the sixth part of our series on politicians who have endured
imprisonment on account of their political association [or
suspicion], MICHAEL MUBANGIZI talks to former
presidential candidate FRANCIS WAZARWAHI BWENGYE
I was born at the end of 1942 at Kyanzaire, Mubanda in
Ruhinda, Bushenyi district. My father had two wives, my
mother being the first. She had 13 children. I was the eighth
born. The second wife had about five children. So we were
in a big family of about 20 children.
I studied in a primary school in Bushenyi district, Kasasa
Junior School in Masaka, today called St. Charles Lwanga
Secondary School. From here, I went to St. Mary’s
College Kisubi and St. Henry’s College Kitovu for
Bwengye in Bushenyi
shortly after his release
Then I went to Mbale School of Hygiene where I qualified
as a health officer. I worked briefly with Kampala City
Council from 1968 to 1973 before going to Makerere for a
degree in law. I qualified as a lawyer in 1977 and was appointed
KCC Legal Advisor.
I enrolled as a member of the High Court in April 1980
and have since been either in politics or legal practice.
I joined politics at St. Henry’s College Kitovu where
I was a DP youth winger. Benedict Kiwanuka, who was DP president,
persuaded me. He came and addressed us about independence
struggles, encouraging youth to participate and join the
(DP) youth wing. We mobilised it until independence when
I joined DP, [which was] the main party.
It did not take long before the party was banned in 1969.
I kept a low profile until parties were restored in 1980.
We reorganised the party with [Paul] Ssemogerere and others.
I was elected DP Secretary General. We went into the 1980
elections, which were rigged. I was in charge of DP Electoral
Committee. So I knew everything that took place.
When they were rigged, some of us chose to take up arms
to fight dictatorship. UPC had imposed themselves on the
people, knowing they had not won the election.
| Bwengye with his wife Anny
Dr. [Andrew Lutaakome] Kayiira organised us into a rebellion.
On one side, we had our group led by him and many of these
officers you see in UPDF. [Yoweri] Museveni had his, and
others, like Moses Ali’s group.
DP was divided on that [decision to fight], but after realising
that these people were going to rig the elections, some
of us, like Mzee Boniface Byanyima, the late Sam Ssebagereka,
Dr. Kayiira, Balaki Kirya, Paul Kagodo and myself, had organised
ourselves into an armed wing of the party.
We decided to overlook views of the peaceful side led by
Ssemogerere; we took up arms. We would go abroad, to Nairobi,
to organise the fighting without informing him (Ssemogerere).
At that time, Museveni was in Paulo Muwanga’s Military
Council government, so we couldn’t talk to him about
organising an armed struggle. He only came up after the
elections had been rigged; that is when he contacted us.
We told him that for us we were already prepared; that is
when he started preparing.
You must have heard the story that we even had to give
him some arms. We had brought in arms through a neighbouring
country; they were already somewhere in Wakiso district,
ready to start the war.
After the Gen. Tito Okello Lutwa government had fallen,
the UFM nominated five people to be appointed ministers,
but Museveni named only two - Sam Ssebagereka (Public Service)
and Kayiira (Energy). I was among the five.
We thought we would be in the second batch of appointments.
Instead, we were arrested in October 1986 from various places.
I was arrested at about 2:00a.m. from my residence in Nsambya;
Kayiira was arrested from a nightclub in Kabalagala.
Others like Dr. Lwanga, Anthony Ssekweyama, Evaristo Nyanzi,
Maj. Aloyzious Lubowa, and another Dr. Lwanga who was a
medical superintendent at Rubaga Hospital were arrested
from their homes.
They came and surrounded my home. I was dead asleep. They
jumped over the gate. I had some security people, some soldiers,
but they overpowered them because they were about one hundred
I had only two guards but they thought I had many soldiers
inside, so they brought 100 soldiers in a lorry. I was alone
in the house with my bodyguards. My family and Kayiira’s
were abroad all along during the struggle.
They asked my guard to wake me up, so he knocked at my
door. I said, “what is it?” He said there were
people who wanted me. I said, “which people?”
He replied, “security people”.
When I opened the curtain, I saw a lot of soldiers in the
compound, then I smelt a rat. I asked to talk to one of
them. He told me that I was needed at the Police station.
I said why at 2:00a.m? I said I will come to Police tomorrow
morning, but he said “no, we want you now”.
They vowed to blow up my house if I objected.
I had to co-operate and avoid my house being bombed and
innocent people being killed.
I had a guard inside, I told him, “don’t shoot,
let’s go”. When you are overpowered, ambushed
with one or two rifles, they could just blow you up and
claim that you were resisting arrest. I had to avoid that.
I even had guns, pistols inside, which they took.
I was still a UFM leader; the government had given us bodyguards
because we had just come out of the war, it would have been
dangerous if they hadn’t. They allowed me to dress,
after that they locked the house and off we went.
They had many vehicles. They put me in their Land Rover
with my soldiers and took us to Central Police Station.
We reached CPS at about 3:00a.m.
Kayiira rang me when they surrounded the place
he was in. I think our arrest was simultaneous because when
they surrounded him, he called to inform me, thinking I
could rescue him.
I told him, “I have also been arrested, don’t
There were no mobile phones then, but land lines.
I even rang [Maj. Gen.] Kahinda Otafiire; he is my relative.
I think he was Minister of State for Internal Affairs.
I asked him, “what is all this?” He sounded
surprised but said, “you co-operate, go to the Police
I was not tortured, mistreated or beaten all through. There
was a bit of freedom.
At CPS, I found Kayiira had already reached. There was another
Pakistani officer, Sadat, and many other officers.
I was put in a room with my three guards. It was very tiny,
intended for one or two people, but we stayed there, almost
sweating to death. There was no mattress, so we slept on
cement. Kayiira was in the next room. They later brought
in other people, like Evaristo Nyanzi and the late Anthony
Maj. Gen. Jim Muhwezi was in charge of this operation,
and several other officers. I think at that time he was
Some Police officers were a bit kind; they brought us food
– posho, beans, and sometimes matooke. But they never
wanted to be seen as favouring us.
You would urinate in your cell. When they were kind, they
brought you a container to ease yourself and take to the
toilet later. They allowed us move out at gunpoint, normally
in the evening, only when you were going to pour out contents
of your bowl. No other reason could take you out.
After two or three days at CPS, we were taken to Buganda
Road Court, charged, and then taken to Luzira Prison. There,
we each stayed in our own room.
It was the same charge for all of us – treason -
that we wanted to overthrow the government using arms. They
said we were arranging soldiers outside the country [for
that purpose]. We all pleaded innocent. They had no evidence,
so they eventually lost the case.
Those [UFM] guns were officially given to us; they were
not hidden, they were recorded. In fact, [Gen.] Salim Saleh
was the overall commander. He came, recorded our guns and
gave us guards. They could not charge us over guns they
But eventually, it appeared, some of these fellows (other
inmates and UFM colleagues) had held meetings entertaining
ideas of organising themselves to overthrow the government.
Ssekweyama, Evaristo Nyanzi and other soldiers used to
meet at Pope Paul (memorial centre), and in a hotel in Mukono.
Me and Kayiira never stepped there.
They had people like Bogere and Drago [who] I think were
moles. I think there was some evidence against them. They
said these people can’t work without Kayiira and Bwengye,
so we were arrested on the suspicion that we were the ones
But when we went to court, there was nothing, no scintilla
of evidence. Kayiira and myself could not have agreed [to
fight again]. We had handed all the [UFM] army to President
Museveni and Kayiira and Sebagereka were in government!
Other people were going to be appointed, so we saw no reason
If any body had approached Kayiira, he would not have accepted.
Even me, I would have said “no.” That was out.
Because of that, they (UFM officers) thought that we had
softened too much and started organising themselves with
some officers in the army today.
We asked the Ssekweyamas to find out the truth, but they
denied. Using our own intelligence, we learnt that they
had participated in some meetings, one of them misled them.
In the end we said, “let’s not be judges.”
We sympathised with them, but the bad thing is that they
caused our arrest.
My escorts were released when we were going to be charged
in court; they were not taken to Luzira.
During the transfer to Luzira, we were mistreated. I remember
these officers; Mugisha Muntu, Jim Muhwezi and Fred Bogere.
They put us on huge co-operative society lorry, where they
had also put firewood, to take us. We were just dumped on
top of the firewood.
People of our status; some were ministers, Kayiira of Energy,
Nyanzi of Co-operatives, Dr. David Lwanga of Environment…
Others were army officers, political leaders. We were not
small people to be taken on top of firewood! We were not
put in a suitable vehicle and that was mistreatment.
By that time Bogere was overzealous about NRM.
They (Muhwezi, Muntu and Bogere) were not rude, did not
utter a word, but you could see that they were overzealous,
punishing us because we wanted to overthrow their government;
that type of behaviour.
Another form of mistreatment, every time we were brought
to court, we were tied, handcuffed together with “thieves,
criminals” and brought on lorries. We were rarely
put on buses.
The cell [at Luzira] was strictly meant for a single person.
It was about 20 feet high, a metre wide and about three
metres long. It had no window, only a ventilator at the
The door was metallic, locked from outside. You stayed in
We were allowed only one hour outside the cell in a day.
We got food from outside; we never ate prison food.
We were allowed to see relatives and visitors, twice a week.
Most prison officers were highly trained, they handled
us well. They would comfort, get you food from outside and
sometimes flout the law so that instead of keeping you inside
all the time, they keep you outside and even bring you games
Prayers in prison
Majority of us were Christians, but there were
Hindus and Muslims also. We all had prayer groups, whether
you were Catholic, Protestant or Pentecostal. We had to
read the Bible and pray.
You may be surprised that some of us Catholics convinced
non-Catholics to go into the Novena and it worked.
We had an ex-seminarian, Major Aloysius Lubowa, a strictly
religious man. He used to lead us in prayer and was sort
of our catechist.
Muslims were also joining us when we were having prayer,
but on Fridays a certain Imam would come and pray with them.
We prayed everyday at 5:00p.m. for an hour or two. After
praying, we would eat and then be locked inside at 7:00p.m.
During Novena time, we also prayed in the morning.
There was no leisure. You only walked inside the cell and
did press-ups in your room. Newspapers were not allowed;
only a Bible and Quaran.
But some people smuggled some radios for us and we were
able to hear the public’s response to our arrest.
Some people were condemning us, saying that we did wrong,
that we started attacking government early. That we should
have laid down and revealed our arms.
But others, like churches, were calling for reconciliation.
We were not allowed to go anywhere. The doctor was always
there, any time you had a problem you informed the prison
warder and the prison doctor would come there.
If you were so sickly, you would die in that cell because
they locked and went away. There were no lights in the cells.
Eventually, they allowed us three-inch mattresses and a
Ordinary people weren’t treated like us; they had
to dig, do carpentry, were sometimes lashed, but for us
I think they were given strict instructions not to mistreat
They allowed us one hour outside, doing exercises, but
because of co-operating with the prisons authorities, we
used to remain out for six hours to meet and talk.
There were no leadership roles. [This exists] where there
are many prisoners but for us we were 16 and all equal.
But we employed somebody junior among us to cook for us
and gave him a salary. We were allowed visitors and people
were bringing us food – meat and matooke - and money.
The prisoners were not strict about us getting money.
I never witnessed any killing. But past our cell was the
condemned section, where people condemned, like during Amin’s
Later, Paulo Muwanga was arrested for [allegedly]
planning to overthrow the government and brought among us.
He was very humble, trying to be friendly. He had a constant
flow of money. Having been Defence minister, he had some
prisons officers that used to bring him money.
He was giving us money, food…may be he feared we could
strangle him there or something.
He was not remorseful when we asked him about his previous
roles. He said that what he did, he did it rightly. We left
him there. He literally died in prison after about five
We reported to court every two weeks for six months.
I was a lawyer, Kayiira a criminologist, experienced administrators
like Nyanzi, who had been DC, and permanent secretaries;
we advised those who did not know the law how to behave.
I never planned to escape because I knew I was innocent.
Besides, we were ever surrounded, heavily guarded, making
it difficult for one to escape.
After about six months, in March 1987, about four of us,
[including] Kayiira and myself, were released.
Peter Kabatsi was the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP);
he came to court and read a statement saying there was no
evidence against Kayiira, myself and I think two or three
others. Investigations had revealed that we were not connected
with the plotters.
He (Kabatsi) did not make a ruling, but an application
asking court to release us because there was no evidence
against us; the charges couldn’t stand.
We were released that very hour. It was very exciting.
Evaristo Nyanzi and his group remained there. Nyanzi was
later convicted for treason and [President] Museveni [pardoned]
I remember Mugisha Muntu was the head of Military Intelligence.
They were always surrounding court; he made an about-turn
and said, “you people, you are free to go”.
Kayiira was hesitating, saying “no, these people
are playing games, we can’t be freed with this Museveni
and Mugisha Muntu’s around?” But Muntu said,
“no, you go, you are free.”
It was ecstatic. Some UFM people and relatives were waiting
for us, we went our own ways.
For me there were some friends who always came whenever
we were brought to court. They put me in a car, drove around
Nakasero disguising, until they realised nobody was following
us. I was put in a certain civil servant’s house in
Nakasero where I stayed for a night.
The following night, these people took me to a
certain embassy’s building in Kampala. They gave me
a small radio. At about 9:00a.m. when I switched on, I heard
that Kayiira had been killed in the night, three days after
It was devastating. Uganda lost a brave man who sincerely
believed in democracy. The real armed struggle against Obote’s
regime was initiated by him, others just jumped on the bandwagon.
I tried to contact friends and even rang his wife in the
United States and informed them that he was dead.
They shot him about 10 times; the body was riddled with
bullets. They broke into the house of his confidant, BBC
journalist Henry Gombya at Lukuli-Konge, a Kampala surburb;
he tried to fight them, holding onto the door. When he held
onto the door, they shot him.
They (his killers) are known. People saw them. I don’t
want to name them. There was a commission of inquiry, [by]
the Scotland Yard. We hope one day it will come out.
But what I can say is that they were NRA soldiers and some
of them are alive. After our release, I went underground,
knowing what kind of people the NRA were in taking away
If you read Dr. Kizza Besigye’s story in Daily Monitor,
it reveals to you what was happening in the bush.
As I went underground, Kayiira kept his neck up; within
three days he was dead. For him he came back to the city,
made interviews with BBC’s Gombya and so on.
He was telling BBC how we were arrested, how he looks at
Uganda, whether it was going to be a military dictatorship,
and his role in all that.
But one of the infuriating statements was when he said
that if there is no democracy, we shall go back to the bush.
When he made that statement, I realised he was with Gombya
on Johnson Street. I had Gombya’s number, so I rang
him from my hideout and asked to talk to Kayiira.
I told him you are in danger, “how can you start making
statements on BBC? He said, “no, no, Museveni can’t
do any harm to us, we have exposed him”.
I said “you better get out, distance yourself from
Gombya.” He said “no, no, leave me alone”.
I said “you better get out of that place”.
The next morning I heard he was dead.
After his death, most of our officers ran away, others went
abroad. The brave ones remained in the army. Some of them
are senior officers today.
We did not want to look behind at the terms of the agreement
previously made with government.
Off to exile
I did not bury Kayiira; they could either have
killed or arrested me. I decided to leave. I was helped
by one of the embassies to take me to Britain through Rwanda
I stayed in Britain for about three years, partly doing
law practice and business. All along during the struggle,
my family was in England. It had earlier stayed in Kenya.
Government started sending people to convince me to come
back. I came back in December 1990.
At the time of our arrest, the situation was a bit tricky;
most people were still excited about Museveni and NRM.
Hope and belief in God kept me going. When you feel you
are innocent, you keep yourself in the lord’s hands.
Prison brings you back to God, sometimes you have no time
for God but when you are there, you ask, “in whose
hands I am I?” It’s Gods. And then you realise
how lucky you are. You could have been shot, anything could
have happened, but God saved you.
Prison taught me a lot. I learnt that anybody, including
a Pope or a king can be imprisoned.
When I saw Paulo Muwanga, a man who used to torture, terrorise
everybody during the Military Commission [which he headed]
and Obote II, a man who rigged the 1980 elections, a former
Vice President, Prime Minister and Minister of Defence lying
I could see that life can turn around. And when you go
into politics, you should use your positions properly, otherwise
you end up in a similar or even worse situation.
I am sure wherever [ex-Iraq president] Saddam Hussein is,
he looks at mistakes he should not have committed.
It also made me more determined to oppose dictatorship at
whatever level, all the time.
There was nothing good or interesting in prison, but my
worst experience was being handcuffed together with Paulo
Muwanga, my archrival and enemy, when we were going to court.
I almost wanted to box him, I felt like tearing him [apart].
One definitely loses weight in prison, even hefty people
like Kayiira lost weight. I went when I was 87 kilos and
I came out when I was about 68.
My best friend was Kayiira. We would sit in a corner, talk
and plan for the future if we came out. But our plans did
not go through. We wanted to ensure democracy, go abroad
and drum for democracy in Uganda.
On a positive note, we have had a very good judiciary compared
to some other countries. Ugandan courts have been consistent;
they have not let down people.
They have not been intimidated. In the past and even today,
it is difficult to intimidate many of our judges.
I owe our release to the independence of the judiciary which
stood its ground.
Of course we felt betrayed and realised how government
had not been sincere. When we handed over [the UFM rebel
army], we wanted to have a government of national unity
and move forward together, but I think they were suspicious
of us. They did not treat us well.
Much as we were accused of treason, there were other reasons.
We were strong people, had the masses, and Kayiira being
a Muganda and a fighter, he had big influence in Buganda;
they definitely had to get rid of him.
UFM was not a tribal organisation, we entered it as DP;
our connecting factor was DP, not tribe, religion or education.
We believed DP had been cheated.
Our arrest was a bad omen for the future, up to now you
can see the Besigyes and many others being arrested.
The fear of opposition that has been on for a long time
I can never see Museveni accept the opposition, especially
when he knows that you are armed and know how to hold a
gun. He feels scared.
One thing I don’t regret is organising an armed
struggle, it opens eyes of Ugandans that if you are a dictator,
people can take up arms and fight you. It also gives notice
to everybody that you risk your life heading a dictatorial
Now of course Museveni uses terrorism, but there is what
we call people’s war, freedom fighters. Now they call
them terrorists but they are freedom fighters.
The people of Uganda should be vigilant about democracy
and build on the little bit we have got.
The Judiciary should continue doing its work; that is how
democracy can thrive in this country.