East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) member YONASANI
KANYOMOZI went into exile in 1971 during the turbulent
reign of President Idi Amin Dada.
In ‘My Life in exile’ this week, Kanyomozi tells
MICHAEL MUBANGIZI how the arrest of prominent
Ankole politicians led to his flight to exile.
He tells of how they organised the 1972 western Uganda invasion,
his role in exile politics, and the much acclaimed 1979 Moshi
Kanyomozi also recounts how he received Gen. Salim Saleh,
and deceased Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPA) leader, Fred Rwigyema,
when they escaped to Nairobi.
| Yonasani Kanyomozi today
I was born in June 1941 and grew up in a village called
Rukoni in Kajara, Ntungamo district. I started school at
an early age and did not go to nursery. I was too tiny;
that is why even when I passed my exams in 1947, they couldn’t
take me to Primary Two. So I repeated Primary One.
I joined Mbarara High School in 1954 after my Primary Leaving
Examination at Kitunga Primary School. Mbarara High School
was a junior school with junior one, two and three.
In 1955, Governor Sir Andrew Cohen modified the education
system; junior one and two had to do exams with those who
were in junior three to join secondary school.
That was the time Ntare School was starting in 1956, so
I joined it in its pioneer year for Senior One. Ntare School
was meant to teach agriculture but I remember we started
with no teachers. The first teacher to teach us science
came from Mbarara Stock Farm.
In 1959, after my junior exams, I had a choice to stay
at Ntare because they were starting A-level that year, but
I wanted to be adventurous, so I joined Royal Technical
College, Nairobi. I did a General Certificate of Education,
which is an equivalent of A-level.
After the two years, I wanted to come and do my degree at
Makerere University - then a university college - because
it was the only college issuing degrees in East Africa.
But whereas they admitted some Asian students who were with
us at Royal Technical College even before the results were
out, they [rejected] us, Africans.
So I joined Lincoln University in the USA in 1962 but my
other colleagues with whom we had the same qualifications,
like Aggrey Awori, had joined the prestigious Harvard University.
I wanted to change. So while there I applied to Cambridge
and Oxford universities, but it’s the London School
of Economics that I joined a year later. I did a Bachelor
of Science in Economic Theory and came back in 1966.
My political roots started at Ntare School. The independence
struggle was on and political parties had started attracting
many of us.
I was particularly attracted to Uganda National Congress
(UNC) of Ignatius Musaazi and people like Abu Mayanja and
Jolly Joe Kiwanuka [all deceased now]. UNC was dramatic;
its members were nationalists whom we all admired.
Our science teacher, William Wilberforce Rwetsiba, formed
a political party - UPU (Uganda People’s Union) -
that later merged with UNC of Obote and Mayanja to form
UPC (Uganda Peoples Congress).
So I joined UPC at the age of 17 in 1958; until now as I
talk to you, I am still in UPC.
[Asked about being an FDC party envoy]
I haven’t changed my political party but I have worked
with people in FDC. I support Dr. Kizza Besigye’s
endeavours to become president of Uganda because I think
he has shown courage where others haven’t.
I was involved in discussing FDC policy frame work together
with the late Dr. Okullo Epak.
But the reasons why I joined UPC and why I have stayed
in it, is because of its policies. UPC looked at the ordinary
person, it has the belief and philosophy that everyone matters,
including the lower person.
UPC epitomised the philosophical belief of social justice,
social concern to the population. However, I did not participate
in the first UPC government because I was young and had
just left school. I was working as Director of United Nations
Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) when the UPC
government was overthrown in January 1971.
Working with Museveni
When Amin took over, some of us did not agree with what
had happened. I remember having a meeting in my room at
Bandari Rise in Bugolobi on the day of the coup, January
25, 1970, with Yoweri Museveni and Richard Kaijuka.
We were trying to see what we could do.
We agreed that Museveni who had been to Dar-es- Salaam University
should go and start resistance against Amin. The resistance
took many forms. We were saying President Milton Obote,
who had been overthrown, then should be consulted. So Museveni
was supposed to go and talk to Obote.
Amin introduced a reign of terror.
The whole leadership of Ankole was arrested. These included
Edward Rurangaranga, former Bushenyi district chairman Yowasi
Makaru, and Chris Rwakasisi (now on death row at Luzira).
Many others were arrested and brought to Makindye barracks.
The Ankole situation wasn’t good, so I decided to
I first applied for a job in Cable and Wireless (in Nairobi)
that had advertised a vacancy of Assistant General Manager.
They wanted a person over 30 years. I wasn’t 30 but
I looked 30, so I applied for the job and said I was 30,
passed the interview and got the job at its headquarters
Then I started planning how I could leave. There was an
agricultural show in Kenya on February 29, 1972 where Uganda
I parked my things in my Mazda car. I also put my young
son and sister in the car and left. I did not have a wife
At the border, they asked me where I was going, “I
said, look I am going to attend an agricultural show in
Nairobi.” I showed them my papers. They asked me why
I was going with children and a TV set.
I said the show was going to last two weeks so I had to
entertain myself. I also said that I was going to hire a
flat. They started calling Kampala to see whether I was
genuinely leaving but the telephones did not go through.
They told me, “you go”, and I left.
I had told my family members that I was going away but did
not say I was going into exile.
My friends Kaijuka and Kamuntu also made me a farewell
party. They knew I wouldn’t come back. They eventually
also fled. We believed that if we were outside, we would
organise better. In Nairobi, I was given a house and had
a job, so the situation wasn’t bad for me. But in
spite of all these, exile wasn’t a luxury because
nobody wants to stay outside his country.
I did not limit my participation to my official work. We
were active in sending weapons to Uganda. We also had contacts
with people in the Air Force. Most of my work was to meet
and keep in touch with anybody who was in the struggle,
like the Zed Marurus (now retired Air Force pilot).
Our operations involved sending people to train militarily
in Tanzania. We tried to send people to disrupt the 1975
OAU summit in Uganda by having our people recruited as waiters.
Their aim was to disrupt the thing, hit some body. If they
hit one head of state, what would happen? Would it go on?
We sent a good number but it did not work the way we thought
because one of them was caught.
Amin was also smart; you have to credit him for that. He
had his intelligence at work. His economic war - expulsion
of Asians and giving their business empires to his henchmen
- appealed to many people who succeeded in trade although
it ultimately affected the economy.
It was also in exile that we organised the 1972 invasion.
Together with Aggrey Awori, we were the contact people.
I won’t name the person who was supposed to fly the
plane. He is still a pilot but he was then a young man;
he decided to leave us. Somebody told us that there were
over 4,000 people who would be joining us. He also said
that there was going to be a rebellion in the army and things
would move quickly. But it failed because those people weren’t
[Asked if it was President Museveni as some scholars have
written and as Awori told me in an earlier interview]
I don’t want to go into that, but it is unfortunate
that it failed. Let nobody deceive you, we are all responsible
for the outcome because we were all involved, including
[Asked if President Museveni was also involved] “He
can speak for himself; I don’t want to blame any body
for its failure. But all of us were. We thought this was
the best way to get back, to remove Amin.
After that [failed invasion], there were skirmishes. People
we left here, like Eriya Kategaya, started running to join
us. Kaijuka came later in 1977 after Archbishop Janani Luwum’s
We started to re-organise ourselves in groups like Save
Uganda Movement (SUM) and Front for National Salvation (FRONASA).
In SUM we had the likes of Akena P’Ojok, Col. William
Omaria and Ephraim Kamuntu. Ateker Ejalu was our contact
person. Later, we co-opted Prof. Tarsis Kabwegyere, Richard
Kaijuka was also with us. Like its name [suggests], the
group aimed at saving Uganda from Amin.
[Asked whether having been ousted, Obote was a uniting or
dividing factor in exile]
In my view he was a rallying point for all of us. We all
used to go there and see him, even those of us who disagreed
with him. There is nobody that did not go there. So they
can’t say he was dividing.
I first met Obote after independence, but in Nairobi I met
him immediately I went there.
He was staying with the late Muntuyera, the father of Maj.
Gen. Mugisha Muntu. Obote was a good leader, an intelligent
person and a shrewd politician, free of malice.
Interaction with him was positive. But there were people
saying he should not come back because of the problem with
the Kabaka. I have never known why because he was married
in Buganda; he was a son-in-law (muko) of Buganda.
The expectation of people in exile was so high. So there
was a tendency to think that they could have a quick fix
to the problem. People in exile also thought that it was
going to be an easy job.
It’s not easy to overthrow a government unless it
loses the will to govern or is undermined internally.
Meeting Saleh, Rwigyema
Those of us who were already out helped people who were
in Uganda to escape. I remember after 1972, together with
the late Kazoora Wycliffe, we received Salim Saleh and Fred
Rwigyema in Nairobi. In 1986, Rwigyema invited me for a
very good meal in appreciation of what I had done. I am
still waiting for the other one, Saleh, and his gift. We
continued to have meetings everywhere.
In 1977 we had a big conference in Lusaka, Zambia, attended
by people like Edward Rugumayo, Yoweri Museveni, Zed Maruru,
Karugire, Amanya Mushega, Adonia Tiberondwa, Eriya Kategeya
and now Minister of Internal Affairs, Ruhakana Rugunda,
who was still young. Obote did not attend.
We formed an organisation, Uganda National Movement, led
by John Barigye, to unite us. It was meant to unite all
of us but it excluded Obote and some UPC members. I was
made its secretary for foreign affairs but there were a
lot of misunderstandings and it did not work.
After that, we started thinking in terms of our groups
- SUM and FRONASA. Other groups on the periphery; like the
late Sserumaga’s, Bishop Festo Kivengere’s Evangelical
Movement, and Prof. George Kanyeihamba’s Human Rights
group also intensified their activities.
The East African Community (EAC) had collapsed and since
the company I worked for was under the EAC, I had to look
for another job.
I tried to get a job at the Commonwealth but I failed because
they needed clearance from member states. Amin couldn’t
That is when I tried African Development Bank in Abidjan,
Ivory Coast. I did the interviews and passed and went to
The transfer meant that I wasn’t in touch with what
was on the ground, but it did not detach me from my colleagues.
I kept communicating with people in Nairobi. Besides, I
was made an Economic Officer in charge of Kenya and Ethiopia,
so every month I was in Nairobi on official duties.
But generally people in West Africa weren’t keen
about the struggle. In fact, one of my colleagues whom I
won’t name, then an official at ADB, reported me to
the Uganda government and the authorities that I was against
a member state. Subsequently I was transferred to England
but I used to come to Nairobi for political work.
I was in touch with SUM colleagues like Kamuntu, P’Ojok
and Kabwegyere who were in Nairobi. That is how I participated
in the Moshi Conference. It wasn’t well organised,
there was confusion as to who should attend.
The representation wasn’t properly done. People formed
organisations, some of them led by one man or non-existent
people. So it became difficult for us to see who was [genuine],
but the main groups were UPC, FRONASA and SUM.
Because of internal pressure, Tanzania did not allow Obote
They pointed to internal problems in Buganda. The British
were also saying that he shouldn’t attend. Basically
I think they wanted somebody else, not new blood because
they actually got old blood (Prof. Yusuf Kironde Lule was
In the meeting, we all agreed to work together to enable
ourselves go back home. But how to work together was a problem.
The leadership issues became difficult and we had to discus
who will lead us in the new organisation.
It was generally accepted that the late Paulo Muwanga should
lead us. There were people like Sam Ssebagereka and others
who said they wanted a man of substance. They wanted a gentleman
because Muwanga came from the frontline, dressed in military
We did not want a military man but somebody who had been
with us in the struggle. People like Museveni, Akena P’Ojok
and myself were young. We thought Muwanga would make a better
choice. He had been active in Uganda’s politics, he
had been a forthright person, so we all agreed on him.
It wasn’t unanimous; some people I won’t mention
did not want Muwanga but each time we came to that conclusion,
Tanzania’s Foreign Affairs minister [later president]
Benjamin Mkapa who chaired the meeting would adjourn. Some
people thought Muwanga would have been a proxy of Obote.
That is when we agreed to have somebody else. Gen. Tito
Okello Lutwa suggested Yusuf Lule.
He was coming from Edinburgh, Scotland, but unlike Paulo
Muwanga who knew almost every body in the struggle, Lule
did not know people.
At Moshi, we also formed the Military Commission. Each group
[contributed] two people to the Military Commission, but
Kikosi Maluum produced Paulo Muwanga (its head), Oyite Ojok
and Tito Okello.
FRONASA produced Museveni and Rev. Fr. Christopher, a Catholic
priest from Tororo.
SUM produced the secretary to the commission, Zed Maruru,
and William Omaria. I was part of the decision-making but
did not take up any post because I was an ADB official.
So Prof. Lule became [head] of Uganda National Liberation
Front (UNLF) with everybody’s approval. After that,
I went back to West Africa to see how I would wind up and
I resigned and came back in 1979 and continued working
with the National Consultative Council (NCC) headed by Edward
Rugumayo where I was a member. NCC was the equivalent of
Parliament; it was superb, with the likes of Dani Nabudere,
Rugumayo and Omwony Ojwok.
NCC debates were seasoned; peopled did [adequate] research,
studied situations and fully discussed issues. I think we
were very smart, but I don’t want to draw comparisons
with subsequent parliaments.
Lule was a good man but he was detached from realities on
the ground. He did not know people the way a politician
should. Lule, also, didn’t know the forces that brought
him to power -NCC, the army, and the fighting forces. He
never worked with them. He may have consulted them but he
didn’t know the implications of consulting us or not;
that is why they got rid of him.
Lule did not recognise what we had agreed on in Moshi,
that any major decision he makes would have NCC’s
blessing. He said that he had a constitution and that is
what he was following.
He should have consulted the NCC more, like on the appointment
of ministers, reshuffles and how ministries were run. He
wanted to do it as president and we in NCC wanted to approve
it as parliament. That is what brought the crisis; it was
the final straw that broke the camel’s back.
We asked him to resign after 68 days, which was his age
We did not want to replace [Lule] from amongst ourselves
in the NCC. We wanted the person to replace Lule to come
from the area Lule came from. We also wanted a person with
knowledge of how a government works. That is when we brought
in Godfrey Binaisa.
Binaisa had been in the struggle for independence, he was
a former Attorney General; he had been in UPC. We thought
he would understand things, but when you get to power things
[Binaisa defeated Prof. Rugumayo at the second round with
11 votes against 8 votes. Asked who Kanyomozi voted of the
Prof. Rugumayo is a very close friend of mine. When I had
a problem in London, he gave me accommodation in his flat
to finish my master’s.
When I came to Uganda in 1969 after graduation, Binaisa
also accommodated me in his house when I had no job. As
Attorney General, he influenced Erisha Kironde to employ
me as his Personal Assistant. So these two people are so
dear to me, so when you start asking me who I voted…
When the Lutwas took over, some of us became insecure. Somebody
came to attack me in my house on Kafu Road, near Fairway
Hotel, a month after the take over. I think they thought
some of us would be dangerous to the regime because we still
had contacts everywhere.
They came in a group and surrounded my house.
One person climbed the roof and got into my room. Fortunately,
as a former minister I still had my bodyguards because the
new government had left us with them. My bodyguards arrested
the man who was coming to strangle me. He had fired the
first shot. The next thing was for me to leave. My friends
in the army advised me to leave, so I went to Nairobi.
The flight to exile was easy because my colleagues in the
military arranged it for me.
I left through Entebbe.
It’s good to have a profession because in Nairobi
I got a job as an Associate Consultant with PriceWaterHouseCoppers
and worked with them until 1987. But my stay there wasn’t
as action packed as the previous exile because we were few
of us who had been in the previous government - like Rurangaranga,
Adonia Tiberondwa and Kirunda Kiwuliza
I tried to come back in 1987 but a group of Banyankore,
some of them from Ntungamo, arrested me in Tororo and held
me the whole day. They have never given me any reason for
the arrest but they said I was a FOBA [Force Obote Back]
operative. I don’t know why anyone in his right mind
would force somebody back. Anyway, I remained there and
formally came back in 1988.
Exile puts you under tension because you don’t know
what is going to happen. Then you can’t plan for your
future because you are not sure whether you will be going
home or staying in exile. [Besides], you can’t make
a contribution to your country. You can’t plan and
influence things. Basically exile is lost opportunities,
lost time and everything. It disorients you from your culture;
my children ended up not speaking their mother tongue.
From my exile experience, I learnt that you should not
mess up yourself or country because once it’s messed
up, we are all finished. That is why I hope to fight conditions
that force people into exile.
Looking back, I can’t say I regret going to exile
because it saved my life. I would have died.
My last word is that we should always try to make the world
a better place to live in for ourselves and for anybody.
It’s not good harassing people.