Supreme Court Judge GEORGE WILLIAM KANYEIHAMBA
has served in all the three arms of government in different
regimes as a minister, legislator and now judge. He participated
in political campaigns that saw the overthrow of former
presidents Idi Amin and Gen. Tito Okello Lutwa. He has lived
in exile twice.
In the second part of the article on his life in exile,
part of our new series, Kanyeihamba tells MICHAEL
MUBANGIZI and SSEMUJJU IBRAHIM NGANDA how Dr. Martin
Aliker, now senior presidential advisor, denied Paulo Muwanga
a chance to become Uganda’s president after Amin.
He also speaks on his pet subject – peasants and their
role in governance, insisting that due to their limited
knowledge, the elite have the duty of making decisions of
their behalf. The peasants only have a right to good governance.
The judge then recounts events surrounding his dramatic
flights to exile on two occasions; in one of them disguised
as a houseboy to be able to leave Kampala for Kenya unnoticed.
His cover was blown though; the officer manning the roadblock
in Jinja recognised him but just let him pass.
Initially, when Tarsis Kabwegyere, the first chairman of
the conference, commenced proceedings, the UPC indulged
in delaying tactics.
When Prof. Kabwegyere exhibited inexperience and inability
to stop these phenomena, delegates consulted one another
behind his back and before he knew what hit him, he was
replaced by Semei Nyanzi by acclamation.
During those initial stages, the then Tanzania Foreign
Minister, (later its president) Benjamin Mkapa ascended
to the rostrum and warned the UPC that this was a serious
and grave conference.
If they and their leader Milton Obote continued to disobey
the rules of the meeting, they would be escorted outside
the conference and assisted to enter another country of
their choice while the rest of the delegations mapped out
the course for the removal of Idi Amin.
Thereafter, the conference deliberations went on smoothly
and we soon formed the Uganda National Liberation Front
I was elected chairman of the constitutional drafting
committee with Grace Ibingira, Steven Ariko, Fred Ssempebwa,
John Magezi, Andrew Kayiira, Dr. Sinabulya and Omwony Ojwok
We worked all night and produced the constitution which
we presented and which was adopted the following day. We
all agreed that we would elect our bureau, which was to
be the executive council and future cabinet.
There were to be a number of commissions, such as the diplomatic
foreign affairs commission, the political and military commissions.
At the time, we all thought the executive council which
would eventually become the government of Uganda was the
most important. We were wrong. Only UPC knew the irrelevance
of the executive council, but they knew the vital importance
of the Military Commission.
After all, they were the most astute political animals
at the conference.
All along and throughout the Moshi Conference, it was an
open secret that Yusuf Lule was the only candidate to lead
the Front and ultimately become the President after the
fall of Idi Amin. We noticed however that Ambassador Paul
Muwanga turned up at the meeting dressed in military uniform
as a senior army officer. Bishop Yona Okoth who had all
along dressed as a lay person turned up that morning dressed
in scarlet as a bishop. At the time, no one paid much attention
to those formal robes.
Chairman Semei Nyanzi, called the meeting to order, said
that we would first elect members of the executive council
and called for nominations. Bishop Yona Okoth shot up and
before he could be seen by the chairman, started addressing
the conference loudly and reverently with the words:
“Mr. Chairman, I wish to nominate the most industrious
son of Uganda. He who has done more than any of us to liberate
Uganda, a fighter, a brave soldier who even as I speak has
just returned from the battlefield where he was confronting
and routing the enemy, I wish to nominate.”
And we all held our breath thinking that he had in mind
Yusuf Lule, but to the consternation and utter amazement
of non-UPC delegates, the Rt. Rev. Bishop Yona Okoth solemnly
and religiously uttered the word; “I nominate his
Excellency Ambassador Paulo Muwanga.”
If a small pin had fallen in that Moshi Conference hall,
it would have been so loud as if someone has let off a bomb.
This was the loudest and longest silence I have ever experienced.
Consternation was followed by panic.
No one seemed to have nominated Yusuf Lule. After what
appeared to be an eternity, someone belatedly also nominated
Yusuf Lule and the nomination was seconded.
Semei Nyanzi announced that as there were now two candidates,
it was now necessary to adjourn the meeting to enable delegates
to consult one another so that in the end we might have
a consensus on one of the two candidates.
We adjourned in utter panic and confusion. Only UPC delegations
knew what it was all about and what they were doing. During
adjournment, stories floated around that Paulo Muwanga was
a thief, that he had pocketed all the embassy money in Libya.
It was said that he had never held a gun in his life and
that the bishop who had nominated him had been accused by
government as a guerrilla and gun runner. It was said that
during his rigged election as bishop, he had relied on the
political might of the UPC and not on the force of divine
The meeting resumed. Amongst the staunch supporters of
Lule’s candidature was Dr. Aliker, the well known
dentist and politician. He shot up to address us and stated
“While you people were consulting one another on
the two candidates, some of us contacted Tanzania State
House and talked to our host country’s leadership
about candidates Muwanga and Lule.
“Incidentally, we also learnt that Paulo Muwanga
is a liar and he is masquerading as a soldier. He had never
held a gun in his hand, let alone be near any battle ground.
Yesterday, he purchased those tattered old army uniform
pieces from a second hand military army clothes on the Namanga
Kenya border as he sneaked into Tanzania from abroad where
he has been hiding since he stole from the embassy.
“However, we have been informed that if we elect
Muwanga as leader of the UNLF, the government of Tanzania
will expel us from its territory as worthless Ugandans and
we shall have a few hours to leave as prohibited immigrants.
On the other hand, if we elect Lule as our leader, State
House will invite him to meet with H.E. the President of
the Republic of Tanzania and they will discuss the possibility
of forming a Uganda government in exile and the Republic
of Tanzania will avail him and his cabinet in exile accommodation
Frankly, up to now, none of us has ever known the truthfulness
of this statement. Many times I have asked my friend and
fellow golfer Martin Aliker to state whether the narrative
he made so mockingly and convincingly was ever true. He
usually smiles but firmly declines to admit or deny anything.
Be that as it may, it had the desired effect. All the neutral
delegations who had wavered in their support for Lule calmed
down and supported him very strongly.
Some of the delegates in the UPC groups also decided to
support Yusuf Lule instead of incurring the wrath of the
Tanzania government. Then one of the senior UPC delegates
stood up and announced that UPC had consulted and in the
spirit of love and reconciliation, they were withdrawing
their UPC candidate, Paulo Muwanga. However, in that same
spirit, they requested the other delegates also not to oppose
the candidature of Paulo Muwanga for the chairmanship of
the UNLF Military Commission.
In relief, Muwanga was elected unopposed to what I believe
UPC had worked for all along. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of
FRONASA was elected Muwanga’s deputy but as the subsequent
history of Uganda shows, UPC regarded and treated Museveni
as a subject of window dressing. Their treatment of him
would eventually cement his mission and conviction as the
longest serving and this far the most effective ruler of
the country for generations.
[Asked whether Moshi Conference was not an elitist group]
You know we live in an interesting world. In most cases,
peasants do not govern countries. They follow and are led
by the elite. Even in communist countries where you occasionally
hear that governments are led by peasants, it is a lie.
The leaderships of the former Soviet Union, North Korea,
China, Cuba and other similar states consist of individuals
who are the elite of those societies.
Uganda, whether under the colonial yoke or under political
parties or NRM, has always been led by the elite. The Musazis,
Mutesas, Obotes, Lules, Binaisas, Muwangas, then Musevenis,
Kizza Besigyes, Kategayas and the Mbabazis and Kiyongas
have been or are the elite of Uganda. They simply tell the
ordinary people and the peasants where to go, vote, support,
shout, cry or oppose.
Peasants do not have political power. They are led and
guided as to who is their leader to whom they should give
support and allegiance. The peasants do not govern themselves.
They only have a right to be governed well.
Moshi was conceived, organised and conducted by Ugandan
exiles with the decisive support of the Tanzanian government
whose ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi is led by the elite
Only the elite manage to go and survive in exile. Peasants
and the ignorant when forced out of their country become
In the struggle for liberation or for power, it is the educated,
the enlightened and therefore the elite who are at the front.
I stated earlier that I am a child of peasants and even
today most of my relatives are common poor peasants. I love
them. I strongly feel for them. I have deep compassion for
them but it would be deception to state that they are my
leaders or masters, or that they have a long vision of how
this country should be led or developed.
On the contrary, they look up to me for guidance and advice.
If I hint that they should take up the mantle of leadership,
they laugh at me and say the reason they struggled to educate
me and ensure that I get the privileges they missed out
is that I can be their eyes, ears and mouths.
I am the one to direct them where and for whom to vote.
I am the one to interpret for them what modern governance
is all about. I am their protector against injustice and
They do not resent me. They do not mistrust me. They love
and are proud of me.
| Kanyeihamba disguised as houseboy
It is because we were the elite that all of us, including
the Lules, Musevenis, Ssemogereres and the lot were able
to contact and interact with world leaders and other liberation
movements. When international or national issues arise,
our people, the less knowledgeable, the peasants look up
to us for guidance and leadership.
Consequently, anyone who glorifies in the divide between
the elite and the peasants is playing a non-productive game.
The peasants are our fathers and mothers who struggle very
hard to educate and enlighten us so that we become the elite.
They then expect us and indeed demand, rightly in my opinion
that on national and other issues, we are the ones to guide,
counsel and assist them in all things possible.
Peasants are happy and proud to know and see that their
children who they love and cherish have now become their
leaders and advisers as well as providers in their elevated
status as elite. When it comes to making decisions of national
importance, the peasants expect their sons and daughters
to do so for them in love and pride. That is what human
life, existence and sustenance are all about.
Although President Lule named me Attorney General without
consulting me first, I nevertheless came. I came back in
I found that Prof. Dani Wadada Nabudere was Minister of
Justice. When I assumed office, Prof. Nabudere introduced
me in the ministry as his new Attorney General. I refused
to take office.
I knew that the office of the Minister of Justice and that
of Attorney General should be held by one minister. Since
Nabudere had already been sworn in, I counseled that he
should continue and also be the Attorney General. He was
calling me his Attorney General, I wasn’t his Attorney
General. I was Attorney General of Uganda.
Apparently, since I was more of a traditional lawyer than
my friend Nabudere, President Lule gave Nabudere another
ministry and I combined the two.
In Lule’s government, President Museveni was minister
of State for Defence. That is how I came to know him very
closely. I didn’t have a car and cabinet sat in Entebbe,
so whenever we finished, he used to give me a lift to our
rooms at Nile Mansions - Serena Hotel now.
After President Lule was unconstitutionally removed from
office, friends and family members decided to smuggle me
out of Kampala and entrusted my person to the late Major
Augustine Karugaba, a close friend and one of his relatives
to drive me all the way to the Uganda-Kenya border and into
At the time, it had been announced by the new Binaisa
government which had just replaced the Lule government that
former ministers in the former government should confine
themselves to their houses or residences for their own security.
Friends and relatives were determined that I should leave
the country lest I am detained.
Imagine the courage of the major and the other relative
who decided to drive me away!
In the car, I was disguised as a houseboy and dressed as
one. There was a military roadblock at Jinja Owen Falls
dam bridge and as one officer looked into the car, he recognised
me and said: “Are you not Kanyeihamba, the Attorney
General, I can recognise you?”
I thought the game was up and since he must have heard
the news about the Lule ex-ministers, I thought he would
detain or return me to Kampala, but instead he said, “Sir,
we know what has happened and some of us do not like it.
Good luck wherever you are going. We pray that one day you
will come back to your country.”
(Interview halts as he gets his handkerchief to mop tears
that are visibly coming)
Every time I recall this incident, I cry.
On the Kenya-Uganda border, our other companion who is a
brave lady and who has remained one of my most admired and
deeply respected friends, returned in Karugaba’s car
but Major Karugaba insisted on catching a Kenyan public
taxi with me and taking me all the way to Nairobi. Such
treasurable friends are rare gems.
In Kenya, another group of friends who included Kenyans
collected funds for my upkeep and for a one-way ticket to
the UK and, within a week or so, I had left Kenya and resumed
my teaching at the University of Wales, Cardiff.
Museveni starts war
Later, Museveni and his fellow fighters started the bush
war (1981). I was the first one to be contacted and requested
to mobilise supporters, logistics by Ruhakana Rugunda.
Although I was still respected and re-elected as chairman
of the Uganda Group for Human Rights, clandestinely, many
of us were Museveni’s men and women.
Sometimes I was summoned by his people or sent by Yusuf
Lule with whom now Museveni was in partnership, to meet
the NRM leadership or to write and discuss with it various
It was during such visits that one time I was specifically
assigned the duty of chairing a Kenya bush meeting to reconcile
Yoweri Museveni and Andrew Kayiira.
In another mission, I learnt that exiled Ugandans in Kenya
were in danger of being arrested and taken to Uganda. I
then arranged for Hon. Ruhakana Rugunda and Hon. Amama Mbabazi
to flee Kenya and be received by friends in Sweden.
Throughout the struggle, we did so much without pay or
allowances. We fundraised and used our personal resources,
especially those of us who were employed.
After five years in the bush, Museveni and our Movement
triumphed against the might of the then successive administrations.
When Evaristo Nyanzi was dropped as minister, President
Museveni invited me to Uganda and appointed me minister
I returned in November, 1986. I was responsible for the
barter trade, which was important in the early days of the
Later, I was transferred to the Ministry of Justice as minister
of Justice and Attorney General, a portfolio I held between
Thereafter, I was appointed the first ever Senior Presidential
Advisor on International and Human Rights Affairs until
1997 when I was appointed Justice of the Supreme Court,
which I am still are, and in 2005 I was elected a judge
of the African Court on human and peoples’ rights.
Political power is a very dangerous disease. It is like
common cold. It catches everyone who comes into contact
with it. Once they have tested that power, relinquishing
it becomes a problem. It seems to convince all these leaders
that they are the best. There is no one else who can have
alternative ideas or perform better than them. Leaders need
to be constantly reminded where they are going wrong.
My limited study of history is that no political party
or organisation stays in power forever. Even Chama Cha Mapinduzi
(CCM) of Tanzania will one day wither away.
No leader stays in power forever. There are few who die
in office. In Africa, three people have, declared themselves
life presidents - Bokkasa of Central African Republic, Kamuzu
Banda of Malawi, and Idi Amin of Uganda, but they never
completed their terms as they thought they would. One or
two of them died in disgrace.
No matter how good you are, when you have been in power
for a long time, people get fed up. They want change, sometimes
for the sake of it. You cannot fight the people’s
desire to want change; you can’t educate people or
change their minds about it. The disease of power is like
old age. It is inevitable.
The late Canon Bikangaga reminded me once that old age
is the worst disease. It has no cure. It is like longevity
in office against which the desire for change becomes inevitable
Museveni is not a killer, but I think those advising him
must know that the greatest obstacle against continuity
in office, against third, fourth or fifth terms is not that
you have done anything wrong, it is the immense desire for
change. Museveni is the best president Uganda has had. The
enemy is the concept of people wanting some change and you
can’t legislate or make policies against it.
[Asked if he thinks there is need for change in Uganda]
It is not because there is need for change, but because
there is a demand for change. People just want change for
its sake, sometimes for quite unreasonable motives, but
alas, it has to come.
[Asked to compare conditions that forced people to go
into exile in the past and now]- There are so many differences.
This government has performed much better than that of Obote
and Amin put together, not only because it has been in power
longer than their combined durations. We could have done
Part of the failing is that we have left this idea of
peaceful succession unanswered, which is a pity. Human beings
are mortal, sooner or later, nature will take us and it
is imperative that we leave everything in order.
Everybody regrets being in exile. There can never be a substitute
for your home. Exile is a necessary evil and I hope we shall
never have conditions that force people in exile. I encourage
Ugandans to support civil society organisations. Governments
everywhere always want to encroach on people’s rights.
It is only civil societies that stand between authoritarian
regimes and people’s rights.
I encourage the press to be courageous, vigilant and persistent.
This is the only opportunity Ugandans have to correct what
has gone wrong in the past. Despite our criticism of this
NRM government, it has been very tolerant. That is why the
Kanyeihambas of this world write, talk, criticise and expose
what this government has done and yet continue in friendship
with its influential leaders and those leaders never contemplate
eliminating or silencing their critics.
Recently, it was reported that President Museveni praised
Kanyeihamba at the annual dinner of the Uganda Law Students
Association of which Kanyeihamba is patron.
Museveni said that he likes Kanyeihamba’s writings
and speeches for when “Kanyeihamba is right, I modify
my own views, if he is wrong, I sharpen mine.”