Former presidential candidate and legislator AGGREY
AWORI has twice been in exile. In our continuing
My Life in Exile series, he tells MICHAEL MUBANGIZI
how he escaped from house arrest after the 1971
Amin coup to flee to Kenya. Awori also narrates how former
president, Gen. Tito Okello Lutwa, fell on hard times while
in exile in Tanzania and resorted to selling dry fish in
order to make ends meet.
| Aggrey Awori
In my case exile wasn’t a matter of choice. I was
forced to go abroad because of the inhospitable political
circumstances. I had been almost declared a person engaged
in subversive activities against the state, so I had to
find the quickest exit out of the country.
Besides, seeing harassment against the opposition and people
of the same political thinking, I definitely had to go.
I had been under house arrest for about six months after
the January25, 1971 Idi Amin takeover. I was then Director
of Uganda Television (UTV) and basically the person in charge
of national media. Announcing change of government those
days had to be done on Radio Uganda and UTV. It wasn’t
like these days with a number of TV and radio stations.
So Amin’s soldiers came saying they wanted to make
an announcement on the radio. It was rather late, around
11p.m., so I told them I had shut the station and it wasn’t
possible to make the announcement.
They arrested me and took me to Lubiri, which was then
called Malire barracks. Some of the people I had been arrested
with, like Col. Arach and Mathias Omuge who was my Operations
Manager, were immediately killed on arrival at Malire.
I survived because somebody recognised me as having been
seen with Idi Amin before. So they called Amin, asking whether
they should continue holding me.
Amin said, “No, no, that one I know him.”
So they took me back to Command Post in Kololo under heavy
armed escort. A decision was made that I should be kept
in detention for a certain period. It was essentially house
arrest in my house at Kololo for about six months.
After that, we made arrangements with friends in government
and outside Uganda to leave for Kenya.
My house keeper who was from West Nile - I am sorry he is
dead - contacted some of his friends within in the army.
My friends, like Maj. Gen. Francis Nyangweso and the late
Fred Ojambo, also facilitated my exit. They arranged for
me to be taken to what is now Gadaffi barracks in Jinja.
When we reached Jinja, we just escaped.
We changed vehicles from Jinja up to Busia.
From Busia I found my brother in-law waiting for me. We
crossed in his car up to Nairobi.
We had already made contacts with people in Kenya through
various methods. Notwithstanding the fact that there had
been a coup, Amin didn’t interfere with telecommunication.
You could still make phone calls outside the country, which
was very unusual.
Whenever one seized power in the 1970s, one would cut off
all external communication but Amin never bothered. He was
so confident at the time.
In Kenya, my brother-in law kept me in his home for a
while before I was transferred to join my family. They thought
I had been killed.
My family had earlier escaped to Kenya during the coup.
My wife was teaching at Makerere University at the time.
People like Prime Minister, Prof. Apolo Nsibambi, helped
her to find a place to stay until they found an exit out
of the country.
The first thing I did on arriving in Nairobi was to reach
out to President Obote in Dar-es-Salaam. He was absolutely
sure that he wasn’t out of power. He was very, very
confident but a little bit traumatised at what had happened.
He had always said he wasn’t afraid of his army,
but on reaching Singapore (where he was attending a Commonwealth
conference when Amin overthrew him), that statement wasn’t
holding water any more.
Obote’s plan was to have his family join him. So we
made contacts for the safety and travel of Miria Obote and
her family who were still in Uganda.
They had earlier escaped to Nairobi but Daniel arap Moi
sent her and her children back to Kampala under very strange
We were worried about her safety. We didn’t know what
was going happen to her, so we organised a few people to
get her out of the country clandestinely.
One of those people was an ambassador who was later killed,
and Edward Oculu, who was a Clerk to Parliament. He is now
a senior official at UPC headquarters. They brought her
to the Busia border and we picked her from there with her
children and took them to Nairobi.
Some friends of Obote, like the late Chief Justice of Kenya
Kipri Mwendwa and wife Winnie Mwendwa, hosted her and her
children in Nairobi for about one month before we arranged
for them to join Obote in Dar-es-Salaam.
Amin was running into problems with his people, like Capt.
Kenneth Onzima and others. There were problems between Christian
and Muslim officers who had carried out the coup.
They were getting a bit nervous about death and we were
trying to make contacts with such people in Amin’s
camp so that they could make a counter coup. We contacted
one Col. Ochima who actually made an effort to overthrow
Amin but was overpowered and killed.
(Asked about the source of discontent among Amin’s
There were massive extrajudicial killings of Acholi and
Langi officers which created concern, and in so doing gave
We also made contact with some of Obote’s key ministers,
like the late Information minister Alex Ojera and James
Wakholi, who were subsequently killed. We also contacted
a few technocrats who we knew Amin needed to sustain the
regime. We were trying to find who was where and who can
Later in 1972, Amin expelled Asians. We thought it would
make the British government a little bit favourable to our
cause. Together with the Israelites, they had helped Amin
come to power. So we thought with the expulsion of Asians
(some of who were of British origin), they would have a
second thought. But the British seemed not bothered at all.
People who supported us included former presidents Julius
Nyerere of Tanzania and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia. We didn’t
have allies in West Africa. Our biggest ally was Nkrumah
who had been overthrown in a coup earlier.
A number of senior officers, especially Acholi and Langi
had escaped to Tanzania. So it was a question of regrouping.
We were using Kenya as a transit camp. Immediately we crossed
to Kenya, we would make arrangements for them to proceed
to Tanzania for recruitment.
Unfortunately, by then the East African Community, some
of whose prominent members were helping us, was disintegrating.
The East African Airways was, for instance, staggering yet
we were using their plane as part of our invasion plan during
the September 17, 1972 invasion.
The September 1972 invasion was mismanaged and ill-planned.
You can’t organise an army or any group of armed people
within one year. Then we relied on Tanzania to help us yet
it couldn’t because it had its own internal problems.
For instance, it was involved in Mozambican and South African
struggles; taking care of a huge number of refugees from
those countries was an extra burden.
Unlike later in 1979 when Tanzania Peoples Defence Forces
(TPDF) was involved, in 1972 it wasn’t involved at
all. Besides, the job didn’t look so big as to require
a foreign army. We thought events like the 1972 expulsion
of Asians had made Amin unpopular which wasn’t true.
Then Kenya wasn’t helpful. Nairobi had even refused
Obote to live there in exile.
Then a number of our people in areas like Tabora, like
the late Bazilio Okello, hadn’t been under a disciplined
command for more than a year. For a year or so, they hadn’t
been fighting or training and some of them weren’t
even soldiers. How could you suddenly bring such people
to a war front?
For instance, Alex Ojera who had been Minister of Information,
was a hunter. Then people like my late friend Picho Ali
weren’t soldiers but political activists.
Then Yoweri Museveni claimed that he had more than 3,000
fighters in Uganda trained in Mozambique under FRELIMO,
and that the only thing missing was guns. But when people
reached Mbarara, his fighters weren’t as many as he
had promised. They were less than 100, sufficient for a
surprise attack but not to sustain an offensive.
Many former Uganda army soldiers were with us in Tabora
but organising logistics to move them to the border wasn’t
easy. The way we moved our fighters to Arusha Airport to
be airlifted to Entebbe was even more amateurish.
We thought the plane would move from Dar-es-Salaam, pick
up fighters from Arusha, then come to Entebbe under the
element of surprise and take the airport, but things fell
apart in Arusha. The pilot crash landed even before we had
left. Another group under Bazilio and Minister Alex Ojera
and my late friend Picho Ali went by road to Mutukula.
There were about six lorries of about 500 soldiers, which
was a serious underestimation. The overall organisation
of the invasion was under Obote. He was the main link with
Nyerere. Tanzanian did not have any other person in mind
apart from Obote.
(Asked whether Obote was a uniting or divisive factor)
May be after the abortive 1972 invasion.
But from January1971, up to the time of the abortive invasion,
he was the titular head. After the invasion, things disintegrated;
people went into different directions. The intellectuals
looked for jobs. I was a lecturer at the University of Nairobi.
Museveni was teaching at Moshi Co-operative College.
The soldiers were almost looking like internally displaced
persons (IDPs) - burning charcoal, growing food, doing business.
For instance, Gen. Tito Okello Lutwa was selling dry fish
in Tanzania. Bazilio Okello was making charcoal. People
had been reduced to the basics. There was inactivity for
five years until Amin’s 1978 invasion of Tanzania.
The Tanzanians hit back by pushing Amin’s army to
the border in Mbarara and Masaka districts. They wanted
to pull back but then they said, ‘we can’t live
this man around. He has to go’. A decision was made
that Ugandans should take over the offensive and fight their
way back home with the support of Tanzania.
That is when Kikosi Maalum (Special Force) was formed. It
was more or less a combination of soldiers in exile, supported
I didn’t join Kikosi Maalum. I was in the background
coordinating intelligence, gathering information with people
like Yonasani Kanyomozi and Tarsis Kabwegyere.
Kabwegyere had joined us in Nairobi but he was uncomfortable
with Nyerere. They still believed Nyerere was trying to
impose Obote on Uganda.
People like Prof. Dani Nabudere who had been appointed
to a senior position in the East African Community (EAC)
were bitter with Obote who had expelled them from the party.
Museveni was also not comfortable with Obote. Later, even
Nyerere began getting more inclined to Museveni.
You see for five years we were idle. Obote hadn’t
been doing much; he was just seated in Musasani House. That
brought discontent among more revolutionary elements like
Moshi Conference took place in 1979 and that is when Prof.
Yusuf Lule became president. It was total confusion when
it came to formation of the Uganda National Liberation Front
(UNLF) government. That is why Lule didn’t last long.
I didn’t attend Moshi. I wasn’t very keen
on the UNLF government. There was a lot of antagonism against
Obote’s people. Besides, I thought Moshi wasn’t
going to work. There were a lot of people who were in the
forefront of Moshi who hadn’t been helpful in the
struggle against Amin. Others had just left Uganda and now
were at the forefront of things, sidelining a lot of people.
People like Kabwegyere condemned Nyerere, saying he invaded
Uganda in 1972. He was not keen on a military approach.
In comes Binaisa
Binaisa came in after that palace coup against Lule. They
were looking for someone who had national appeal and who
had not been in the previous government. Binaisa was called
from the reception room and told, ‘there is a vacancy
here.’ I would say the person who gave Binaisa the
job was Yona Kanyomozi. Kanyomozi was part of the National
Consultative Council (NCC) and is the one who proposed Binaisa’s
After the ceremony, Binaisa went back to Europe to pick
his things. That is where I met him. He encouraged me to
come back home.
I consulted with Obote who said, “Yes, Binaisa is
our man, support him.” I came back and worked in State
House, handling intelligence.
Binaisa came into leadership without preparation. He didn’t
have a political party. Neither did he have a manifesto
covering what he intended to do. He was like somebody who
suddenly is behind the steering of a vehicle but whose destination
he doesn’t know.
In leadership of a country, one relies on three main things:
military muscle, things like democracy and ballot box, and
a political party.
Binaisa didn’t have all these qualities and I can’t
blame him because you can’t blame a poor man for not
Then he made three changes which were ‘fatal’;
the removal of Oyite Ojok ( he was Chief of Staff) and making
him Ambassador to Algeria, the transfer of Museveni from
the Ministry of Defence to Regional Affairs, and the transfer
of Paul Muwanga from Ministry of Defence to Labour.
These were key people you just couldn’t push around.
Museveni had his FRONASA network within UNLA. Muwanga had
his UPC network within UNLA. So he didn’t correctly
read the clouds. More so, senior army officers like Bazilio
Okello and Tito Okello felt they were being marginalised.
I was working closely with TPDF and I knew what was happening
in UNLA. Actually, there was even a plot to assassinate
Binaisa by certain elements within UNLA.
I contested the 1980 elections (in Nakawa) and lost to DP
man Ojok Mulozi, but I continued to work as UPC chairman
for Kampala district.
While there, I had problems with the UPC leadership, particularly
Luwuriza Kirunda (former Minister of Internal Affairs and
UPC Secretary General).
He had become very powerful and some of us didn’t
want to accept anybody who wasn’t a military man.
He tried to arrest me using police and the Inspector General
of Police who was my OB rang me and told me of the plans.
He alleged that I was trying to overthrow government.
By that time, Obote was in Lusaka, Zambia. When he came
back he was told and decided to send me to Washington as
ambassador to cool down things. From Washington, I went
to Brussels as ambassador.
Museveni took over when I was in Brussels.
I continued working with him for six months before I fell
out with him. Events at home showed that I wasn’t
welcome. First, my personal effects which I had dispatched
from the Brussels Embassy to Uganda were seized on arrival.
Some people claimed that I had guns. I had been in charge
of acquisition of guns and I had sent all guns that I had
bought and these were received by Museveni’s government.
But some people thought I had remained with some guns for
some unknown motives which wasn’t true.
So he (Museveni) called me back, but I didn’t come
back. That time communication wasn’t easy so I never
talked to Museveni about the allegations directly.
At that time there were rumours that former UNLA soldiers,
especially from the east, were being harassed by Resistance
Committees. So these people-soldiers put up their own fight
but let us leave that part.
Anyway, I stayed there until 1991 when I met Museveni with
Jim Muhwezi who was then Director General of the Internal
Security Organisation (ISO).
Museveni was going to Brazil for the Eco-Tourism Conference.
He told me to come back home. I dealt with Muhwezi and within
two weeks I was in Uganda.
I later met him (President Museveni) at State House. That
was the time we were preparing for CA elections. I contested
in Samia Bugwe and won. (I was re-elected in 1996 and 2001,
until 2006 when I lost.)
Exile isn’t a luxury at all. I pray that no body ever
goes into exile because of economic and political hardships.
Even for the brief period I was in New York, I had a TV,
was making good money but in a foreign country you are still
a number. You aren’t Awori as such. If you drop dead
on the street, they say one nigger has died.
Whatever differences you have with the powers that be,
better sort them out through discussion not through firepower.
Political violence isn’t a substitute for pursuit
Right now the people abroad are mainly in self- imposed
exile, most of them for economic reasons. But I have no
regrets for having been in exile. It is an experience you
don’t want to forget.