By Elvis Basudde
I lived in exile in Kenya for 12 years. During that time, I was honoured to act as the secretary for the Dagoretti National Resistance Movement (NRM) ward. I was also part of the press unit of the NRM team for their newsletter. Below, I share my experience about the role of the External Wing in Nairobi and its contribution to the liberation war.
No one can tell with certainty, the person who made the greatest contribution to the liberation. But, without a doubt, the efforts of those who lived in Kenya were exceptional and valuable.
The NRM had external committees in many countries. This article concentrates on the external wing in Nairobi, to which I belonged. Members were mainly from the Front for National Salvation (FRONASA) - the people who were under Yoweri Museveni during the 1979 liberation war. Many of them started working for the rebel group through clandestine operations around Kampala until they moved to Nairobi and to other countries.
In Nairobi, since most of the people were teachers and health workers, they were employed in schools, hospitals or private businesses. It was hard to identify them as operatives.
The brains behind Nairobi wing
The overall chairman was Prof. Yusuf Lule. The main pillars were Joseph Katende, Amama Mbabazi, Ruhakana Rugunda and Matthew Rukikaire. Shem Bageine, a historical and an active rebel member, was the treasurer. He was also charged with fundraising for fighters in the bush and looking after their families in Nairobi.
Members on this committee included Matthew Rukikaire, the chairman, Sam Njuba, the secretary, the late Zak Kaheru, the late Dr. Samson Kisekka, Besweri Mulondo, Ernest Kakwano, Dr. Jack Luyombya, Crispus Kiyonga and the late Magezi.
Others were Elly Rwakakooko, the late Justine Sabiiti, Jotham Tumwesigye, Sam Male, the late Severino Katama, Sam Rutega, James Tumusiime, Canal Lutaaya, Henry Kajura, Elly Tumwine and others.
There was also a women’s squad based in Nairobi. They included Momo Matsiko, the group’s treasurer and Mrs Katama, the group’s chairperson. Others were Mrs Sarah Ntiro, Alice Kakwano, Mrs Rukikaire, Mrs Rosette Batanda, Mrs Butime, Mrs Eleanor Bageine (the group’s secretary), Evasi Kabahucha, Prossy Kakurugusi, Hope and Charity Kivengere, Dr. Woren Namala and Gertrude Njuba, among others.
The wing had networks of Ugandans known as wards or cells, all over Kenya. These networks also extended to Kampala, where people would receive resources from Nairobi and pass them on to the fighters in the bush. Those people would carry back information from the bush to Nairobi.
Spirits high as Prince Mutebi visits Nairobi
In 1984, Prince Ronald Mutebi (now Kabaka of Buganda) visited Kenya from his exile home in the UK. He lived at Sam Mutyaba’s home. When we got wind of Mutebi’s presence in Kenya, we rushed to visit him.
We were so happy to see him because our hope was in Mutebi becoming our king. Mutebi wanted to know what was going on in Uganda, particularly about the war. He returned to the UK, but returned in 1985 at the peak of the war in Luwero.
Mutebi was directly under the care of John Nagenda, Dan Kigozi, John Kasumba and Besweri Mulondo, who constituted a steering committee that met and discussed with him and updated him on the progress of the war.
It was John Nagenda and his team that convinced Mutebi to visit Uganda, which boosted the fighters’ morale.
The major role of the external committee was to inform the world that an armed struggle had started and also to mobilise support. We started canvassing support through our magazine, The NRM Newsletter, which we distributed free to different parts of the world to explain our cause.
Basudde (wearing glasses) during the peace talks in Nairobi in 1985
Kirunda Kivejinja was the editor-in-chief and I worked under him. Our newsletter also stimulated other people into helping us with resources, personnel and contacts.
The committee used to recruit Ugandans and send them to Libya for military training.
We mobilised and helped Makerere University students who had gone into exile. The committee registered them as refugees and persuaded the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to give them scholarships.
Besweri Mulondo, for example, was the chairman of the welfare committee and he did a lot to seek accommodation for many refugees. He accommodated and fed many Ugandans who needed shelter.
Dr. Frank Nabwiso was responsible for looking for universities to admit the students. Jobs were also secured for Ugandans in Kenya, particularly teachers and doctors.
Sam Njuba was instrumental in recruitment, especially of the youth, into the rebel ranks. One of the people he recruited was his student, Kale Kayihura, who was sent to Libya for training. He also coordinated their return to Kenya and their subsequent transit to the jungles of Luwero.
Some of us who were employed made contributions in cash and kind. The external committee was in touch with high profile people in Kenya and regularly Museveni, who was our chairman at the time, came through Kenya on his way to other places abroad to solicit for support. The external committees were abolished immediately after Uganda was liberated in 1986 and most people who were living in exile returned home.
I was recruited in 1984 by Eng. Binaisa Kayitiro (not related to the late Godfrey Binaisa), who was my immediate neighbour in Rirutta Sateritte trading centre, where I resided.
How I ended up in Kenya
I had gone to Nairobi in 1980 on the invitation of my sister, Ruth Nakazibwe. Nakazibwe (RIP) was married in Kenya. At the time, I was in S6 vacation.
In 1981, my father, Stephen Kyeyune (RIP), who was a prosperous businessman in Jinja town, and who was at the time opposed to Milton Obote’s regime, was picked by the president’s henchmen. He was accused of corresponding with spies and politicians in exile and of having children in Kenya and in the US, who were undermining Obote’s regime.
He wrote and advised us not to come back for some time, since he could not guarantee our safety in Uganda. That is how I ended up acquiring refugee status in 1981. The UNHCR scholarship enabled me get admission in Kenyatta University for a bachelors degree in education.
After graduation, I was registered by the Kenya Teachers Service Commission and started teaching in secondary schools in Nairobi in 1984, till 1993 when I was deported.
I had no political affiliation. All I wanted was a free Uganda. One day, Binaisa invited me for a meeting at the home of Besweri Mulondo, who offered his house to the ward for political activities. The house was located in Dagoretti, near Adam’s Arcade.
Mulondo chaired the meeting, which was attended by Dr. Frank Nabwiso, the late major Livingstone Kateregga, Israel Mayengo, the late J.J. Lule and others. After several meetings, I became part of the Dagoretti NRM ward. I was young and very energetic, with brilliant ideas. A few months later, I was appointed the ward’s secretary and also to the NRM press unit for our newsletter.
I was answerable to Besweri Mulondo and Kirunda Kivenjinja.
Museveni in Kenya
On July 27, 1985, a section of the Ugandan army (UNLA), commanded by Brigadier Bazilio Olara-Okello, staged a coup against Milton Obote. The National Assembly was dissolved and a military council established to rule the country, first with Olara Okello and later with Gen. Tito Okello as chairman.
The writer (in red shirt) hosting Kirunda Kivejinja (in white suit) at one of the schools where he was teaching. Kirunda Kivejinja was invited as the guest-of-honour at the function at New Kenya Secondary School
Meanwhile, the National Resistance Army (NRA) rebels were gaining ground, having taken advantage of the chaotic situation in the country. There was a power struggle within the government, which demoralised and disintegrated UNLA.
On realising Museveni’s strength in the bush, Tito Okello invited Kenya president Daniel Arap Moi to persuade Museveni to ceasefire and negotiate an agreement between the NRM/A and the Military Council.
Dr. Samson Kisekka was the chairman of the NRM external wing. The initial meeting with Museveni was held at the home of Matthew Rukikaire. Museveni briefed the meeting about the progress of the war, saying the NRM was confident of victory and it was just a matter of time.
Museveni said Okello could neither win nor surrender and that was why he called on Moi to talk to NRA to surrender. According to Museveni, he had already held discussions with those in the bush and he wanted to hear the views of those in Nairobi.
When Museveni asked if NRM could ceasefire as the peace talks go on, the general consensus was to continue fighting. Quoting from his book, Semusota Guli Mu Ntamu, Besweri Mulondo said: “Let us have the peace talks, but fighting should go on.”
During that meeting, Mulondo informed Museveni that he had stopped referring to him as vice-chairman of NRM, but chairman (since Yusuf Lule, who was chairman, had died). Mulondo’s proposal was not challenged.
The peace talks that never were
I was part of the peace talks. Most of us were pessimistic. The talks, which cynics called the Nairobi peace jokes, started in earnest, being chaired by president Moi. They lasted from August 26 to December 17, 1985.
They were notoriously acrimonious and the resultant ceasefire broke down almost immediately. The final agreement, signed in Nairobi, had called for a ceasefire, demilitarisation of Kampala, integration of the NRA and government forces and absorption of the NRA leadership into the Military Council. However, these conditions were never met.
Many people were hopeful that the peace talks would bring good results. Moi was very anxious. Museveni left for Uganda by plane, through Kigali, Rwanda.
Later on, it became clear that Museveni and his allies had refused to share power with generals they did not respect, yet they (the Museveni group) believed they were capable of achieving military victory.
The war intensified and it was not long before it ended and Tito Okello went into exile. The war had taken five years and two months. Museveni was sworn in as the President of Uganda on January 26, 1986, amid cheers.
My arrest and deportation
After the war in 1986, some of us did not return immediately, due to personal reasons. However, I was a frequent visitor to Uganda. I often came during school holidays.
One early morning, at about 4.00am in January 1993, a rude knock at my door interrupted our sleep. I was living with my Kenyan girlfriend and we had a child. Five special branch officials entered the house and started searching it, turning everything upside down. They drove me to Kilimani Police Station, where I stayed for a week.
In the second week, I was shocked when one morning, four special branch officials picked me from my confinement, drove me towards an unknown place, before stopping on the way to blindfold and put me in the car boot.
After hours of driving, I ended up in a tiny dark cell, in the basement of a building, which I later came to learn was Nyatti House. This was a notorious house, known for torturing suspected criminals, politicians and whoever opposed the government.
Basudde is now a journalist with New Vision
From the basement, I was lifted to the eighth floor, where I was questioned and tortured. This trend went on for the next seven days, though I was not told why I had been detained. I had not recorded a statement either.
In the third week of my detention, I was blindfolded and taken to the ninth floor, where I met 10 special branch officials who recorded my biography, an exercise that took about four hours. After a week, I was summoned to the same floor, where I found a new set of special branch officials. They ordered me to repeat the biography that was recorded a week before.
They produced my passport, which they had confiscated earlier and asked me to account for my constant movements from Kenya to Uganda, according to the endorsements in my passport.
I was then accused of spying for the Ugandan government. Kenya was not on good terms with Uganda at the time. They advised me to accept their charges if I wanted to avoid more suffering, but I declined their offer.
They resorted to cruel methods of getting information from me. They kept me in a cell with no lights for a month, only allowing me out to collect my meals and visit the toilet.
They stripped me naked and ordered me to perform various exercises. All this time, my family did not know my whereabouts. I was forced to stand in a cold, water-logged cell for 24 hours.
Many times at night, they would blindfold me, haul me into a car boot and drive me to unknown destinations to torture me. I was driven into a thick forest, where an empty tin was placed on my head. I was tied on the tree and the tin was showered with bullets.
This experience was unbearable. I later came to learn that this place was the infamous Karura Forest, where government opponents were tortured. In the same forest, there was an artificial lake, into which I was thrown and almost drowned.
After months of confinement at the Nyatti and Nyayo houses, I was transferred from one cell to another, on a daily basis - Kilimani, Kelereswa, Muthaiga, Kasarani and Langatta cells, and the Central Police Station.
At all the police cells I was transferred to, I was kept in isolation, denied legal consultation and visits by my family. I was kept in rooms with no lights and I was made to sleep on a cold concrete floor.
There was a time when I was placed in a police cell with two lunatics who screamed throughout the night. I had to wade through human urine and faeces, barefoot, to answer nature’s call. I could not bathe or wash clothes because there was no water.
My colleague, Alfred Mutesasira, with whom I was arrested, did not survive the torture. He died. In July 1993, I was deported to Uganda, leaving my family and personal belongings behind.
How the NRM struggle unfolded in Nairobi