We expanded Owiny Kibul with farms and modern housing. After significant progress in our plans for an invasion, President Nimeiri entered an agreement with the Anyanya rebels led by Joseph Lagu to stop hostilities. Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia had mediated the talks.
I must say that during my stay in Khartoum, President Nimeiri treated me very well. Whenever I wanted to see him, I would call state house or president’s office in Khartoum and if he was in the country, I would meet Gen.
Nimeiri that same day or the next day. Whenever I went to see him, Nimeiri was always very kind, generous and understanding of our cause. I consider him to be a true African nationalist.
After the agreement, I was saddened when Nimeiri called me and told me that we could not stay in Owiny Kibul, because Anyanya wanted it to be their headquarters for implementation of the agreement. I reported this to President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania.
Then Nyerere sent a delegate to Nimeiri and it was decided that our recruits be transferred to Port Sudan to be taken by ship to Tanga in Tanzania.
We moved the recruits by road to Khartoum en-route to Port Sudan. I met them at an army barracks outside Khartoum and addressed them.
I left for Dar-es-Salaam by air and was received at the airport by President Nyerere. This time he did not take me to State House but to Musasani, a suburb in Dar-es-Salaam where Nyerere used to stay. He took me to a house only two blocks away from his, and that is where I found Mama Miria and the children. I had not seen my family since I left for Singapore and it was an ecstatic moment to see them again.
I had no hand in getting Mama and the children out of Uganda. I had heard that they were arrested and Amin nearly killed the children. I had been living in Khartoum from March 1971 to July 1972.
Back to our recruits, the men arrived in Tanga but they were very sick. The ship was contaminated with a disease called meningitis, many people died on the ship and they were buried at sea.
When they arrived in Tanga, I went to see them, I found them very sick but Tanzanian medical service did a wonderful job. In three weeks people who were very sick were now healthy.
I went again and asked them to do what they did in Owiny Kibul: start farming and build good houses, which they begun immediately.
A few days later, I got a shocker from President Nyerere and his security people. Nyerere came with his intelligence staff and they told me that a one Yoweri Museveni, who has been a student at Dar-es-Salaam and had later worked in my office as a research assistant had informed them that he had organised armies in Western Uganda, in Masaka and in Jinja and Mbale.
This was not the first time I heard about Museveni. I had in fact heard about him before… even before I left for Khartoum in March 1971. Someone had told me that someone called Museveni had arrived and had gone to Morogoro where Tanzania had given us a camp for those Ugandans who wanted to be trained as guerrillas. I did not think much about him. Now it was 1972.
When Nyerere told me about Museveni and his troops in Mbarara, Masaka, Jinja and Mbale, I said, “Can you give me time Mr. President to check?” he agreed and said, “Take your time.” I started working the telephones to people in Mbarara, Masaka, Kampala, Jinja and Mbale. I regret to say that I found no trace of recruitment and I reported this to Nyerere advising him that we should not trust that story. But Nyerere believed it because it was from his intelligence service. He trusted his intelligence very much.
Within a short time, Nyerere asked me to make preparations for invasion of Uganda. Amin had dreamt to expel Asians on the 17th September. I had a meeting with Nyerere and we calculated that the invasion should coincide with the expulsion of the Asians. I felt that the expulsion of the Asians may be popular with a few people but not the majority of Ugandans.
We started preparing for the attack. I went with Vice President Rashid Kawawa several times to the camp to prepare the recruits for the attack. But moving 700 men from Tanga to Mutukula became very difficult.
Anyhow, when they arrived at Tabora, in the middle of Tanzania, there was another group of people who had been to Morogoro to be added onto the 700 recruits.
The Morogoro people were not trained at all whereas the Tanga people had been thoroughly trained in Owiny Kibul. We moved them to Mutukula.
There were two segments to the planning: one group was to fly from Arusha to Entebbe and was commanded by Oyite Ojok. This group would capture the airport, and drive towards Kampala. They would find a contingent of troops from within Uganda’s army with tanks along Entebbe Road.
Their combined armoured force would then march and capture Kampala and Oyite Ojok would make an announcement of Amin’s fall and play a tape with a speech I had recorded. Tragedy befell this group when the tyres of the DC10 East African Airways aircraft burst while the plane was landing at Arusha.
Another group was to enter Masaka and Mbarara through Mutukula commanded by Tito Okello. It was to be an infantry invasion. Once it had entered Uganda, it was supposed to be joined by Museveni’s army along the road to Masaka and Mbarara towns.
Museveni had told Nyerere he had trained an army in these areas which would be waiting to join and support the forces from Tanzania. If all this materialised, Nyerere had promised to send in Tanzanian troops to support our land invasion.
Everything went as planned on the infantry invasion, except for the usual problems of delayed take-off, bad roads and so on and so forth. However, when our troops advanced unto Masaka town, there were no Museveni troops.
The same applied when the troops advanced on Mbarara town. On Mbarara side, only one person, the husband of Frank Mwine’s sister joined our troops. Museveni had lied!!
Whether Museveni had any troops at all, we never saw any. So, Masaka was a failure, Mbarara was a failure. Our troops fought gallantly but against heavy odds and were beaten. Many including Alex Ojera, Picho Ali and Capt. Oyile were captured and later executed by Amin.
Amin’s army then went from House to house and picked up our leaders and killed them. Among those killed was Bananuka together with his three sons.
Later, I was told that the man whom our troops picked before Mbarara Town who was supposed to be part of Museveni’s imaginary army, was the one who went house to house and made Idi Amin’s people pick up people like Bananuka.
ESCAPE: Obote’s wife Miria and their children at Entebbe Airport: Obote says he had no hand in getting them out of the country. Mrs Obote’s story about how they escaped will run in subsequent parts of the series (File photo).
I do not have first class evidence, but this was what my informants told me.
Later, I met Museveni casually after the invasion was crushed. He was preparing to go to Moshi to be a teacher. I developed a very low opinion of him because I now knew him to be a liar.
My contempt for Museveni is based on my personal convictions as an individual shaped by my upbringing at home, and also on my institutional socialisation as a leader. I felt then, and still feel so now, that Museveni is a dangerous man.
First, to deceive an African government and its president that was risking everything to help us liberate our country from tyranny, that he had organised troops when he did not was a very bad and dishonourable act by him.
Two, to deceive us, his colleagues, who were prepared to fight the same cause with him that he had an army yet he did not have anything showed a callous mind that just wanted to kill people.
We were not prepared to send troops to Uganda if we had known that Museveni had no troops.
When the invasion was crushed, I asked Nyerere to give me a piece of land. He gave me a piece of land in Tabora district and I organised a very big farm of Ugandan exiles, of former guerrillas. And they became very rich through farming. Between September 1972 and 1978, we did not have much activity.
I felt that if I left our troops redundant, they would forget why they were in Tanzania. So I organised some of the men who were recruited from Sudan who were carpenters to be in Mwanza and to make boats so they could pretend to be fishing but spy on Uganda.
And by the time Amin attacked Tanzania in 1978, our boats were going as far as Masaka, as far as Busia to the east.
There were some incidents in Dar Es Salaam which are worth noting.
Sometime in the 1970s, Princess Elizabeth Bagaya of Toro arrived to celebrate Saba Saba Day (July 7th) in Dar-es-Salaam. She was Amin’s foreign minister and I sat next to her, with Nyerere to my right and Kenneth Kaunda next to Nyerere.
Bagaya asked me to return to Uganda, saying that home was very quiet. She said Uganda was now a stable and peaceful country. I said, “My dear sister, I am inviting you to join us in exile. Amin is not a man to be trusted. This is an opportunity for you to run away before he kills you.” Bagaya simply waved me to silence.
Few months later I heard that Amin had accused Bagaya of sleeping with white people in a lavatory at an airport in Europe.
Bagaya’s story is sad because I had predicted Amin just right: he began looking for her to kill her but fortunately she escaped to Kenya.
When I heard that Bagaya was staying with Dr. Mungai in Nairobi, I phoned Dr. Mungai’s home and I talked to Bagaya.
In retrospect, I think I was unfair to her because after exchanging greetings, I immediately said to her: “Didn’t I tell you?” She said, “Ah, Dr. Obote, don’t say that ‘I told you so,’ it does not help anybody.” Later, I realised that that was too hard on her. I knew Bagaya very well. I had met her during the 1961-1962 London conferences.
Bagaya’s father, King George Rukidi III of Toro was very a close personal friend and he introduced Bagaya to me. Rukidi had a son in the foreign office called Steven Karamagi whom he wanted to be his heir, but Bagaya wanted her own brother David Olimi Kaboyo instead.
I knew of this because the king told me and also because Bagaya used to tell us with Godfrey Binaisa.
In November 1978, I was in Lusaka where I had come to visit my friend President Kenneth Kaunda and I was staying at State House. Then I heard on BBC that Amin had attacked Kagera region in Northern Tanzania and annexed it to Uganda.
Immediately after that, Nyerere rang me. “Milton,” Nyerere said with excitement in his voice, “this is what we have been waiting for. Please come back.” I said, “I am a guest here, I cannot just leave.” Then Nyerere said, “I have spoken to Kenneth and he is going to arrange for you to come back.” However, it took about a week before President Kaunda found an aircraft for me.
Meanwhile, Nyerere was ringing every day asking me to go to Dar-es-Salaam and Kaunda was failing to get us an aircraft. The day he got an aircraft for us to go, the Rhodesian army started bombing the airport at Lusaka. It was a very strange thing indeed because again we did not leave that day. We left the next day.
Immediately I arrived in Dar-es-Salaam, I went directly to my house in Musasani and Nyerere arrived a few minutes later. We were happy to meet again. We immediately began to discuss plans for an offensive against Amin.
Nyerere asked me to mobilise the Ugandans we had trained in Tanzania, and also raise more recruits inside Uganda. He also told me that “now we are going to fight Amin until we reach Entebbe and Kampala.” I said “I will try.” There was a mood of excitement. I started ringing everybody in Kampala, Fort Portal, Mbarara, anybody whose telephone number I could find, I rang and asked to send more men.
The UPC was very popular, because a lot of men were sent. I raised about 900 recruits. I went to the camp of the recruits we already had in Tabora and talked to the men and said now, our patience has paid off. Tanzania now wants us to get ready. Get into your companies and platoons and get into training quickly.
Then something happened; there was a group in Nairobi led by Robert Serumaga involved with a few other people and they got in touch. I think Museveni knew about them, because they got in touch with Tanzanian security which was close to Museveni.
They came to Tanzania, went to Tabora, were allowed to address the men in the training camp. They took 300 recruits to Musoma claiming that they were going to Jinja to attack.
Apparently, Museveni had claimed that he had an army in Jinja waiting to be supported. I did not know about that. In any case, I had lost trust in Museveni and his claims to having an army. The men were put onto two boats to go to Jinja. The first boat was big and collapsed in the middle of Kagera channel and people began drowning. A smaller one was behind, people were crying, very few people were saved.
THIS IS HOW IT HAPPENED: Obote and his wife Miria talk to Andrew Mwenda during the interview in October last year (File photo).
After returning from Lusaka, Nyerere had given me the task of bringing more recruits. He had also given me another task, to write papers on organising a conference, which I started drafting, and presenting to him through his intelligence service.
After I had done that I received an invitation from the organisers to go to a conference of Ugandan exiles in Moshi to discuss a post Amin Uganda.
I was happy about the invitation, which came to me through the director of intelligence. I accepted to attend, again through him.
Then Nyerere came to see me and said “Milton don’t go. These people have done nothing. You are not of the same status as these people meeting in Moshi.” Later, he wrote me a very beautiful letter with quotations from Shakespeare.
Unfortunately I have lost that letter. I hope someone who reads this article and has that letter can send it to me because it has fond memories.
Nyerere did not tell me the actual reason for stopping me from going to Moshi.
The reason he gave me above was unconvincing and to be honest, I was not happy. However, in respect to him as a great leader, and to our friendship and comradeship, I accepted his decision.
Later, I learnt the actual reasons and understood why Nyerere stopped me. With hindsight, I could see how painful this must have been on him. Apparently, the British government was very scared of me returning as president.
They wanted Yusuf Lule to succeed Amin. The British felt that if I personally attended the conference, I would overshadow Lule.
The organisers, the Gang of Four were so scared of me that they even stopped Tito Okello, the commander of the Uganda liberation force, Kikosi Mwalum, from going to Moshi. Tito Okello was taken to Moshi by Olara Otunu.
Olara Otunu came with Godfrey Binaisa from America only to find that Tito Okello, his uncle, was not in the conference.
When Olara Otunu came to see me in Dar-es-Salaam, I briefed him why Tito Okello was not in the conference. The Gang of Four – Nabudere, Omwony Ojok, Edward Rugumayo and Yash Tandon, stopped Tito Okello, Chris Rwakasisi, Samwiri Mugwisa and many UPC people from attending the conference.
Even Paul Muwanga had been blocked until Olara Otunu said those people who are leading at the frontline should be at the conference. That is how Tito Okello and Muwanga were allowed to attend.
Meantime, I met Museveni again just before the Moshi conference. He came back from the front and met me on his way to Moshi.
He suggested to me that we form a joint front of the fighting forces between Kikosi Mwalumu, which was under Tito Okello and David Oyite Ojok, and his Front for National Salvation (FRONASA) on a fifty-fifty percent basis.
I did not think he had troops worth anything, and besides, the idea was to form a united political, not military front. He said he did not want to go to Moshi and find people who have contributed nothing to the liberation struggle to be pretending to organise a national front. He wanted us to have a front of those who had fighting forces on the ground.
Then Museveni asked me to form a military front with him against the Gang of Four. I told him that Nyerere had stopped me from attending the conference at Moshi. He asked me rhetorically, “Nyerere stopped you? Why?” I said, “Well, you go and ask him.”
How Lule became president
How did Lule come about? When I returned from seeing the boat people who had survived the tragedy to Jinja, I found Lule in Dar Es Salaam. I said, “Oh Professor, have you come to join us?” He said, “No, no, I am a sick man, I have just come to acquaint myself with what was going on.” I did not believe him because I had heard about the British who had supplied arms to the Tanzania to cross Kagera on condition that Obote does not replace Amin.
This plot to force Lule on the people of Uganda was so poorly executed at Moshi so that when the conference was delayed by one day from opening, the BBC and all the British press reported the Lule had been elected leader of Ugandan exiles in Tanzania – clearly showing that information about the manipulation of the vote had been leaked to the British.
In Moshi itself, there was a lot of haggling over who should lead the front.
At one time, delegates walked out protesting the undemocratic manner in which the organisers were conducting the conference and it took a lot of compromise to bring them back in.
Lule’s nomination was bitterly opposed and UPC delegates supported Paulo Muwanga.
It is Tito Okello who suggested a compromise that Lule should become chairman of the National Executive Council and Muwanga, the chairman of the Military Commission.
That is how Lule became president of Uganda, with only a handful of votes from Ugandan exiles in Tanzania and only in the context where the organisers blocked many Ugandans from attending.
In the next series, Obote talks about how he plotted his return on May 27, 1980 and how he organised UPC electoral victory in the December 1980 elections