NEW SERIES: MY PRISON LIFE
 
 
14th December 2006
Kintu Musoke considered suicide in Makindye jail

Kintu Musoke considered I refused to pray because it’s not God who took me there

In the fifth part of our series on politicians who have endured imprisonment on account of their political association [or suspicion], MICHAEL MUBANGIZI talks to former Prime Minister KINTU MUSOKE

I was born to Yafeesi Kintu and Eseza Nassiwa on May 8, 1938 at Bakijurura, Kalungu in Masaka district.
I am a sixth born in a family of 13 siblings, seven boys and six girls.
Yafeesi and Eseza were devout Anglicans bordering on Puritanism so much so that we never ate anything without saying the grace. They never allowed manual work in our house on Sundays.

I studied at Kabungo NAC-Native Anglican Church-School, two miles away from my home, Rakai Primary School and Bwere Primary School in what is now Mpigi district.
I joined the then prestigious Kings’ College Buddo for my secondary education in 1951.

Musoke the young man on his graduation in the 1960’s

At Buddo, I was one of the few students who couldn’t afford shoes and who had no clothes except school uniform.
Buddo was exclusively for the Baganda genteel, sons of those who had collaborated with colonialists and had in return portioned to themselves public land and became landed aristocrats. Mixing with them was a privilege for me, son of a peasant.

About that time in 1952, the Uganda National Congress (UNC) was born by Ignatius Musaazi. People like Ssenteza Kajubi, Abu Mayanja [RIP], Paul Muwanga, Elisha Kironde, Yekosofati Engur, Otema Alimadi and J.W. Kiwanuka led it.

The Kabaka of Buganda was sent into exile by the then governor (Sir Andrew Cohen) in 1953. The two incidents sharpened my political outlook. I realised there were two governments in Uganda; the kingdom and colonial governments.

And we were to fight the foreign one to transform our society. But I had become politically conscious at 10 years during the 1949 Buganda riots. My uncle Simeon Kintu was arrested in those riots and sentenced to eight years imprisonment.

I was admitted to Makerere University for a general degree course. I wanted a degree in political science, so I refused to join Makerere because we couldn’t agree on the course.

Political science was my inclination. I saw politics as an opportunity to serve. That is why I joined politics.
For journalism, I enjoyed writing for causes. I thought I would make a contribution to society through writing and exposing social evils.

I got a scholarship from the Government of India in 1959 to do Political Science, Philosophy and Journalism.
It afforded me the opportunity of encounter with Africans from other parts of Africa - like Kenya, Tanganyika, Zanzibar and South Africa.
It was a great experience.

I made many friends, like Malawian president Bingu wa Mutharika. For the first time I recognised how small my tribe Buganda and (country) Uganda were, in comparison to the rest of Africa.

We were taken to our respective colleges. Delhi was the constituent university made up of about 20 constituent colleges. I completed my degree and diploma in journalism around 1963.

When I returned to Uganda, I joined people like the late Paul Muwanga and Bidandi Ssali to start African Pilot, a newspaper which represented the leftist wing of the UPC. I was a very aggressive activist outside the party structures. The party became divided between Kakonge and the Obote group.

Kakonge led our group that comprised Kirunda [Kivejinja], Bidandi Ssali, Wadada Musani, Wadada Nabudere and so many others. The Obote group included Grace Ibingira and Balaki Kirya.

We differed on what is the purpose of a political party; is it a caucus around an individual or an organ for transforming society?

We were for transforming society, but the other group was for benefiting from their positions.
In a meeting in 1964/5, a resolution expelling about 10 or 12 of us; like Bidandi Ssali, Kirunda Kivejinja and Nabudere from UPC because of our strong political views was passed.

We saw it as part of the struggle.

The arrest
When Idi Amin came to power, political activities were suspended. We all kept a low profile.
Then came the September 1972 invasion of Uganda exiles from Tanzania. When the invasion aborted, a few leaders were arrested. I suspect the State Research [Bureau] operatives must have had the names of people who would be their contacts. I suspect my name could have been one of them. I just suspect.

Kwame Nkrumah (centre) greets a journalist as Kintu Musoke (R) looks on during the Pan Africanist conference in Ghana, 1963

So one day, very early in the morning at 7.00a.m., I was still asleep at my home in Ntinda. My wife came and told me that there were people who wanted me.
I jokingly said, “You go and check, these days there are people who abduct people.” As she went back, they had already entered. She said “no, they have already come in.”
They were three people in dark glasses and jackets. I asked them, “what do you want?”

They said, “we want you”. I said, “for what?”
“Itwe kitu kidogo,” they answered in Kiswahili, meaning there is something small they were inquiring about. I said “who are you?” They produced their State Research [Bureau] cards.

I was dressed in a gown. I told them, “let me first dress up.” They said, “as you are dressing up, we want to search your house.” I did not have a clue what they wanted. I said “go ahead.”

They searched my house, then went out [afterwards].
My car was parked outside my house. Stealing was not as bad as it is now. You could park outside and it spends a night there. But when I went out, I discovered there were cars blocking my car in front, behind and side-ways. I had my keys. I had thought I was going to drive myself. I gave them to my wife, and told her, “tell my friends that army people have taken me”. And we went.

Inside State Research

They took me to Nakasero State Research [Bureau headquarters]. They put me in a room smeared with blood on the walls, made me to sit on the chair and started beating me.

This was around the time other leaders like Benedict Kiwanuka, Ali Kisekka, who was a journalist and many others, were taken. I knew my time had come.
They asked me questions I have forgotten. Some were about these leaders and politicians.

At Nakasero, I saw somebody whose face I knew - Mustafa Umal. He was a journalist. He had joined State Research (which was headed by Farouk Minawa).

Kintu Musoke today

I said, “since I am going to die, let me die having told somebody who knows me that he saw me.” So I called out Mr. Mustafa. I shouted his name.

These people who were interrogating us asked me whether I knew him. I said I knew him. A few hours later, he (Mustafa) got me out of the State Research into a car and took me to my new house which was being built in Lungujja and searched it. I had told them I had a new house.

While there, Mustafa asked me, “my friend Kintu, why did you get involved in these things?” I asked, “which things?”
He said it’s very bad. He did not elaborate.

He started signing papers here and there, then we came out, drove towards Namirembe-Nateete road. I saw Mustafa getting worried. I suspect he wanted to tell me that they were going to kill me because he started getting agitated and uneasy. We stopped. Then he said, “let’s go back to State Research offices on Lumumba Avenue.”

Mustafa asked other people to go away. I later learnt that they had gone back to my home. I think Mustafa wanted to give me time to save my life. We remained two in their mess. The other was their prison.

He asked me, “you man, the situation is very bad. Don’t you have any people who can help?” I mentioned a few names of ministers in Amin’s government I knew - like Wanume Kibedi who was minister of Foreign Affairs and [Prof. Edward] Rugumayo (Minister of Education).

He said, “you contact them.” Then he asked, “do you know anyone who can tell them?” I told him my friends Bidandi Ssali, Kivejinja and others.

He asked, “can’t you have contact with them?” I gave him their telephone numbers. So on the way to Makindye, we drove past Clock Tower. I had an office at SAPOBA bookshop at Katwe, where Bidandi and Kirunda were.

When we reached the Clock Tower, Mustafa told his askaris, “let’s go and search this man’s office here.” I think he was trying to find out if my friends (Bidandi and Kirunda) had done something to my rescue. He went and told Bidandi the situation was very bad.

Beaten in Makindye
Then we continued to Makindye where we reached at 5:00p.m. that very day. I was beaten up and pushed into cell one where I found about 20 people.

I was there on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday afternoon, they brought 45 more people, mainly Langi and Acholi who had been OC prisons or OC police in upcountry centres. Some had stars. We spent Friday night and the whole of Saturday [together].

There was nothing like mattresses and blankets. Posho was prepared but there were no plates. The authorities prepared food and just came and said, “you come for food.” It was up to you to look for a plate.

Wherever we were out working in the compound, we would pick cans for tinned meat. If you found one, you cleaned it up in preparation for lunch. If you did not prepare it, you had no plate, so you did not eat. It was not a dinner party, Shauriyako or cocktail. It was prison.

Some people who had been there [for long] had some plates, so you would go and may be share with them. Or they had these tins out of which soldiers had eaten meat.
It was one meal a day, only lunch. There was no tea, we had not gone to a feast.

Admiring flies, birds
If you are a prisoner, you even admire a fly or a bird that flies from one wall to another. For you as a prisoner, you have no freedom, you lose everything.

Wherever we sat on a veranda outside our rooms, you would admire a bird which could fly from one tree to another. We had lost not only freedoms, but we were expecting death.
In the cell next to us was Alex Ojera who had been minister of Information and Picho Ali, who had been a party activist from Tanzania. They had been arrested and exposed on TV by Amin. They had been put in chains.

Kalimuzo killed
One Sunday morning (on the sixth day) as we were seated outside waiting to have tea or some thing, they brought in Frank Kalimuzo.

Kalimuzo was taken straight to cell C where killings took place. He never came to our cell or the cell where the ministers were.

He wasn’t handcuffed, he was in his usual dress code, I don’t remember exactly. We had no contact, no greeting, no talking. But those of us who knew him saw him being taken in Cell C, a murder and slaughter house.

He knew me. I knew him, he was a famous person. He was the first colonial-trained DC (District Commissioner) and had risen from DC to Permanent Secretary and later Vice Chancellor of Makerere University.
Later on at about 3:00p.m., these 45 people were taken to cell C where Kalimuzo was and [where] these other ministers [had been taken].

Then some of our prisoners were taken to cell C to kill other prisoners. They battered them on the head to death using gun buts, hammers and clubs.
Then another group [of fellow prisoners] was taken to throw bodies on a lorry. We in the last group went to wash the floor.

The bodies were taken away. Kalimuzo, Picho Ali, Alex Ojera were among those killed.
There must have been other killings. We were not supposed to know. These (the Kalimuzo group) we knew because people were taken from our cell [to kill them]. There were other cells.

Refusing to pray

Life in Makindye was characterised by spilling of blood and intimidation. I differed with fellow inmates. For them they used to say, wafungwa, wafungwa, ni saa ya kuomba mungu. (Prisoners, prisoners, time to worship the lord).

Then I told them, “my friends, leave me alone. I never prayed to God to come here [in Makindye], so I will not pray to get out.”

I didn’t know for God’s sake why I was there. I had committed no crime. Wherever they prayed, I stayed, hoping for the best, but prepared for the worst. I don’t believe in the efficacy of prayer.

Never wish anybody to be in prison. And our prison was different. There was no justice delivered. There was no warrant of arrest, none of us was taken to court. We just kept there. Those who died, died, those [of us] who were able to come out, came out.

A Sudanese man [Brig. Hussein] Malera was in charge of Makindye. He was a military man. He helped Amin come to power and was given the position as a reward.

Luckily, I never fell sick the whole time I was there but others did and were taken away to some place we did not know.

No leisure

You are hopeless to ask me about leisure, there was nothing, we were there to die. If we did not get any interventions, we were there waiting to die.

In fact, the conversation between us (inmates) who became friendly to each other was “please, if you ever get out of here, go to such and such place and tell my people that you saw me.” There was no hope for life.

When you have seen 50 of your friends killed and are were waiting for your turn…! We did not want any leisure. It was not there and we did not wish for it because it was useless.

Planning suicide

We were not allowed any visitors. I did not get any visitors. There was no routine activity in prison but we used to clean the barracks. We had a leader of the cell who used to choose people to go and work.

We worked in the officers’ houses, preparing roofs.
Soldiers drank every night and threw bottles all over the place. It was our role to go and pick up the bottles.
We also went to the army mess in Mengo to pick drinks for the soldiers.

This is where, knowing that 45 of our colleagues had been killed, I decided to commit suicide rather than being hammered to death in Makindye, dying like a fly or mice. I would rather die that way.

I wanted to die at a place where I knew some people along the road, so that I would be known to be dead.
So we came out to go to the army shop in Mengo. When we were going there through Kabakanjagala, I walked to the back of the lorry ready to jump off and die.

I was just about to jump off when something deep inside told me, “don’t”. And I heeded that call. But I had decided to jump off and die when I got to a house of somebody I knew so that people knew I’d died there. I never planned escape, my plan was suicide.

Families of the deceased were never told of death of their dear ones. They did not want anybody to know what was going on there. I think you are imagining things, that this was a simple thing.

This was a holocaust, it was a secret killing.

Miraculous release
My detention took about a month or two. I left prison miraculously. One night, at about 11:00p.m., I heard a knock at the door. The man who had been in charge opened and came to the room. He asked whether there was a man called Kintu Musoke in the cell.

I was nearest to him, I said “yes.” He said, “where is he?” I hesitated. In my mind, I said, does it matter if I die one minute now or one minute later? I stood up. My friends knew I was finished.

Instead of saying, “come,” he went out. I suspect there was somebody inquiring about me and he had come to ascertain whether I was still alive.

The following day in the morning, I had been taken to clean a room of another prisoner, a muzungu in another cell.
As I was there cleaning under the bed, a man came.
He had been at the cell, I was not there, so they directed him to where I was.

He said, “Kintu Musoke?”
I was under the bed sweeping. I said to myself, “should I respond?” Then I said, “does it matter whether I die now or some five minutes later?”

I said, “here I am.” He said, “you come.”
I followed him, thinking we were going to our cell. He led the way, the way we had come in (on being arrested). We went to Malera’s office. He made me sit down. Another man came in and put a letter on the table and went out. The man who had brought me also went out without reading the letter, leaving me in the room.

I got hold of the letter and read it. It was from State Research. It was saying, “Please send a man Kintu Musoke. He is there [in Makindye]. It was alleged he was involved in wrong activities, now it has been proved, send him here (at State Research).” I put down the letter.

I knew this was a hoax, a way of removing me from Makindye to take me to a place and kill me. I was led into a car with three other people who were all armed, and we drove out.

In the car, I was seated in the middle of those guards.
From Makindye, at a road which turns to Lukuli, these men started conversing in the Nubian language which I didn’t understand.

Then later on, one got into English. “People are very bad, now if this man had been killed for nothing. People are very bad,” he was saying.

I cooled down. I remember the whole town decorated with flags. I think it was independence celebrations in October or something.

We went via Clock Tower to Nakasero. Vehicles parked outside, so we got out where I had entered earlier. They took me through a long corridor into a room. One man came with a few pieces of paper from Malera’s office.

He asked me, “have you been to Makindye?” I said “yes.” “For how long?” I said I don’t remember. “Were you tortured?” I said no. He said “you go”, and then went outside.

I was not hearing the word “go”. I turned, passed through a corridor leading to the outside. I walked near All Saints Church. I was still wearing the same clothes I wore when I was arrested, full of blood stains.

As I walked, there came a vehicle, I saw somebody I knew. He was outside the car. He said, “Kintu, what’s wrong with you?”

I said I have been there (State Research). He said, “you mean you have been there and you have come out?” I said yes. “Then you are lucky.”

He put me in his Volks Wagen and drove through the city.
It must have been about 11 o’clock. At home [in Ntinda], I found my sister. They started calling people and were very happy.

My father had known about my arrest before. When time passed, he assumed I was dead. He had come from Masaka that day to ascertain the truth. And I had just been released about two hours earlier.

He was a prayerful man, so he prayed. Then he said that I must go and tell people to disband. They were keeping the way. I did not publicise my arrest, I did not even publicise my release.

We were not charged, never told why we were arrested. And when you were freed, you were never told why you were freed because there were no courts.

Our prison conditions were different from the regular prison. Ours was a barracks, a death centre. There were no rights, no right to life. We had no right whatsoever.

Pressure to flee

After my release, my family and colleagues pressured me to leave the country, but I refused, however big the problem. Insecurity was part of the struggle and the struggle had to continue. By who? The people. So I had a cause to stay.
The conviction that I developed while a student, to fight for freedom and change society by active participation at whatever level, kept me going in prison.

I was innocent, standing for a cause and this is the cause I still stand on till now. I went back to my work at SAPOBA. I told my friends what had happened. I think people who played an important role in my release were Wanume Kibedi and Prof. Edward Rugumayo who were part of the Amin government.

I went and met Rugumayo. I told him that if you people in government can’t do anything to change it, please quit, because it’s devilish.

I also went and met Kibedi, narrated to him the whole story. I told him that if he couldn’t do anything to change the situation, he should quit. It was an evil system.
Luckily, two months or so later, Rugumayo and Kibedi quit. That was my first act.

Fighting Amin

From my imprisonment, I learnt that if you are fighting for justice and liberation, you should never relent.
Detention strengthened my resolve to continue to struggle in whatever capacity.

From what I saw in Makindye, I swore that the Amin regime was an evil regime and that if I ever got an opportunity to fight it, even if it was the devil fighting Amin, I would join the devil to fight his system.

Indeed it came when Tanzania offered to help us.
When Amin attacked Kagera in 1978, groups started forming and Paul Muwanga invited me to Dar-es-Salaam. I went and joined his Kikosi Maalum. Our work (those of us who were to come to Uganda) was to commit acts of sabotage to draw the international community to the problem in Uganda and as much we did.

I had no best friend in prison. I did not go there to make friends. There is no comparison between the (political) environment then and now because the two are totally different. Theirs was an evil system and it did not deserve to be in existence.

Looking back, I don’t have any regrets. My arrest led me to struggle against the regime; how could I regret?
I would have regretted it if I had died but it enhanced my resolve to fight for freedom at whatever cost.

And my involvement in politics has been because I don’t want to be oppressed. I fight for justice.


mcmubs@ugandaobserver.com