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January 17, 2008
I was tortured, humiliated by Mugisha Muntu

GEORGE OKURAPA is now a social worker in Toronto, Canada. Years ago, he was a popular Makerere University guild president (1985-86) who took over from an equally popular student leader, Ogenga Otunnu. Otunnu later became a Foreign Affairs Minister in the short-lived Gen. Tito Okello Lutwa government (1985-86).

Okurapa went to exile in Kenya first and later to Canada in 1989, after escaping from Republic House (now Bulange) where he had been detained on the orders of the then Director of Military Intelligence [now FDC Organising Secretary], Maj. Gen. Mugisha Muntu.
Writing about his life in exile, Okurapa among other things says he forgave those who tortured and humiliated him.

When the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) government was overthrown by soldiers led by Gen. Tito Okello on July 27, 1985, I was 25 years old and I was Guild President at Makerere University.

At the time of the coup, I was in Moscow attending the World Youth Festival. After the festival, some of my colleagues stayed in exile but I decided to return to Uganda to complete my studies at Makerere University.

George Okurapa and his wife, Edidah

My decision to return to Uganda received a lot of criticism from my colleagues and party (UPC) leadership. They believed that it was not wise for me as a guild president who was elected during the Obote regime to return to Uganda after the UPC government had been overthrown.

I disagreed with this view because I was a popularly elected at Makerere and I had no reason to flee the country before completing my studies.

On the other hand, I believed that being a supporter of UPC and being the guild president at Makerere was not sufficient for one to flee the country when the government is overthrown.

As a result, I returned home, completed my term as guild president, organised guild elections and completed my studies at Makerere University in 1986.

Under arrested
After completing my studies, I was making arrangements to travel to Europe in pursuit of an employment opportunity that a friend had arranged for me. When I went to the Passport Office to collect my renewed passport, I was with my fiancée, Edidah Kebirungi [now my wife].

As we left the Passport Office, I was approached by two plain clothe security officers who told me that they had been sent by President Museveni to pick me up to meet with him.

I asked them why President Museveni would send security officers to take me by force to meet him but they told me that this was the way he meets people for security reasons.

When I noticed that they were armed with pistols with another pick-up truck beside theirs with soldiers, I knew that my life was in danger. Having been an open critic of Museveni’s government, I knew that there was no way Museveni would have wanted to meet with me.

I asked the officers for their permission to speak to my fiancée, who was then standing helplessly as I pleaded my case. They allowed me to talk to her in private and this gave me the opportunity to tell her that I was being arrested and my life was in danger.

I asked her to let my family and friends know of my arrest. This was the beginning of an ordeal that has shaped my life forever.

Mbuya Barracks
I was driven away in a double cabin pick-up truck sandwiched between the two officers and driven around Kampala for two hours witnessing a display of dictatorial arrogance and pomp from the two security officers.
At the end of the two-hour ordeal, I was told that the President had to attend to other urgent matters and was not going to meet with me.

I was then dumped at Mbuya Military Barracks where I witnessed the most inhumane treatment a human being can be subjected to. I was locked up under horrible conditions for two weeks with no visitors allowed to see me and with instructions that I must never see the sun.

After the two-week ordeal at Mbuya, a colleague, Capt. Kagata Namiti, who was then Director of Legal Services at Republic House, found out that I had been arrested and taken to an unknown destination.

He personally went from one military barracks to another searching for me. It was not easy for him because when I was dumped at Mbuya, the officers who took me there gave instructions that my name must not be entered in the inmate register.

Being the Director of Legal Services, Capt. Namiti had access to the cells. He walked into Mbuya Military Barracks and when he saw the condition I was in, tears rolled down his eyes.

He drove me to Republic House [now Bulange in Mengo] where he told me that the government had absolutely no case against me and wondered who was behind my arrest. This was the first time I was seeing the sun in two weeks!

Released, re-arrested
Capt. Namiti then told me that in his capacity as Director of Legal Services, he had the authority to order my release from military detention.

He then released me but as I was walking out of Republic House, I was re-arrested and locked up at the military cells of the Republic House quarter guard. Later on, Capt. Namiti himself was arrested and unfortunately he never survived to tell his story. May his soul rest in peace!

The torture I was subjected to at Republic House quarter guard cells was the beginning of phase two of the inhumane treatment that a dictatorial administration can subject to its citizens.

At Republic House, I was told that there were strict instructions from “above” that I must be locked up without seeing the sun.
I was told that Maj. Gen. Mugisha Muntu, the then Director of Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), had ordered that I must be kept under strict watch and that it was only him and his deputy who could interrogate me.

After another week of inhumane conditions at Republic House, I finally got the opportunity to meet face-to-face with my tormentors: Maj. Gen. Mugisha Muntu and his deputy popularly known as Afande Byemaro.

In our first meeting at the DMI headquarters in Mengo, I found myself sitting in front of two men who displayed maximum arrogance and contempt and one would have been hard pressed to believe that these two commanders had ever heard of the words ‘individual human rights’.

Mugisha Muntu and Byemaro spoke to me with such arrogance and contempt that it was difficult to believe that we were both human beings with the right to life on earth. They lectured to me how Museveni and his government was the best thing that ever happened to Uganda and that anybody who opposes their government was wasting time and would face their wrath.

It was during this meeting that I was finally told by my tormentors that I was arrested for plotting to overthrow Museveni’s government while I was guild president at Makerere. When I challenged the two to produce evidence, I will always remember how both Mugisha Muntu and Byemaro laughed at me and told me that if I did not confess, they would make sure that I rot in jail.

I was locked up at the quarter guard for six months with intermittent sessions of interrogation by Mugisha Muntu and Byemaro. Today, when I hear Mugisha Muntu speaking up against dictatorship in Uganda, I am left in disbelief as to whether this is the same man who oversaw my ordeal with pride in 1986.

I used to think that I would never see eye-to-eye with Mugisha Muntu and his deputy, but recently when he came to Toronto, Canada, we met, hugged each other and I forgave him for the ordeal I was subjected to for six months in military detention under his watch.

I have put aside my bitterness because I am sure he has realised that in me, they tortured an innocent man. The truth is that I never plotted to overthrow their government as they alleged when they arrested me.

Lucky escape
After suffering for six months in military detention, I realised that my life was in danger. I had no choice but to get creative to save myself because there was no indication that Mugisha Muntu was going to release me or charge me in a court of law. It was time for me to plan my escape from Republic House.

The challenge was how I would beat the 24 hour watch imposed on me by Mugisha Muntu. Fortunately, there were many who knew my innocence and were sympathetic. I will not go into the details of how my escape was planned but I should mention that I left Republic House at midnight on January 22, 1987 under very tight security in a convoy of armed men and women.

I enjoyed beating the 24-hour watch that Mugisha Muntu and his deputy had imposed on me and by early morning the next day, when they realised that I had escaped from their torture, I was already across the border in Kenya. My escape will remain the most spectacular thing I have ever put together. It gave me a new lease of life.

Obote’s wisdom
My exile life started immediately I crossed the border, following my escape. I asked for asylum in Kenya which was granted without difficulty.
I got a job and led a modest life in Kenya.

My wife joined me and we started to plan our future in exile together. Following my escape, I had a lot of bitterness towards Museveni and anybody associated with his regime. I was bitter because of the torture I was subjected to by people who claimed to be liberators and freedom fighters.

I spent sleepless nights thinking of how I could revenge against a dictatorial administration that had subjected me to the most degrading and humiliating torture that has changed my life forever.

But during this time, two things happened in my life. The first was the phone conversation I had with my former president, Dr. Apollo Milton Obote (RIP). After narrating my ordeal to him he had this to say:
“My son, I am happy that you escaped successfully from [National Resistance Army (NRA] captivity.

I was very worried about you. You are lucky to be alive today. Thank God for that. Now, I want you to study. If you get a chance to go abroad to study, that will be good.

Kenya is not safe for you right now. You should be careful of NRA’s agents. They are there with you. Look for an opportunity to go abroad and read as many books as you can. You are our leaders of tomorrow. I want you to take good care of yourself. Exile life is not easy. You have to make sure you make the right choices.”

These were words from a true father to a son. Instead of encouraging me to pursue revenge, he advised me to look for opportunities for further education abroad.

The second thing that happened to me was when I went to pray in a church in Nairobi. During the service, the preacher spoke on the topic of revenge and reconciliation. After I sat and listened attentively, I suddenly realised that the majority of problems that Uganda has faced over the years were due to revenge against our perceived enemies.

I began to ask myself what I would achieve through revenge. Would it erase the torture I had innocently been subjected to? Would it erase the feeling of loneliness that I was facing after being forced to flee the country and abandon my family and all the family love?

After considering all these, I decided that revenge was not a solution. I decided to focus on myself and my future and forgive Museveni and his agents. I put my bitterness behind me and today, I look at my ordeal in military detention and torture as a necessary experience in life.

As Dr. Obote had predicted, life in Kenya became unpredictable for many Ugandan refugees. Time and again, the Kenyan security would round up Ugandan refugees and some got deported to Uganda. The NRA agents that Obote had spoken about were also many in Nairobi and it was no longer safe for many of us.

At the same time, Museveni was putting pressure on the Kenyan government to have some of us deported. Kenya was increasingly becoming unsafe and it was time to look elsewhere for refuge. With the help of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), I relocated to Canada on March 1, 1989.
Bitter sweet exile

It took us awhile to adjust to life in Canada. The winters are very cold and the summers are very hot and humid. Despite all this, Canada has been nice to me and my family and we have made it home. It is a home far away from home. Life in exile is truly tough.

While I have a decent job and live a modest life with my family, it is always painful when you cannot come back home to bury your loved ones when they die. Several of my loved ones have passed on, including my father and in-laws, and yet I have not been able to go back to a country I fled from to bury my loved ones.

I come from a large family and being in exile has cut me off from that family. This is the painful part of exile life. But I will always remain grateful to Canada for welcoming me and giving me the opportunity to raise my family in an atmosphere where true peace and justice prevails.


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