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November 08, 2007
Museveni is the best, but change is a must

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.

Ejecting Kabwegyere
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 (UNLF).

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 as members.

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 prayer.

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 thus:

“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 and facilitation.”

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 cadres.

Only the elite manage to go and survive in exile. Peasants and the ignorant when forced out of their country become mere refugees.
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 misgovernance.
They do not resent me. They do not mistrust me. They love and are proud of me.

Kanyeihamba disguised as houseboy into exile

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.

Returning home
Although President Lule named me Attorney General without consulting me first, I nevertheless came. I came back in April 1979.
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.

Second exile
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 exile.

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 constitutional documents.
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 of Commerce.

I returned in November, 1986. I was responsible for the barter trade, which was important in the early days of the NRM government.
Later, I was transferred to the Ministry of Justice as minister of Justice and Attorney General, a portfolio I held between 1989 -1991.
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 and irreversible.

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 better.

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.

Last word
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.”



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