as such, he had greater capacity to contribute to the dislodging of Amin’s brutal government from power.

I made it clear at the end of the meeting that I would give him my support and he appreciated the gesture. Kutesa remained doubtful and wasn’t ready to give similar assurances.
Kutesa was a conservative, and I wonder whether, even as early as then, he did not harbour ambitions of becoming president one day and whether he didn’t regard Museveni as a possible future rival in that regard.
As it turned out, Museveni and Kutesa contested the Ankole North Constituency, which included Nyabushozi County in the 1980 election, Museveni on the Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM) ticket and Kutesa on the DP ticket, resulting in a victory for Kutesa.

Hostage drama at Entebbe
It would be remiss of me if, among the many crimes committed by Idi Amin, I did not mention his role in the Entebbe Airport hostage taking operation, most especially because I was an eyewitness to part of the drama as it happened on June 28, 1976.
At the time, I was working as operations Manager of Shell/ BP (Uganda). On the fateful day, I was awakened from my sleep in the wee hours of the morning by our Entebbe airport manager, who informed me that an unscheduled Air France plane had landed at the airport and requested emergency refuelling.
However, he informed me also that the incident looked like a hijack. I immediately dressed up and headed for Entebbe, a 30 minutes drive from Kampala where I lived.

Because of my position, I had a pass allowing me into most areas of the airport, including the arrival and departure lounges.
Upon arrival, and after being checked and searched by security, I headed for the arrival area and found some hostages being off-loaded under watch by the hijackers, two of them at the plane exit at the top of the steps and others at the bottom.
The few hostages I had a close look at, being escorted to a holding area in the main building, had expressions of horror written on their faces; I imagined they thought they were being led to their death as they were herded along.

The way in which they were being roughed up, especially by a White female terrorist, certainly gave that impression.
Amin’s involvement was evidenced by the large presence of Ugandan soldiers patrolling and guarding the surrounding area and giving information and other support to the hijackers.
We were to learn later that the gang of hijackers was made up of the Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the German-based Baader- Meinhof, hence the presence of the White female hijacker, whom I saw personally and who appeared to be the harshest and also the one in charge. We learned later that the hostages numbered 254, of whom nearly 100 were Israelis or Jews.

The Air France passenger plane had been on its way from Israel to Paris via Athens.
The initial number of hijackers on the plane was four, but they were joined upon landing at Entebbe by another three to make them seven.
I did not stay long at the airport as I had to rush back to Kampala to consult with my managing director and, together, with our Nairobi and London offices about the request for fuelling the plane.
I did not return to the scene that day or the next, but I had seen yet more evidence of Idi Amin’s evil mind and total disregard for human life.

Like everybody else, I was to learn about the successful rescue operation by an Israeli elite force of paratroopers a few days later, on July 4.
The force of 200 men had stealthily travelled 2,500 miles in three Hercules transport planes, landed at Entebbe under cover of darkness.
In a matter of 35 minutes, they had wiped out about 45 Ugandan soldiers, killed all the hijackers, destroyed 11 Russian Migs belonging to the Uganda Air Force and loaded the remaining hostages onto their planes and flown out.

Release of all political prisoners

In the days following Milton Obote’s ouster, the mood in Uganda was euphoric – not because Idi Amin, a somewhat unknown entity, had taken power, but because Obote, so hated by most Ugandans, had been deposed.
Amin had released all political prisoners, including my wife’s two brothers; he had created a broad-based non-sectarian government, and even initially spared the lives of Basil Bataringaya, Obote’s Minister of Internal Affairs, and Erinayo Oryema, the Inspector General of Police, both known to have been Obote’s collaborators until the last hour of his presidency.
Ugandans in exile were streaming back home and trying to pick up the pieces of their lives again.

In Part III tomorrow, Rukikaire talks about how the Bush War was launched