NEW SERIES: MY PRISON LIFE
 
 
30TH November 2006
Njuba shared prison cell with Kakooza Mutale

In the third part of our series on politicians who have endured imprisonment on account of their political association [or suspicion], MICHAEL MUBANGIZI talks to SAM KALEGA NJUBA, FDC Vice President, former minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, and currently MP Kyadondo East

I was born 65 years ago at a place called Gayaza. That is where my father and mother lived. My father was a pastor. He died when I was about two years.

I had an aunt who used to be a teacher, in whose care I was entrusted. I attended several schools in primary; almost every year I was in a separate school.
I studied at Makerere College School for O-level and Government Secondary School, Mbale. By 1964 I had finished A-level.

I did a Law degree at the University of Dar es Salaam that I finished in 1968. I was with people like Joseph Byamugisha (advocate) and Joseph Balikudembe (advocate and DP politician).

Sam Njuba today

I worked briefly with Kenya Airways because the Ugandan government was not giving us employment for semi-political reasons.

Then I went to Queens University of Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK for my Masters in constitutional law. I was there with Prof. Fredrick Ssempebwa.

My first experience with prison was in July 1967 when we demonstrated against the UDI - Unitary Declaration of Independence - by Ian Smith in Rhodesia [now Zimbabwe].
We were surrounded by the Tanzanian security operatives who arrested us and took us to State House in Dar es Salaam where we were temporarily held. One of us was whipped.

Julius Nyerere addressed us. He said we had done good to demonstrate but bad to tear down the British flag.
Since he was doubling as Minister of Foreign Affairs he had to apologise to the British.

He asked which one of us would not want to apologise. One of our colleagues, a Tanzanian I think he was called Mr. Mirambo, put up a hand - not to say that he did not want to apologise - but to explain that some of us did not understand Kiswahili, the language he was using.
Nyerere didn’t listen, before Mirambo could speak, he ordered, “give him kiboko kumi” (10 canes). He was taken to police and whipped.

It took about four hours before we were released. I swore never to be involved in those things [again].

A taste of prison

I didn’t want to be a politician but I was forced. Because I belong to a poor family, my priority was to make sure that my family survived; my mother needed my attention. So rather than take the luxury of politics where you spend, I thought I would spend that money to educate my family and look after my aging mother.
When I left university, I taught at Makerere where people were discussing politics.

When I joined the [legal] practice, I was elected Secretary of the Law Society. During that Amin [era], practicing as a lawyer was very delicate; you had to be very careful. Then they appointed me president of the [law] society in 1978, again in 1979-80.

People were being arrested arbitrarily and disappearances were common, like that of the Chief Justice [Ben Kiwanuka]. As a lawyer and leader, I had to speak, and when I spoke some people were so annoyed.

Sam Njuba (R) with a relative (L), his late mother Eseza and a nephew

I addressed a press conference at LDC in July 1979 to protect my members and generally talked against the abuse of human rights.

I criticised government; I warned that if they weren’t careful, their performance might be worse than Amin’s.
Government was not allowing lawyers to talk to prisoners. For instance, people like Gordon Wavamuno and many soldiers were in prison. I said this can’t be, prisoners have a right to see lawyers; and lawyers have a right to talk to them.

The rector of LDC was the present Speaker of Parliament, Edward Ssekandi; he was sacked immediately.
The newspapers kept referring to my speech whenever there was an incident, murder or arrest.

On September 12, 1979, Paulo Muwanga ordered for my arrest. I was arrested at my office then at Agip House (on Kampala Road), briefly taken to CID headquarters and Jinja Police post where I was held for six days. Then Binaisa [president] signed my detention order and I was taken to Luzira.

I was in the Upper Prison, the condemned section, for two or three months with people like Bob Astles (former Amin advisor) and Abdul Nasur (former Amin Governor).

Sleeping on the floor

A man called Ssentamu manned Luzira. At that time the prison was one of the few professional areas.

I think they have tried to maintain the standards.
It was rough of course being in prison. It had been looted; there was no money, blankets and beds. We slept on the floor. Ssentamu arranged for a small mattress to be brought by my wife.

The food was poor, it must be worse now. One meal a day - rice, cold - they hardly prepared Kawunga (maize meal).
There were many Muslims and Catholics who used to pray a lot. The Protestant chaplain used to come and pray for us.

Once you entered prison, you forgot about torture. Except in my case, I was unfortunate one of my inmates escaped and the fellow who was in charge, Kamya, came in drunk late in the night. He was told that my inmate had escaped so he brought a man and they beat me.

That was of course not true, if I had helped him, I would have escaped too! But I think that was an isolated incident, I do not blame it on the prison authorities.
This fellow was later beaten by prison authorities for assisting another prisoner to escape.

The Law Society applied for writ of habeas corpus[An order to bring somebody who has been detained into court, usually for a decision on whether the detention is lawful]. And I was brought to the prison headquarters to hear my application, but a certain president’s personal assistant ordered that I be taken back, and the matter ended there. They have always been very powerful. In the end they just released me.

But that was not my first arrest.
I had earlier been arrested by Idi Amin on March 5, 1975.
I was representing a man called Mbazira that Amin didn’t want me to defend him.

He was in charge of the Co-operatives.
I think he is now dead. I drove Tim Lwanga’s vehicle to Buganda Road court.

As I was asking about him [Mbazira], I was arrested and taken to Naguru. They said they were under instructions to arrest anybody who represented that man.
It was the shortest time - about three hours-I have been in prison but the worst.

I was whipped to unconsciousness.
I was shaven clean; many people don’t know why I have grey hair. That is when it started, after the shaving, what came back was grey hair. After they had beaten me, I think they realised I was not dangerous; I was a young man doing his job.

I narrowly survived, if I had stayed there a night, I would have died, because they were killing people every night. I think I was saved because there was an OAU summit coming [in July 1975].

But of course there are some people who intervened. They rushed to the man who had ordered my beating and told him he had got a wrong report. They just released me.
I continued my legal practice but the case was too dangerous for me to continue with.

My other arrest was at a DP rally at City Square in 1980. It was Saturday in May or April; I don’t remember the date. I was Prof. Yusuf Lule’s lawyer at the time and had a message of his to deliver at the rally.

I went with Asher Mukasa, the late Kafumbe Mukasa. When we reached the rally, Police arrested us and took us to CPS and later to Makindye.

The message was saying that although he was away, he was with [his supporters] and [it] was telling them to continue resisting dictatorship.

I gave it to somebody as they were taking me and it was duly delivered. The people at the rally never realised that I had been arrested until much later.
Mutale’s life-changing torture

In Makindye, I found Maj. [Roland] Kakooza Mutale as a prisoner. When he saw me, he thought I had come to defend him. Until he looked down and saw I had no shoes and tie.
He had been arrested in connection with a newspaper publication.

He was very active, jolly, talkative and argumentative. He would crack jokes… so entertaining.
When in prison you entertain yourselves because if you don’t, who will?

Mutale had been beaten so badly. He had his head dressed and his wife had to come everyday to dress it. He was not bleeding in other parts, but the head!. I am not surprised he behaves the way he does. He nearly died. He is always overenthusiastic in his approach.

He was not my best friend; we were just acquaintances. My best friend was one Kadoma; he now works in the Electoral Commission.

The conditions were terrible; every night you slept, you wouldn’t know whether you would survive. Makindye was like a transit point. People would come in and go. You wouldn’t know what could happen next.

But where we stayed was much better than the go-down. There was a go-down where people were dying everyday. Many people were brought in any time. There were yellow buses carrying men who used to arrest, kill and beat up people. I don’t know why they always wear yellow!

One time they brought in S.K. Kulubya, the father of President Museveni’s Principal Private Secretary, Amelia Kyambadde.
He was my fellow lawyer and apolitical.

Bad food, no sex

The food was terrible. I was getting food from home, but people had to bribe their way in. There was no time for niceties, leisure, and sports in Makindye. You wouldn’t think of them. One time I offered to collect water but they refused. They thought I was going to escape. I offered to wash toilets. This was an opportunity to get water and use the balance to bathe, otherwise we had lice.

We would wake up at about five and start talking, discussing current affairs, why we were detained. But we would do it quietly because doing it loudly meant we were excited, an excuse to be killed.
We read books and novels. Sometimes we would smuggle in newspapers.

They were never censored; the soldiers were not intelligent. You don’t think about women when you are in prison.

Wherever I stayed, we were all grown ups so there was no sodomy that I am told is experienced in some prisons. There was nothing like government prison services. It was a barracks. Visitors were allowed but much of it was through bribery.

It’s not true that [President] Museveni helped my wife to see me. She was allowed in her own right. But he helped her have my case investigated, which they did and found nothing. There was no charge. In the end they just told me to go.

I think the main thing was external pressure.
Amnesty International took up my case. The British minister of trade came here and questioned my arrest. I was immediately released.

Leaving DP

Joined DP when I was arrested but DP did absolutely nothing. If anything, they made it worse for me. They were supposed to do a follow up, but they didn’t.

Paul Ssemwogere and Abu Mayanja [RIP] came to Makindye, looked at their fellows and went out. They did not even say hullo.

The Mutales thought DP had come to rescue me. I was very frustrated DP acted the way it did.
My wife and [Uganda Patriotic Movement] UPM that had been formed by December 1980 when I was released, wanted me to join Museveni.

I met Museveni and told him I didn’t want to join politics. He told me if I don’t participate I would always be suspected. That is how I quit DP and joined UPM. There was no way I could continue working with them.
So you can say, I was partly influenced by Museveni.
In the December 1980 elections, I contested in Kyadondo East, then known as Mpigi East and lost to a DP candidate.

Nari nzijuude [I was fed up] of the dictatorship.
In mid 1981, I fled to Kenya and joined people like [Ruhakana] Rugunda, [Amama] Mbabazi and [Fred] Rwigyema.
We set up an external wing in Nairobi and I was made secretary of the external committee. Mathew Rukikaire was chairman. We were trying to join all the fighting groups. My work involved organising and keeping records of meetings and recruiting people. I recruited [Col.] Bogere, for example.

Kizza Besigye was part of that process. I did not recruit him as he was already in UPM. But I helped to organise his return from Nairobi [where he was practicing as a doctor].

In prison you come to know each other, many people who were not friends became friends. I was surprised when 20 years later, I met Nasur: he knew me, yet we hardly lived together for two months, but there was some kind of solidarity.

Eating Nasur’s chapatti

My worst experience was seeing people killed in Makindye and of course Naguru where I was beaten unconscious.
The most interesting was to see one of my tormentors being beaten and how people can smuggle.

Once, a prison warder gave me chapatti that was being smuggled in for Nasur and I ate it.
Another interesting character was Bob Astles. He refused to remove his shoes and was the only person wearing shoes in prison. He had a tin and would boil water for coffee on a candle. Time was not of essence, as we would sit around the whole day.

Betrayals and lessons

Life in prison taught me to be tolerant, patient and to expect anything. What politicians do hardly surprises me because I could not believe that Binaisa could sign my detention order as president the second time I was taken to Luzira.

We grew up in the same family, we are both lawyers; he was president of the Law Society and I was his secretary.
Prison made me determined to fight dictatorship and get close to God because I survived many things. I could have died in prison.

It also strengthened my conviction that if you want anything done, do it yourself. It taught me to have many friends but trust a few.

Today’s leaders disappoint me because things we complained about in Amin’s time are the same things happening. It is the question of degree, sometimes methodology, but the end result is the same.
Looking back, I have no regrets. I don’t regret having been in Uganda, I don’t regret having fought the war against Obote.

If I were of the same age, I would do it all the same way.

mcmubs@ugandaobserver.com