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 first part of our new series, My Life in Exile, this
week, he 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 narrates how Dr. Andrew Kayiira played an influential
role in organising the Moshi Conference that picked Prof.
Yusuf Lule to lead Uganda in 1979.
The judge further relives 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.
I was born and brought up in what was then called Kigezi
district. I grew up in a place called Mpungu, Hamurwa, Rubanda
County, in Kabale district. My parents - Zakaria Barorora
and Mariamu Kyenda were peasants. I studied at Hamurwa Church
of Uganda Nursery, which was near my home.
I then went to Nyaruhanga Primary School up to Primary
Four. I then went to Nyakatare Primary School because Nyaruhanga’s
last class was P.4. I stayed at Nyakatare until I completed
my primary education.
From Nyakatare, I went to Kigezi High School. Until Kigezi
High School, my late brothers Charles Ngambeki and Blasio
Katimbiri had been responsible for my school fees and scholastic
At Kigezi High School, my parents had to sell part of
their land to raise my school fees and meet my other school
I sat for my Junior Leaving Examinations at Kigezi High
School and was one of the best students in the country.
Consequently, I was awarded two scholarships; one from
the Central Government and the other from the Madhivani
The first was attainable at King’s College Budo, the
other at Busoga College Mwiri. I chose Mwiri because many
Kigezi pupils whom I admired, like Nathan Bisamunyu and
Dr. James Kahirimbanyi, had studied at Mwiri.
My academic performance continued to be noticed and admired
by teachers and in 1958, I was one of the few students in
S.5 who were allowed to sit with S.6 students doing the
Cambridge School Leaving Certificate (equivalent to O-Level).
Among the S.5 students who sat for that examination, I was
the only one who got a first grade.
Becoming a lawyer
Following the publication of the results, the local government
of Kigezi district identified me and resolved to send me
to the United Kingdom to study law. Their decision was challenged
by the district commissioner who was an expatriate.
He reckoned that money spent on educating lawyers was
wasted because he and the colonial government regarded lawyers
as useless trouble makers who joined agitators for independence
and other benefits for the natives.
However, the district council led by Kosiya Kikira (RIP)
and supported by people like Canon John Bikaganga and John
Wycliffe Rwamafa -all deceased - appealed to the Governor,
Sir Andrew Cohen, who overruled the district commissioner.
Cohen was one of the most enlightened colonial administrators.
The reason the Kigezi district local government wished
me to become a lawyer was that they had heard that Ankole
district, their neighbour, had a special lawyer John Wycliffe
Kazoora who took care of all their legal problems. So they
wanted me to be their Kazoora.
But I had also always wanted to study law and become a
magistrate, although I was better at science subjects. I
had a relative - a chief - and I did not like the way he
handled cases and litigants before him. He was a Muluka
The Baluka, assisted by Batongole, used to try cases. I
suppose he was kind of an ‘honest’ man but he
also liked to receive litigants’ gratifications. A
litigant would come to him and say, “I have a case
before you. I am willing to give you a goat if you do your
best for me in this case.” He would receive the goat.
Later, the litigant’s opponent would also come and
offer either a cow or chicken and request the chief of the
same favour! He would also get the promise that the chief
would do the best for him. Together with the Batongole,
he would preside over the case and listen to submissions
of both parties.
Before hand, he would have arranged with one of his children
or nephews that at a critical moment, they should come and
call him because of an emergency at home.
He would wait until it was time to give the verdict, then
he would signal the boy or girl who would come to call him
about the [imaginary] emergency at home.
He would be excused and invite one of the Batongole chiefs
to proceed with the case. They would proceed and announce
the verdict on merit.
Thereafter, he would explain to the losing party that he
was called away on an emergency and that is why he could
not personally participate in the decision about the case,
and of course the winner would thank him for a job well
done. That compelled me to decide on law in anticipation
that I would do justice differently from my chief.
In any event, the appeal by the Kigezi local council to
the Governor was heard and allowed and I proceeded to UK
and did my A-Level studies and examinations at Norwich City
College in East Anglia. I subsequently did my LL.B (law)
degree at London University.
The only political party I have ever belonged
to is the National Resistance Movement (NRM). Until then,
I was an academic detached from partisan politics, although
I was inherently sympathetic to UPC.
However, in my writing and speeches, I commented on politics
as my book, Constitutional Law and Government in Uganda
Although I was sympathetic to UPC, I was also expected to
support it. Because of our upbringing in Kigezi, if you
were a Protestant Christian, you were assumed to identify
with UPC, and if you were Catholic, you were expected to
identify with DP.
Besides, Obote was initially an exciting nationalist who
led a liberal UPC while DP was conservative and thus perceived
as not being liberal and forward looking by many young people,
including myself. Besides, my relative John Rwamafa was
also in UPC and a cabinet minister.
It is only when Idi Amin came to power and started harassing,
torturing and killing our people and misgoverning the country
that I became conscious of the importance of politics, and
how each of us, regardless of age, status or education could
do something about our governance and protection of our
The decision for me to go into exile was made by
Frank Kalimuzo who was then Vice Chancellor of Makerere
University in 1971.
(By this time Kanyeihamba was a lecturer at Makerere University).
I precisely remember the room and the day of the week and
time when he advised me strongly to leave Makerere University
I was in the middle of a lecture on a Thursday, September
1971 at 3.45 p.m. when the Vice Chancellor’s secretary
burst into the room and whispered to me that the Vice Chancellor
wanted me urgently.
When I told her that I was about to finish because my lecture
would end at 4.00p.m., she literally shouted, ‘he
wants you now.’ From her voice, I knew it was something
very urgent, so I hurriedly closed my lecture and rushed
to Kalimuzo’s office.
In an agitated manner, he told me, “Go home now,
pack your things, tell your
wife nothing except that you are going for a weekend to
Nairobi. That a friend has surprised you with a return ticket
for you, your wife and daughter. Don’t say anything
except that you are going away for a long weekend and will
be returning. Don’t touch your car. We shall come
in the next 30 minutes and take you to the airport. Hurry
now.” So they came to Kololo on Prince Charles drive
where I lived and accompanied me to the airport.
The reason why Kalimuzo had been concerned about my welfare
is because shortly before that, I had completed a manuscript
of my book -Constitutional Law and Government in Uganda
(published in 1975).
In the book, I had stated among other things that soldiers
are unfit to govern a country because the kind of training
they receive is intended to keep them fit for war and barracks
and not cabinet offices.
One professor had reviewed the manuscript, which was being
used by students as a text book and disclosed that Kanyeihamba
thinks that soldiers are unfit to govern.
Kalimuzo had heard rumours among army generals that one
of his lecturers, that is me, was urgently needed by security
forces because he had written treasonable words in a book
in which he belittled the importance of the army. By that
time, the Amin regime had started its carnage of torture,
murder and disappearances.
Frank Kalimuzo was one of the great civil servants Uganda
has ever had. We both came from the western region; he from
Kisoro and I from Rubanda which is next door to Kisoro,
and we were personal friends. He was one of the people I
admired. Besides, we were very few people who were educated
and this brought us closer and in each other’s camp.
Kalimuzo’s plan worked. My wife, daughter, Sarah
Nyakwezi, then aged five years and I reached the airport
and I did not feel safe until the plane was airborne, heading
for Nairobi. After arriving in Nairobi, I found a message
to telephone someone and it was disclosed that there was
a one-way air ticket for each [member] of my family to UK.
At the time we fled Uganda, we had only one child, Sarah,
but while in UK we were blessed with a son, Joel, and another
daughter, Ruth. They are now all grown adults and gainfully
At the time of the military coup in January 1971, I resided
at 3A Prince Charles Drive, Kololo, not far from Idi Amin’s
residence, which I believe was number 7, which later became
the Command Post on the same Prince Drive. While Amin was
killing people, most of us in exile initially kept quiet
because it was rumoured that if we openly opposed him, he
would murder members of our families and relatives who were
still in Uganda.
In 1977, the Amin regime assassinated the Archbishop of
the Church of Uganda, Janani Luwum and two cabinet ministers;
Erinayo Oryema and Oboth Ofumbi. We in the UK decided to
come out openly and oppose Amin and his regime, regardless
of the consequences. Many Ugandans scattered in exile in
many parts of the world started forming groups to oppose
Amin and his regime.
In any event, we had realised by then that whether you
opposed him or kept silent, none of your relatives or friends
were secure from his murderous hordes of security forces.
As Uganda exiles in United Kingdom, we founded the Uganda
Group for Human Rights with people like Simon Kabuuzi, Ernest
Rusiita, the late Paul Otiti, Topher Twesigye, Ambassador
Joseph Tomusange, and Rev. Dan Kajjumba.
The group was non-sectarian, non-political and non-military.
It was mainly humanitarian and it embraced every Ugandan
in exile regardless of their background, tribe, religion
or education. However, individual members were free and
indeed did work with other types of opposition groups whether
political or military.
From 1977 to 1979, the Group communicated and collaborated
with other organisations which were opposed to the Idi Amin
regime throughout all the continents. For instance, in southern
Africa, we communicated and collaborated with the UPC and
DP groups there.
We exchanged views with people who were in East Africa
led by the likes of now president Museveni, Prof. Yash Tandon,
Prof. Edward Rugumayo, Omwony Ojwok of Dar-es-Salaam University,
Prof. Tarsis Kabwegyere of Nairobi University, and Dr. Andrew
Kayiira of the United States. There were other groups in
Germany, Scandinavia, France and elsewhere with whom we
freely exchanged views about how to remove tyranny from
The Uganda Group also catered for the needs and educational
interests of Ugandans in Europe generally, and UK in particular.
It found university places and persuaded the British government
to set up a scholarship scheme for hundreds of Ugandans
who were stranded or destitute in diverse places.
The Scholarship Committee was chaired by the late De Bunsen,
at one time Principal of the then Makerere University. I,
Prof. Birmingham and Dr. Dennis Pain were members of this
important educational facility. We counseled Ugandan refugees
on how to get travel documents and visas. We also published
a magazine called Umoja (Unity) and gave information about
people who had been killed or made to disappear.
We sponsored articles from knowledgeable people. In fact,
we became the biggest propaganda machine against Amin and
later against Obote and his government as well.
Our magazine became a popular publication demanded by many
people who wished to know more about what was happening
in our country. We fundraised to assist stranded people
and those who were in actual combat against the forces of
tyranny in the Uganda. In fact, at one time, especially
during the Amin regime, we were the de facto embassy because
anyone who wished to know anything about Uganda came to
us for accurate information.
By the time the regimes in Uganda became shaky, many of
their ministers and public servants met us in secret in
diverse places of Europe, Asia, America and Africa, and
freely briefed us on what was happening and how these regimes
could be toppled. Without mentioning names, there were courageous
Ugandans who would travel to countries bordering Uganda
in order to give us information and the latest news about
the regimes. We would pass on that information to the fighting
guerrilla groups and other opponents of the regimes.
Working with Kayiira
One of the most influential personalities in bringing about
the Moshi Conference was the late Dr. Andrew Kayiira. At
the time, Kayiira was a professor of criminology and leader
of one of the biggest anti-Amin factions in the U.S.A. After
the meeting in Nairobi, he and I and other opposition leaders
in eastern and southern Africa remained in constant communication,
organising and planning a unity conference for east and
southern African Ugandan refugees.
Matters came to a head when Prof. Yusuf Lule later to
become the first post-Amin President of Uganda contacted
and informed me that the Tanzanians were seriously and urgently
advising that a unity meeting of Ugandans should be brought
forward and that they had named Moshi as the most ideal
I summoned Dr. Andrew Kayiira from the United States who
joined me in the United Kingdom, we discussed strategies
with Prof. Lule and the then Tanzania ambassador in London,
who contacted his government.
I particularly had good relations with the Kayiira group.
Nobody has written about Kayiira’s contribution. People
like Kayiira, myself, Yash Tandon, Omwony Ojwok and Tarsis
Kabwegyere were instrumental in ensuring that the Moshi
Unity Conference took place.
Without the likes of Kayiira, Moshi wouldn’t have
taken place because many people were opposed to it.
There were people, especially the military ones, who thought
that Moshi would dilute the efforts of the fighting groups.
The UPC led by [Paulo] Muwanga was one of them.
Initially, Yoweri Museveni wasn’t very keen about
it, but he eventually embraced the idea.
Towards the end of 1978, most Ugandan opposition groups
had come to the conclusion that the only way Idi Amin could
be removed from power was if they all united under one umbrella
group to fight him.
Every group, wherever they were, were contacted and their
representatives were summoned to meet in Nairobi in December
1978. We attended the meeting with others and plotted the
overthrow of Idi Amin. We realised that we needed outside
assistance, materially, politically and militarily.
We formed a coordination committee headed by Prof. Kabwegyere
and myself, Kayiira, Tandon, representatives of Museveni’s
military group called FRONASA, among others.
Thereafter, we contacted and negotiated with Tanzanian authorities
and other friendly governments to assist us in the removal
of Idi Amin from power.
By that time, Idi Amin had made one of his worst mistakes
when he attacked the Kagera Salient of Tanzania.
The Tanzanian People’s Defence Forces (TPDF) who repulsed
the Amin fighters from the area were forced to be at war
with the Amin’s regime. The Tanzanians assisted Ugandan
exiles and fighting forces within Uganda to come together
and found one body against the regime.
By that time what started as skirmishes of exiles against
the Amin army had turned into full scale battles of the
war against Idi Amin.
Our contacts with other groups paid off for when the Tanzanian
government decided that Idi Amin had to go, they wisely
contacted all the Ugandan fighting and opposition groups
to meet and plan together against the common enemy.
I contacted Andrew Kayiira who came over to the UK. We
went and saw the Tanzanian ambassador in London who agreed
that the best way was for all Ugandan groups from all over
the world opposed to Amin to go to Moshi and form an umbrella
organisation that would fight and attract support from world
I also recall that during our anti Amin campaigns in the
UK, we organised a worldwide vigil and the late Archbishop
of Canterbury led with a prayer:
“Lord, open the heart of Idi Amin to spare your
people of Uganda from his torturous and murderous ways and
if he cannot be moved, please Lord, let him go.”
As if to answer his Grace’s prayer, God led the combined
[force of] TPDF and Uganda liberation movements to defeat
and force Idi Amin out of office, and out of Uganda literally
within weeks of the Archbishop’s prayer.
During the liberation struggles, one of our greatest supporters
was Bishop Festo Kivengere. As early as 1977, he sponsored
a number of us to fly and stay in Lusaka where the likes
of Dr. Martin Aliker, Museveni, Prince John Barigye, Adonia
Tiberondwa, Eriya Kategaya and I met and founded the short-lived
Uganda Liberation Movement.
It was undermined and eventually destroyed by the public
denunciations of it by UPC diehards and by bad leadership
When the idea of the Moshi Conference materialised, Bishop
Kivengere’s Foundation sponsored and facilitated a
number of liberation and humanitarian groups, which we had
identified as essential to attend. He sponsored me and my
delegation, and observers from our London group.
I led that delegation and it included the late Paul Otiti,
Sam Sebagereka and Paul Wangoola. We later learned that
Bishop Kivengere was one of the forceful influences for
the Moshi Conference and identified individuals who should
attend, including Dr. Martin Aliker and the late Semei Nyanzi.
Nyanzi was destined to chair the Moshi Conference after
Prof. Tarsis Kabwegyere whom we had originally elected to
do so had failed to control the delaying and disrupting
antics of some of the UPC delegates.
Bishop Kivengere attended the Moshi Conference as a non-speaking
observer but behind the scenes his counsel to many of us
and to Yusuf Lule and the Tanzanian authorities was invaluable.
Bishop Kivengere prayed and blessed all the delegations.
He was impartial and very kind to all of us, as well as
There was also Bishop Yona Okoth. Bishop Yona Okoth was
very political and partisan in support of the UPC delegations
at the conference. I use the phrase UPC delegations advisedly
because when we insisted that only recognised groups could
be represented and vote in the Moshi Conference, that each
would have two delegates and two observers at the conference,
the UPC abandoned its previous insistence that any Ugandan
citizen who happened to be around Moshi should be allowed
to attend and vote in their individual capacities.
However, within a few hours, UPC had, like a prehistoric
reptile with tentacles, divided itself into so many groups,
such as UPC Women’s Wing, UPC Youth League, UPC Veterans
Group, Zambia UPC branch!
Notwithstanding this multiple factor, all the other remaining
group representatives still overwhelmingly outnumbered those
of the UPC that had mushroomed within hours of the accreditation
process at the conference.
To be continued next week