NEW SERIES: MY PRISON LIFE
 
 
January 11, 2007
I was plotting to overthrow Obote

In the eighth part of our series on politicians who have endured imprisonment on account of their political association [or suspicion], MICHAEL MUBANGIZI talks Former presidential candidate and Samia Bugwe North MP AGGREY AWORI

I was born on February 23, 1939 in Tororo, then Bukedi district. I come from a large family of 16 brothers and sisters.

Some live in Kenya, some of us in Uganda since our village was split between Kenya and Uganda without our consent during the colonial period.

I went to Mbale Primary School, Budaka Junior Secondary School and Nabumali High School which I completed in 1959.

For A-level, I was at King’s College Buddo until 1961, and later Harvard University in the US for a degree in political science and economics.

I was a classmate of several prominent politicians in the US; like former US Vice President Al Gole, Benazir Bhutto the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, and many others in senior positions at the World Bank and elsewhere.

(TOP -BOTTOM) Awori the politician; Awori the athlet

I came back to Uganda in 1966 after [completing] my other degree in Mass Communication at Syracuse University in New York.

Back home, I was the first Ugandan Director General of the [renamed] Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC), then Uganda Television and Radio Uganda.

Clashes with Amin

I was detained during the January 25, 1971 Amin coup. Obviously Radio Uganda and Uganda Television (UTV) were the first targets, so late in the night of January 24, Amin came to me. He wanted to make a special announcement.

I had had similar clashes with Amin. On September 17, 1969, while President Apollo Milton Obote was attending a non-aligned conference in Lusaka, Zambia, Amin then army commander came to UTV studios at about
7:00p.m. to make “a special announcement”.

There was a trend of military coups in neo-colonial Africa then. I got concerned. He came with two military vehicles which is almost a company of escorts who ushered him in my office.

He stayed in my office. I went to an adjoining office to make phone calls to the then Minister of Information, Alex Ojera [RIP], to inform him that I had a problem.
I told him I wanted clearance. That I was holding the Army Commander, then Maj. Gen. Idi Amin, who wanted to make an announcement on TV.

Ojera referred me to the then Minister of Defence, Felix Onama [RIP]. Onama said it was beyond him, that I call Lusaka to get clearance from President Obote.

I had always been in touch with him (Obote), so I called Lusaka. When he heard my predicament, he said you solve it with your immediate ministers of Defence and Information- who obviously could not help!
I called on then Major Oyite Ojok [RIP] who quickly came to my rescue. He came to the studios and calmed down Amin.

He said yes, the recording will be made and promised to assist me in interviewing Amin on air. That pleased Amin; he had someone in the military to appear with him.

Fooling Amin

I told Ojok, “I don’t have an idea what this man might say. But I have a plan to record the programme, bring all the escorts he came with to sit in the studio forming an audience so that nobody knows that the programme is just being recorded and not going out.”
Amin would think it’s live. It worked very well. Amin talked and was very pleased. He thought it had gone on air.

He made a lot of bombastic statements, like “I fear nobody except God, I am prepared to serve any government whether DP or UPC as long as it upholds the constitution and does not mistreat people.”

He was on a collision course with Obote. He condemned the conduct of UPC yet he knew that the president of UPC was the president of Uganda.

Amin left after the recording. I was constantly in touch with him (Amin). At about 10:00p.m., he telephoned me: “nobody has seen the programme?”
I said, “I am glad Major General you have called me. I was looking for you.”

“I indeed the programme did not go out, we had a technical fault, the programme is interned; we shall go out tomorrow.”

He said can I see it? I said, “yes and let’s go to the studio.” He came. We played it, he was very happy. I said tomorrow we shall repeat it. He alerted all the units. I knew that the following day, with Obote back, a decision would be made.

I reported to Obote and showed him the tape. Obote said: “I have seen the tape you are going to broadcast. I don’t think it’s proper at the moment, it’s better we wait and broadcast it later.”

We edited out the difficult parts and used the programme in bits. Amin later asked me, “how come I did not hear certain things I said in the programme?”

I told him it was a technical problem. He believed me, he did not get hostile, he was a very close friend.
I must say we were very good friends. Many a time he took me to see people he was training in Bamunanika, the late Kabaka Mutesa’s country lodge which had been taken over by the government.

He had his own force within the army but people took it to be his escorts. I told Obote that this was not regular training; “it looks strange, go and see.”
He said, “why don’t you discuss the matter with the right people? Akena Adoko and other people in the security.”

Akena was the head of intelligence, the General Service Unit (GSU). I told them but they said it’s nothing, and did not pay much attention.
But when I mentioned it to Oyite Ojok, he said: “no, this is very unusual, I was not aware.
Can I go with you?”

I said: “No, go on your own.”
He indeed found almost a private army being trained and dispersed them. That is the group that overthrew Obote’s government. They were distributed to various units, like the former Lubiri barracks, Bombo and Jinja, now Gadaffi barracks.

So with that background, on January 24, 1971 when they came to make an announcement, I told them it’s after 11:00p.m., we have closed. We can do the recording tomorrow.

Briefing UTV staff

I knew a coup was in the making. I was briefing my staff the following day. We had hidden a lot of things, like tapes. I was telling them, “you people, you have never [witnessed] a coup. You recall that on the exact day last year (January 25, 1970) we had a problem when Brigadier Perino Okoya, commander of the second infantry brigade and his wife were shot dead, and in 1969 when Obote was shot at Lugogo?”

We had to get security to guard this place.
I told them this could be worse, the best thing is to disappear.

As I was telling them, about 20 Uganda Army soldiers came. They said, “you bring your equipment to the Command Post in Kololo.” I resisted.

Another unit, unaware of what was happening, came. They said we want to go on air. I said we have already made arrangements to take the equipment to the Command Post for the commander (Amin) to make a statement.
They said: “No, no.”

They roughed me up and thoroughly beat me up together with everybody who was in the studio using gun butts, not sticks. One woman who typed our news scripts was killed in the studio.

At State Lodge
I was put in a tank (APC) and taken to what is currently the State Lodge at Nakasero. I was not handcuffed, the army doesn’t use handcuffs- those are strange items to them.

They just beat and disable you so that you don’t fight back. It’s Police who use ropes and handcuffs. You ask UPDF how many handcuffs they have!

They said I was close to Obote and I knew where all the guns for the protection unit were. I must show them.

It’s true I knew, but then I also knew that it had been taken by Amin’s other unit. That place [near Nakasero Primary School] was already under their control. It used to be an armoury but when Amin took over, they made it State Research Bureau (offices), and eventually ISO [headquarters].

Reaching there, there were several other soldiers seated, half-naked. They took my clothes - shirt and trousers - and tied me on a tree. I was half-naked in underpants.

We were beaten and roughed up, accused of all kind of things. “These are Obote people, you have been killing people.” You couldn’t know whether you would be dead or alive.

Nakasero was near UTV; when people [at UTV] heard gun shots, they thought I was being executed. Some were tied on a tree and shot. I was untied after a few minutes. A certain army officer said no, this man needs interrogation; he has got information.

They again put me in the tank with several senior army officers I found there, like Col. Arach, and took us to Lubiri. Arach was a senior commander and a much-feared man.

They went for a rope from what used to be a Red Cross house but I must say it was not Red Cross. There were arms there. It was a small armoury. The Red Cross sign was a disguise.

Lubiri shootings
At Malire [in Lubiri barracks], as you jumped off the tank, you were shot. Several were shot dead when I was seeing.

I was at the back, the person in front of me was Col. Arach. He was shot immediately he moved out.
That is when I learnt that when some one shoots you from the back, the front part pours out the brains and pops out like a cup when the bullet hits the skull.

As I came out, Jack Munyenyezi recognised me.
He said this man must be a friend, I have seen him with Afande (Amin) in Bamunanika.
“What is your name?” he asked.
I said “Aggrey Awori.”

“You are the Director of UTV.” I said “yes.” He called Amin on radio. Amin said no, that is our friend. “Bring him, make sure you give him heavy escorts.”

He (Amin) sent Maj. Gen. Francis Nyangweso, then a colonel, with two vehicles to pick me up. By the time he arrived, I had been moved to a little hut, mama ingia pole in the Lubiri.

That was my first night in detention with about 20 other people. The one night I stayed there, they came, read out names of four people who were taken out. I later learnt they were executed.

Fortunately for me, that is when Nyangweso came.

Facing Amin

They took me to Amin at Prince Charles Avenue in Kololo.
Amin apologised. He said, “sorry, these boys are excited but I will make sure you are secure.”
He ordered: “Take this man to his house at Kololo Borup Avenue. But leave there six escorts.” I was put under house arrest.

Nobody was at home, all my family had fled. They knew I was dead. I later learnt that they had escaped to Kenya.
But my house keeper later came back.

I stayed with him for the two or three months under house arrest with about six guards who they changed everyday. I never developed any special relationship with them. But my house keeper knew some of them very well. They freely communicated. I think they came from the same village in West Nile.

They were not hostile to me. At night they would be drinking, shouting and merry-making.
I had some little money, so my house-keeper would go out, buy food and come back.

Unfortunately he was killed later when he joined the army. He is somebody I would have wanted to continue working with and looking after. He looked after me under strenuous circumstances.

Whoever I contacted through him I told them, “don’t come to the house, I am under guard but go and do ABCD.”
I would wake up, get breakfast and listen to Radio Uganda. It was repetitive things which were not very useful. It was a life of uncertainty.

You weren’t sure what would happen next. Life under house arrest was too bad and very trying for two reasons.

You have been in government, suddenly it’s no more. You are under guard in your house, with no freedom. You can’t talk to anybody. It was not like these days of mobile phones. Nobody comes in, nobody goes out, except the guards who keep changing.

The only contact with the outside world is your house-keeper who went, bought food, gathered intelligence and came back. But most of the information you get is so and so is dead, so and so is missing.

Secondly, you are not sure whether the coup was going to succeed or fail. If these people came, would they rescue me or call me a collaborator? Would I lose my life in the confusion? Then the people I am staying with, how would they handle me? It was all uncertainty.

Guns in ceiling

I don’t know whether I should say this. I had guns in the ceiling and I am sure they are still there.
Several ministers have lived there but it was a tough ceiling. I don’t think they know or knew about them. I did not want anybody, even the askaris, to know.

In case they found the guns in the ceiling, they would confirm I am not what they thought I were - UTV Director. They would say I am a soldier.
There were about 25 guns. I got them through the General Service Unit.

After the 1969 Lugogo incident (when an attempt was made on Obote’s life) and when Amin first came [to the studio] in 1969, I knew anything could happen.
In terms of security I was not stupid. I said to myself, “one day, it will be each one on his or her own.”
I was also not happy with the way Obote was handling intelligence. He relied entirely on the Police, neglecting the army. His approach to the army was one of disdain; he would say “those are fools.”

I think Amin put me under house arrest for my personal security so that I am not hurt, because I had kept his secrets. He knew I had known his strength in Bamunanika. I regularly went there with him.

Amin’s other secret with me is that he did not like the head of intelligence, Akena Adoko. He often told me, “this man is very bad, he is the one misleading Obote; Obote is a good man, but Akena Adoko is misleading him.”

Amin’s girlfriend

We were also social friends. Amin was interested in a girl - Norah - who was my friend; the late Picho Ali’s girlfriend.

Norah often came to Nakasero for Picho to pick her. One time Amin found her there, developed interest and eventually took her.

I remained under house arrest until Nyangweso hatched a plan for me to escape. I have no idea if Amin was part of it but it was planned in conjunction with two of the bodyguards. Unfortunately, they all died during the 1972 aborted invasion (by anti-Amin elements led by Apollo Milton Obote from his exile in Dar-es-Salaam).

[When I leant of the escape plan], I told my housekeeper to call my sister in Nairobi who sent her husband to Jinja. By then I had established contact with my family.
We did not want to do it at night.

I was taken in a military jeep during the day to Jinja near the dam where I found my brother-in-law. I did not have luggage, just clothes. We drove until I found myself in Kenya with my family.

My children did not know what was going on, but my wife was very happy, she thought I had been killed.

Meeting Obote

When I met Obote in Dar-es-Salaam, he was alone. Mama Miria wasn’t there. After a short time, I organised his family to join him. Obote was not apologetic. He said “I am happy you are still alive.”

His attitude was, “Amin can’t last. We can remove him if we work hard.” We wanted to see how to get back quickly.
We did to go into the analysis of the coup. Certain people had not played their role, but if we started blaming them we would lose their contribution because too much distrust would have developed.

We planned how to come back. It’s a long story, but I was part of the 1972 invasion planners. I organised the flight business that pilot Tom Lalobo messed up.

We worked with people like Yona Kanyomozi, who was then working in Nairobi. We organised two other pilots to fly with him (Lalobo). But he left them in a hotel and crushed the plane in Arusha because he was not sufficiently experienced. Everything fell apart.

Back in Uganda
I came back in 1979 or 1980 after Amin and Lule had crashed out. I never participated in the Lule government and Moshi Conference. I did not believe in Moshi people.
People who participated in Moshi had no knowledge of security. They were academic people in exile; others even blamed Julius Nyerere for “invading” Uganda.
The chief convener, Prof. Tarsis Kabwegyere, said Nyerere invaded Uganda in the 1972 incident, instead of being thankful to him.

I also never believed in the Lule administration. I believed in the military. I said [to myself], although we bungled in 1972, we had another chance. We were working with the Musevenis but at different levels.

I was [President Godfrey] Binaisa’s Special Assistant working between Tanzanian intelligence and State House.
Unfortunately, like Obote, Binaisa was not a military man. The military had a big say after Lule had been pushed.

People like Museveni, then Minister of State for Defence, started massively recruiting under FRONASA. The Acholi, Langi, Iteso did the same, leading to many ethnic armies.

As I said, my work involved intelligence with the Tanzanians. That is when I realised that the Bazilio Okellos and Tito Okellos were planning to throw out Binaisa. They planned to assassinate him.

We arranged to meet them in Lubiri barracks. I appealed to Gen. David Msuguri, the commander of the Tanzanian People’s Defence Forces in Uganda.

He said, “I did not come here to run Ugandan government but to drive out Amin. We have accomplished that, how Uganda moves forward it’s entirely your business. Sort it out.”

But he said he would not allow any UNLA unit to shoot at the presidency. He also promised to attend the Lubiri meeting. Msuguri sent his deputy.

I also contacted the late Paulo Muwanga. I told him, “the way things are moving, we might have a problem. We need to rescue the situation.

You talk to Museveni and a few other people.” Unfortunately, Binaisa had just dismissed Paulo Muwanga as Minister of Defence. So there wasn’t much help.

Binaisa faces assassination

When I told Binaisa about the assassination, he said, “what can I do? I have nothing. Only God can defend me. I leave it to him.”

That is when he started making very hasty, untenable, decisions and ridiculous appointments. He made Oyite Ojoke ambassador to Algeria (after dismissing him as Army Chief of Staff, changed the then Minister of State for Defence Yoweri Museveni to Minister for Regional Co-operation and named Defence Minister Paulo Muwanga ambassador to Geneva).

Muwanga was actually dismissed by Binaisa’s wife during breakfast at State House Entebbe. We were there, she descended from upstairs and said, “I want that man out of here, he should go.” I think there was bad blood among them.

The dismissals were because of panic, bad advice.
Later on, I came to Nile Hotel where I used to stay. I went to Bazilio Okello and Tito Okello (the conspirators) in room 226. Down stairs I met Paulo Muwanga. I told him, “you were chairman Defence Committee, you were in charge of these men, things are getting out of hand, go and talk to them.”

Muwanga fuels plot
Muwanga went there but since he had a grudge against Binaisa, he got involved, fuelled it and became a catalyst.

I told my friends; Emmanuel Tumusiime Mutebile who was Binaisa’s Personal Secretary for Economic Affairs, Ben Dramadri who was Binaisa’s Principal Private Secretary that things have taken a very sharp turn.
They said “let’s go and brief Binaisa [in Entebbe].” The three of us went to Binaisa and told him. He did not pay much attention.

It was about 7:30p.m. I told him, “Your Excellency, if you don’t see us tomorrow, at 7:30a.m., it means there is no government.”

We came back to Nile Hotel where we were staying.
I went straight to room 226 in Nile Hotel, which was like the nerve centre. I found there Tito Okello, Bazilio and a few other army officers in the thick of it, planning.

We could not find Museveni; personally I was looking for him. Mobile telephones weren’t there; you had to look for someone physically. Museveni always had heavy escorts and we knew he had his own plans.

The following day when we went back to State House (Entebbe), Binaisa was not really in control. Oyite Ojok and a few other officers were in full control. People had started confining him, he had no access to Radio Uganda.

We again told him, “We are going back to Kampala but if you don’t see us tomorrow morning, it means there is no power.” He did not take us seriously.

Arrested by escort
Within no time, my escort came, knocked and saluted me.
He said: “sorry, sir. I am sorry. I have bad news for you. My first reaction was, “may be they have already shot Binaisa.” I said “what has happened?”

He said, “I am under instructions to arrest you, keep you here under house arrest.” I said “from where? Are you joking?” He said “from 226.” I said “can I go to 226?” He said “no, just stay here.” I said “okay, I will wait.”

We were on the same floor with Dramadri, Tumusiime [Mutebile]. I told them “prepare for the worst, my escort has locked me; I am under instructions to remain in my room, sooner than later they will come for you.” Which they did, they went and told them, “don’t move.”
Mutebile had been anticipating it. They told him to go to 221, it was an operation room. When I went there, I found they had taken him there. They were saying “these are the people who know Binaisa’s secrets.”

They wanted to shoot him. I remember I said, “don’t hurt him, he has been handling economic affairs, he had nothing to do with security, I am the one.”
The man in charge of the operations room was Col. Ogole, now in London exile. He said, “Aggrey, go back to your room.”

I said, “but sir, I prefer this man comes with me.” He said okay. They brought him from the balcony. That was the beginning of my stay in Nile Hotel for the duration of the Military Commission.

Life in Nile Hotel
Binaisa was [by now] under detention in Entebbe. But life in Nile Hotel was comfortable. I can’t complain. There was no mistreatment. Our food was part of State House.

We never [wore] shoes but the detention left us freedom to communicate with the outside world. You stayed in the room, never left the building, but we received visitors.
Once, we were taken to Muwanga’s room at Nile Hotel. He said, “we are holding your former boss, don’t worry. No harm will come to you, we shall find a way of using your talents.”

I did not request him to release me but I was busy planning for the elections. I started organising to stand in Nakawa while in detention.

The detention started the day Binaisa was ousted (May 1980), and we were released towards the December 1980 elections.

We sent a message to Obote who had just returned from exile and he instructed Muwanga to let us out. Obote was not yet president but it was obvious he was running the show.

Leaving Nile Hotel
I never went home. By then UPC was organising. One of the bodyguards took us to Impala Avenue (Kololo) where Obote stayed and UPC campaign materials were being distributed.

I stayed there but continued to use my room.
As a candidate, I was given a Land Rover. I narrowly lost in Nakawa to a DP candidate, Ojok Muloozi (RIP).
I learnt later that the few votes I lost were in Mbuya Barracks. Some soldiers thought they were voting for Maj. Gen. Oyite Ojok.

They couldn’t differentiate between Muloozi Ojok and Oyite Ojok. But UPC won and things did not go too well.

Third arrest
The third time, I was briefly detained in February1982 by Luwuriza Kirunda, then Minister of Internal Affairs. He was like next to Obote, becoming more and more powerful.

Because I wasn’t a minister but was close to Obote, added to my connections in the army, Kirunda thought (knew) I was trying to stage a coup. It’s true I was planning a coup to remove the government, but I won’t give details.

There were some people surrounding Obote whom we did not like - the Luwurizas and [Chris] Rwakasisis (now on death row in Luzira).

Luwuriza knew of my plan and he wanted to arrest me. Actually, one time he came and surrounded my room. Obote had gone to Congo (Zaire then). When he came back, he summoned me at the Fourth Floor of Parliament in the presence of [current minister of State for Industry], Prof. Kamuntu Ephraim.

Kamuntu thought I was going to be detained. Obote said, “You are stubborn, who is in charge of this country, you or me?” I said: “You Sir.”
Then he said: “okay, you go, I will call you later. Next time he called, he said, “I am sending you to Washington as ambassador.”

As UPC chairman Kampala, I was disorganising Kampala with matooke prices. I was trying to cut down inflation by regulating its price. One couldn’t sell beyond a certain price, hence creating discontent for Obote (from traders).

Lessons
Political uncertainties are always pregnant with other implications but hope in all that kept me going.
I learnt never to give up, even under stress and never to unnecessarily antagonise people. You never know when you will need them.

These people who saved me in Malire are people I casually met in Bamunanika not knowing that one day they would save my life. If I had been arrogant to them, I would not be alive.

Eventually, when Jack Munyenyezi was arrested with Amin’s senior army officers and taken to Luzira, I organised for him and many other people, like [the current Assistant Coach of the Uganda Cranes] Paul Ouma to escape. We have since then been friends with the Munyenyezi family.

I also learnt never to underestimate any person, no matter who there are. People underestimated Museveni in 1980/81.

Obote ignored me when I told him to make a deal with Museveni to come out of the bush. He said, “no, we shall finish him in the bush.” But now who has been here for [over] 20 years?

Law prevails today
One thing I can say is that things now are very much under the law; nobody is being detained.
I won’t say unfairly but on political impulse.
Obviously my friends in FDC won’t agree with me but now to be detained you have to be somehow associated with security. It’s not like in the past where even being a member of a particular tribe was bad enough.

A man like Henry Tumukunde should never compare himself with any of the previous political or military detainees. His situation is like mine in Nile Mansions, very comfortable. This business of court martial, Dr. Kizza Besigye’s rape case, it’s all politics; nothing serious.

mcmubs@ugandaobserver.com