NEW SERIES: MY PRISON LIFE
 
 
February 21, 2007
The person I 'killed' appeared in court alive

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!
Read on:

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, Ahmad Rajab.

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 here.
Joining UPC

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 staying.

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?

Military training
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 1981).
My work involved keeping [peace], mobilising people, training them how to dig, to be healthy and smart. I did that work until 1985.

(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.

Under arrest
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.

Entebbe Police
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.

Next day
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 10:00a.m.
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 back?

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 cases.

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.

At CPS
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 and beans).
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 visitors.

Obedient prisoner
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.

More charges
[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 judge.
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.

Magic book
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 things.”

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 thief?
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. “Where?”
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 looks.

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 free.

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.

Tragedy
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.

Comparison
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 a lot.

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.

mcmubs@ugandaobserver.com