Former Chief Justice Benedicto Kiwanuka saw death coming. But unlike many people who fled the troubled Uganda, he stayed.
Kiwanuka, who had also been Uganda’s first prime minister, knew that the military government of Idi Amin he worked for was bent on violating human rights, freedoms and liberties.
But he thought that through the courts of law, he would engage the government and defeat it like he earlier did with the colonial government.
A year before he became prime minister in March 1961, Kiwanuka had defeated the colonial government and all those who had been illegally imprisoned were set free by the courts of law.
The colonialists had imprisoned thousands of Ugandans, especially Democratic Party supporters in eastern and northern regions, who were calling for independence.
It was because of his spirit to fight injustice and dictatorship that Kiwanuka ignored threats warning him to stop reprimanding the Amin military government on its heinous activities against its citizens.
This infuriated president Amin. But the World War II veteran turned lawyer was undeterred.
One day, incensed Amin personally telephoned Kiwanuka over his stand on the affairs in the country.
This, the late Maxencia Zalwango, Kiwanuka’s wife, revealed to the Justice Arthur Oder commission of inquiry established to look into the violation of human rights from October 9, 1962, to January 25, 1986.
The commission was established by the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government when they came into power in January 1986.
On September 8, 1988, Zalwango appeared before the commission and narrated the events prior to Kiwanuka’s abduction and disappearance.
She told the commission, whose report has never been made public but Sunday Monitor was able to see, that two weeks before her husband was abducted, Kiwanuka had received numerous suspicious telephone calls.
Zalwango also said she received some on the calls on behalf of her husband at their official residence in Kampala.
She recounted to the commission how Amin called their official residence, saying the reason for calling the chief justice was about a case involving a European, which Kiwanuka presided over.
“According to the telephone conversation, Amin was furious and accused Ben [Kiwanuka] of having said the army had no powers to arrest,” she said.
When asked to detail facts about Kiwanuka’s response, Zalwango said she heard Kiwanuka telling Amin that he will send him [Amin] the summary of the case and Amin replaced the telephone receiver.
She also told the commission that Pius Kawere, a Kampala lawyer and friend to Kiwanuka, had advised him not to handle that case involving the European, but Kiwanuka insisted that he would not abandon the case just because of threats.
Kiwanuka rebuffs Kibedi
Zalwango also attested that some of the telephone calls were from Wanume Kibedi, who was Amin’s brother in-law and also minister for Foreign Affairs in the first cabinet of the military regime.
Zalwango told the commission that one night, Kiwanuka received a call while at home and she overheard him saying: “Why do you insist that I should come to your home at night? Who are you Kibedi to summon me? If you want, come to my office.”
She went on to expound: “The constant hostile calls from Kibedi were an indication of trouble my husband was heading for.”
She also told the commission that was sitting at the International Conference Centre, now the Kampala Serena International Conference Centre, that the former chief justice knew of the dangerous situation he was in, but remained unshaken in what he believed was right.
Kiwanuka’s last meal
On September 21, 1972, Zalwango cooked and served Kiwanuka breakfast. Little did she know that it would be the last time she saw him.
“On that fateful morning, I served my husband breakfast as usual. He was to leave the house as early as 7:30am because the East African Court of Appeal was going to sit on that day.”
Shortly before Kiwanuka left home, he told Zalwango that in case she needed services of the driver, she should contact him.
Zalwango was waiting for the driver to return home when Anthony Sekweyama, a friend to Kiwanuka and a DP stalwart, called her at about 8:20am informing her that her husband had been picked by some people from his offices at the High Court building in Kampala.
“This confirmed my fears that contacting a prominent person like my husband [the Chief Justice] at his residence at night was very strange,” she said.
When asked by the commission whether she made any attempt to find the whereabouts of her husband, Zalwango responded: “I never tried to locate my husband. His abduction was very clear as having been done by Amin.”
“I even had no strength left in me to pack the property from our official residence. Instead, I was waiting for Amin to come himself to throw out our property. But he did not.”
‘I never called Kiwanuka’
However, when Sunday Monitor talked to Kibedi in September 2014, he denied ever calling Kiwanuka as Zalwango told the commission.
The aging lawyer said: “I know that story that came up during the said inquiry, but I never called Kiwanuka nor did he call me. My mind was very clear even when I came before the commission.”
“During Amin’s regime, no one was safe. Not even his wives,” said the former chairperson of the National Citizenship and Immigration Board.
In 1973, Kibedi fled Amin’s brutality and went into exile in the United Kingdom. He returned to Uganda after NRM captured power.
Kibedi denies claims
After Zalwango revealed the information to the commission, some local and international media houses tried to implicate Ambassador Kibedi in Kiwanuka’s death, a claim he denied.
Kibedi told Sunday Monitor that the statements made about him before the commission were false.
“When I returned here, I sued the Citizen newspaper for tarnishing my name and I was paid Shs5 million for damages,” he said.
The defunct Citizen newspaper, a mouthpiece of the Democratic Party, had published a story claiming Kibedi knew about the disappearance and death of the former Chief Justice.
Kibedi travelled from the US to testify before the commission which found him innocent of the allegations.
Sunday Monitor was able to establish that Kibedi also sued the Sunday Concord, a London newspaper, for defamation.
In May 1986, the Sunday Concord published a story claiming Kibedi knew about the death of the former Chief Justice.
The case was settled out of Court in late 1988 on the advice of the High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division in London, and Kibedi was compensated unspecified amount of money.
At the time, Kibedi was Uganda’s permanent representative to the UN in New York where he had been since September 1986 until August 1988.