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December 06, 2007
Why I'll never go back to exile

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 born].

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 College Aleot.

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.

Organising strikes
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 and milk.
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 in courts.

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 happened.

Journalism interest
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.

Philip Wafula Oguttu

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 for us.

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 one month.
From talking to them, we concluded that they were very dangerous people.

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.

Tanzania exile
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].

No work
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 run-away.
But I got a job after two weeks. I worked as an editor of books with the Tanzania Publishing House, which was a government parastatal.

I kept writing articles, letters in newspapers, magazines abroad under pseudo names because we feared Amin knowing where we were.

Exile groups
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.

Amin attacks
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 day.

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.

Knowing Museveni
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.

Secretive Museveni
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 and girls.

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 country.
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.

Little gains
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 your people.

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 people.

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 smart.

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 that.”

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 the country.

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?



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