NEW SERIES: MY PRISON LIFE
 
 
January 26, 2007
I survived a hail of bullets at Mbarara

In the tenth part of our series on politicians who have endured imprisonment on account of their political association [or suspicion], MICHAEL MUBANGIZI talks Former UPC heavy weight MAJ. EDWARD RURANGARANGA

I was born in 1932 to Mariam Kakaikuru and Yacob Ruzindana in Kajara County, [presently] Ntungamo district.
I grew up as a small boy tending my parent’s goats. I started school in 1936 but was discontinued in 1938 because I was young.
I could not go to another school far from my home. Besides, there was no money. I stayed at home for nine years and restarted school after 13 years.

There were only two secondary schools in Ankole; Mbarara High School and Nyamitanga Junior School. For secondary, I went to Nyakasura School where I was a prefect.

In [1953] when the Kabaka of Buganda was deported, we organised a sit-down strike. The British had deposed an African king, there was no way Africans could praise the move.

We did not go to class, have lunch or breakfast. There was no teargas then. You could show your displeasure. Those are my political roots. Being a prefect was also political. To lead others at that level, you had to be politically oriented.

I trained as an agricultural instructor at Bukalasa [Agricultural College] and was posted at Lubaale Agricultural Experimental Farm in Sheema for two years. I was later transferred to Kyabugimbi and later Mitooma sub-counties for one year.

There was recruiting at Bukalasa for people to train as teachers to teach agriculture in schools, so I joined as a certificate teacher. I thought it would give me accommodation and a permanent place rather than moving from village to village as I was doing in agriculture. When I completed in 1959, I was posted to Kitagata Primary School.

In 1960, there were elections for members of the Ankole eishengero (kingdom parliament).
People of Kitagata asked me to stand and I was elected. Only two parties DP and UPC, which I had just joined, participated.
Earlier, MPs in the Legco (legislative council - parliament) had started a political party, Uganda Peoples Union (UPU) that I joined in 1952. The leader at the time was Ankole representative William Wilberforce Rwetsiba.

In the quest for self internal governance, Legco members in 1959 saw a need to merge the parties to make them stronger to mobilise Ugandans [for independence].
Uganda National Congress (UNC) and UPU merged on March 9, 1960. I attended the merger meeting in Kampala.

Rurangaranga today

UPC is born
Both UPU and UNU had the name Uganda, so we agreed that the new party must have the name ‘Uganda’. UPU had ‘people’, so we said “The peoples of Uganda”. The people of Uganda should join to make a congress. We adopted the word ‘congress’ and it became Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) or the Congress of the people of Uganda, under Apollo Milton Obote. Rwetsiba wasn’t chosen. He was a parliamentary secretary in the protectorate government. He couldn’t serve the British government and oppose it by supporting the self-government cause. So I am a UPC founder member.

Many people who attended the merger meeting are dead. They include Legco members; Apollo Milton Obote (Lango), George Magezi (Bunyoro), John Babiiha (Tororo), William Wilberforce Rwetsiba and Constantine Katiti (Ankole); John Rwamafa (Kigezi), William Wilberforce Nadiope (Busoga), Peter Olar (Acholi) and Cuthbert Obwangor (Teso).

I have since been active in UPC. I am currently the UPC Chairman for Bushenyi district and a member the UPC governing council, the Central Executive.

Well, you would say we are the people who elected Mama Miria [Obote] as party leader, but I will explain. On the executive committee, sometimes decisions that you don’t like are made, but they bind you under collective responsibility. So when you say we elected Mama Miria, it’s true.

Opposing Miria Obote
I was part of the [electorate] but I did not give her (Miria) my vote. I voted Patrick Mwondha. But since she was elected, I respect her. You can’t have two party presidents at a time.

She was not only a wife outside UPC party organs but a woman who had been away from Uganda for the last 30 years.
She had not acquainted herself with problems Ugandans experienced and did not know how much Ugandans and UPC had suffered.
Considering those facts, some of us thought that we were making a mistake to say that this lady could do much and indeed she did not manage to compete in elections with Yoweri Museveni, Kizza Besigye, Ssebaana Kizito and Dr. Abed Bwanika.

It’s also true that I did not give her my vote [in the presidential elections]. I can’t reveal who I voted for, but I did not vote her. I know you reporters can provoke somebody but I won’t reveal. I did not vote for Museveni, I did not vote for Miria but I voted.

Under arrest
I was arrested a month after Idi Amin’s coup on February 22, 1971 by Uganda Army soldiers in my shop in Mbarara town.
About four soldiers came, they did not tell me anything; they only pulled me from the shop and forced me into a vehicle. I was taken to Simba Barracks in Mbarara where the army was.

I stayed there for two days. We were about 10; others had been picked from various places in Mbarara. They included Nekemiah Bananuka, who was then secretary general of Ankole district administration; one Mwiga who was accountant of Ankole’s eishengero (parliament), county chiefs of Kajara, Rwampara; Yowasi Makaru who was district councillor, and Chris Rwakasisi who worked in the President’s Office.

The suffering of two days in Simba Barracks was greater than the suffering I had experienced in the 39 years I had lived. We were thoroughly beaten, kicked and tortured by the soldiers.
They gave each one of us a pail full of posho to eat and finish. Imagine a pail full of ugali; how would you finish it? Then they brought meat, it was in plenty then. They said, “You have been chiefs, you have been eating. You eat and finish.” Each pail contained between 20 and 30 kgs; they expected us to eat both.

Then we were beaten for nothing using kiboko. Kiboko in Kiswahili means hippopotamus, so it’s a whip made out of a hippo skin. You can beat a whole district using that kiboko. How do you resist? Your innocence couldn’t save you.

When you hear that somebody has been under military torture, that’s it. They beat you with anything - like iron bars – anywhere; on the head, buttocks and chest. Those who have not seen that torture don’t know how much Ugandans have suffered.

To Makindye
After two days on February 24, 1971, we were transferred to Makindye where I stayed until June 1971.
The man who announced the 18 reasons why Amin overthrew Obote (Warrant Officer Class 11 Sam Wilfred Aswa) collected us to take us to be slaughtered at Bulange, Mengo, what used to be Republic House.

He said he was taking us to Kampala to answer charges. They said we had collected Shs 1million from people to send it to Obote who was in Tanzania, to help him come back. By that time a million shillings was unheard of. Even Ankole district [that comprised the whole of western Uganda] wouldn’t collect it.
There was an interesting case on the way to Kampala when we reached the road to Kampiringisa.

I was badly off, I asked to urinate.
They stopped the vehicle and we went out.
As I pulled out my thing to urinate, a man got a gun and pointed directly at it (penis). I couldn’t do it. I took the whole day without urinating.
At the entrance of Republic House were Lt. Col. Ndahendekire and Maj. Kamushana. They are all dead. They asked why we had been arrested. We said we didn’t know.

Surviving slaughter
Col. Ndahendekire directed that we be taken to Makindye. That is how we survived.
If you went to Lubiri you would definitely be mercilessly killed; cut into pieces with pangas and axes. People’s work there was to butcher others.

We had seen them; they had got out with axes, ready to finish us. By God’s grace we were directed to Makindye. They put us in a vehicle. We were not handcuffed; the army doesn’t have handcuffs.
We reached Makindye at around one o’clock.

[Brig. Hussein] Malera had just been appointed to man Makindye. What I saw there was untold suffering. We were lined up, made to lie down on the tarmac, facing the sun with eyes open.
The sun was just overhead, hitting us [directly] in the eyes. Then the soldiers stood on our stomachs. Thank God, the stomachs did not burst.

From there, we were taken to a ward called Singapore – it was called so because Obote had been overthrown while in Singapore [attending a Commonweath heads of government meeting].
People who went to Singapore never survived.

They would come at night, call so and so to get out. Those who got out were summarily killed and were never seen again. They were taken by APCs (Armoured Personnel Carriers). Where their bodies were dumped, only those who slaughtered them know.

Hacking of people was a normal thing in Makindye. I saw brains on the floor. Those we found there told us so and so had been tortured, hacked, especially by soldiers.
In Singapore, we were made to roll over several times. We found bones, skulls, blood. We were actually rolling in bones and streams of blood.

Beaten and kicked with iron bars, we bled till we could not move.
After that torture, they took us to the kitchen to eat. The same style of feeding; a pail of ugali and the leg of a cow.
They said, “You people, you have been chiefs, you like eating meat, eat. This is your last supper.”
After eating, we were taken to another ward.
In that ward there was no torture; we lived like ordinary prisoners, sleeping on the floor.

But I remember Janet, a woman from Lango.
The soldiers were smoking and they put cigarette ashes in her ear.
Bishop Yona, Wavamunno in [Gordon] Wavamunno was also arrested and he found me there. Wavamunno and [Chris] Rwakasisi had formed a company, Spear Tours, dealing in vehicle hiring. It was that business that caused Wavamunno to be arrested. His crime was operating a tours business against somebody. I think he had a conflict with a certain Nubian businessman or soldier.

Later, they brought in Joshua Wakholi who was a Minister of Public Service, and Bishop Yona Okoth who was later Archbishop of Church of Uganda.
Another time, they brought in the Minister of Works, Housing and Transport, Shaban Nkutu.

Because he was a UPC chairman, they made him dance on the floor. They said you must dance UPC style. Nkutu was later released and he went back to Jinja but he was picked again in 1972.
If you attended the re-burial of his bones, which I did, you should have heard the story narrated by his son, this man (Conrad Nkutu) in charge of Daily Monitor.

Released
We left prison on June 15, 1971. By then hacking had reduced; there was an outcry. Our lawyer, Godfrey Binaisa (later president), intervened, but we never went to court.

One day, a lieutenant came and read the out our names; Bananuka, Orach, Rurangaranga, Makaru, Wavamunno, and many others.
We thought either we were going to Luzira or to be slaughtered. Fortunately as we came out, we saw our lawyers. We went to the reception and changed into civilian clothes.

They said “do you want to go?” We said “yes”.
“Do you have anything in the store?” We said “yes” but we had no time for them. We left barefoot, leaving everything - shoes and what have you.

There was a car but the owner wasn’t comfortable driving. Wavamunno drove us to the bus park. At the taxi park, and we got buses, by 9:00 we were in Mbarara; then I got a vehicle to Kitagata. My family [members] thought it was the spirit not the human body when I knocked at the door. My wife had visited me a week earlier. It was by God’s kindness that we were released.

Second arrest
There was an invasion [by Ugandan exiles] from Tanzania on September 17, 1972. They invaded Mbarara and Masaka.
Among the invaders was a young man called Museveni. He came with them because he had lived in Tanzania. Many soldiers were butchered like grass hoppers. A few managed to return to Tanzania.
The hunt was on for UPC members and supporters. Some people opposed to us, even in UPC itself, gave our names to the army, saying these congressmen organised the invasion.

We were picked as a group, many people from Ankole, but few are still alive - like myself, former Bushenyi LC-V Chairman, Yowasi Makaru and Chris Rwakasisi.

I was picked from my home in Kitagata on September 19, 1972. We were having tea in the morning when four armed soldiers came.
They said the commanding officer of Simba Barracks [in Mbarara], one [Ali] Fadul, wanted me. He is in the condemned section in Luzira and was Local Government minister in the Amin government.

I asked “why?” They said “we have been asked to call you.” They also had some bananas because they were angry. I dressed up and we went in a white Peugeot vehicle, UUL 111. They are no longer in use. It belonged to a certain businessman in Bushenyi. The vehicle ran out of fuel when we reached Itendero [on Mbarara-Bushenyi road]. They returned it to the owner and got a taxi that belonged to an Indian.

Instead of seating me on one of the seats, they put me in the boot of the car when everybody was seeing. However big you were, you found a way of fitting there. If you did not, they would make you fit there.

So when they threw me there, I folded myself.
As we travelled to the border of Mbarara and Bushenyi, there is a river from Buhweju hills, Koga, a tributary that puts water in river Rwizi.

When we got there, the driver told a friend, “Let’s kill this man”.
He objected. “How can we kill a man we have been sent to collect? What shall we say?

What if the commanding officer goes there and realises we collected him, won’t we have problems?”
When we reached Mbarara stock farm, they got me out of the boot. Officers Fadul and [Yusuf] Gowan were here.
I operated buses from Rukungiri to Kampala.
Gowan said, “We are told your buses brought invaders from Tanzania.”

I said: “Sir, I was in Rukungiri, when I got to Kabwohe, I was told that Mbarara had been attacked. I went and parked my vehicle at home.”

One man said, “Look, this man has been our speaker in eishengyero (parliament); he is well known, don’t take him to the barracks, you can kill him anywhere.”
Gowan said, “Before we kill this man, since his buses are at home, let’s go there; may be we could get information. We could even find some rebels there.”

I went with Gowan and other soldiers in a saloon car to Kitagata. My father, wife, step-mother, wife, and all my children were there. Gowan checked here and there.

Letter to Amin
They found a letter we had written to Amin.
A man called Yuda Katundu had disappeared; we wanted to know his whereabouts.

They asked, “Why do you write to the president?” I told them he is the president of Uganda. I am a citizen, I have a right to write to the president asking him anything.”

Gowan told soldiers that the commanding officer had already passed a sentence: “Take this man and kill him on the way.”
At 14 miles on the road from Ishaka, they asked where they would kill me. One man said Nyakisharara Airstrip [in Mbarara].
But we went all the way to Mbarara - Kabale road, and then they took me to river Rwizi; they wanted to cut me with bayonets.
I asked, “Why do you want to kill me?” They said “we have been given orders.” I asked them, “Do you know me?”

“We don’t need to know, we have been given orders, come here.”
Instead of being cut with knives, slaughtered like a goat, I ran, knowing that they would shoot me; at least I die by the bullet.

Raining bullets
As I ran, they started shooting. They shot at me several bullets (in the waist, arm, head and buttocks).
I rolled and hid in the river. I heard one soldier say, “Hit him on the head.” The bullet first hit water before it touched me. It was about 3:00 p.m. The leg, arm could not move.
Fortunately, as God loves his sinners or his people, I got out of the water later. The red aunts had eaten (stung) me until they got tired.

A military man came and took me to one of the bushes near river Rwizi; opposite Mbarara High School because I was on the other side of Nyamitanga.

At 7:30p.m. soldiers picked me from the bush, put me in a boot to Kitagata through Bushenyi. We reached home at around 9:00p.m.
They did not take me to my house but to a hiding place near my home. They told my wife that they had brought me. I had been terribly beaten, shot, any time I would die.

As they were hiding me, other soldiers came asking whether I had come back. They were told, “Look, the fellow was taken yesterday by soldiers; you are the ones with him.” They went away.
Later, on October 8, 1972, I was smuggled via Fort Portal, Kilembe, Mityana to a hiding place in Kampala where kind doctors at Mulago Hospital treated me. Bullet wounds had almost decayed. I stayed there until December when I was smuggled to Kenya through Malaba. I stayed in Kenyatta Hospital up to June (1973).

Joining army
I taught in Nairobi schools from 1973 till 1979 when I joined the guerrilla war on November 19, 1979. I left my family of eight children and their mother in Kenya to go to war, determined to participate in the removal of Idi Amin.

I knew I was making a one-way journey. Either I would die or survive. My late wife encouraged me: “Others must die to pave way for others to live.” I was in the western axis [during the war] with Museveni and others.

When our [UPC] government (1980-85) was overthrown on July 27, 1985, a number of us ran to Kenya again. I returned to Uganda on March 23, 1986 when Museveni had just taken over.
Having been Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, I was an important person.

I wouldn’t just come in. I needed protection and my presence to be known. So I reported to the President’s Office at Parliament building where I met the President’s Personal Assistant Sserwanga Lwanga (RIP). He referred me to the Inspector General of Police (IGP).

The IGP was from West Nile, I don’t remember his name. I went to his office at the Parliament building. He told me to go to CID offices then on Impala House. There was a harsh Mutoro man. He said you are now under arrest.
“We are going to charge you; you killed people.”
I said “which people?”

Murder charges
This was March 25, 1986. I had gone with my son. They took me to Central Police Station. On March 26, they took me to Buganda Road Court where I was charged with conspiracy to murder some people in my home village in Kitagata and remanded me to Luzira.

They alleged about four or five people. They gave me their names. I knew them. They had died under unknown circumstances during our second UPC government (1980-1985).

A chief who was collecting taxes had been murdered in broad daylight, cut into pieces by people who ran away. Police later rounded them up. I attended his burial near my home and I addressed mourners. I appealed to them to be calm. The hand of government would get the culprits, I said.

The DC (District Commissioner), [local] chief and police attended.
After the burial, I left for Kampala. Two days later, I think the clansmen of the murdered chief went and killed the suspects. I read it in Munansi newspaper.

I was arrested because I had said the hand of government would get the culprits. It was said that I murdered them. I stayed in Luzira for five good years. I overstayed in Luzira under the pretext that government had no money to bring witnesses.

Police had collected evidence from 22 witnesses. I said to expedite my trial, if government has no money, take the court to Kitagata so that we are tried. People there will even come on foot. I was transferred to Kakyeka prison in Mbarara and tried by the High Court in Mbarara.

The transfer was about two or three times. They would bring you, stay one month in Kakyeka, back to Luzira, and then back.
In Mbarara, sometimes the judge did not turn up for three months, so we would be transferred to Luzira. Then in Luzira, they would push you back to Kakyeka.

The last time we came [to Kakyeka] was I think December 19, 1990. A Ghanaian justice heard the case. I have forgotten his name.
In his one-page judgement on January 23, 1991, he found no case, not even a grain of implication in the murder by Edward Rurangaranga and his [five] co-accused. No evidence had been adduced by the 22 witnesses.

He (the judge) acquitted us. I can’t tell you how it felt and you understand the feelings. First of all, when the man said “I find you with no case”, we got paralysed in the dock until the court clerk told us, “People, you are free to go.”

Tears of joy
My wife had anticipated it from the hearing of case. The assessors had found no case. She had come with a vehicle. She cried. My daughter and everybody else cried out of happiness. I stopped them because we wanted to go home.

But there was no home [to go to]; it had been destroyed by hooligans. I don’t know who they were and I have not bothered to find out. We stayed in Mbarara until September 2001 when I rebuilt it.

When I was released, there was a case for me to [seek compensation]. I had been arrested for nothing. But I never sought compensation.

You see, I accepted Jesus as my saviour and lord. So I said, God will reward those who maliciously accused me of murder.
I only sympathised with people who falsely accused me, but I forgave them. I harbour no hatred or malice. I had 400 cows; they were all eaten [by hooligans]; my 17 vehicles were all vandalised, house destroyed. This hotel (Hot Springs Hotel Ishaka where the interview was held) was thoroughly looted by people who I know but I forgave them.

A year after prison in 1992, I was elected to Bushenyi district council unopposed. People of Kitagata wanted to show the world that I had been falsely arrested.

Luzira as home
When you stay in Luzira for six months, you get assimilated to prison life. In fact, prison becomes a home. Luzira became a home.
I was the head of the laity and I used to lead them in prayers. I was also a patron of a group of actors (Katemba), and leader of football team. My team - Dakar - used to defeat other teams.
But prison is bad.

First of all, prisons are meant to be rehabilitative for people to convert, change attitude, heart and behaviour, but that is not the case. A number of people come out of prison more damaged than they had been.

Young people are lured into homosexuality by the senior prisoners who have stayed in prison for long. Homosexuality is high. This has increased the spread of HIV/AIDS in prison, leading to many deaths. Others die because of poor health, fever and many things. What is plenty in prison are lice.

(Asked whether he participated in homosexuality, Rurangaranga said) I told you I am a Christian, why do you ask me if I was part of homosexuality? I am telling you what I saw, that doesn’t mean that I was a participant. I have never smoked, not even taken alcohol in my life.

I know what you reporters want (a head line): “Rurangaranga was a homosexuality person.” Secondly, there is smoking of bangi (marijuana). Punishments can’t change a bad person into good person. Seeing people tortured, in fact, hardens people.

So prison is not rehabilitative, unless people accept Jesus as their personal lord and saviour. That is how they can come out of prison changed as I am.

I left prison a strong believer in God than ever before. I am a member of the synod, chairman of the laity in Ishaka and Kitagata.
But imprisonment destroys homes. A number of people find their families, wives taken.

There is congestion. Luzira was meant to cater for 600 prisoners, but you find about 3,000 prisoners! One time I went to a ward with 200 in mates sharing a single toilet seat! The place for washing was inside!

Posho would be served. Fortunately they allowed us get food from outside. I catered for my self, buying my food throughout the time I was in Luzira. I would even buy charcoal for cooking my food. My wife brought the supplies, but you can imagine five years, feeding yourself in prison.

On Rwakasisi
(Commenting on his colleague, former minister Chris Rwakasisi who is in Luzira on death row)
We appealed to President Museveni to exercise the prerogative of mercy to pardon Rwakasisi as he did to [former Amin governor Abdul] Nassur. We continue to pray to God to soften Museveni’s heart to forgive Rwakasisi because we think Rwakasisi is a victim of circumstances.

He did not take part in the alleged murder of the five or six people when he minister in charge of security.
Secondly, I know that many people who have been sentenced to death have met their death innocently.

I was falsely arrested by the government in power, so I can’t compare the political environment then and now because there are no two governments; it’s one.

The other arrests were by primitive people; you can’t compare Amin’s government with this one. If Amin did wrong things because of his [low] intelligence, this government of learned, university graduates who have sought votes should behave differently and decently.

mcmubs@ugandaobserver.com