Tuesday , May 30 2023
Home / BLOGS / Sam Mugumya: Unbowed in dissent

Sam Mugumya: Unbowed in dissent

COMMENT | Olivia Nalubwama | “I think of you as the freest person I know…Then everyone you know is a slave.”This haunting line is from the Ayi Kwei Armah’s classic book, The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, on the failure of post- independence African leaders.

Enter Sam Mugumya. In 2014, Mugumya, a longstanding opposition activist and loyal right-hand man of opposition leader, Kizza Besigye, fled to neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to escape political persecution.

Mugumya shares that a childhood friend working with Ugandan security circles had tipped him off that the state was hellbent on arresting him and that impending arrest would render him disappeared.

A moment of silence for the zealous operatives committed to securing the regime’s stranglehold on power. Despite their best efforts to intimidate and frustrate political dissent, right within the belly of the beast are a few operatives who by day cheer on impunity and by night furtively warn dissenters of the state’s nefarious plans.

These double-faced operatives are at odds with their master. Somewhere within them, their conscience will not let impunity prosper. They remind us that despite our political differences, we are all Ugandans hoping for a Uganda that works for all of us. Even within the belly of the beast, there is hope.

The Daily Monitor in November 2014 reported that for his political activism, Ugandan authorities had arrested Mugumya at least 60 times. One would imagine that battle-hardened Mugumya, who traces his political activism to 2002, with his passion to the struggle and closeness to Besigye, would not shirk from yet another arrest.

Mugumya tells of his very first arrest in 2002 when long- deceased army commander, Major General James Kazini, threatened to dispatch him to the other side of life. Experienced in the theatre of teargas, intimidation and rampant arrests, Mugumya was no stranger to the nature of the beast and, therefore, the exacting price of dissent.

Opposition parliamentarian Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, in May 2022, told African Arguments, “It is difficult to have aggressive politics in Uganda at the moment because the price to pay is too high, including dying and leaving your family.”

To be loud and proud about one’s political dissent is to invite the torturous lust of the state security apparatus. Increasingly, many opposition activists languish in various detention centers all over the country. Kenyan scholar and social justice activist Nicholas Mwangi, writing on the effectiveness of prison as a tool of state control, notes, “The prison system in a capitalist society is a state machinery used to oppress and lock up the poor and those who dare question.”

Mugumya’s escape to DRC presented the regime with a grand opportunity – a prison outside Uganda. Instead of having to teargas and detain Mugumya constantly in Uganda, the DRC could hold onto Mugumya, the unbending irritant in nether regions of the regime.

Mugumya would go on to spend eight years in military detention in the DRC; spending seven of them on remand. He shares on his YouTube channel how his case was tossed back and forth between Uganda and DRC. In October 2022, Mugumya walked out of the DRC jail. His four colleagues and fellow opposition activists remain in DRC military detention.

At the time of his release, the Nile Post online website indicated that Mugumya, as a condition of his release agreement between Uganda and DRC, was to be resettled in a third country. Quoting an unnamed Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) source, the regime was seemingly wary that Mugumya’s return to Uganda would bolster the scattered opposition.

Nonetheless, Mugumya is not sitting back. It appears the eight years in foreign detention only entrenched his fervent stand against the regime that he terms ‘the enemy.’ He has taken his dissent to the internet, beyond the reach of teargas and unlawful detention.

Three months after his release, Mugumya launched his YouTube channel in January 2023. Even his haters have to stop and marvel at the man’s tenacity. His channel of nearly four months so far has 16 videos and over 1,600 subscribers. In his slow measured drawl, he uses his channel to share his prison experience and also analyze current affairs with surgical precision.

Mugumya speaks unhurriedly with neither bitterness nor brokenness. The eight years of military detention in a foreign country, which he emphasizes was a hellish experience, seem to have served him well. Holding court on his YouTube channel, devoid of the fancy styles of today’s online influencers, Mugumya is firmly in charge of the narrative.

In his 15-minute videos, his message is calm and clear; he seeks to educate the masses, calling them to unite against the despotic ruling regime. In one video, he warns, “People cry change but somehow are still within their comfort zones.”

His clarion call: “We will only achieve our objective when we work together, subordinate personal interests to the greater goal of national unity and liberation.”

Here is a man who has reached beyond himself and found freedom. Thanks to the ruling regime.


Olivia Nalubwama is a “tayaad Muzukulu, tired of mediocrity and impunity” smugmountain@gmail.com






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *