UPC activist NIGHT KULABAKO is no
stranger to prison but the most pronounced period is her
seven-year incarceration in Luzira on murder charges (from
May 1986 to August 1993). In an emotional account, Kulabako
tells MICHAEL MUBANGIZI how she was denied
an opportunity to bury her husband and daughter who died
while she was in Luzira Prison. She was granted bail of
Shs 500,000, but she could not raise it there and then,
so she remained in Luzira until she was acquitted. And then,
the person she was alleged to have killed was seated among
the people who turned up to hear her judgement!
I was born in March 1948 in Entebbe to Florence Nanyanzi
and Yesero Kalungi. I did midwifery training, after which
I got married in 1965 to the then deputy mayor of Kampala,
I was a very young girl then. My husband was a UPC man.
He was in the first UPC government. I wasn’t interested
[in politics]. When they overthrew the first UPC government,
he went into hiding. But he came back later and was given
a job in Idi Amin’s government. After Amin, he went
into exile in Nairobi and Zaire (now DRC) but I remained
In 1980, I joined my husband’s party, UPC where
I became very active. My area, Entebbe, was full of DP people.
That is where [former DP President General Paul Kawanga]
Ssemogerere comes from.
But I liked it because when they (UPC) came to campaign
in 1980, I listened to Samuel Mugwisa (former minister of
Agriculture) at a UPC rally at Abayita Ababiri where I was
He came with Kasirye Mayanja. When they talked, they talked
sense, they were loved and didn’t force anybody to
[join them] as other people did. Their constitution and
manifesto were good. That is why I joined UPC.
UPC has since been my political party and I will die in
it. Don’t you see me in UPC colours (her scarf and
dress are embroidered with traditional UPC colours: red,
blue and black)? If UPC was to give medals, I think I would
be a general.
I was also a woman leader in UPC from 1980-1985 at a branch
level. [In the 1980 elections], we went, campaigned and
won. We never rigged, but there were allegations [of rigging].
Museveni (UPM leader) said UPC did not win, but he was
beaten by a DP member, Sam Kuteesa. How could we rig the
election and then DP defeats you?
After the elections, I went for military training at Lunyoo
training camp in Entebbe for nine months. Not two weeks
like these Local Defence Forces (LDU)!
I was there with men and women from all over Uganda. It
was a general training involving everything. We weren’t
training to be soldiers but to keep peace. After the training
we applied for jobs.
People say that Obote and [Paulo] Muwanga gave me the post
of a chief. It wasn’t given to me freely. I applied,
went for interviews and won.
Being a Gombolola chief was a job and I wanted a well-paying
job. By then we were getting Shs 1,750 monthly salary (July
My work involved keeping [peace], mobilising people, training
them how to dig, to be healthy and smart. I did that work
(Asked about allegations that she killed and harassed people
under her tenure)- I never killed any person. As for harassment,
you know when you are in government, it is [inevitable].
As chiefs, we had to collect musolo (graduated tax). People
weren’t paying, we had to go and ask for the taxes.
Does that mean harassment? I wasn’t harassing anybody,
but I went there, not forcing but asking them in a polite
way with a smooth tongue.
I was arrested after the overthrow of our second government.
I wasn’t involved in [Gen. Tito Okello] Lutwa’s
government. I wasn’t interested in Lutwa because I
saw a man who didn’t even understand. How can you
overthrow your government, a government taking care of you
and you die like a dog?
So I left my office as Gombolola chief on August 31, 1985.
By then my husband had come back, I joined him in Bombo.
While there, I fell sick and came to Kampala for treatment.
After treatment I went to see my mum at my sister’s
place in Naguru.
That is where I was arrested by Museveni’s NRA men.
I think they were still called bayekera (guerrillas). It
was on Friday, May 11, 1986. It was in the evening around
7:00 pm. I was by the door, doing nothing, when I saw about
11 armed people, some dressed in army clothes; others in
plain clothes. I wasn’t surprised [to see them], politically
I knew they had come to arrest me.
They moved towards me and told me to put my hands up.
I refused. I couldn’t do it because I wasn’t
a criminal. I didn’t fear because I was also targeting
them. If they had come badly, I knew that time I was going
to die, so I could die with one of them.
When you come with a gun with the intention of grabbing
me, I can also grab your gun; you either kill me or I kill
you. Then they directed me inside the house and searched
it. They said they were looking for two guns.
I said: “I am not a soldier to hold guns although
I went through military training. I don’t have any
gun.” Then they said they had been sent to arrest
me. When you enter politics, you gain five things: you can
either get rich, poor, go to prison, exile or die.
They pushed, squeezed me into their small, blue Datsun
vehicle and drove to a Police station.
I wasn’t handcuffed.
In the vehicle they were saying: “Our mission is over.”
We reached Entebbe police station around 8:00p.m. They pushed
me to the reception. The policemen knew me. When they saw
me, they thought I was a visitor.
“Chief, have you come to see me?” One of them
asked. I said “no. I am a prisoner.” “Why?”
I said “I don’t know, but I was arrested.”
I was ordered to remove my shoes, watch and everything I
had except the dress. They put me in the women’s police
cell, locked and went away.
It was a very tiny room. I was [in that room] alone, but
they later brought in other prisoners. It was too late to
make a statement.
There was no mattress, but a policeman was sympathetic to
me, he gave me a big kabuti (overcoat).
Obote was a good man; he used to give these people (Police
officers) two or three woollen jackets to warm themselves,
and a rain coat.
But these people (current Police) use rain coats to warm
themselves. Rain coats can’t warm them at night while
on duty! I was worried. I thought I was going to be killed.
I did not eat. I wasn’t interested in food that
night. I did not sleep; you can’t sleep when you have
a problem like that.
The following day, a certain soldier came, abused me and
threw a whiskey bottle full of water at me. I think he wanted
to hit me but I got hold of it. I also got it and threw
it back at him. But he avoided it and it hit the wall.
It was a rough time. When someone comes and abuses you,
what do you do? You return it. He went back. It was around
Before that no prison officials had come. Some people just
wanted to see me, disturb or abuse me but I was also tough.
Eh, if someone abuses you, why can’t you abuse them
The following day, friends brought me food. So many came
and visited me; ministers, under secretaries, but I can’t
mention their names. Policemen were friends because we were
working together. So they would come and comfort me.
I was getting food from friends. I was allowed to get
food from outside but when you bring it and I don’t
know you, I couldn’t eat it.
I spent there two weeks because they were looking for people
to accuse me but there weren’t any.
The IO (Intelligence Officer) wrote in the press that
Kulabako has no case. Since there was no case opened against
me, he said they were going to release me. Then the grudges
started. That Night Kulabako was disturbing us! I said disturbing
you on what?
I never came to the bush to disturb you. I was in my office,
you are the people who came to the office to disturb me!
They started saying that I killed people. They opened two
cases that I killed people.
When I was about to be released, they brought two other
The first two were murder cases of a man and woman. I knew
them. But I wasn’t the one who had killed them. The
woman died when she was giving birth. The man was a thief
and was killed by mob justice; others had died of silimu
(HIV/AIDS). I was told of these charges while I was in Entebbe.
After two weeks, I was taken to CPS. I slept there one day.
The following day I was taken to Buganda Road Court and
charged with two murder cases and remanded to Luzira. It
was a Friday, we went on a lorry. I wasn’t handcuffed.
I was very free because I knew God was with me. I knew
I did not kill anybody. That is why you see me alive today.
In Luzira, I was welcomed by political girls I found in
the compound. There was a girl from Mityana, two from Jinja.
I was the fourth. They knew me because we were all in UPC.
They said, “Come let’s stay here together.”
They told me their problems, I also told them mine until
we were given rooms to sleep.
It was like a dormitory, a big ward (ward 3). We were about
20 women. Ladies are not like men, they sympathise with
other ladies. They never harassed me.
I was looking very nice; so when they saw me they said,
“Oh, even this one has come?” They also welcomed
me, gave me water and showed me where to sleep. There was
no mattress, we slept on the floor; there was one blanket
and a mat but not these good mats.
The following day, I was taken to dig with other prisoners
in the prison shambas. I was born in a poor a family where
we used to dig, cook, so I knew how to dig and cook.
The digging was daily, we usually went early in the morning
and dug up to midday when we came back for lunch (posho
But I was not enjoying kawunga and beans. So I spent three
months without eating [that].
Kawunga wasn’t our food at home. My mother cried,
saying “My daughter is going to die because of kawunga”.
I was eating bread and [drinking] tea for the three months.
After three months, I got sick, went to the doctor who gave
me an offer to eat special food.
I was eating matooke, rice, Irish potatoes, fish, meat
and chicken brought from home on visiting days. By then
there was no [specific] day for visitors, everyday was for
Having been a chief, the prison wardresses were very kind.
I was behaving very nicely and was selected to head prisoners.
From then on my life in prison became simpler.
There was no more digging. I was helping the Askaris to
keep prisoners not to escape. I did it very well and I think
the OC (officer in charge) herself, one Mrs Kaddu, enjoyed
it. Church leaders from the Anglican, Catholic and Balokole
churches often came and prayed for us.
There was no leisure, no free time. When you are a prisoner,
you can’t have free time. Free time for what? After
lunch, we had to go back to the shambas to dig.
But when I was selected to be leader of the prisoners,
I pleaded to the OC to allow us make handcrafts. She accepted
and by lunch time we started making handcrafts, like mats
and baskets. The OC looked for the materials. The Balokole,
churches also brought some.
Some of the products made were for the prisoners. If you
made one, you could sleep on it or sell it. You could also
give it to people who visited you to sell it and buy you
food, bread or something.
[For our] health, there was a hospital in prison; doctors
came once a week but nurses were there permanently, treating
people in case of sickness.
[As I told you], there were two cases at first, but after
four and half years when I was about to win them, they opened
two other murder cases. Those people (witnesses) who were
accusing me wanted me to rot in prison, but I did not.
I am very beautiful, nice looking as you can see, but those
who wanted me to rot are (were) too poor and miserable.
Some are still alive, others are dead. But I don’t
want to talk about dead persons. Even those who are still
alive, I forgave them.
I went to court every two weeks in a bus, lorry or pick
up truck as a group. But you completely looked a fool before
the magistrate. You couldn’t talk or raise your arm
to ask something. But you had to be in court every 14 days!
They would just read and adjourn the case and we would go
back to the cell and wait for 14 days.
I did that for four years until I applied for bail. The
judge asked me to pay Shs 500,000 which I had never got
in my life. That condition of money failed me. I couldn’t
raise that point five; even my people couldn’t.
The government of Mr. Museveni had changed our money and
removed three zeros. When they changed the money (under
the 1987 NRM currency reform that involved deducting 30%
from a unit of currency and crossing out two zeros thereafter),
from one million one got Shs 7,000, how could I get Shs
500,000? (Shs 71 million in the old currency)!
I think the judge was a Movement judge. I can’t mention
his name. When he reads the paper, he will know. So I said
“my dear judge, I can’t raise that money, I
think you are the one who has that point five, but for me
in a million I got Shs 7,000, let me go and die in Luzira.”
I had no hope of coming out.
My case was again fixed for hearing and I was given another
They brought nine witnesses and I won the case. When you
enter politics, you have to be very clever. My cleverness
made me win the case.
I had a big book where I recorded cases of [all] criminals
we arrested. One signed in that book before being set free.
That book helped me a lot. It was my spear. I ran with it
from my Gombolola chief office. I still have it, not in
my home; somebody who keeps my will has it.
People came as witnesses, saying “That woman (Kulabako)
is very bad, she arrested, beat me and did all sorts of
Those people did not know that I had that book where they
signed and where I recorded their cases. Many of them had
been thieves and had been pardoned and they signed in that
book to that effect.
I was moving with it, so when I saw you give evidence…
I opened and gave the judge to read.
He would then ask, are you so and so? Were you once a
Surprisingly, one person I was said to have killed came
to court to hear the judgement. I think he thought I had
forgotten him but when I saw him I raised my hand. The judge
who was in the middle of the judgement said, “What?”
I said the person whom they say I killed is there seated.
They called him and he talked to the judge. But government
is bad, after giving a foolish statement, the judge let
him free. He later died.
If I were the judge, I would have put him in prison for
life to also feel how painful being in jail is.
So the case ended and I was acquitted of the three cases.
The forth had been dismissed. The judge got annoyed and
acquitted me because there was no evidence. How can you
say I killed a person who is alive?
I was released on August 31, 1993 after seven years and
three months in prison.
I feared that people would read newspapers and say that
I escaped from prison. I remained there looking for a letter
confirming my release. After getting it at around 1:00p.m.,
I left court.
People were excited but I wasn’t because I knew
I had no case to answer. So when they heard that Kulabako
has been acquitted, they ran here (at Uganda House where
this interview was held) and told them about it.
A group of people from here (Uganda House) came to the
High Court and brought me here at home (Uganda House) where
I joined fellow comrades. This (Uganda House) is our home.
Free at last
By then Mama Cecilia Ogwal was our chairperson. She warmly
received me and many others I can’t remember. I was
looking like somebody from England; healthy, strong and
very beautiful. I was young by then. Now I am old, I can
tell you that I am very beautiful; but by then I had good
From Uganda House, I did not go home in Entebbe directly,
I slept with my children in Kampala and went to Entebbe
the following day. Three days later, I went back with a
car to pick my things from Luzira. I had a lot of things;
a suit case, blanket and others. Of course I continued with
my UPC work; that is why I am here [at Uganda House)].
When they release you from prison, you look like [Nelson]
Mandela. You become strong; you don’t go into hiding,
you remain in circulation.
So I remained in circulation, not only at Uganda House but
everywhere - Mbale, Jinja, Bushenyi, Gulu and Lira…like
our motto (UPC everywhere, UPC everyone).
Let me tell you my son, when one day you are president,
don’t put a politician in prison. When you put a politician
in prison, they become stronger compared to when they were
I don’t know about Dr. Kizza Besigye, he is a politician
in his own way, but he put Museveni on bunkenke (tension).
I can’t say he left prison stronger or weaker.
Prison life is very difficult; even if you eat well, even
if you are close to the OC or askaris. My husband died in
March 1991 while I was in prison. I wasn’t myself
at that time. I was told before his burial but wasn’t
allowed to attend. They did not even give me escorts to
attend. My first daughter also died in May 1991 when I was
in prison, it affected me very much.
I was told of her death after she had been buried. I only
saw their tombs two years later when I was released. Although
Museveni is not my friend, I am appealing to him that if
a prisoner loses a mother, child, husband or wife, they
should at least be given escorts to go and bury, and see
exactly how their daughter, husband, father or mother look
in their deaths. Those four people are very important to
a person’s life.
I regret having been imprisoned for nothing; seven years
on remand! This affected my family. My children never went
to school, when my husband died, nobody took care of them
because I was in prison for nothing!
I wasn’t like those criminals; some were thieves
even in prison – stealing other prisoners’ soap
and so on. Those can’t compare with my situation.
I was somebody, a chief. Prison is not a joke, when you
are rude and big headed, life goes very badly, but when
you are humble, it’s softened.
Politically, all is not well; it’s worse. How can
it be good when they are subjecting people to teargas? Government
opened up politics and said parties are free; why then follow
them up? Leave them, give them freedom, let them deceive,
but don’t give them teargas, don’t beat them.
Obote never arrested people, he just gave them leave with
their packages. He never arrested chiefs. Can you give me
names of people he arrested when he came back from exile?
I never knew his first rule because I was young.
I only know the second regime. He never arrested people
but when the Musevenis came, so many chiefs were arrested.
I appeal to government not to put people in prison to die
there, like my minister [Chris] Rwakasisi. For 22 years
he is suffering! Government should release him, he has suffered
I have never seen a government like Museveni’s.
Why doesn’t he release prisoners and bring new ones
when they celebrate NRM day - January 26?
When the Pope came here in 1969, Obote released prisoners,
but since Museveni came to power, he has never released
prisoners on such days; independence and liberation day.
For Abdul Nasur, I think he was a friend.
But Nasur had suffered 22 years in prison, why didn’t
he release him immediately he came to power? After 22 years
of suffering, you release me and I say “thank you
sir for releasing me?”
I would not.
I thank everybody who helped me when I was in prison; UPC
members, the family of the late Paulo Muwanga, the late
and Mrs Adonia Tiberondwa, and members of the Milton Obote
Foundation. I pray that God rewards them very much.