The Independent Team
Former NRA External Wing member speaks out on the 1981 agreement in Nairobi, return of federo and monarchy, and why Museveni desperately wanted Lule
The bush war that brought President Yoweri Museveni to power in 1986 seems to have created as many heroes as it has grumblers who feel they were betrayed in the ‘revolution’. The five-year guerilla war in Luwero appears to have thrived on many unwritten agreements that were later reversed by the leaders of the group after capturing power. This group of the grumblers includes, but is not limited to, the Buganda monarchists who accuse Museveni of using Prof. Lule’s name to galvanise his rebel movement and mobilise both support and manpower to launch a successful guerilla campaign. The group further accuses the National Resistance Army rebel leader Museveni of riding on Buganda’s back to get to power but later abandoning its interests.
On his part, President Museveni has dismissed those claiming that he rode on Buganda’s back to capture power as liars. He insists he never made any promise to restore Buganda’s federal status or monarchy during the war. The public may never know exactly who is telling the truth, half truth or outright lies. But various pieces of information indicate that had it not been for Prof. Lule’s role, the NRA would have left the Luwero bushes as villains and bruised.
A bush war historical and former member of the NRA’s External Wing Tom Mboijana, gives credence to this version of history. He narrates how Museveni was desperate for Lule’s support at the beginning of the rebellion after his Popular Resistance Army (PRA) had been rejected in Luwero.
Contrary to what had been said about the Museveni group receiving outright support from Buganda at the beginning of the struggle, it was only after the joining of Lule that the now constituted NRA ‘ a merger of PRA and Uganda Freedom Fighters (UFF) ‘ was accepted to fight on Buganda’s soil.
Mboijana says the Baganda had rejected PRA and wanted Museveni to wage the rebellion from his home area in Ankole, which was then a hotbed of the ruling UPC party. He says it would have been suicidal for Museveni to take the rebellion to Ankole given the presence of UPC strongmen like Edward Rurangaranga and Chris Rwakasisi.
Mboijana says Museveni went to his late brother, Chris Mboijana, in early 1981 desperate and complaining that the war was not working; the Baganda were so hostile and he didn’t know how to overcome it. Chris was based in Nairobi where he owned an airline. Being a long-time friend of Yusuf Lule, he suggested that Museveni enters into an alliance with Lule to gain acceptability in Buganda. He jumped at it like it was a lifeline.
According to Mboijana, Lule was however reluctant to join forces with Museveni’s PRA. Lule was unhappy that Museveni had been part of the group which had overthrown him after barely 60 days in power as leader of the first post-Amin UNLF government. But equally important, some Baganda in his UFF were warning Lule that Museveni could not be trusted; that he merely wanted to use him as a stepping stone.
Eventually Lule was persuaded to accept the alliance and the two groups merged to form the National Resistance Movement/Army (NRM/A) with Lule as its chairman and two vice chairmen ‘ Yoweri Museveni (operations) and Hajji Musa Kigongo (political). With this agreement, Museveni was now able to knock on peasants’ doors and say he was fighting under Lule, who would become president again when they defeated Obote.
That was the critical moment because fro that point on, Baganda peasants started concealing Museveni’s rebels from government troops and supplying them with food.
According to Mboijana, who sat through the late hours of the night with his brother and others like Mathew Rukikaire and Amama Mbabazi drafting the agreement, the final document did not have the issue of restoration of federalism and monarchy for Buganda for two reasons; First, they did not want to rattle the rest of the country and give Obote a propaganda tool, and second, it was generally understood that Lule was a monarchist and federalist and as president, he would naturally restore the two for Buganda. This would work out conveniently for Museveni’s NRA.
It is interesting that even after agreeing to merge with Museveni’s PRA at Chris Mboijana’s house in Nairobi, Lule refused to issue a statement declaring an armed rebellion against the Obote government for fear of being labelled, internationally as a terrorist.
Mboijana admits that Lule’s involvement gave the NRA the critical boost and acceptance they desperately needed to survive.
Mboijana also delves into Museveni’s character in the early years of the revolution and how he has undergone a complete metamorphosis since he came to power in 1986. He remembers a revolutionary Museveni of the bush war time who despised luxury life compared to the Museveni of today who has taken a U-turn and adopted one of the most luxurious and lavish lifestyles on the continent.
But he also accuses his former guerilla boss of being ungrateful to those who helped him come to power, the ideals of the revolution he has betrayed and a string of these grumblers Museveni has left in his trail. (Read full interview below)
What prompted Museveni and the Lule camp to make a deal?
Museveni had problems in the bush. The Baganda in Luwero were saying he was causing them problems: why shouldn’t he fight his wars from his area? This was early €˜81, Museveni had gone to the bush.
At first, all of the fighting groups wanted to come together under one umbrella. There was FUNA from the Uganda National Army, Alex Onama Renawa of the former Uganda National Army, UFM (Uganda Freedom Movement) and Kayira, UFF and Lule, PRA and Museveni, and Moses Ali’s National Rescue Front. These people wanted to form a front but they didn’t agree. Gaddafi had given conditions if he had to assist them. They had to come together.
Eventually, UFF and PRA had made protracted discussions and came together. Chris Mboijana, my late brother, played a very big role. He was the one who convinced Lule.
Another person who was involved was I.K. Kabanda, the brother of Prof. Lule. At first, Lule was hesitant to have deals with Museveni€”he was saying these were the people who had removed him from the presidency, how could he work with them?
Some other key players who were involved in these discussions were the late Joshua Mugenyi, Sam Katabarwa, and I. Mugenyi had ran away from Makerere when they came and attacked his flat (they thought Museveni had spent a night at his flat) so he ran to Nairobi. When people talk of sacrifices, this guy [Mugenyi] shared the bed with Museveni for more than one month. They went into exile twelve days before the elections of 1980. I was general manager of Nile Mansions at the time, and they were plotting to kill me so I also had to run away. I was the one who at times transported Joshua and Sam to meet Lule at a hotel where they would have discussions with him.
Eventually, Museveni came from the bush in June or July. Museveni meets Lule. I was never in the meeting but we were doing all the background work and discussing. Matthew Rwakikaire, Sam Katabarwa, Wilson Bagaire, and at times Ernest Kakwano. Amama Mbabazi also came in.
Which people were there with Lule?
Apart from his brother Kabanda who never used to attend the meetings very much, Lule had got some people called €˜his fighters’ who he brought in. But during the discussions, Museveni rejected them, saying these people would cause unnecessary problems. Some of them said they were also trained in Mozambique. When Museveni interviewed them he found they were just fake.
So, the final agreement which was reached let Lule play his political role in mobilising the people of Buganda.
So the problem was with the Baganda saying ‘don’t fight here’?
Yes, the Baganda were saying ‘no, you will cause us problems, why don’t you go back and fight from your place?’
Museveni comes and presents this to Lule?
Yes, he comes to Lule. Of course, even before Museveni came, he got this information from the bush, that there were these problems. So we needed Lule’s intervention. This was the most important thing, because Lule did not have so many forces or arms or deputies as such. So essentially we were trying to manage the merger.
So capture the mood for me in the house the night the deal was made.
People came in, it was at night. Everything, including the discussions, was done at Chris’s house near Kyanda College, Weyaki Road. All our people and supporters came in at night.
So Museveni comes, Lule comes, who were the other guys involved that night?
Our supporters in the external wing Matthew Rukikaire, Amama Mbabazi. Eriya Kategaya was not there. He came later on.
How was the rapport between Museveni and Lule?
Later on they became cordial because they needed each other. Once the deal was sealed there was no acrimony really. But there could have been some apprehensions, because even with Lule as sick as he was, he contemplated going back to the bush because the Baganda were trying to convince him Museveni was using him.
So that night did you work on a document?
Yes there was a document. With the agreement, Lule became chairman of the movement and Museveni became first vice chairman and chairman of the High Command. Then Moses Kigongo was made second vice chairman who was a Museveni man, because he ran to the bush.
So that was the deal really and Lule would lead the movement as its political leader. It was agreed that instead of Lule being the liberator he was the political arm and Museveni would do the footwork. This was decided that very night.
So how would Lule help Museveni overcome the Baganda resistance?
Well, once Lule was heading the movement, everybody came on board. That’s why they needed him.
You said you were there at the meeting and worked on the document all night?
The document was done. That very night it was just signing. It was on our dining table where this document was signed. Fred Rubereza, Katabarwa were there. On another note the boys who had come from the bush with Museveni wanted Lule to issue a statement in London. I think they had troops or soldiers and Lule was skeptical that if he issued that statement they would call him a terrorist, that he has joined killers. He declined to issue that statement.
Then after that what happened?
Museveni went to Libya to look for arms. I am the one who signed his departure declaration form at the airport. That was my first forgery in my life.
Why did he need you to sign it?
We had accompanied him. We were hiding him. We were travelling under cover. We left him in the car. We went and filled all the documents, paid airport tax. We waited until the counter was closed and Chris took him because he had an airline. He did not go on Chris’s airline but people at the airport knew Chris. He had an airline African Safari Airways. But it is not the one which took him. Museveni went on a commercial plane. But since people knew Chris, immigration and everybody knew him, we got Museveni from his car and he passed through the immigration and boarded a plane. That was his first time to go out.
After signing the agreement in Chris house, did any activity continue?
That’s where we used to meet. I was on the External Wing which had subcommittees; security, finance and supplies, foreign and diplomatic affairs committee.
What was your role on these committees?
People who used to come from say the east, there were issues. They would come to Nairobi first. And I would take them to Berko, I was working in a certain restaurant. People who were being moved would not be told in advance. They would come to the restaurant and we give them UPC cards. We used to forge them in Nairobi. Mbabazi had a seal for the passport. You would get a passport from Kampala but we would use a seal we had in Nairobi. People used to travel on those forged passports. I was working well with some security organisations in Kenya. I used to do some work for Special Branch. . Whenever they bugged rooms where Uganda officials used to stay, at times they used to bring them home for translation.
And then you would inform the Museveni people?
Yes. I used to do it with Sam Njuba and other people.
After the agreement does Museveni continue coming and call a meeting with Lule?
Museveni came and stayed away for about three or more months. He was in Europe. But the communication was Kisekka at that time. He was really the man in Nairobi. Lule used to live in London. So the main contact in Nairobi was Kisekka. He did a lot of work. Kenya helped us with ammunitions.
Which person did you work with in Kenyan government?
In security they say ‘need to know.’ We have a role. Once you don’t have to know what somebody else is doing. If you are on an assignment to look for this, you stop there then another person carries on. For example that assignment of the ammunitions, my assignment was to get a residential house where these things could be packed. They had given UFM a certain load. I don’t remember the amount. And ours the NRA. But UFM failed to ferry theirs so they ended up giving them to us and we ferried them back home.
Let’s go back to the work of these external committees.
We played a big role although you hear these fellows of Museveni talking of the external wing not doing anything.
In this agreement at Chris house you don’t remember Museveni promising federo, Kabaka?
No. That was never discussed in the Nairobi agreement. It was purely getting Baganda support.
Which means without Baganda support Museveni would not have…
He would not have worked. You know in his place in Ankole, the Rwakasisi were the majority. There is no way Rurangaranga and Rwakasisi would allow Museveni to execute a war from Ankole. For example, Rwakasisi used to come at home knowing very well we were supporting Museveni.
Was Rwakasisi friends with Chris Mboijana?
Yes, they had been together during the exile of Amin. One time he came home and we drank until morning with Joshua Mugenyi.
What did he say?
He was boasting that they were going to pick these fellows like grasshoppers from Luwero. You remember stories which used to come up that Museveni is sick. These people used to believe it. We had problems doing our diplomatic work. That time was during the cold war. These Americans and the British thought Museveni was pro-Marxist stuff. We did not get much from them at that time. Even for Kenya to give us assistance, it was after the attack on Masindi. I remember Aston Kajara came with a crude video tape when he was running away. He and the late Bob Kagoro were key players. They played a big role. Batoro played a big role in this war although they were not recognised. All these movements of people and materials etc it was through Kagoro and Kajara. They worked with Andrew Lutaya. Movements between the bush and external wing was through that channel.
How did you come to leave Uganda?
I was General Manager of Nile Mansions that time. I was UPM. Andrew Adimola tipped me off. One time he came and told me that my son you have to choose between the two; your job and your life. These fellows from 211 (a room at Nile Hotel) in Oyite Ojok’s place. They come and drink here saying come election day, they are going to kill you.
You ran away before elections?
Yes. Two days before elections. December 28, 1980. It’s very funny. Here in Uganda you can run away. That’s how Besigye ran away. I went away in style because the commander in charge of Tanzanian police in Uganda gave me an escort. I had bought a Mercedes Benz which I brought here at home and kept it in a banana plantation. So when I was planning my exit I came and collected it and took it to my brother’s place in Entebbe. On the day of departure I picked it up. I jumped in my car and drove to Busia via Malaba. We had lunch in Tororo. I had the Tanzanian escort. I crossed to Kenya.
I registered the car in Kenya. But the very night I arrived in Kenya, I met Museveni at Intercontinental hotel he was coming from Mozambique. Chris had brought him some cassettes to record his messages because he didn’t have time for campaigns. I told him that I had left and I would not go back to that place. He used to have a suite there on 4th floor.
Obote used to stay at Nile Mansions?
Obote was staying in a suite adjacent mine.
Would you cross over to talk to Obote?
What of Muwanga?
I used to talk to him. Muwanga was my friend. We used to drink together. At night he would come and I give him Vodka. He used to tease me putting on the sign of UPC and UPM. On Sundays he used to invite me to State House for a drink.
That was your relationship with Muwanga? What of Museveni
Of course with Museven even this fellow called Aziz who used to cater for his food. He used to collect food from my suite for Museveni.
Would you talk to him about Museveni.
Do you see a difference between Museveni of that time and the one of today?
Of course. I remember him saying he has got different personalities. I think if the two met now they would fight. This is a man who everybody took for his word.
But he also used to be around Nile Mansions.
Yes. Very much. I had established my own security for these people because the other people were a bit hostile.
What about Oyite Ojok? Did you have a relationship with him?
He was a shrewd fellow. I remember one incident. I had a master key for every room. One time I entered that room where Obote used to stay. I found these people, Obote seated there. He teased me that bwana General Manager I am sorry, I am squatting in somebody’s room. I am not a registered customer?
Who said that?
Obote. Then I said but sir, you are no longer in exile. You came back home. So feel at time. But Kasisa attacked me saying how can you talk to the party president like that? Then Oyite Ojok intervened and said what’s wrong with that? The general manager is right. When Oyite Ojok almost had a clash with him is when Binaisa was overthrown. It was Namakajo who brought the letter of his transfer to Algeria for ambassadorship.
Obote. Then I said but sir, you are no longer in exile. You came back home. So feel at home. But Rwakasisi attacked me saying how can you talk to the party president like that? Then Oyite Ojok intervened and said what’s wrong with that? The General Manager is right. When Oyite Ojok almost had a clash with him is when Binaisa was overthrown. It was Namakajo who brought the letter of his transfer. He had been transferred for ambassadorship in Algeria.
What was Namakajo to Binaisa?
He was Principal Press Secretary. Namakajo brought the letters to Dr Kununka who was minister of internal affairs. They rang me to deliver those letters to Oyite Ojok and Nanyumba who was replacing Ojok. This was after midnight. I went to Dr Kununka’s room. He gives me Oyite Ojok’s letter, I put it in jacket. As I was coming down, I met Ojok. That was when the coup was being executed. The whole Nile Hotel was surrounded by the army. He just saluted me and he was rushing up.
Did Binaisa stay there?
Yes, he stayed there. The whole cabinet stayed there.
Why were they living in Nile Mansions?
They had no houses.
What about Nakasero and Kololo?
Nakasero was looted. Lule never stayed in Nile Mansions. He never wanted to stay in hotels. But Binaisa had a suite in Nile Hotel and then Entebbe State House. Muwanga stayed more in Nile Mansions. So I served Lule, Binaisa and Muwanga. Of course I had served Amin. I had joined Uganda hotels in 1971.
Were you already General Manager of Nile Mansions when Amin was overthrown?
I wasn’t. I took over under Lule. I was in Pakuba Grand Lodge near Paraa. In fact Amin came there during the war in 1978 with [then Sudan president Jaffer] Nimeiri. After they had parted, I decided to come back. In fact the war found me at Entebbe.
When you were there, had torture inside that hotel started?
Yes. Some people were beaten up, but not real torture of burning people with jerry cans.
When you were in Uganda Hotels, Amin used to visit these hotels a lot?
Yes. When he changed them to Uganda Hotels, I was working as a receptionist at Hotel Margherita, he came there. Even when I was at Nile Hotel before I went to France, Amin used to come there a lot.
Museveni and Chris. Do you think Chris got a good or raw deal for his contribution?
It was just sacrifice. Chris was not looking for a job. What he wanted was to have peace when he came back.
When Museveni took over he appointed him general manager of Uganda Airlines?
I will tell you what happened. When the relationship between President Moi and Museveni became sour, the Kenya government started harassing Chris because he had been close to Museveni. That’s why he had to leave Nairobi. Even his co-directors said he is going to cause us problems.
But when you returned why didn’t you get back into government?
By the time I went in exile, I had planned my retirement from public service. At one time the late [Balaki] Kirya and Mbabazi wanted to take me to State House in 1987 as financial controller. I wanted anything on temporary basis. I was on board of Nile Hotel 1991-93. I was chairman of Urban Service Committee. I never wanted to work in government. Being near state power, I know the ramifications. If I had been working somewhere else, I would not have gone to exile. That job I had was very sensitive. During Binaisa time, these people the Acholi and Langi removed me. They thought if they removed me they would cripple Museveni. He didn’t have the money to feed these boys the Salehs and Ruberezas, the whole lot. My presence there was important. They brought a fellow to replace me but Binaisa refused. One time they attempted to kill me. I was going to London. Early in the morning, I went to the bank to process my forex. Coming back to the hotel, soldiers had picked a fellow from a room instead of me. They took him to Lubiri and beat him up.
What were your feelings about Museveni at that time?
This was a man who had a nation at heart. And he was not corrupt at that time. With corruption people never used to live on lavish life. They just had basics. It never happened to him at that time.
What do you think of him now?
He is a different man now. This is a man when he came to power he said the problem of African leaders is to overstay in power. He even talked of African leaders having executive jets when their people are suffering from jiggers. Now the story is different. He has two jets now packed at the airport when there is no medicine and he removed term limits in 2005. It’s public knowledge some MPs got Shs5m bribe to remove the term limits.
So you decided to oppose him
Yes. In fact I parted company with them in 1998. But I campaigned for him in 1996. Our point of departure, when we came, what we Batoro wanted was that road; Mubende-Fort Portal. That never came to pass.
If Museveni came and said Fort Portal you have the best road network in Uganda, better than Kampala. They are all tarmacked. What would you say?
This is our effort. He is not doing us a favour.
Roads in Mbarara, Mbale, Jinja are bad.
This is not by mistake. I was one of those who got involved in attacking the government and making sure doing shoddy work stopped. There was a company doing this road. There was a lot of dust. I took them to the human rights commission and we reached a settlement. Article 39 talks of a clean and healthy environment. It’s a constitutional right.
Museveni is going to do road from here to Nyabushozi. The Bundibugyo Road, haven’t they started?
Not yet. But essentially that’s the work of the government.
AM: Museveni says I am doing my job I have done all municipal roads in Toro. You have two or three universities.
These are not government universities.
He will say he created the environment?
But he built it with others. This question that he is the only man with a vision is not on. I gave you the background of the role we played. He wouldn’t have done that if Lule did not mobilise Baganda, if we didn’t play our role in the external wing?
You were a member of the external wing, but Museveni has never mentioned you in his book?
That’s why I didn’t buy that book. Do you know what he says in that book? That he met Lule at Chris’s house. This is the only sentence he put there yet this is the man who risked being in exile hosting rebels in his house. These Mbabazi, Muhwezi, everybody who left for the bush first came to Nairobi. Everybody who came to Kenya, passed Chris’s house. I was the main link man between the external wing and the bush. All correspondences used to come through TOTAL because of Bob. Even when these Amama Mbabazi had run away with Rugunda, Kiyonga, we were the ones with Rukikaire who arranged for them to go back to the bush. It was not Museveni. And yet he downplays the role played by the external wing.