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How Capt. Isabirye's head was cut off during anti-Amin coup

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Added 12th January 2016 04:24 PM

Isabirye was sabotaged from securing a job with East African Posts and Telecommunications

How Capt. Isabirye's head was cut off during anti-Amin coup

Isabirye was sabotaged from securing a job with East African Posts and Telecommunications

By Muwonge Magembe


The month of January arouses sad memories to the family of the late Captain Patrick Isabirye, who served in Uganda Air Force during Idi Amin regime.

The sad memories started in January 1978, when Isabirye's head was cut off and his body dumped in a forest at Katuugo parish, Kakooge sub County in Nakasongola.

He was murdered weeks after the operatives of State Research Bureau picked him on November 30, 1977, from Lake Victoria Hotel; where he was enjoying evening leisure with his wife, Margret Namukasa, the daughter of Eriabu Danze of Butambala. The 38 year old Isabirye left behind six children.

Isabirye had also grown up as an orphan following the death of his father Yokosofaati Isabirye in 1956. He was looked after by his mother, Gladys Kalivamuki who lived at Namisambya parish, Kitayunjwa sub County, Kamuli district.

He studied at Namisambya primary school and Kamuli secondary school. Later, he was awarded a scholarship for a telecommunications engineering course in Russia. His stay in Russia was also sponsored by Mathias Ngobi, then minister for Agriculture in Dr. Apollo Milton Obote's first government

On return from Russia, Isabirye was sabotaged from securing a job with East African Posts and Telecommunications. He hence joined the army, where many of his fellow Basoga were in service such as Sam Nanyumba, Chris Mudoola, Anthony Bazalaki, Andrew Mukooza and Joseph Terikya. After Isabirye completed his military training, the army leadership allotted him a residence at Plot 6, Buleme Road, Entebbe.

The intricacies leading to Isabirye's gruesome murder arose from the June 18, 1977 military coup plot against Idi Amin code named ‘operation mafuta mingi'. Its plotters led by Maj. Patrick Balati Kimumwe hoped to assassinate Amin at Abayita Ababiri along Entebbe road, after he chaired a cabinet meeting at State House poolside, Entebbe.

Towards its final execution, the plot details leaked to the operatives of State Research Bureau. For instance, they established that the coup plotters were using the name of a Ugandan Catholic martyr ‘Kizito' as the password while identifying and communicating with fellow coup plotters.

After the thwarting of the assassination and coup plots, Amin used the 14th Organisation of African Unity (OAU) summit held in July 1977 in Libreville, Gabon to accuse the West of complicity.

At that summit, Seewoosagur Ramgoolan of Mauritius handed over OAU chairmanship to President Omar Bongo Ondimba. Amin chiefly accused the US and Britain. Incidentally, British foreign secretary, David Anthony Owen had proposed to Prime Minister James Callaghan to consider assassinating Amin.

On the other hand, Amin suspected the US Central Intelligence of complicity because the foiled assassination and coup attempt occurred weeks after its Republican senator for New Jersey, Clifford Case introduced to Senate a resolution on May 19, 1977 condemning Amin for murdering among others the Archbishop of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga - Zaire, Rt. Rev. Janani Luwum on February 16, 1977 and the earlier murders in July 1971 of two American nationals; Nicholas Stroh, a 33 year old journalist and Robert Siedle, a lecturer at Makerere University.

In a bid to avert new assassination and coup attempts, then newly appointed head of State Research Bureau, Farouk Minawa purged both real and perceived allies of the plotters of the foiled coup. Isabirye was among those blacklisted given his close friendship to Anthony Bazalaki who was deeply involved.

Although Isabirye was tipped off by friends of his impending arrest, he flatly rejected their advice to flee into exile. He maintained that he was an innocent man.

Amidst his innocence pleas, November 30, 1977 became the darkest day for him. He started that day by going to his work station at Entebbe Air Force base. His wife drove a Honda Accord and picked their daughter from school at Namagunga.

Afterwards in the afternoon, Isabirye and his wife drove in a Volkswagen Type 2 alias Kombi to Muyenga to check on his sick sister-in-law, Margret Namyalo Tamale.

Later in the evening, Isabirye and his wife went to Lake Victoria Hotel for an evening drink and were joined by their friend, Kunobwa then staff of Agriculture ministry.

At about 10:13pm, a military man called Keriri who was known to Isabirye approached their table and requested Isabirye for a lift home. Much as Isabirye obliged, his wife objected as her premonition would later confirm.

However, Isabirye calmed down his wife. In fact, Isabirye's last words to his wife were "Mummy, don't worry, I will be back in 15 minutes". However, by midnight, Isabirye had not returned.

His wife was, therefore, driven back home by Kunobwa. Throughout the night, she made frantic phone calls to Isabirye's workmates like Mukooza to establish whether they knew anything about her husband's whereabouts. In the ensuing search, Isabirye's wife was joined by her brother, Joseph Nsubuga.

In December, 1977, Isabirye's wife returned her husband's AK47 gun to Lt. Col. Mukooza. Later, the army leadership chased her out of the army house at Entebbe. Mukooza offered her a vehicle which delivered her their six children and property to an incomplete house at Mutai, Jinja.

On January 12, 1978, Mrs. Kabunga, a teacher by profession who had just returned from visiting her uncle at Gulu air force base went to Jinja and advised Isabirye's wife to go and check in a forest at Kakooge Sub County, Katuugo parish, Nakasongola district.

Mrs Kabunga had received information that Isabirye's body and those of twelve other soldiers' were dumped there after they were tortured at the Nile Mansions. On January 13, 1978, Isabirye's wife along with a family friend, Stephen Mugulusi went to Nakasongola in Mugulusi's car.

They found Isabirye's body which was half naked (without a trouser but in a yellow underwear and long sleeved shirt which he was wearing on the day he was kidnapped from Lake Victoria Hotel).

With tears rolling down her eyes, the widow courageously lifted the already decomposing body from the forest towards the road. On seeing her carrying the body with its head cut off, shock and grief engulfed Mugulusi who had volunteered to drive the body from Nakasongola to Jinja for burial. He surprisingly refused to drive it in his car.

The widow in the process covered the body with some tree leaves and returned to Jinja and hired another vehicle to pick it. Finally, on January 14, 1978, the body was brought and buried at night in Jinja.

The events surrounding Isabirye's death led his mother (Kalivamuki) into developing hypertension. Actually, she later suddenly collapsed and died after pondering the pain her son went through when his captors cut off his head. Isabirye's heir, Daniel also later died aged 15 years old.

Writer is a researcher.

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