Article Published on:
24th November 2005
Has own agenda …very militaristic

PROF. DANI W. NABUDERE is the executive director/principal of the Marcus-Garvey Pan Afrikan Institute (formerly Afrika Study Centre) in Mbale. Having known Yoweri Museveni since he was a boy, Nabudere tells Richard M. Kavuma that the President is a man bent on having his way:

I think I first learnt of Museveni around 1964 after I had returned from England. At that time I was very active in youth politics. I used to support the youth leagues of UPC and student movements. I did some trips in western Uganda when he was at Ntare but I don’t seem to have met him face to face until much later, when we started the Uganda Vietnam Solidarity Committee. I think he did come to some of our meetings but he was never an active member.

President Museveni

And then I came to know him again later on when he was a student in Dar-es-Salaam when he formed the University Students African Revolutionary Front (USARF). I was called to Dar-es-Salaam to defend one of his colleagues who had been arrested for arresting an American professor at the university; and that is when I came to know more about Museveni’s working methods.

After I had the student acquitted, I tried to investigate why the professor had been arrested. The USARF had discussed the arrest of what they called a CIA agent but there was disagreement. And although the committee ruled out such action, Museveni and a group of other people acted outside the decision.

That is when I came to know that Museveni does not operate within democratic structures; where necessary he takes his own decisions and acts outside institutions.

Man of the gun

I was detained by the UPC government for much of 1970 and Museveni used to go to my house in Mbale. He used to talk to my wife because she was the only one allowed to visit me in prison. Museveni used to tell her that “when you go, try to find out what kind of guns the prison officers are using because one day I would like to blow down the prison and release Nabudere”. My wife also told me that Museveni used to show her different guns in a magazine called Tri-Continental, which was published in Cuba.

But she did not take him seriously. That also shows you that Museveni believes he can use guns to achieve anything.

When I was released from prison early December 1970, Museveni came to my house with some comrades like Black Mwesigwa and Brown (Martin) Mwesiga and the person who later on became the auditor general, [James] Kahooza. They were trying to convince me that “Although you have been detained by Obote, you should not take it personal but try to come back to UPC so that we can fight the battle there.”


Born: 15/12/1932 at Buteza, Mbale
Parents: Daniel Walyemira and Irene Neumbe (RIP)
Education: Nambulu Primary School, Aggrey Memorial College, Nabumali High School, Post Office training School in Nairobi, London University (LLB)
Family: Married to Aida Nabudere with five children
Work and career: postal clerk; high court advocate; chairman, East African Railways; Secretary to UNLF’s political and diplomatic commission; Minister for Justice; Minister for Culture, Community Development and Rehabilitation (1979).

The only person who opposed that advice was Kahooza.
When Amin staged a coup, Museveni ran out of the country. He rang me from Bukoba and said, “You better come out and fight the regime.”

But I had just come out of prison, so I refused. Museveni immediately developed a negative view of me. Later on, when my name was submitted by the Minister of Transport and Works, Prof. Zikusooka, to the heads of state of East Africa and I became chairman of the East African Railways, Museveni used it against me and [said] that Nabudere had joined the Amin regime.

Later, I resigned my job because of the killings that were going on and joined the University of Dar-es-Salaam. By then, Museveni was [involved] in political activities opposing the Amin regime. The groups he sent to Mozambique for training had come back and they were sort of dispersed because they [lacked] leadership. Museveni was sent to Moshi by the Tanzanian government to teach at a co-operative college.

We met from time to time on and off until 1978 when Amin attacked Tanzania and there was this hastened attempt to form a united front. We had our own group called Committee for Democratic Unity in which I was with Omwony Ojwok, Prof. Yash Tandon and other Ugandans. We held a lot of discussions with the Kyangombe Group which was led by [Augustine] Ruzindana and Museveni used to come there on Sundays.

His way

Recently in his speech to the nation, when [Milton] Obote’s body was in Parliament, Museveni referred to that incident about Nyerere having allowed them to have discussions with Obote and how they agreed that he would become Obote’s deputy.

Actually what we heard, and what led to the breakdown of the talks between UPC and FRONASA, was that Museveni wanted to share power in the army on a 50-50 basis. I’m told Obote asked Museveni, ‘How do you share power? Is it by number of guns, commanders or what?’

And once we found out that these talks were not going any further, we decided to go to Nyerere, and Benjamin Mkapa who was then Foreign Affairs minister called me to his office and told me that ‘President Nyerere has permitted you as Nabudere to go ahead and organise the Moshi Conference.’

We invited Museveni and Obote but because Museveni was determined to have a front of the fighting groups, he was not very keen to have a meeting with what he called armchair revolutionaries – people like us who were not fighting.

But when we called a meeting and he saw that the Tanzanian government was backing it, he reluctantly came and gave us a small, half-a-page memo telling us that they were prepared as FRONASA to take part in these talks but that whatever we discussed should not interfere with their work on the front.

But Museveni didn’t regard this conference as important and when his name was nominated as a member of the executive committee of UNLF, he declined.

Later, after the Moshi Conference, he started going to Nyerere to complain that he had been left out.

One day, Nyerere called us to State House. He brought in Museveni whom he put on a stool on his right and said, ‘This young man is giving me a lot of trouble. You try to do something for him’. I suggested that we create the post of deputy secretary to the Military Commission as a non-voting member of the executive. That gave him a chance to become minister of State for Defence.

Recent meetings

He wanted very much to see me sometime, about four years ago. At that time there was a reshuffle of cabinet in which Omwony Ojwok came in. I got the feeling that he wanted to include me; I may be wrong on this but I got a lot of messages in Mbale asking me to [go to Kampala to] meet the President. I said I didn’t want to meet him; if he wanted to meet me, let him come to Mbale or he can telephone me. After about two months, he came to Mbale and invited me to go and see him.

We had a talk but I don’t know exactly what he wanted to tell me [because] we did have much to say. Instead of giving him a chance to tell me what he had to say, I sort of went to attack him. I told him, ‘What are you doing in Congo?’ And he tried very much to explain. We entered into that discussion and it went on to other things. He said he had other meetings but he wanted us to have another meeting. That meeting didn’t happen because [a journalist-Pius Muteekani Katunzi] came and interviewed me about what had happened in Moshi and I think he was not happy about it.

I did not want to work with him because I think I had done enough.
Secondly, I knew that Museveni tends to be very much militaristic. In fact, I wrote a lot of things about his character of politics, showing that Museveni has always tended to pursue a militaristic line and that his claims to democratic credentials were not genuine.

Opposing views?

I don’t know. I was with him in the cabinet of [Yusuf] Lule but he was very much under the President’s direction. But I know that he was a man who had his own views. So, I didn’t feel comfortable working under Museveni because I knew that he would always try to accommodate you so long as he realised that you carried it along. I didn’t want to be in a situation where I would be held hostage to the views of one person. I would like to be in a situation where my voice can be part of a decision.

Post-Idi Amin period

He tried very much to work but I knew that he was always disgruntled about the UNLF arrangement. He didn’t like it much may be because he was not at the head of it. He was always grumbling. I remember I was put in charge of political organisation in the country in Moshi and one day he went to Prof. Lule and told him that Nabudere is wasting a lot of time, wanting to organise this so called Mayumba Kumi (10-cell chairmen) through the peasants. He said ‘Peasants can never do much; give me permission to use the army and they will organise committees within a month’.
Lule told me that and I told him that he (Museveni) should mind his own business.

Can he leave power peacefully?

I don’t know. We have to observe that – how he relates to a man like [Kizza] Besigye and other presidential aspirants. Because you see, on the day before Besigye arrives, he shuffles the army, as if it is something intended to intimidate Besigye. And he puts his lieutenants in key positions – people like [Kale] Kaihura in the police. I don’t think that appointment is really welcome; why remove [Katumba] Wamala when he has developed some rapport with people and developed a kind of civilian image around him? Now you bring in a purely militaristic character like Kaihura; what is that supposed to mean? You bring a whole brigadier to be Permanent Secretary of Defence?

People ask all these questions: why make these changes when the political game is heating up and when the main opponent is arriving? People will see this reshuffle as rather suspicious and not intended to professionalise the army but to frighten his oppontents. Because professionalising the army doesn’t mean professionalising the people who came from the bush. We would have expected a wider selection of manpower from different parts of the country to be trained professionally to take over the army from those who fought in the bush.

His legacy

I think Museveni will be rated as a person who was very determined to advance his cause. It is not because of Uganda; it is he himself at the centre of his programmes like these conflicts going on in the country, like the one in the North – it is to be blamed on him personally. When he initiated this war in Luwero, he did it on an ethnic basis.

I analysed his statements from the time the war started and I was part of the group opposed to Obote, so we used to meet in Nairobi… Museveni’s orientation to the liberation of Uganda was ethnic. Going to the bush in Luwero was intended to fight the northerners and that is why the alliance with Lule was made – to have Lule as a Muganda so that he would get support in Luwero to fight northerners.

The way the forces that took over Kampala treated the northerners demonstrated that. And so it has continued to be ethnic and the people in the North seem to see their persecution as being ethnic. So whatever he may have achieved in the economy [is watered down by this]– and even the economy, it is not his programme. His so called 10-point programme was abandoned. What he has been doing here is to implement World Bank programmes. So the success of that programme is to be [heaped] not on Museveni but on the World Bank.

Agenda for Uganda

I know that he has pretensions – and that is what keeps him trying to hang on to power – that he has a programme which can transform Uganda from a backward country to an industrial country. But we would have to see that to believe it because it is not his wish. So far there is no evidence that there is a dedicated cadre who can move this country economically forward.

Unless Museveni believes that a few people becoming rich through corruption can become the basis of economic transformation, then I have to wait and see. If that is his strategy, then that is a new model. Because even in the case of Europe, the so-called primitive accumulation did not involve people just amassing wealth for themselves; it was primitive accumulation that put in place a very productive capitalist class. I don’t think you can just copy a model. There must be material conditions to ensure that such a transformation is possible.

Comparison with past presidents

I would say he has been a very determined military leader with some programmes which he tried to implement but many of them have not come out according to his original plan. But he has co-opted other people’s plans on the basis of which he has won support – like the support he got by accepting the World Bank model; he was able to mobilise a lot of resources –a billion dollars at one time [in a year] came to Uganda.

But when you look around, I don’t think there is much to show for it. I know you see some casinos around but they are not the kind of developments that we saw, for instance under Obote I: physical structures that you see for the money that was spent. We have got billions and even debts have built up but I don’t see [much] for the people of Uganda.


I just want to go down the grave as one Ugandan who tried to do what I could for my country.