The torture i didn’t deserve — Elvis Basudde

Dec 02, 2023

I had to wade through human urine and faecal matter to answer nature’s call. I could not bathe or wash clothes because there was no water.

Basudde (in red shirt) with fellow teachers after talking to their Senior Four candidates. Courtesy photos

New Vision Journalist
Journalist @New Vision


Elvis Basudde Kyeyune has been grappling with ill health recently though he is now recovering steadily. That has been the life of resistance that Basudde has lived, standing out against sickness, near-death experience, injustices, rights of people living with HIV and stigma.

He is the first prominent journalist in East Africa to disclose his HIV status in 2002 and go on to become an activist. Basudde is one of our heroes in the fight against HIV.

In commemoration of World AIDS Day every December 01, New Vision started a four-part series, about his life and how positive living has enabled him live thus far. Today, we begin with his childhood and how he found himself in Nairobi, Kenya. We also explore the situation in which he believes he could have acquired HIV. How did he find out and what was his reaction?

I am the seventh born of 12 children, though seven have since gone to be with God. I was born in the late 1950s to the late Eria Paul Musaazi (RIP) and Janet Kyazike Musaazi, in Kiryowa village, Njeru municipality in Buikwe district. I am married and blessed with children.

Basudde with his Kenyan girlfriend and their son.

Basudde with his Kenyan girlfriend and their son.

I attended Victoria Nile Primary School in Jinja and Nyenga-Kigudu Primary School before joining Jinja SSS for Senior One and Senior Two. Our home is a stone’s throw away from Jinja SSS, and my mode of transport to school was on foot.

I met and made many friends and we teamed up to form a musical band. This scared my father who thought I had become erratic and that the band would distract me from studies.

He transferred me to a boarding school far away at Light College Katikamu, in Busiro. There, I studied up to Senior Four. However, I could not give up my music passion. You could refuse to give me anything else, but not bar me from music. I still formed a musical band which I named: The 5 Elvis Brothers.

It consisted of two of my siblings and two other good friends — Swizz Man Nyabongo, who was a gifted guitarist and David Mutebi. During school holidays, we would traverse the entire villages of my district (Buikwe) and the neighbouring places like Nile Breweries, Mbiko and even Jinja town, where we musically “terrorised” revellers.

Mutebi and I were in charge of composing music and other concepts for the band. To date, I still have tapes of the music that I composed. From Katikamu, I joined St Bernard’s College, Kiswera, Masaka for A’Level. I still believe that it was the late Bernard Kakinda, the proprietor of St Bernard’s College in Masaka, that instilled in me the discipline and humility I have today.

Going to Kenya

During my Senior Six vacation in 1980, I briefly taught at Nile Secondary School (no longer in existence) in Jinja town before going to Nairobi, Kenya on the invitation of my late sister, Ruth Nakazibwe, who was then married in Kenya.

Basudde (wearing glasses) and other Ugandans during peace talks in Nairobi, Kenya in 1985.

Basudde (wearing glasses) and other Ugandans during peace talks in Nairobi, Kenya in 1985.

In 1981, my father, a prosperous businessman with a big shop in Jinja, and who was at the time opposed to Milton Obote’s regime, was picked up by Obote’s henchmen. Among the “crimes” he committed was to have children abroad, my sister and I being in Nairobi and my brother in the US.

He was accused of corresponding with spies and politicians in exile who were undermining the Obote regime. He was thrown behind bars for six months. Upon his release, he wrote to us and advised us not to come back to Uganda until further communication. Things kept getting worse and I ended up acquiring political asylum status in 1981.

Joining politics

During the liberation struggle (1981–1986), the National Resistance Movement (NRM), the political wing of the National Resistance Army (NRA), had external wings and committees in many countries.

Dr Frank Nabwiso, a politician and former Kagoma MP, had joined NRM in 1981. He was in Nairobi serving as secretary for an external committee called Friends of Uganda Refugees.

A number of Makerere University students had ran into exile during Obote II regime, and Nabwiso and others undertook to help in registering them as official refugees. I was among those exiled Ugandans recruited by Friends of Uganda Refugees.

There was also another organisation called The East African Evangelist Enterprise, headed by Bishop Festo Kivengere which also played a major role in caring for Ugandan refugees in Nairobi.

Basudde (in red shirt) with fellow teachers after talking to their Senior Four candidates.

Basudde (in red shirt) with fellow teachers after talking to their Senior Four candidates.

The major task of Nabwiso’s committee was to look for universities to admit qualified exiled students. The committee placed a number of students into universities in Africa and outside Africa.

They also organised to get jobs for Ugandans in Kenya, particularly teachers and doctors. I was lucky, I must say. The committee persuaded the United National Commission for Refugees to grant me scholarships which enabled me to get admission into Kenyatta University. I studied a bachelors degree in education. To you Dr Nabwiso, the late Kirunda Kivejinja and Besweri Mulondo, I owe my stay in exile-Nairobi.

Upon completion of my studies in 1983, I was registered by the Kenya Teachers Service Commission and taught in various secondary schools in Nairobi (New Kenya Secondary School, Karioko Secondary School, and Buru Buru High School) till 1994 when I was deported back to Uganda.

Joining NRM external wing

A number of Ugandans who were in exile in Kenya came together and joined the NRM External Wing, despite our differences in political beliefs. Some were not interested in politics, but joined because we all wanted a free Uganda from political mismanagement.

The biggest percentage of the people in Nairobi, who constituted the NRM External Wing, were 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 where they were based. As the struggle developed, some of them moved to the external wing of the Movement based in Nairobi and then to other countries.

In Nairobi, since most of the people were professionals, mainly teachers and health workers, they were working for the struggle while working in other places in schools, hospitals or doing their own private businesses.

It was hard for one to come up and say, you are doing this. The external committee was in touch with high profile people in Kenya, and regularly Museveni, who was the chairperson at the time.

Museveni used to come through Kenya to go to other places abroad to solicit for support. It was the external committee which used to monitor all the political activities and to make appointments to do this and that.

The Nairobi external committee was the most active and if it was not there, it would have been very difficult for NRM leaders to pass through Nairobi to go to Europe and come back to re-organise.

Nairobi was the major stopping centre that could have easily derailed the struggle. The major role of the external committee was to inform the world that an armed struggle had started and also to mobilise support.

Members started canvassing support through The NRM Newsletter, which we distributed free to different parts of the world to explain their cause. The committee used to recruit Ugandans and send them to Libya for military training.

The late Sam Njuba was instrumental in recruitment, especially of the youth, into the rebel ranks. One of the people Njuba recruited was his student, Kale Kayihura, the former Inspector General of Police, who was sent to Libya for training. He also coordinated their return to Kenya and their subsequent transit to the jungles of Luwero.

Some NRM External Wing members who were employed made financial contributions for the welfare of those who were fighting in the bush. The external committees were abolished immediately after Uganda was liberated in 1986 and most people who were living in exile returned home.

Becoming secretary

One day, my neighbour and a good friend, Kayitiro Binaisa (not related to former president Binaisa) invited me for a meeting at the home of the late Besweri Mulondo.

Mulondo was central in the liberation war and had offered his house to the NRM External Wing-ward for political meetings. The house was located in Dagoretti near Adam’s Arcade.

Mulondo himself used to chair all the meetings, which were attended by activists including Dr Frank Nabwiso, the late Major Livingstone Kateregga, Israel Mayengo, the late J.J. Lule, Kirunda Kivejinja and Elly Tumwine.

Binaisa introduced me to his colleagues. I had just graduated and was teaching. Initially, I had no political affiliation, but when I realised that these people’s intentions were well-meaning, and I also wanted a free Uganda, I started attending meetings regularly. I soon became part and parcel of the Dagoretti NRM Ward.

The members seemed to like my brilliant ideas. I was young, energetic with brilliant ideas. A few months later, they unanimously appointed me as the Ward’s secretary and also as the editor of the NRM Newsletter, which was headed by Kirunda Kivejjinja.

I did my work passionately and everybody was happy, the reason President Museveni decorated me with a Nalubaale medal on Heroes’ Day in 2017 in Luwero.


After the liberation war in 1986, a number of Ugandans who were living in Kenya as refugees decided to return to Uganda. However, there were also a number of exilees who did not return immediately. I was one of them. First of all, my contract with the school where I was teaching was still valid. I also had other family responsibilities which I could not wish away immediately. I was cohabiting with a Kenyan/Kikuyu girlfriend, and we had been blessed with a son at that time.

We were living at Ruruta Sattelite in Kawangwale. So, I thought I needed three more years to wind up whatever business I had in Nairobi before relocating to my home country. However, I was a frequent visitor to Uganda, especially during school holidays, calling on my mother and relatives.

A shock beset me one early morning, at about 4:00am in January 1994, when a persistent rude knock at our door interrupted our sleep. Five uniformed special branch officials forced their way inside the house and started searching it, turning everything upside down.

They confiscated my passport and other essential documents. They drove me to Kilimani Police Station, where they kept me for a week. They never told me why they had detained me.


I was still in that incarceration when, after a week, four special branch officials picked me from my confinement, drove me towards an unknown place. They stopped on the way to blindfold me and threw me in the car boot, like a baggage.

After about hours of driving (though I was not seeing a thing), they removed me from the car boot and removed the piece of cloth on my eyes. I found myself in a tiny dark cell, which I later came to learn was Nyatti House, notorious for torturing criminals, politicians and whoever opposed the ruling Kenya government.

From the basement, I was lifted to the eighth floor, where I was questioned and tortured. This happened daily for the next seven days. However, I was not told why I was being subjected to such deplorable treatment or why I had been detained. I did not record a statement either.

On the third week of my detention, I was taken to the ninth floor where I met 10 special branch officials who recorded my biography. It took about four hours. A week later, I was summoned to the same floor, where I found a new set of special branch officials. They ordered me to repeat the life story that was recorded a week before, maybe to detect any distortions.

They produced my passport, which they had confiscated earlier and opened page by page, asking me to account for my constant movements from Kenya to Uganda, according to the border stamp endorsements in my passport. I told them that during school holidays I would pay courtesy calls to my parents back home.

One of them exclaimed: “What? Are you sure? Were you not spying/taking information to your correspondents in Uganda?”

He added: “You must be spying for the Ugandan government, but disguising yourself as a teacher. Tell us the truth.” I denied the falsehood. 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. I refused; I was not a spy and I was not going to pretend I was one.

They then became more aggressive and resorted to more cruel and merciless torture with the brutality I did not expect to survive. I was placed in a dark cell for a month, only getting out to collect my meals and visit the toilet. There was a time they stripped me naked and ordered me to do various exercises. I was forced to stand in a cold, water-logged cell for 24 hours.

They would blindfold me, haul me into a car boot and drive me to unknown destinations for different torture excursuses. One evening, I was taken to a thick forest and tied to a tree. An empty tin was then placed on my head, covering my face. Then, the tin was hit with a number of rubber bullets, to make me confess.

I later came to learn that this forest was the infamous Karura Forest, where government opponents were taken for torture. There was an artificial lake into which I was thrown. All because they thought I was not revealing the people I was allegedly spying with. I nearly drowned. Ironically, it was my torturers who rescued me and administered first aid on me, though crudely.

I overheard them accusing each other in Kiswahili for the drowning act. And, all this time, my family did not know my whereabouts! I became a rover, being confined in so many prisons for weeks or a month. I was locked up at Nyatti House, Nyayo House, Kilimani, Kelereswa, Muthaiga, Kasarani, Langatta cells, and even Nairobi Central Police Station.

In all these police cells, I was kept in isolation and denied legal consultation and visits. I was kept in rooms with no lights and I was made to sleep on a cold concrete floor. One time the police cell I was flung into had three lunatics who screamed at me throughout the night.

I had to wade through human urine and faecal matter to answer nature’s call. I could not bathe or wash clothes because there was no water. A young Ugandan, Alfred Tayebwa, with whom I was arrested, succumbed to the torture and died from the same cell in July 1993.


In February 1994, I was picked from the cell and driven to Busia border. There, I was handed to the security personnel on the Kenyan side.

One of my new captors stamped in my passport an indelible cross, which I was made to understand meant: “By road, by sea, by air or by any other means, there is no entry in Kenya.”

They handed me over to the security people on the Uganda side who were happy to receive me.

The dreaded HIV

I must here say that for all the 14 years (1980-1994) I spent in Kenya, HIV and AIDS was a disease that was little known there.

We used to read about it in the Kenyan newspapers, that the first case was discovered in Uganda in 1982, and that it was so rampant and killing people in Uganda. Yet I believe I got HIV from Kenya.

There was a former school suitor of mine who was my old girl in a secondary school in Uganda. She found me in Nairobi and must have been the source of my infection. Did she do it inadvertently? Find out tomorrow.

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