Mustafa Adrisi: Life during and after exile
Whether he sought to clean his image or not is debatable. But for an insider, Mustafa Adrisi’s revelations were telling. ...
By Moses Walubiri & Richard Drasimaku
On his first day before the commission of inquiry into human rights violations during the Idi Amin regime, Adrisi launched a withering attack on Amin who at the time was in his Saudi exile, calling for his indictment on account of the massacres committed by his henchmen — many of them, he claimed, were foreigners.
Among these, Adrisi said included Brig. Taban, Lt. Col. Gole, Lt. Sule, Faruk Minawa and the dreaded duo, Brig. Isaac Maliyamungu and Ali Toweli.
Whether he sought to clean his image or not is debatable. But for an insider, Adrisi’s revelations were telling, debunking the belief among a section of the society that many of the killings were committed not on the orders of Amin but under his name.
Asked about his views on the contentious expulsion of Ugandan-Asians, Adrisi was categorical that his mercurial boss was spot on, accusing Asians of declining to take on Ugandan citizenship.
“They had declined to become Ugandan citizens. This meant that they were here illegally. I supported the decision because it was passed by Parliament,” Adrisi said, prompting the commission’s lead counsel and current Vice- President, Edward Ssekandi, to remind him that Parliament was in abeyance at the time.
Lt. Col. Maliyamungu (right) talking to Mustafa Adrisi (centre) after touring Kakira Sugar Works & Sweet Factory with boxers who participated in the Sixth All Africa Amateaur Boxing Championships
However, the highlight of his interface was his response to queries about the murky circumstances surrounding the murder of Archbishop Janani Luwum and two cabinet ministers – Oboth Ofumbi and Erinayo Oryema – in February 1977.
Adrisi told the commission that contrary to Amin’s version that the trio had died in a road accident near Nakasero, they were murdered by Maliyamungu and Lt. Moses Safi Okello on Amin’s explicit orders.
Members of the commission, — John Nagenda and John Kawanga — sought to insinuate that Adrisi had countenanced the trio’s murder on account of his earlier address to the soldiers assembled at Nile Mansions that February morning.
“Kill them, kill them, kill them,” the soldiers had said in unison after Adrisi had asked them three times what the state should do with the trio for allegedly smuggling arms into the country.
Although he acknowledged posing the said question while chairing the morning session, he declined to proffer any apology for Luwum’s death, advising the commission to wring it from Maliyamungu “who directly participated in his murder”.
Apparently, the commission’s hunch that Adrisi knew more about Luwum’s death than he was willing to divulge had been buttressed by Amin’s health minister, Henry Kyemba, who had earlier averred that Amin had told his deputy to prepare the mortuary at Mulago Hospital to receive the three bodies.
The commission, in its conclusion though, did not find Adrisi culpable of any direct participation in those atrocities, something his daughter Mustafa Bako said makes them proud of their late father.
Adrisi in exile
The war that ended President Idi Amin’s regime broke out when Adrisi was in Cairo, Egypt getting treatment for a broken leg sustained when a car rammed into his convoy at Mbalala near Barifa forest in Arua.
His son, Mustafa Muzamil, who was in Primary Seven by then, says after returning from Egypt, Adrisi was advised to take some rest, whereupon he went to stay at his country home at Keri in Koboko district.
It was when the Tanzanian People’s Defence Forces and the Uganda National Liberation Forces were entering Koboko town that Adrisi fled into exile, taking with him over 2,000 head of cattle.
He first escaped to Kaya from where the Sudan government relocated him to Lutaya, a village in Yeyi which was dedicated to Amin’s senior army officers who fled into exile.
Settling in Sudan was easier for Adrisi and the Ugandan exiles because Adrisi had cordial relations with Joseph Lagu, the leader of Anyanya One, a rebel group that fought the Khartoum government.
Gen. Mustafa Adrisi addresses the press at his home in Arua. On his left is his son Hakim Mustafa. FILE PHOTO/Frank Mugabi.
Birth of UNRF
It was in a room in Adrisi’s house in Lutaya in Sudan that the Uganda National Rescue Front (UNRF) that Moses Ali commanded was born in 1980.
Muzamil remembers a three-day meeting chaired by Adrisi and attended by among others Ali, and former colleagues such as Maj. Amin Onzi and Maj. Amin Maga.
It was here that UNRF was born and its strategy churned out. When Ali launched an attack the following year, of the Uganda Government complained to the Sudan government accusing Adrisi and the former army officers of planning the attack.
Adrisi and other senior army officers were consequently arrested and taken to Juba for questioning. They spent about three weeks there before they were released,” Muzamil said.
To return from exile, Adrisi directly sent a message to President Museveni, asking to come home and the UNHCR was asked to arrange his transportation.
January 24, 1987 was, however, postponed because some members within the rebel ranks wanted to continue fighting and vowed to kill Adrisi if he came back to Uganda.
Muzamil said a convoy that was on that day suspected to have been carrying Adrisi was actually ambushed and burnt down but his return had already been secretly rescheduled to April.
By the time of his return from exile, Adrisi had virtually been reduced to a pauper. He lived in a government rented house in Arua district.
He fell ill in 2008 and the Government sent a UPDF helicopter to pick him up from Arua Hill football field. He was taken to Mulago Hospital in a coma and after his discharge, Adrisi never returned to Arua. The government rented another house in Kampala so as to keep monitoring his health closely.
Adrisi studied at Lodonga demonstration Primary School, which was being run by Catholic missionaries. The missionaries had a strict rule that any pupil who completed primary four had to convert to Catholicism.
After completing P4, they gave Adrisi a new name ‘Christopher’ and wanted him to convert but being a devote Muslim, Adrisi chose to leave school and he never made any attempt to complete primary level education.
The Muni University secretary, Fr. Epiphany Odupuker Picho, says being a denominational school like any of the earliest schools in the country, the rules guiding the operations of schools came from the religious entities but he added that he has no idea how Lodonga was run.
The fallen ex-Vice President lived a polygamous life, marrying eight wives, and bearing children
Adrisi was an Aringa from Picara clan in Yumbe district, but he acquired a piece of land in Keri in Koboko district during his early years in military service where he was laid to rest.
He lived a polygamous life, marrying eight wives although he separated with the other seven either through death or divorce.
Only Mama Sauda managed to stick with the general for 40 years. She saw him breathe his last at Mulago National Referral Hospital on July 28, 2013, after a long and futile battle against diabetes, hypertension and a fractured leg.
People who knew Adrisi for a long time remember the career soldier with fondness.
Gen. Ali said: “Adrisi was the godfather of West Nile. He was fully behind us when we were forming UNRF, and then he told us to talk peace with the NRM.
The Koboko district speaker, George Ambe, described Adrisi as a patriotic soldier who never discriminated against anyone.