86-year-old CUTHERBERT OBWANGOR was a lawmaker in
the protectorate government under Governor Sir Andrew Cohen,
before becoming a member of the first political party, Uganda
National Congress (UNC).
He held various ministerial posts in Dr. Apollo Milton
Obote's first reign, was a member of the Odoki Commission
that from February 1989- December 31, 1992 sought people's
views on the making of a new constitution.
A principled politician, Obwangor was arrested after
the December 19, 1969 Lugogo incident when an attempt was
made on Obote's life.
He was arrested alongside politicians such as Prof. Dani
Wadada Nabudere, Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere and the late Ben
In 'My Prison Life' Series this week, Obwangor reveals to
MICHAEL MUBANGIZI that his arrest stemmed
from Basil Bataringaya and Felix Onama's suspicions that
he masterminded the assassination plot.
I was born on November 1, 1920. I started school when
I was 12 years in a place called Magolo and later Soroma
in Katakwi district where I was baptized on March 20, 1933.
I joined St. Joseph Primary school in Ngora up to third
class, and Nyenga Seminary in Mukono later. For secondary,
I was in Namilyango College for five years. I was paying
Shs 380 annually and we got free food, accommodation and
Our teachers were missionaries; they were very good. While
at Namilyango, I went to England. I was lucky I got a friend,
a Catholic father. He was writing a book and wanted somebody
who knew how to write Ateso.
I went there purposely for that and wrote a draft for
him. It took me one year. The title was Ateso Vocabulary.
After that, I came back to finish my programme at Namilyango.
I worked very hard, passed my examinations very well, got
my certificate and went to Nairobi. I joined the railway
transport and economics of transport in a traffic school
I passed my exams there also and was sent to Mombasa station
to learn traffic deeply.
I continued to work in the railways until I left Kenya
in July in 1952, and came back home to Soroti where I had
built and ran a restaurant.
I had earlier studied a diploma in accountancy at London
School of Economics.
In 1953, I was luckily nominated to Soroti District Council
and later became its vice chairman. Luckily, I was again
nominated to represent people of Teso in the Legco. I got
75,000 votes. That was the time of Governor Andrew Cohen.
UPC became my first political party. I was a nationalist.
I joined politics for purposes of discarding and destroying
colonialism. In Nairobi I was a member of the KANU executive
committee with the likes of Jomo Kenyatta. The Tom Mboyas
came later; they are the children we produced [politically].
Our work involved mobilising and talking to people on
any subject involving politics, preparing them for independence.
In 1953/4, I joined UNC that Obote later merged with [William
Wilberforce] Rwetsiba of Mbarara to form UPC.
I was its founder member with people like Grace Ibingira,
Felix Onama, Mathias Ngobi and Edward Rurangaranga.
I was UPC Treasurer until 1967. It was during my tenure
that we built Uganda House at Shs 24m. I was the chairman
of the construction committee. I chased the policemen who
were guarding the shops there.
I am the one who got the name Uganda House. It was easy
because of the Uganda Congress connection. It was Uganda
House, representing the party. It signifies the house of
Uganda People’s Congress. UPC was nationalistic not
individualistic; that is why I never gave it a person’s
We worked very hard. On May 1, 1960, I was again luckily
elected to Parliament. I also served in various ministerial
posts in Obote’s government; minister of Cabinet Affairs,
Economics, Regional Administration and Justice and Law.
Quarreling with Obote
[It was during that time] in July 1967 that I quarreled
with Obote on a new law that had been brought for purposes
of arresting people and taking them to Luzira without trial.
I was anti-non trial by court of people arrested. I opposed
that move…It meant there was no real independence
if people were arrested at pleasure rather than reason and
On December 19, 1969, [assassins] nearly killed Obote in
They thought that it was us politicians who had organised
the plot. So Ben Kiwanuka, [Paul] Ssemogere, [Mathias] Ngobi,
Wakukulu, myself, and others were arrested.
I represented Teso in Parliament then and was campaigning
and mobilising people in Teso. But I was picked from my
home here [in Soroti] where I was running a shop. I was
in the shop in the morning, writing something.
Three policemen came. They had their small sticks but
weren’t armed. They said they wanted me to go to the
Police station; that there was something I was needed to
I refused. I asked them to tell me why. They said, “It’s
political, we don’t know, but we are told to arrest
you.” I left somebody in the shop and they took me
to Soroti Police station where they put me in Police quarters,
not in a prison. I remained in my clothes, shoes and belt.
I stayed in that room alone for three days as they were
making arrangements to take me to Mbale. I did not ask why
I was arrested; this was Police.
I was getting food from my home which is near. Water was
also there and I was not mistreated because I was a high
profile person. The Police were also disciplined. They couldn’t
After three days, policemen took me in a vehicle to Mbale
where I found Nabudere and Wakukulu.
I knew Nabudere, we were both politicians, but I was surprised
to find him there. He was also surprised, but I said this
is a changing world. Nabudere was a good man, properly behaved
as an educated man.
The three of us; Obwangor, Nabudere and Wakukulu did not
spend a day in Mbale. On the same day, we were driven through
Jinja to Luzira where we spent one year and two months.
We weren’t badly received in Luzira.
We were each put in separate rooms.
It was a normal room – 8x8 (square metres).
We found there mattresses and blankets because we were
politicians. We were eight political prisoners, including
Ssemogere and Kiwanuka, but there was no interaction among
the inmates. [Besides], Ssemogere and Kiwanuka were in a
Even those in the condemned section were in their separate
Electricity was also there in plenty; the prison authorities
regularly switched on and off. They switched on, say when
we were eating or when you were about to wake up.
Concerning routine activities, they opened for you at 6:00a.m.
to do exercises. They made you run around the compound for
about 20 minutes then you would go back to your room.
Then they would bring you tea. There was no trouble about
food for us, who were political prisoners. Prison authorities
gave us prison food served in the morning and evening daily.
We were served matooke, potatoes, meat, tea with milk and
sugar, and some bread.
When this wasn’t enough, you could wait for another
On the fourth day, we were put in the same room with others.
Generally, the relationship with fellow inmates was good.
You could either be one or two in the room. I was lucky
[in that] I befriended some prison officers; Iteso and Baganda.
They often found me reading a book everyday and they would
say, “You like books.” I said “Yes, you
give us more books.” They gave us books on Law, Economics,
Science, Biology and modern science.
We actually formed a library using those books. Reading
books became part of our routine activity.
I am a man of books. We were the first to introduce reading
there, so I enjoyed reading while in prison. (This writer
found Obwangor reading newspapers in his home library with
a lot of books around).
Ours was a political case; there was not even record of
our arrest. They arrested us without warrants of arrest,
we were not told why we had been arrested, it was purely
for political reasons. When I found there DP founder Ben
Kiwanuka, Paul Ssemogere, Nabudere, William Wilberforce
Nadiope, I knew it was political. All these were politicians.
So I never asked why I had been arrested.
But it was generally suspicion by Basil Bataringaya and
[They feared] that if we-Ben Kiwanuka, Nabudere, Akena (Adoko)
and others had stayed out, we would have [overthrown] government
through the army. They knew that the policemen, army, were
good to us.
Onama and Bataringaya did not like Obote; they are the
people who engineered the December 19, 1969 assassination
It was alleged that I was part of the people who planned
the assassination, but it was just a concoction by Bataringaya
and Onama. It was baseless, unfounded.
It was just political envy; they feared our good names,
the votes we had got. So they picked those who were prominent
from various areas.
We were allowed visitors on Saturdays and Sundays, not everyday.
The only bad thing in prison is when there was shortage
of food and water, but it wasn’t rampant, [though]
it occasionally happened.
About leisure, we were allowed daily exercises in the morning
and evening for slightly more than an hour. One could run,
pull a few things and sweep the place. We were also allowed
to meet inmates from other rooms outside the shed.
We also meet and talked about various things about life,
but we did not discuss why we had been arrested because
we knew it was politics.
Spiritually, the churchmen came on Sundays and we gathered
in one place and prayed together. In terms of health, there
was plenty of medicine.
There was no mistreatment; I have told you we were reading
There were no killings. That would be against the law for
the government to do. Killings were only by law, those that
had been decided upon by courts of law.
Those who were [to be] killed, we could hear some of them
crying. This was done every six months. [But] I did not
fear for my life. How could I fear when there was no case
in the courts of law? How?
To kill me without the courts of law? Maybe outside the
law, but not according to the law. That time government
ruled by law; prison officers who guarded the place were
good, properly disciplined, working according to the law.
We left prison on February 2, 1971, very early in the morning,
after spending one year and two months in prison. This was
after Amin had taken over and chased Obote away.
Amin ordered the release of all political prisoners (Point
number one of the 18 reasons given to justify his coup was
the unwarranted detentions without trial of large numbers
It was a government order; only politicians had been arrested
during that time. The policemen came and said they had been
ordered by Amin to release us. One left the prison’s
clothes before [being] released, so we put on our clothes.
Prison officials brought us in a bus from Luzira to Kololo
Airstrip. There were so many people gathered. It’s
there that Amin officially released us; he just condemned
our arrest and said we were free to go. Oh, it was very
From Kololo I went to Mengo Social Centre, west of Kisenyi
in Kampala, a place I knew very well. It’s a place
for visitors where they are given accommodation. I stayed
there [trying to find out why I had been arrested].
[While in Luzira], I never planned to escape. What for?
I knew there was no case, I would get out quickly. I had
only gone there as a punishment. It never crossed my mind
We were only praying that either the courts of law release
us on no case to answer or any other intervention leading
to our release.
We thought government was trying to spoil our good names
in our constituencies.
Still a politician
After my release, I went back to UPC and continued with
my politics until today. I am still a politician. I am still
alive, so I must enjoy life.
I have been in all political parties; DP between 1982 and
1984. I left DP because the presidency lacked leadership,
he wasn’t liberal, a good leader to manage; that is
why I left it. DP needed to get liberal, according to me,
which it wasn’t.
In the NRM government, I was appointed on the Justice
Odoki-led Commission in 1989 to collect views from people
for making of the constitution. I was with people like [former
minister Miria] Matembe. It was about 21 people.
Later, I joined the Movement. I was thanking [President]
Museveni for electing me on that commission. But I am now
a UPC man.
I left them after I think four years in 2001. Politics is
like wind, you move with the current affairs and temperature
of the time.
The first time after prison, I met Obote in Kampala. We
did not talk about the imprisonment. He said nothing, not
even “sorry”. There was no need. Of course I
continued to meet Obote even after prison when he came back
[from exile in Dar es Salaam].
He often invited me to Uganda House wherever he wanted
to talk to me. Other times he came here (Soroti). There
was no enmity among us, just political differences.
Imprisonment affected my economic development. I have
told you of my shop; instead of being out making money,
I was in jail.
I however did not lose weight in prison; we were political
prisoners, not ordinary prisoners who were made to work
and things like that. It was like a forced holiday, because
things were not bad there to shame the devil.
On comparing the environment then and now, I should say
in our times, the chiefs, policemen were trained. Presently,
they arrest you on petty cases.
For Dr. Kizza Besigye there was enmity between him and Museveni.
Museveni was a friend of Besigye’ wife Byanyima; haven’t
you read it in papers?
I think that is what caused it, it was not political. There
is no harmony, no freedom in the proper sense.
Looking back, I don’t regret having been arrested.
It’s an experience in life. There was no sin by me;
people were envious of my goodness, and that happens in
Government should respect human rights and work for people
in economic and social activities, providing medicine in
Hospitals nowadays don’t look after people like us
old men because there is no medicine.
They tell you to go to the clinic, yet services are not
there except for those they know. It should be open to all.
There should particularly be special programmes for the
elderly, orphans, children, women’s organisations