23rd November 2006
Prison cut short Nabudere's honeymoon

Museveni planned to blow up Luzira Prison

In the second part of our series on politicians who have endured imprisonment on account of their political association [or suspicion], MICHAEL MUBANGIZI talks to PROF. DANI WADADA NABUDERE, former politician and celebrated academician

I was born in a village called Buteeza, Mbale district, on December 15, 1932. I studied in schools in Bugisu but later joined Aggrey Memorial College, Bunamwaya, started by the late Henry Kanyike.

Nabudere (R) talks to a journalist during the Moshi Conference in Tanzania

It was a nationalistic kind of school.
I was very much influenced by the Kanyike schools which later extended to areas like Mbale where he started the African Public School.

I was one of the first students in that school before joining the Post Office where I worked as a postal clerk and a sub-post clerk in the early 1960s.
I later went to England to study law in 1960.
In London, I led the Uganda Students Association, replacing Chango Macho.

We were politically active, writing articles in newspapers, enhancing awareness about our independence.
It was kind of a major revolutionary period in which the youth in major universities in Paris, Tokyo and the United States revolted against the old educational system.

This movement affected all of us. When I came back in 1963, I was very much affected by the youth movement, imbued by its ideas of solidarity. I practiced as an advocate of the High Court and continued supporting the youth movements.

I started an organisation, the Uganda Vietnam Solidarity Committee (UVSC) in 1963, a kind of solidarity movement to support the people of Vietnam against American aggression.

It was that organisation which I think was used as an excuse to arrest me. I was arrested around December 19, 1969. There had been a state of emergency declared in the country after the so-called Lugogo incident in which an attempt was made to assassinate [president Apollo Milton] Obote.

A younger Nabudere in pensive mood
Nabudere today

An earlier state of emergency had been declared in Buganda. As result, leading politicians like former Vice President William Nadiope, opposition leaders such as Dr. Paul Ssemogerere, independent people like Abu Mayanja, Cuthbert Obwangor who was a minister in Obote’s government, Natoro Masaba, a local councilor in Mbale, myself and ministers who had expressed opposition to Obote were rounded up and detained.

I think the Lugogo incident was used as a pretext to move against the opposition both within and outside UPC.
The UVSC was banned alongside other political organisations. The UPC government saw UVSC as a party in formation to challenge it.

This of course was not true. UVSC was a small group comprising individuals like Abaasi Kibaazo, a very ordinary man who led the Abawejeere movement.
He was UVSC vice president.

Obote didn’t like the youth movement to be strong, he wanted it to follow what government was doing but I was telling youth to press government to honour its promises and make it accountable.

Obote was a bit uneasy with me on those activities.

Honeymoon, arrest

I was arrested a few days after the Lugogo incident. The Lugogo incident was followed by a cabinet meeting and declaration of a state of emergency around December 18- 19.

I married around that time and was going on honeymoon with my wife to Dar es Salaam. We drove to Nairobi on Friday, December 18. When the state of emergency was announced, we were [already] on the way. When we reached Nairobi, I telephoned my home to find out whether they were all right.

My telephone number was next to that of the police post, so apparently when these people saw that I was ringing from Nairobi, they directed the call to the police post instead of my house.

The Police said they wanted me back; I said, “me, I am [doing my own] work”! They said “no, we want you to come back”.

We were more or less disturbed, so we could not go a head. I decided to come back with my wife. When I arrived at Malaba border, Police accompanied me to a Police station in Mbale where I was detained. That was December 20 or 21. Then they went with my wife to my home and searched my house.

Battle in the cells

I fought a battle there; I refused to go to the cells. I told them that although you have detained me, I don’t accept to be in those cells, I am an advocate of the High Court. There was just a mat and a pail for urinating in.

I was detained politically; I couldn’t be treated like a criminal. I refused the posho they gave me and any food, insisting on food from the hotel. I agreed to sleep only if they got me a bed, mattress, sheets and a blanket.
I told them my wife can get me a mattress and a bed if they weren’t prepared. It was honoured.

A Police commander, Obatte, was called in. He said, “Nabudere, I am told you are causing problems.”
He told them, Nabudere is a respected advocate, give him what he wants; he is right in saying that he is not a prisoner.

He was a very good Police officer.
They brought me food from Mt. Elgon Hotel.
I met Natoro Masaba in the cells.
Later, I leant that Obwangor was detained in Soroti and Nadiope in Jinja.
We stayed there for two weeks before being brought to Kampala.

Obwangor was brought to Mbale, we had lunch together, joined Nadiope at Jinja Police station and together we were driven to CPS (Kampala) where we were told that we being taken to the high security prison, Luzira, where I was held for a year.

In Luzira, politicians and the five ministers were each put in individual cells but other prisoners were kept in a dormitory.

There was no welcome because you don’t know your inmates. I lived in my own cell, 24 hours.
On the other side of the wall were senior ministers Grace Ibingira, Balaki Kirya, Mathias Ngobi, Magezi and Lumu that Obote had earlier arrested.

We saw them after three months. They brought them out and we did some exercises together. We were later transferred to their wing. More and more people were being brought in for detention.

Conditions were not so bad, but not good.
I raised problems there also immediately I arrived.
I protested the way former Vice President [William Nadiope] was being treated. They gave him a small prison uniform to put on and he was told to take off his clothes. He was a very fat man. The way he was struggling to remove them, I told a prison officer who was there, “aren’t you ashamed to do such a thing to a VP?”

They told me to shut up, I refused. I protested until they felt ashamed and allowed him to put on his clothes.
I did not fear, if you fear for your life that is when you lose it.

I insisted on wearing my clothes and refused to wear khaki. They gave me my case full of clothes, the ones I had when I was going for the honeymoon.

Special food

I also refused to eat posho and porridge, insisting on egg, toast and tea with milk. A Police officer came in and said “you are raising serious objections, the Commissioner of Prisons has told me to warn you that you are here as prisoner.”

I told him, “I am detained on political grounds, if you give me food I don’t like, I will not eat it.”
Prisoners were given prison food - posho and beans, but because I protested, I got special treatment similar to that given to the former ministers.

They later agreed to give me milk, egg, tea and toast till I was released. Some prisoners were given special diet for health conditions but others remained on prison rations.

My inmates weren’t as resistant as me, but when they heard me, they also raised similar complaints. But they ignored them. They weren’t strong like me.

There used to be a system where a High Court judge came in monthly to see the conditions of the detainees, hear their problems and grievances for redress.

When the judge came in, I complained that the only thing we were given to read was the Bible; we wanted novels.
We had a good judge; he ordered that we be given novels. They gave us books they thought were good for us. They brought us books on economics, Charles Dickens, for the first time I read the Bible from cover to cover.

Reading made our stay a bit better, because we did not have all those thoughts, we had an opportunity to read and reflect.

The judge’s sessions weren’t a hearing, but a kind of session where Police would explain why we were detained. It was not a trial; we couldn’t challenge their decisions.

We were not represented by lawyers and didn’t have a chance to defend ourselves against the accusations.
They said I was involved in subversive activities; held illegal meetings discussing [how to overthrow] government.

I asked them to give details, which meetings, place, date and hour, but they didn’t. As a Vietnam Committee, we had held meetings encouraging people to protest where their rights are not observed.

But being in prison was very hard. We were allowed visitors once a month, only relatives. My wife visited me regularly from Mbale Municipality where I am told Museveni used to come and stay during holidays.

She told me that once, Museveni came when she was [about to come] to see me. Museveni told my wife that “when you are in prison, please observe these prison officers, what kind of guns they have and in which position they stand.”

My wife asked him, “why do you want to know these things?” He said, “I want to know because one day, I want to blow up the prison and release Nabudere.”
My wife laughed but of course it was too complicated for her to know those guns.

She did not give him any useful information.
We were good friends [with Museveni]. We had met much earlier through youth meetings. He was at the time a student in Ntare, I think he was working towards joining the university in Dar es Salaam.

I saw him but I never got to understand his politics until much later when I met him in Dar es Salaam.
Museveni was quite a patriot, my only problem with him is this tendency towards militarism; he thinks too much in terms of the military.

As a result, his democratic credentials become very doubtful. He thinks it’s the gun which is very important, forgetting that it’s the people.

Daily activities

We stayed in the cells all the time. They would bring breakfast at 10:00a.m. and meals in the room.
When you asked for books, they would bring them in the room. There was no other activity.

During the day, you would go to the toilets, at night they wouldn’t open, a prison guard would accompany you; otherwise there was a pail in the room.
We were not allowed radios; there was a prison loudspeaker but it wasn’t audible.

Prison guards would get us information from the outside world. But they weren’t supposed to communicate anything.
I held no leadership position in prison.
I was in my cell all the time until we joined the former ministers [about six months later].

There we could go out, half an hour for exercises, move up and down and return to the cells.
I don’t remember any nasty or interesting thing in prison. Because you were in your cell 24 hours, what incident could you notice?

Once, they took us to play football in a prison ground under guard. That was after six months.
[Later on], we could get out, sit out during the day, play chess, read books and go in the cells in the evening.

I never attended any prayers but I think some churches held prayers in the prison.
The doctor came once a month. If there was an emergency, they would take you to Mulago Hospital under guard.
There were reports of killings and executions in prison but I never witnessed any. I wasn’t tortured.

Being alive is what kept us going. We also took advantage of the relaxation to read the Bible and [other] books. I had no best friend. When you are in a room alone, friendships doesn’t arise.

Life after prison

I was released in November 1970. I don’t remember the date but I think it was November 21, 1970. They released a group that day, they never released one by one.
The day I was released was the day the flying school in Soroti was opened by presidents Julius Nyerere (Tanzania), Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya) and Obote. That was the first time I saw the outside world after one year.
I am told they had read out the list of people to be released on radio the previous day.
They normally did it for relatives to come for their dear ones.

But they wouldn’t give any transport.
They just opened the door for you to get out. Sometimes they gave transport to Kampala.
But they gave you back everything of yours. I was given my clothes; you couldn’t go out with the prison clothes.
Of course release [from prison] is a great thing, but getting back in society sometimes becomes difficult. Some people openly welcome you, others fear associating with you and don’t want to be seen with you because they think the government is still trailing you. Otherwise, you are free.

Prison didn’t affect me very much, but it affected my eye sight. The light they put in prison is very weak; reading small letters of the Bible was very strenuous.
It made me more convinced about my work, so I continued [doing it]. But I was soon appointed Chairman of East African Railways in 1972, so I went to Nairobi.
Shortly after we got out, there was Idi Amin’s coup on January 25, 1971.

The Vietnam Committee and political parties remained banned. Even those operating like UPC were banned. It was a new regime of terror.

The UPC government was becoming more and more intolerant and fearful. It was faced with a crisis in Buganda.
Baganda were in a rebellion, not in the sense of being armed, but the government was not on good terms with them [after the May 24, 1966 assault on Kabaka Mutesa’s palace, forcing him to exile].

UPC had been alienated from the people; it’s not surprising that they were soon ousted.

Meeting Obote

I don’t think I regret anything. When I resigned from the East African Railways in protest at the Amin killings, I went into exile in Tanzania in 1974.

I met Milton Obote at his Musasani House in Dar es Salaam [where he took refuge after the first coup]. I took him a letter written by his supporters, like Yona Kanyomozi, Akena P’Ojok, appealing to him to work with me.

The first thing he said when he saw me was,
“Oh, Nabudere, how are you? I understand that you were detained, I did not know anything about your detention.”
I remember Miria Obote was seated behind him in a high chair, and that woman is very brave, she disagreed with her husband in my presence. She used the following words,
“Nonsense, Milton, nonsense; you knew very well when Nabudere was imprisoned.”

Obote smiled, by that I realised he was telling lies because he knew exactly what happened.
Later, with Omwony Ojwok [now Minister of State for Planning], we had sessions with him and asked him [Obote] what happened during his rule and why things went wrong.
That also made me like Obote because when it comes to those things he was very mature, we talked quite well. He wasn’t a small-minded person.

He did not blame other people like our man today, President Museveni who blames his ministers for his failings.

Obote did not do that, he blamed himself. He said Amin came to power because he was more or less the one who created conditions for him to come to power but he did not admit that Amin was popular and that he was welcomed by the Baganda.

I told him, “you are mistaken, the people of Buganda and the people of Uganda generally welcomed your removal, celebrated and rejoiced in the streets.”
He said, “no, no that’s not true, that is propaganda.” You know he was also a stubborn fellow.