The family of former Internal Affairs Minister, Charles Ofumbi who was murdered in 1977, speaks out for the first time.
The family of former Internal Affairs Minister, Charles Oboth Ofumbi who was brutally murdered on February 16, 1977, speaks out for the first time about the pain and the tragedy they went through.
By Charles Etukuri
At the family home in Nyamalogo, Mulanda in Tororo district, Ofumbi’s widow, Elizabeth, recalls the last conversation she had with her husband.
“I had travelled to pick our children who were studying in St. Andrews Turi in Kenya when he called me. He sounded different on the phone and he said he was going for a stormy cabinet meeting but was not so sure he would come out alive. ‘Pray for me and should anything happen, please make sure that you give the children the gift of education,’ were his last words to me,” she recalls.
With those words, Ofumbi drove to Nile Mansions (now Kampala Serena Hotel) where President Idi Amin had called a special ministerial meeting. Amin had invited diplomats, the press and religious leaders.
That morning, soldiers had been deployed around the premises and a new set of weapons were on display. By 9:00am, all was set for Amin to address the nation. The atmosphere in the room was tense and the visitors knew something sinister was afoot, but none of them knew what exactly it was.
At 11:00am, Col. Isaac Malyamungu, Amin’s top henchman, strode into the room and addressed the gathering. In the corner sat visibly shaken men who had been arrested for alleged treason.
Among them was Abdallah Anyuru, a former chairman of the Public Service Commission. Others included Ben Ongom who, a week earlier, had led the operation to storm Archbishop Janani Luwum’s residence in search of weapons.
Each of the suspects was made to read a carefully prepared script, linking former President Milton Obote to an alleged plan to cause havoc in the country.
They also admitted that they received the new weapons that were being displayed from Obote to carry out the mission.
As each read the statement, Malyamungu stood close to make sure they never missed a word. Amin was closely following the events on a balcony before entering the room. A question was then posed to the crowd: what to do with the alleged rebels. The soldiers shouted back that they should be killed.
At 3:00pm, the guests were told to assemble at the International Conference Centre to listen to the president. However, Malyamungu changed the programme and the religious leaders were told to go back to the hotel.
Halfway there, the Archbishop was told that Amin wanted to see him alone. Inside the conference centre, Malyamungu ordered minerals and water resources minister Erinayo Oryema and Ofumbi to use a different door.
Amin’s dreaded State Research Bureau officials lay in wait. They were quickly bundled into a car and driven off.
Ofumbi and Oryema soon joined the Archbishop at the State Research Bureau in Nakasero. After being questioned, they were shot at point blank range.
Ofumbi welcomes Idi Amin to his home in Nyamalogo, Mulanda.
The army then faked an accident as a cover up. Two vehicles that had previously been involved in an accident were driven to the scene just near the golf course on Kitante Road.
One car, a Range Rover, was used by Amin for his hunting expeditions while the other vehicle, registration number UVS 299 was registered under the Sate Research Bureau. The two were ‘arranged’ like they had been involved in a head-on collision.
The bodies were then put into the cars.
According to Henry Kyemba, in his book State of Blood, at around 9:00pm, he received a call from vice-president Mustapha Adrisi, who was calling allegedly on Amin’s order.
“He said Oryema and company have died in a motor accident. He told me where the accident had occurred and told me to place the Mulago mortuary people on the alert for the arrival of the bodies. I replaced the receiver. I could not believe that the three people had really died in a road accident,” Kyemba says.
The bodies did not get to Mulago in the stipulated time, so a concerned Kyemba called Adrisi to inquire about the bodies, but was told not to worry.
At 5:00am on February 17, the bodies were finally delivered to Mulago Hospital aboard an army truck and thrown outside the mortuary.
“As I expected, they were bullet riddled. They had been shot at a very close range. The archbishop was shot through the mouth and had three or four bullet holes in the chest. The two ministers had been shot in the same way,” Kyemba recalls
The next day, Voice of Uganda reported the deaths. According to the official report, Luwum, Ofumbi, and Oryema died when they tried to seize control of the vehicle and sent it into the path of another car.
Appearing before the Justice Arthur Oder-led commission of inquiry into the violations of human rights set up immediately after the National Resistance Movement took over power, Adrisi said: “He (Amin) told me the accident happened around Nakasero, near the president’s lodge. He showed me the photo of the car. But this surprised me rather than convince me.
"I had just used the same route and had seen no sign of the accident. One could have expected to find more people gathered at the scene of the accident. I, therefore, never believed him.”
A soldier, Maj. Moses Okello, who was allegedly in the vehicle involved in the accident, was paraded heavily bandaged. He was Maliyamungu’s deputy.
The president then ordered the army to deliver the bodies to their relatives. The bodies were driven to Bombo army headquarters. Ofumbi’s was airlifted to Tororo.
Elizabeth shows off a picture of her late husband with Amin.
Breaking the news
Meanwhile, Elizabeth was trying to contact him. “After picking the children from school, I telephoned our residence in Nakasero and a relative picked the phone. He told me my husband had been arrested and whisked away to Nakasero.
"He told me not to call again because the phones had been tapped and that soldiers had surrounded our residence. Since I was travelling with my family, I kept the information to myself. We then moved to Westlands in Nairobi where we had a residence.
“I remained calm even though I was anxious to know what had befallen him. In the evening, I called a friend in Kampala. They confirmed that my husband had been killed. By this time, the news was on radio.
"I broke the news to the children. Our eldest son was 17 at the time,” she says.
The then vice-president of Kenya, Daniel arap Moi, who was a close friend to the family, instructed the Kenya intelligence to offer the family security.
Despite pleas by Kenyan intelligence that it was not safe for her to travel back to Uganda, Elizabeth set off for Uganda to see her husband’s remains.
“Nothing was going to stop me since my children were safely out of the country. I set off for Tororo very early in the morning. At the border, the area district commissioner, acting on Moi’s instructions, tried to block me from entering Uganda. I told them I was going to bury my husband whether they wanted it or not,” she narrates.
Calls were made to Nairobi and eventually she was allowed to cross. “I went to Tororo Police station and reported my presence. The police chief told me my husband’s body had been brought aboard a plane and delivered to our home,” she says.
Seeing Ofumbi dead
Ironically, Amin had also instructed the army and police to offer the family extra security.
“Five cars were immediately assigned to escort me. I told the police chief that I first wanted to go to my parents’ home. My parents had been told that I was also killed. When I reached their home in Bunyole, they were so excited to see me.
"They escorted me to bury my husband. We drove in a long convoy to my marital home. It was surrounded by soldiers. My husband’s body was in the sitting room. His right hand and right leg had been broken and a piece of his ear chopped off,” she narrates.
The army officers told her that all her family members had run off. After two days, Ofumbi was buried.
“They (the soldiers) only left when Amin was overthrown in 1979,” she adds.
One of the gates that was locked with wires to keep away onlookers has never been opened till today.
The family home in Nyamalogo that was built in the early 1970s.
Life for the widow and her children has not been simple. She says when her husband died, the villagers vandalised their property.
“We had planned to set up a sugar factory and had bought land from those willingly offering to sell it to us. We had planted sugarcane and had started milling,” Elizabeth says.
With the change of regimes, people looted the factory, burnt down the canes, cut the fence, sold the bars as scrap and settled on the land.
“We have been in courts to try to secure an eviction and some other people have falsely accused us of grabbing land. Whenever they get drunk, they knock at the gate, hurling insults at us,” she says.
Most of Ofumbi’s children have settled abroad.
Born in July 1932, to Mr and Mrs Semu Kole, who was an evangelist, Ofumbi lost his father at an early age. The first-born in a family of seven struggled to pay his and his siblings’ school fees by selling milk and doing odd jobs. Because he was bright, he secured a place at Kings College Budo.
When the country attained independence, Ofumbi was an assistant district commissioner in Lira. By 1965, he had risen to the rank of permanent secretary.
Before being appointed internal affairs minister, both Ofumbi and Amin had worked at the defence ministry. Ofumbi was the secretary of defence and Amin was promoted from deputy commander to commander.
Kyemba writes that: “Ofumbi knew of Amin’s financial mismanagement in the army. He knew of the Congo gold and ivory scandal of the 1960s, he knew of Amin’s killings after the 1971 coup, he knew of the murders committed by the army and by the police, for which he had been responsible, both as defence and later as internal affairs minister.
When Amin fired his first cabinet in 1973, Ofumbi was given the task of assessing abandoned Asian property, a demotion that he continued to resent long after he had been reinstated.”
Kyemba says Ofumbi knew too much and was trusted too little to be allowed to live. When Amin left for Somalia on July 9, 1972, he appointed Ofumbi acting president from July 9 to 16.
In 1972, Amin personally visited Ofumbi’s home to lay a foundation stone for the church he had built in memory of his father.
Ofumbi knew too much to stay alive