FDC spokesman and former Daily Monitor chief executive,
PHILIP WAFULA OGUTTU, was in exile between
1976 and 1979. In My Life in Exile series this week, he
tells MICHAEL MUBANGIZI how Amin’s
rule forced him into exile and how people in exile achieved
little as they were always in seminars and conferences.
He narrates how he had no rights in exile and how he cried
when his driver refused him from criticising President Julius
Nyerere, and why he would rather die than be in exile again.
I was born on December 21, 1952 in Busia; it was then
called Bukedi district. My father was a soldier, a kawonawo
who fought in Second World War in Burma.
At my birth, my father had retired from the army and was
working with a water drilling company. I am told I was born
in Bunyori - Butaleja.
My father lived in a camp, either in a hut or a temporally
structure where the workers drilling boreholes stayed. My
mother had gone to visit my father in the camp when [I was
I wasn’t even born in a hospital, from what my mother
tells me, I was basically produced behind a tent where they
stayed. That is where other women helped my mother to produce
me. That is why they named me Oguttu, I was born on a verandah
and Oguttu in my language means a verandah.
I went to Bureke Primary School in present day Busia district
in 1959, Rumino Mill Hill School which is now Sibirise Primary
School where I did primary school to junior two in 1966.
I then went to Senior One in Bukidi College Gakyonga, Teso
I began reading Socialist books in secondary school. We
were very much influenced by people like Dani Nabudere,
Chango Macho and Prof. Yash Tandon. They used to come and
talk to us and would make us feel very revolutionary. That
is where, partly, the interest to join politics came from.
Because we came from poor backgrounds, we wanted to make
a change for people to live better lives.
I was always a revolutionary throughout my school days,
leading strikes to change things -bad food, bad teachers,
and bad administrations.
I was involved in organising three strikes at school; two
during my O-level and one in high school. Fortunately, I
was never expelled.
At Teso College, the food had deteriorated. While the rest
of us had bad food, prefects had special food - eggs, bogoya
One day a student told us that they (prefects) were having
a special meal in their room. I and a friend, Edward Ouma,
went to see if it was true.
We told them to share with us. They gave me a banana and
an egg. I did not eat it; I went [with it] and addressed
other students in the hall.
I told them “this is unfair, we must fight it…”
We actually fought it; by 3 o’clock we had removed
the whole prefect team. Students asked me to be the Head
Prefect but I refused.
I was hardly one year in that school and I thought a Head
Prefect must have been in the school from O-level. A close
friend and classmate became the Head Prefect.
I had long wanted to become a lawyer to defend poor people.
My father died when I was in Primary Two. Our uncle took
our father’s land because he had the money to pay
He defeated us in court and that made me feel very bad
about poor people and the law, that a rich person could
take away your property, including your grave yards! I thought
by being a lawyer, I would free some people, but that never
Because of studying literature, journalism became the second
option. I was president of the Literature Club, Vice President
Debate Club and Current Affairs Club at both O and A-level.
During my O-level, I was Editor of our school magazine
and I always read newspapers, so I had interest in the media.
But there was no journalism at Makerere University, so I
studied communication in (Beijing University) China.
I was the only person in my family who was going to school,
so there was pressure on me to work and help my siblings.
After Senior Six, I briefly worked with Bank of Uganda
– in the Research Department. While here, there was
an opportunity for us to be recruited Foreign Service officers
and be experts in Chinese language in the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs. So the three of us - Imanzi Makara, Peter Isabirye
and I went to China during Amin’s time.
The understanding was that we would work in Foreign Affairs
when we finished school - one in an embassy in China, another
one in New York and another one in Kampala.
Ambassador William Matovu (the father of Maureen Namatovu,
the former Big Brother Housemate) organised the training
He was the first Ugandan ambassador to China. When we came
back, me and Isabirye went to Dar-es-Salaam while our other
colleague joined Foreign Affairs.
Idi Amin had retuned us here in 1975. He said that he wanted
Uganda students abroad to come and see how the country was
doing. We were staying in Sheraton Hotel and Intelligence
people were taking the three of us around the country for
From talking to them, we concluded that they were very dangerous
It would not be useful serving in their government. It
was a government of a few individuals, a clique of people
who didn’t want to be questioned. So in 1975 I decided
not to come back upon my graduation in 1976.
When I finished university in July 1976, I went to Dar-es-Salaam.
After finishing school, I went to see ambassador Job Lusinde
who was then Tanzanian Ambassador to Beijing.
I told him I wanted to go to exile in Tanzania. Kenya was
for the rich, it wasn’t revolutionary. If one wanted
to make a difference in people’s lives, Tanzania was
the place. The Uganda Government had sent me a ticket to
take me home from China. Ambassador Lusinde organised a
ticket for me and [along the way to Uganda] when I reached
Addis-Ababa, I escaped from my group - the Makaras.
An official from the Tanzania Embassy [in Ethiopia] came
for me at the hotel. He packed outside the hotel, called
me out and gave me a ticket [to Tanzania].
In arrived in Dar-es-Salaam on a Friday. On Monday I registered
at the Immigration Office.
The idea was to join the struggle against Idi Amin. Although
I did not know there would be a serious struggle, Ambassador
Job Lusinde had told me, “Go and see if there is anything
you can do for your country.”
When I reached there, there wasn’t much being done,
apart from people talking, writing, and holding seminars.
That is when it dawned on me that I was a refugee because
they began referring to me as a mukimbizi - that I was a
But I got a job after two weeks. I worked as an editor of
books with the Tanzania Publishing House, which was a government
I kept writing articles, letters in newspapers, magazines
abroad under pseudo names because we feared Amin knowing
where we were.
We had so many groups in exile fighting Idi Amin. My group,
the Kyangombe group, comprised Augustine Ruzindana who was
our de facto leader; Prof. Mahmood Mamdani I think was his
deputy, Charles Besse, DPP Richard Buteera, the late Magara,
Sam Katabarwa. We produced a publication called Forward
and I was its editor. It was basically to mobilise people
in exile. That is how my interest in the media grew.
Fighting Amin and exile activities came in 1978 when Amin
attacked Tanzania. I did not fight but was engaged. For
instance, Kyangombe group was responsible for organising
the Moshi Conference although it was hijacked two days before
the conference by another group (the Gang of Four) of Nabudere,
Omwony Ojwok, Edward Rugumayo, Yash Tandon. They were basically
lawyers; they usurped our powers.
My group had appointed Ruzindana, Mamdani and myself as
its delegates to the conference but when we reached Moshi,
our group had been dissolved, I don’t know by who,
and we were not allowed to enter.
Nabudere, Omwony wanted to attend the meeting but they
hadn’t been elected to attend. So they said these
people can’t let us go. We had formed what we called
the Dar-es-Salaam ad hoc committee. It is the one that initially
organised the meeting. It had the Nabudere group and us
but it broke apart when it did not elect Nabudere, Yash
and Omwony to represent [it] at the Moshi Conference.
Then they dissolved that ad hoc committee and formed theirs,
I don’t even remember its name, but it was formed
a few days before the conference and all its members attended
the conference and became members of the National Consultative
Council (NCC). They were smarter in issues of politics,
for us we were naïve.
They had been involved in politics before so they knew how
to changa changa (manipulate).
So we didn’t attend the conference yet we had invitation
letters signed by Prof. Tarsis Kabwegyere. We were shocked
that somebody could do that.
I had been the Treasurer of Moshi Conference; money for
the conference was being put on my account. But being polite
people, me, Ruzindana and Prof. Mamdani didn’t do
anything. The Kyangombe Group totally closed up to this
But the meeting itself did not take place that day because
there was so much fighting. Milton Obote sent many groups
- like organisations of houseboys, wives that filled the
hall. We stayed there until the meeting ended.
Finally, we went to Moshi Hotel; there was a party and
among the people there was one Kleo, who was then Tanzania’s
Ambassador to Mozambique, and Benjamin Mkapa who was then
Foreign Affairs minister. They asked us to give them diplomatic
cover because we were to meet in Kampala over Easter.
At that time, the Tanzanians were already in Masaka-Lukaya
area but they didn’t want to be seen as an occupational
force conquering Uganda. Diplomatic cover meant that we
shouldn’t make them appear they were invading Uganda.
They wanted us to be seen to be on front but we were very
weak. Yoweri Museveni had only 30 people when he left Tanzania.
The Obote group comprised about 600 people, so most of
the fighting was done by Tanzanians. So this thing of saying
Ugandans liberated Uganda is a sham, majority of the people
who were fighting were Tanzanians.
But when we arrived, Museveni recruited a few people from
his area in Mbarara. Obote did not recruit because he feared
the Baganda and he didn’t want to recruit them, so
he did not grow his numbers. Museveni’s numbers grew
because he went to his home area and recruited Banyankole.
Muwanga was in charge of Obote’s recruitment but he
also enlisted a few people he trusted.
The first time I knew Museveni was when he came to recruit
me in 1977. I was working at the Tanzania Publishing House.
Coming from China, you are a revolutionary, a socialist
as such you were attractive, a selling commodity.
He (Museveni) wanted me to join their group, just like Nabudere
wanted me to join theirs.
So Museveni, Nabudere, Mamdani, Ruzindana all talked to
me, eventually I was convinced by the Ruzindana group. I
thought they had a better plan, their thinking and the way
they looked at things was like mine- more idealistic and
to the ground.
Kyangombe was a village where Ruzindana stayed in Tanzania
when he was an accountant with TANESCO - the UEB of Tanzania.
His house was always full of Ugandans –Edward Rugumayo,
Eriya Kategaya; they had come from Lusaka, Zambia. Ruzindana
really accommodated people; he is an honest, simple man,
but a real nationalist. We used to meet in that house even
with the Musevenis.
But Museveni was in FRONASA with his secretive nature of
doing things - he was not in Kyangombe yet sympathetic to
Kyangombe, some times he was with Nabudere but not so much
with Nabudere, other times, he was with Rugumayo, Kategaya
and Barigye in Lusaka, but not so much with them.
Kampala fell as Tanzanians had promised. I don’t
remember when exactly we arrived but it was a few days after
the [April 11, 1979] fall of Amin.
We came together as Kyangombe group the same day with the
likes of Ruzindana, Mamdani.
Most of us stayed in rooms at Grand Imperial Hotel for
over one year.
I was one of the few easterners, with people like Nabudere
so I could have joined government.
In fact, they wanted to put me in Foreign Affairs but I
refused. I had decided not to join politics; I wanted to
be a journalist.
It is also after I came back that I collected my family
from Kenya and we settled in Bugiri.
When I went to Tanzania, I hadn’t told my mother
that I was running away. But later, I talked to my aunt
in Mombasa on phone and she told them. There after, my mother
and my other siblings [who had been staying in Uganda] fled
to Kenya where I visited them. I apologised to them. I was
told that when I ran away, Amin’s soldiers went to
my mother and harassed my people, looking for me. Amin could
have killed them but I think they realised that she was
an old woman. My brothers and sisters were also small boys
No more exile
For me that was the end of exile, I will never go back.
In exile, when you are political, you have no rights. I
remember at Tanzania Publishing House we used to have workers’
political class that studied and discussed issues of the
One day, together with three officers, we were asked to
prepare a paper on [Julius Nyerere’s] Ujaama policy.
I made a presentation very critical of his policies.
I loved Nyerere but from the Marxism I had studied in China
I thought he was making mistakes. He was a populist, wanting
to be modern and not modern. So I made that criticism.
We used to leave work at 3 o’clock. As we were going,
Kahisi my driver was taking me home in Musasani, in Dar-es
Salaam. Along the way, he became mad, stopped the car and
shouted at me, referring to the lecture I had just given
and the discussion we had had at the office.
“You mukimbizi (you refugee), stop criticising Mwalimu.
You have no right to criticise Mwalimu. You are here because
of Mwalimu. You have [messed up] your country you can’t
come here and criticise Mwalimu.” He was right (I
was a refugee), but I don’t think he should have behaved
like that; a driver?
That is when I realised, ‘Oh, actually I am a refuge,
I should stop talking and indeed I stopped. I said Kahisi
you are right. He drove to my house and I went and cried.
Kahisi told my house maid about our discussion. The house
girl also came and told me blah blah, and left.
I was so depressed that I realised that being in exile
was not a graceful thing. That day, I decided that I would
never go back to exile. Never! You can kill me but I will
never go to exile again. I am an old man, about to die.
It is not a good thing to go to exile. It is not a luxury.
Look at people who go out on kyeyo, they aren’t comfortable.
People in Uganda are much more comfortable than people on
kyeyo. They work so hard for so little money. Me I will
die here. I can’t go back to exile, I can’t
go for kyeyo.
I was an editor; I had an office, earning good money - Shs
2,700. A teacher was earning something like Shs 1,200 and
me I was earning more than double that, yet Shs 500 was
enough to sustain me.
If you care about dancing, drinking and eating nicely,
it’s good. If you care about making a difference in
the lives of others, like us who were, it was bad.
You are not with your parents, sisters; you have no right
to progress intellectually, you can’t comment on bad
things, you can’t make a difference in the lives of
But in Tanzania there were no threats to our lives. Actually
we were well treated, apart from that incident [involving
my driver]. Actually Ugandans were a factor in Dar-es-Salaam.
Even in universities, people like Yash Tandon, Nabudere,
Omwony Ojwok, Mamdani were dominant in thinking.
Tony Avirgan and Martha Honey, the two journalists who
covered the (1979) war took some files from State Research.
We went to their house in Dar-es-Salaam and they had minutes
of some of the meetings which we - the ad hoc committee
- was organising [about] elections and the Moshi Conference!
So he was efficient. And we were doing this with people
who trusted each other. They were typed by people we trusted.
We never circulated them but gave them to people to discuss.
But Amin got the minutes! And we were asking, who among
us is Idi Amin’s spy?
Amin wasn’t stupid. I think the only government in
Uganda that hasn’t had smart leadership is that of
Binaisa and Lutwa. Lule I think was stubborn but smart,
but the others – Amin and Obote - were very smart
Talking to Amin
They knew how to manoeuvre and stay alive and in power.
I talked to Idi Amin for two hours when we came back [from
China] in 1975 at Nakasero State Lodge and he was absolutely
Talking to him, you wouldn’t believe he was a killer.
He was jovial, cracking jokes. He was telling us about Socialism,
his way of ruling Uganda and how Asians had made Uganda
poor by taking away their money.
He was also saying that he wanted us to help him build
a strong economy, a strong Uganda, “industrialised
and better than America.” I remember telling my friend
later, “this man Amin is very dangerous. How he makes
you relax, and yet in the rooms behind he is killing somebody!”
You need to be smart to do that.
Later, he said, “Take away the cameras, switch off
your things, I want to talk to these Ugandan boys off record.”
That is when he talked about social things, “How do
you live in China, how do you get women…things like
The only [former president] I didn’t talk to is Obote,
but I have talked to Museveni several times. Museveni also
disarms you intellectually. They (Museveni and Amin) are
smart. They know how to disarm you, make you feel comfortable
and yet they are doing terrible things outside.
In exile you are very far away from your country, you don’t
see the day to day growth or deterioration of your country.
In the past, there were a few newspapers, no internet, so
you could make decisions based on insufficient information.
Then you feel home sick; when you see people do things for
their country you feel like you should be doing similar
things for your country and it eats you internally.
People shouldn’t allow leaders to mess up this country
to necessitate going to exile. They should talk from inside
and make sure bad regimes are removed from power through
elections. Unfortunately, Ugandans are letting Museveni
go on, which might necessitate going to exile.
The way I see things, if Museveni doesn’t go away
peacefully, I think Ugandans will force him out. There will
be an uprising against him. And if that happens, I am afraid,
I am very much worried about Uganda. I don’t see a
bright future for Uganda if Museveni doesn’t change.
I think some of the conditions [that forced people into
exile, particularly on the economic side] still exist. People
are discriminated against in job markets, awarding of contracts.
They all go to people from the same area. When you are in
business, you will never get a contract if you are from
eastern or northern Uganda.
Even this CHOGM, if you analyse, most of the contracts have
gone to people from the same area.
Because of that, there are many Ugandans who are running
away not because they are going to fight government, but
because they are economic exiles. Other people run away
to look for jobs because they can’t get jobs since
government contracts are preserved for a few people. Any
contract beyond Shs 100 million, you can’t get it
if you are not known to that group.
So people are angry, bitter, that is why I am saying that
unless they change, people will fight back because you can’t
oppress people forever.
I regret having been in exile. I was very naïve. I
thought, may be, that after Amin Ugandans weren’t
going to be corrupt; they weren’t going to kill, fight
each other. I thought they were going to unite and rebuild
This hasn’t happened; we have been fighting each
other since then, even more than Idi Amin. It’s like
a wasted effort. People like President Museveni shouldn’t
be doing things they are doing or allowing things like corruption,
discriminating people along religion, regional lines which
we used to criticise other governments about. Why then did
we fight, why did people die if we were going to do the
same thing we were fighting against?