to arrest Okumu during night meeting at State House
In the nineth part of our series on politicians who
have endured imprisonment on account of their political
association [or suspicion], MICHAEL MUBANGIZI talks
to Aswa County MP and Shadow Cabinet Foreign Affairs Minister
RONALD REAGAN OKUMU:
I was born on July 25, 1969 in Gulu district. I graduated
with a degree in Social Sciences from Makerere University
I worked in Adjumani district as Coordinator for Research
and Documentation with UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner
On January 2, 1995 I was appointed Investigation Officer
in the IGG’s Office. Towards the end of 1995, I got
interested in politics and contested in the 1996 parliamentary
elections in Aswa County, Gulu district and won.
We wanted to bring the issue of the war in northern Uganda
to the national agenda. Apart from a few newspaper reports,
there was no debate about it even in Parliament. Government
did not want the truth about the war told.
In 1996, government started sending our people to camps
and [Maj. Roland] Kakooza Mutale started preparing people
for an eminent war different from Kony’s. Mutale taught
people the likely difficulties and how to take cover in
case it started.
That drew me close to a clash with government. I couldn’t
stand and see. We petitioned the President about Mutale’s
I was the Secretary of the Acholi Parliamentary Group. I
was also at the forefront of fighting human rights violations
by the army. They were killing, raping people and doing
all sorts of things.
I clashed with many people, including Division Commander
James Kazini. He was very atrocious. We raised delayed soldiers’
salaries and ghost soldiers much earlier, in 1996. Soldiers
walked barefoot or in slippers.
| Okumu the father with his
We publicised the misery, humanitarian crisis in northern
Uganda worldwide to diplomats, Congressmen, State Department
and Commonwealth offices. We lobbied Americans to do parallel
investigations about the conflict in northern Uganda.
USAID appointed Prof. Robert Glasson who investigated and
published a report, ‘The Anguish of northern Uganda’.
We pushed a parliamentary hearing about the conflict. Parliament
in 1996 formed the Defence and Internal Affairs committee
to investigate the war.
The committee held public hearings and people gave testimonies
of atrocities committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army
(LRA) and government forces. The most interesting was the
testimony by [Lt. Gen.] David Tinyefuza who was on kateebe
(un-deployed) at the time.
He said that the war should end militarily within a certain
time frame. If government can’t end it militarily,
he said, it must swallow its pride and talk to the rebels.
And that if government refuses to talk to the rebels, the
leadership must pack their bags and leave State House because
they would have failed state management.
It caused him problems, but his testimony helped us politically.
Because of our [effort], we gained prominence in the North.
During the 2001 elections, Dr. Kizza Besigye appointed me
his campaign agent. I became his northern coordinator. We
trounced President Museveni. He was extremely annoyed, more
so with me for undermining his victory there, publicising
the truth about the war and penetrating the diplomatic community
that he feared more, compared to the local opinion.
I wrote a letter to President Museveni after the 2001 elections,
explaining why he lost and why people would never vote for
him [in the North]. When he refused to reply, I leaked the
letter to the papers and it was published. Intelligence
reports started classifying me as rebel collaborator.
When the rebellion started in Lango, there was the Citizen
Army. My name again came up, it was alleged that I was recruiting
people into it.
Brig. Henry Tumukunde was the Chief of Military Intelligence.
I wrote to him to clarify. I said I am informed that I
am a rebel collaborator, recruiting people in the Citizen
Army, can you clarify to me why you haven’t approached
me to ask [about it]. He never wrote back.
We formed Reform Agenda (after the 2001 elections) where
I was Vice Chairperson and Secretary for Foreign Affairs.
They thought I was linking LRA with Besigye.
State House meeting
It became a big problem for me to the extent that the President,
I think in 2002, invited me to State House through the Speaker
of Parliament, Edward Ssekandi.
I was driving to Entebbe to receive some guests when Ssekandi
called at about 5:00p.m. “Please come back,”
he said. I said “I am in Kajjansi, the plane is landing.”
He insisted, “please turn and come back.” I
turned and arrived at his office at about six. He said,
“The President has been looking for you since morning.
You sit down, I call him.”
The President told him to go with me at 8:00p.m. At 8:00p.m.,
I went to State House with Edward Ssekandi. He (Museveni)
started quarrelling, throwing files at the table, saying,
“I am going to arrest you (Okumu).”
He would tell Ssekandi, “He (Okumu) is a rebel collaborator.”
He talked for about 45 minutes, threatening me with arrest
and all that. We were only three; the Speaker was quiet,
he was just an observer.
I turned to him and said, “Your Excellency, if I
am a rebel collaborator, then I think you are the problem.
Because how could you allow a rebel collaborator to walk
“You could have taken me to court or asked Police
to take a statement from me. You have done none of these!”
I told him it was all ‘intelligence gossip’.
He got up and said, “If this is the case Mr. Speaker,
I am going to arrest him, I am going to deal with him. He
is misleading people in the North. He is a mis-leader.”
I stood firm and said, “Mr. President, I am misleading
who? You arrest me if you have evidence and we go to court.”
Later, he picked a phone and called [Brig. Noble] Mayombo
and Aronda [Nyakairima] who was in charge of ‘Operation
Iron Fist’ to get clarification on the report written
Change of heart
Then he turned to me, “Reagan, you know these
people (Mayombo and Aronda) are young, they don’t
know how to work. I am sorry, you know sometimes they make
mistakes, but I am sorry, but I want to work with you.”
That was his first apology to me. We talked up to midnight
when we left.
The following day at 7:00a.m., he called me on my landline
at home. I picked the phone, “This is State House,
the President wants to talk to you.”
He (President) said, “Reagan, I am sorry about yesterday
but I want to work with you. I want to listen to you. I
am leading this country; I will leave it to you, young people.
We politicians ours is life on earth. So don’t listen
to religious leaders, theirs is life after death.”
I understood that to mean that I was being misled and pushed
by the religious leaders in the North. I told him that it
was not the case. He asked me, “How do you think the
war in the North can be ended?”
He was going to Gulu that weekend. He said, “You
come to Gulu and we continue with the dialogue.” I
said, “Your Excellency, I can’t just follow
you. Make an appointment, I will come. I don’t refuse
to meet you.”
I never followed him but sometimes he invited me and I
had several engagements with him. I visited him in Gulu
Barracks about two or three times, talking about peace [in
Rumours of arrest
I was arrested in 2005, but I started hearing rumours of
treason charges being framed against me in 2003. Somehow
I had allies telling me what was going on.
The diplomats were also friendly to me, they were told
a lot of things. One time a diplomat told me the government
had told them that I was a rebel collaborator. They wanted
to arrest me.
Another one asked me, “Reagan, why don’t I
get you a scholarship and you go for your PhD abroad?”
My wife also knew, wherever I was travelling she asked me,
“Reagan, be careful.”
She would call me every time asking, “Reagan, where
have you reached? Have you reached safely? Are you okay?”
They penetrated my office in Gulu through my political assistant,
Tony Kitara, who was paid and enrolled as an operative [I
think in CMI] to monitor me. I threw him out of my office
when I found out. Surprisingly, he came as a [state] witness
in court when I was arrested.
So when the fateful day in March 2005 came, Oulanyah Christopher,
an LC-1 chairman in Gulu, Gulu Municipality MP, David Penyto,
then a councillor in Gulu, and Ochan Laryang, an ordinary
man from my constituency, were arrested for alleged attempted
murder and later murder and taken to [Gulu] Police.
At 3p.m. that day, the army took them to the Gulu Barracks.
I wrote to Internal Affairs minister Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda
and Amama Mbabazi, then Minister of Defence, protesting
why the military were getting interested in Police matters.
The three suspects were asked to implicate me in some charges
in return for their freedom but they refused. That added
pressure on me to fight for them, but it created enmity
for me from the government.
They were later transferred to Kampala CID headquarters
and charged with attempted murder of a former RDC of Gulu,
one Ochaya. Ochaya was killed in a rebel ambush in 1997.
Surprisingly, the charges changed when they were taken to
Buganda Road Court.
They were charged with the murder of this Pabbo man, [Alfred]
I told them accept, we shall fight it in court. I started
an aggressive campaign, getting them lawyers, calling for
a speedy hearing, visiting them in Luzira Prison.
All this created enmity for me in government. It was a
matter of time. The idea was to arrest and intimidate many
people for them to win the 2006 elections in the Acholi
sub-region. The fear was that Museveni would not get any
vote in Acholi if I was around. I should be in prison by
the 2006 elections.
On March 17, 2005, around mid-day, while in the Parliament
Library, the Speaker of Parliament, Edward Ssekandi, called
me. He said, “Reagan, the CID was looking for you.
This is her number, call her.”
Around 1:00p.m., I called the CID Director, [Elizabeth]
“Madam Director, I understand you were looking for
me,” I said.
She said she wanted me in the morning. The (Parliament)
session was about to begin, I told her I would get to her
at about 3:00p.m.
I had a lot of work, I had not even taken lunch.
I confidently went to talk to her. We chatted. Then an
Assistant Commissioner of Police whose name I don’t
remember came in and she (Kutesa) said, “Reagan, you
go with this officer to his office.”
I said “what is the matter?”
“There is some thing, we will explain,” he
said. When we reached there, the guy said “I want
to take your statement.”
I asked, “Statement on what?”
“About the murder.” I said “murder?”
“Yes,” he said. I repeated “murder! Murder
of who?” He said Alfred Bongomin of Pabbo.
I laughed and asked, “Who told you?”
He said “Reagan, I am just doing my duty, I am not
the one who got this information.”
I said fine, but this is political propaganda, intimidation
and harassment because we are heading for elections. It
will not stand the test of time.
I was not surprised at the arrest, only the charge. I thought
they would charge me with treason.
After the statement at 4:30p.m., I asked to go.
He said “no, you wait.” I said I left my office
open but he insisted that I wait.
MP Ocula in
I did not know that the Speaker had also communicated to
Michael Ocula. He came after me and also made a statement.
Somebody came in with a huge file, a walk talkie, looked
around with telephones and what have you. I could see he
was restless. I noticed he feared telling me the next step.
Finally, he said “Reagan, we are going to court.”
I said “to court? Over what?”
“Over this matter,” he said.
I asked, “Officer, if you wanted to take me to court,
why didn’t you tell me to come with my lawyer? Who
do you want to represent me?” He said, “you
have a mobile phone, call your lawyer.”
I called [the chairman of Acholi Parliamentary Group and
Chua County MP], Livingstone Okello Okello. He called other
lawyers who rushed to court with some MPs.
We were driven in a grey double cabin pick up truck by plain
clothed people. They had walk talkies and were very busy
on mobile phones. The Assistant Commissioner of Police sat
We arrived at Buganda Road Court at 5:05p.m and moved into
The magistrate came in and read the charges. When she said
“Reagan Okumu, 47 years,” I said “I am
not 47.” I was 36 then.
But she said she was reading what was written.
The magistrate said the court had no powers to try us; we
were remanded to Luzira Maximum Security Prison. We were
not handcuffed. I was in a suit. I removed my watch, wallet,
phone, car and office keys and asked somebody to give them
to my wife. The same vehicle took us to Luzira.
As we were going, [former Bugweri County MP] Abdu Katuntu
gave me about Shs 40,000. He said go with it, the prison
people might take it or you could buy something.
We passed via Nile Avenue, Garden City, joined Jinja Road.
We moved in three vehicles, one patrol car in front and
another behind us. I said to Ocula, “I did not know
we were so powerful and important like this.” I was
laughing, but Ocula was tense. He never expected to be arrested.
He almost slapped a Police officer.
It was approaching 7:00p.m. when we arrived in Luzira. We
were handed to an officer who I think was a military not
a Police officer. We were ordered to remove shoes and belts.
People were locked inside except the East Wing, the political
wing for political prisoners where we were taken. They call
it a high profile place where they accord VIP treatment
and allow prisoners to cook.
There are two other wings; the condemned section, where
people like Chris Rwakasisi live, and the general prisoners’
People who received us were mainly treason suspects, Dr.
Kizza Besigye’s co-accused. They were perturbed when
they saw us.
One of them cried, “But Reagan, it’s you who
has been fighting for us, now you have joined us?”
We felt at home because people we found there knew us.
They were suffering, but very sympathetic to us. The first
day was a learning process. We asked basic questions, what
takes place, and needs of the place. There was no food,
only inmates supported us. They gave us a bucket to urinate
in and a flask for tea, sugar and bread.
I was locked with Ocula in a high walled room, about 2
metres wide, 4 metres long and 15 metres high. They (PRA
suspects) threw us some blankets. A prisoner warder locked
from outside and walked away.
Ocula thought that was the end of the road, he couldn’t
believe that he was in Luzira. He did not take tea until
around 11:00p.m. I tried to comfort him. We talked through
the night and slept a few hours. Ocula told me how his plans
had been interrupted.
At 6:30a.m., they (treason suspects) opened and called
us to go and watch WBS news. There was a TV in that wing.
They told us that when going to court, you wake up at 6:00a.m.,
board the bus and spend the whole day at Buganda Road Court
where relatives bring you food.
The other prisoners cooked for us and ate with us. The
officers also told us to ask our people to bring us shorts
so as to play football.
Ocula, my roommate, was a friend but all those people in
our wing became my friends.
We were in the same wing with [Joseph] Musasizi, Dr. Kizza
Besigye’s brother. He is punished for nothing. Unlike
Besigye, he is not a politician. Living and interacting
with him, [I discovered] he is instead a business-minded
One of them, Simon Toolit, now Omoro County MP, gave me
his shirt, another gave me a trouser. I used the money Katuntu
gave me to buy slippers for myself and for other inmates.
Later that day, we watched a parliamentary debate about
[Internal Affairs minister Ruhakana] Rugunda was defending
the un-defendable. “We have evidence, investigations
are complete,” he was saying.
My wife visited me with our two children, one five years
and the other two and half. She was so tense. When I hugged
my wife, they said this is not allowed here. My intention
was to console her, tell her what we needed.
So many people visited and brought me money. I remember
the first lot was about 20 MPs, then seven. I spent three
quarters of my money helping other people.
I met them in the OC’s office. The next day I was
told to see my visitors through (iron bars). I refused.
That day they really sabotaged me. They sent people to call
me to meet my visitors. When I was about to enter the OC’s
office, they would direct me to the wire mesh to meet them
there. I would walk back. That happened on three invitations.
The forth time I told them, “Go and tell the OC that
I am not going to see my visitors in that place, if he doesn’t
want them to see me, let the visitors go.” Even Ocula
refused. The visitors were many. They crowded the place.
Death in prison
I wrote a letter to the OC, objecting to seeing visitors
through iron bars. I also told him to allow me basic things
like medicine, my own food, mattress and blanket, and complained
about things prisoners had told me; the overcrowding, bedbugs,
In the first week, I saw three dead bodies taken outside.
I asked “what is that being carried on stretchers?”
They said dead bodies. They had died in the prison health
centre of stomach problems - cholera. They weren’t
killed. It was poor sanitation, poor food, and more especially
poor medical care.
The food for the prisoners was so bad, it could cause sickness.
That death rate was very dangerous. Prisoners got posho
in the morning at 9:00a.m. and posho at 4:00p.m.
The OC, one Bananura, was very furious. He called me in
his office, “Who do you think you are? You are now
a prisoner, no longer MP.” I told him look, “I
am on remand, not convicted. I am entitled to my rights,
you can’t treat me the way you treat the convicted.”
He continued, “you want to cause a strike here, why
don’t you talk about yourself, why talk about other
people?” I said “no, I am an MP, I have to talk.
I can only save myself by saving the rest.”
He got tense, his logic seeing my reasoning, but his job
“Reagan, I also have a family to feed, children to
pay school fees for and a duty. I am not just going to listen
to this. I know we were at campus at the same time but I
have a duty to do,” he said.
Eventually they accepted. I met my visitors in one of the
rooms, and my wife was allowed to get me medicine, food
and a mattress. But it caused me problems. They started
limiting my interaction with other people. They don’t
allow political prisoners to mix with the rest. They fear
you can offer leadership and mobilise them into a strike.
The idea is to isolate you so that you don’t plan.
We were only allowed to walk out at 4:00p.m when others
were locked in. But when other prisoners learnt that I wasn’t
allowed to talk to them, we changed tactics. They started
inviting me for church services to preach.
I go to the Catholic Church but since they wanted me to
talk to them, they scheduled time for their prayers at different
intervals so that at least once a week, I was able to attend
both [Catholic and born-again services].
Refusing to squat
At 6:00a.m. the day we went to court, prisoners were squatting
in a line, two by two. They (Prison authorities) read names,
counted and then separated you in pairs; going to Buganda
Road, High Court, Mengo, Nakawa courts.
Ours was Buganda Road.
An officer told me to squat. I told him I am not going
to squat. Why should I squat, Is it law or what? That was
an abuse. That was my second rebellion in Luzira, after
refusing to talk through the bars.
He insisted, “You think this is Parliament?”
I said “I am still an MP.”
The bus was overcrowded; over 160 people, some standing.
By the time we reached Kitintale, I was almost suffocating.
People were many at Buganda Road Court. You were supposed
to squat as you got out of the bus until they told you to
walk. I remained standing.
We walked into a cell in the court. People came, shook
hands and talked to us through the bars. I wasn’t
familiar with these court procedures. They took us upstairs.
The door was made in such a way that from the cell you entered
I saw many diplomats, FDC supporters, some of my relatives,
my mum in the packed court. She had travelled all the way
She was really paralysed. I am her last born. She came and
greeted me. Then the magistrate whose name I don’t
remember read the charges - murder of Bongomin.
Surprisingly, the prosecutor told court that investigations
were still going on, yet the previous day Rugunda had told
Parliament that investigations were complete!
We were immediately taken back to Luzira at 10:00a.m. contrary
to what we had been told. I had told my wife to bring us
food. But we weren’t allowed to eat it.
Bishop Odama visits
I received many high profile visitors who touched me, like
Archbishop [John Baptist] Odama and Bishop Ochola. It meant
a lot when diplomats, an archbishop, bishop visited.
The rest weren’t visited and psychologically they
Diplomats from all European countries, America, Japan and
others visited me as a team.
I was shabbily dressed, in slippers, when I met them.
I did not know the people I was meeting when I was invited.
I left my slippers out on entering the OC’s office.
It shocked them.
Some of them asked the OC, “You mean you don’t
allow him to wear shoes?”
He said “no, he is allowed.”
I was very frank when they asked me. I repeated what I
had written to the OC. The guy was just sneezing. He said
“Reagan, this is very bad.” They thought being
under them, I would fear revealing these things, but I told
them the condition of other prisoners is even worse.
Three quarters of the about 2,600 prisoners were on remand
for an average of four years, some had never been taken
to court. Then they asked something unusual, “can
we go and see where Reagan sleeps?”
They were surprised. The PRO looked at the OC and the OC
looked at the PRO. Ordinarily they would have wanted to
clear with their bosses, but now it wasn’t easy. They
I was told to go in first. A prison warder was sent in
advance to clear bad things, heaps of rubbish, and clean
the toilets. The diplomats saw how squeezed we were, where
we were urinating, the water, food, the toilets near where
One diplomat told me as she walked out, Reagan, it’s
a bad situation but don’t mind, you won’t be
here long. “Reagan, it’s a bad situation but
don’t mind, you won’t be here long.”
I was ready to spend a year in prison. I wasn’t worried
of losing an election, my only prayer was for them to allow
me get nominated in absentia. I was sure of winning. In
fact, I was telling friends that I would [embarrass] the
government by defeating them in absentia.
We were given bail after one month. Our relatives wanted
to grab us, but the prison authorities took us back to the
court cell to sign forms and finish some formalities.
We matched to Parliament. FDC supporters hired an open
roof vehicle that took us. Deputy Speaker of Parliament,
Rebecca Kadaga, was in the chair; she stopped the session
and welcomed us. FDC also organised an impromptu party at
City Hall before we went home.
When we visited Gulu, a crowd of over 10,000 people received
us about 10km outside Gulu town. We entered Gulu the way
Jesus entered Jerusalem. People carried us on their shoulders,
women threw mats for us to walk on.
This infuriated government.
In my constituency, again thousands of people received
us. My lawyer Sam Njuba, FDC MPs; Prof. Ogenga Latigo, Odonga
Otto, Christopher Kibanzanga and former Workers MP, Martin
Wandera, accompanied me. I remember Njuba told me, “Reagan,
FDC will sweep this place.”
People organised that I address them at Kaunda Grounds.
It was a big crowd but as we matched, the army, Police deployed
mambas, buffalos and tanks. We arrived at about 4:30p.m.,
people started cheering but mambas stopped them. You must
have read that story.
I wasn’t [physically] tortured but you are tortured
by denial of basic facilities like the day I did not see
But I was told of and saw many torture victims. I took their
records and [details of] their torturers. Many complained
of torture by CMI and VCCU (Violent Crime Crack Unit) operatives.
I disclosed this information to human rights organisations.
I never planned to escape, but the way I saw Luzira, if
they had continuously kept me, despite calling it maximum
security, I would have had the capacity to escape. First
of all, the prison warders are poorly paid. I could connive
or even escape with anybody on duty.
Being hopeful kept me going. With my innocence, I knew
justice would prevail. There were also many people fighting
for me in FDC, diplomats and human rights organisations.
Besides, I put my hope in God.
I also read Nelson Mandela’s ‘Long Walk to
Freedom’, the difficulties he went through. It gave
me confidence that I was neither the first nor the last
to be imprisoned.
I took time in Luzira as a retreat to plan politically.
Some of my plans succeeded. For example, I plotted to throw
out all Movement MPs in the North. I encouraged councillor
David Penyto to stand in Gulu Municipality. Four of us MPs
from Gulu were in Luzira; myself, Penyto, Ocula and Simon
But the imprisonment damaged my reputation. When I came
out, I fed my name into Google and got some newspaper article
in South Africa where the headline was, ‘Murder MPs’.
The people who read that may not have read the ruling.
But the most frustrating thing in Luzira is not food but
detention without trial. People are on remand beyond the
mandatory period of detention. The good thing is the learning
experience, it energised me to fight for innocent people.
After my release, I received many calls from Prison authorities,
warders, congratulating me. I wrote a letter to the OC thanking
them for the time I was with them; the good things they
did, their protection and co-operation, and apologised for
the inconvenience I had caused them. I also forgave their
shortcomings. I don’t take those people as the problem.
I am reliably told that President Museveni ordered my arrest.
He was under pressure from Betty Aketch and Col. Charles
Otema who created wrong reports about me to remain in his
But there are some people I still find difficult to forgive.
The witnesses, including my two assistants who testified
against me, I can forgive, but I find it difficult to forgive
the NRM system.
I also find it difficult to forgive President Museveni
because if you are a president who stoops low to fight flies,
an elephant to fight a fly! I think I am just a small fly
compared to him. They could have persuaded me to support
I remember after I was released in May, in June Museveni
was opening Parliament. I went to greet him and he said,
“But you Reagan, I have been running up and down,
but I always hear you are in this controversy, controversy,
“I here you are in Luzira, why? Why all that?”
Of course he was just sarcastic. He was the chief architect;
the man who ordered. Eventually he said, “Okay, don’t
mind, we shall sort it out.” I smiled and said, “Your
Excellency sir, don’t mind, the courts will sort it
The court made its ruling in January 9, 2006 and dismissed
the case, describing it as “a crude and amateurish
attempt at creative work.”
The ruling was devastating for government, no single ground
was taken. The judge belittled all the witnesses.
The Prime Minister, Prof. Apolo Nsibambi, told me in front
of Parliament: “Now you cool down, stop making noise,
don’t make those statements as we sort it out.”
Hon. Jacob Oulanyah, the former MP for Omoro County, also
confronted me. “Don’t talk, we can talk to government,
to the DPP, to withdraw that matter.”
That is why I find it difficult to forgive government. They
frame you, then after you are embarrassed, mistreated, they
come and say, “okay we can withdraw.”