How Ben Kiwanuka tried to assassinate Obote

What you need to know:

  • Blood politics. The brutal murder of Arua MP Ibrahim Abiriga last week has evoked memories on previous assassinations in Uganda.
  • Sunday Monitor’s Faustin Mugabe looks at the attempt on the life of then President Milton Obote in 1969.

Former Member of Parliament for Arua Municipality is the latest victim of assassination in Uganda. Rtd Colonel Ibrahim Abiriga was gunned down last week together with his escort as the MP was driving towards his home in Kawanda, Wakiso District.
Some suspects have since been arrested, according to the police. His brutal murder has evoked memories on previous assassinations in Uganda, the attempt on the life of then President Milton Obote in 1969 being the most profiled case in Uganda’s history. Although the would-be assassin’s bullet hit him, he miraculously survived – and the culprit was arrested by police in less than 24 hours after the incident.
How was he caught, and what was his motive?

First attempt on Obote’s life
Since May 24, 1966 when President Obote ordered the Uganda Army to attack Buganda Kingdom’s main palace at Mengo, forcing King Edward Mutesa II fleeing to exile in England, Obote and his security was well aware that he was an assassination target from Buganda fanatics. Indeed two years later, on January 12, 1968, Obote was waylaid near Silver Springs Hotel on the Luzira-Kampala Road but he survived. Because it was at night, around 8pm, the convoy did not use sirens to clear the road as there was no traffic on the road.
But vice president John Babiiha’s convoy, from the same function, also headed for Entebbe used sirens, which the would-be assassins mistook for the president’s convoy and shot at it. None in the motorcade was killed, but some security personal were injured.
In less than a day, police arrested Dan Kamanyi – the architect of the assassination plot – in Kampala. Five of his accomplices who had fled to Nairobi, Kenya were also captured. They were Captain Abraham Senkoma, former aide de camp of Kabaka Mutesa; Basilio Lukyamuzi, former Kabaka Yekka fanatic and Member of Parliament of Uganda and Daniel Kiwanuka, former Kabaka Yekka youth leader. Others were lieutenants Andrew Kyeyune and John Oboo, who had been dismissed from the Uganda Army after the 1966 Buganda crisis. Kamanyi has spoken to the Daily Monitor several times about his attempt to assassinate President Obote.

Second shot at Obote
It did not take long before another attempt on the life of president Obote was made. From police investigations and interrogations of the culprits, Benedicto Kiwanuka – a lawyer, Uganda’s first prime minister and then president-general of the Democratic Party (DP) – was the chief architect of the second plot to assassinate Obote.
Earlier, in the May 1962 general elections, Obote had defeated Kiwanuka. And so it would seem that Kiwanuka had a personal vendetta against the man who denied him the opportunity to lead Uganda to independence. Later, Kiwanuka involved Princess Ndagire of Buganda kingdom, who enthusiastically bought the idea.
The then CID boss, Mohamed Hassan, who testified in court in Kampala, said from Masaka District, Kiwanuka recruited a one Yusuf Kisule, who in turn recruited Mohamed Sebaduka, a Kampala-based taxi driver and a Muganda Muslim radical to be the assassin, and another Muganda Yowana Wamala. Sebaduka had also been dismissed from the Uganda Army after the 1966 crisis. In all, about six men were involved the assassination plot.
Assassins are briefed
While testifying before the High Court Judge in Kampala, CID chief Hassan claimed Kiwanuka had imported firearms from Soviet Union purposely to assassinate Obote. Once the firearms arrived into the country, they were kept in Masaka by Mzee Kisule, 67.
Hassan further told court that six men, including Sebuduka, the would-be assassin, had during interrogation, revealed just as they confessed to court that the DP president-general met Sebaduka, Wamala and Princess Ndagire – one of Kabaka Mutesa’s daughters – at her home in Kampala for the last briefing on the execution of the mission. The last meeting was held in the morning of December 19, 1969. The day before, Mzee Kisule had managed to bring the firearms and a hand grenade from Masaka to Kampala undetected, in spite of the military roadblocks staged in Buganda since 1966.

Choosing D-day
The day chosen was December 19, 1969. It was chosen because it would be the last day of the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) annual conference at Lugogo Indoor Stadium. The conference had lasted three days. Presidents Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Mubutu Sese Seko of then Zaire [now DR Congo] and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, had graced the opening of the function but had all left a day before the closure of the function. The function had also attracted the big-shots of the ruling UPC party, as well as ordinary supporters.
Thus, the plotters saw a loophole where they would beat security and hang about the premises disguised as party supporters dressed in party colours. The plot had started in June 1969. By December, Sebaduka and Wamala had secured party cards and on that day, they were dressed in UPC party shirts. The trick worked.
The mission was suicidal, but Sebaduka and Wamala were determined to execute it. At about 9:30pm, the assassin-to be and the driver of the getaway car arrived at Lugogo. They parked among the other vehicles in the parking area. Armed with a Czechoslovakia-made pistol and a Chinese made-hand grenade, Sebaduka spotted a Cypress tree as the best cover.

Obote comes into target
Time check was about 9.45pm. Amid blaring music from the army band, without anyone suspecting anything, President Obote came out of the hall and straight into the would-be assassin’s target. Everyone was busy clapping and singing the new UPC song, “Uganda is moving forward” along with the army band. It was then the would-be first assassination of an African leader was about to happen. But like the African saying goes; “when your time has not come, you will jump your grave”, and because Obote’s time had not come, he jumped his grave – though not without injuries and permanent physical and psychological scar.
Sebaduka fires bullet
From behind the cypress tree, about 10 metres from Obote, with maximum precision, Sebaduka aimed and fired his pistol. It is not clear how many bullets were in the pistol and how many he intended to pump into Obote’s head, but during the interrogation and before the court, Sebaduka said after the first bullet, the pistol changed firing angle.
The single bullet that went through Obote’s mouth broke two teeth and went through the cheek.
Determined to execute the mission, another would-be assassin standing nearby hurled a grenade at the President – but it did not explode.
Meanwhile, as the Obote’s bodyguard flung him down in protection from any other bullets, Sebudaka dropped his pistol and attempted to run away. Someone grabbed him and handed him to security.
It is said one of the infuriated Obote’s bodyguard shot Sebaduka twice.
Henry Kyemba, who was then the principal private secretary to the president, told the Sunday Monitor that he recalls security personnel wanted to kill Sebaduka, but he stopped them because they needed him as a culprit to tell it all to the authority.
In panic, the security personnel went into a random shooting, which caused stampede; and in the fracas, Sebaduka escaped.
Meanwhile, Wamala, who was standing by Sebaduka, had picked the pistol and hid it in the branches of the cypress tree. Later, when investigators came to the scene, they picked the gun.
It was Wamala’s finger prints that incriminated the assassins.
Police recaptures Sebaduka
Because Sebaduka had been bleeding from the gun wounds, it left a trail from the scene of crime to the stolen-getaway Ford Anglia car. Although Sebaduka had been wounded, he managed to drive the car from Lugogo to Nateete, a Kampala suburb. In an attempt to destroy evidence, the would-be assassins burnt the car. But still, police was able to trace it and finally, Sebaduka and others were arrested; incredibly in less than 24 hours.
After interrogation, they revealed that Benedicto Kiwanuka was the chief architect of the attempted assassination plot.
On December 20, 1969, Kiwanuka and others were arrested and the following day, DP was banned as a political party.