NEW SERIES: MY PRISON LIFE
 
 
March 22, 2007
‘Prisoners have sex on the bus’

DP publicist BETTY NAMBOOZE BAKIREKE was between February 2003 and January 2004 detained in Luzira on corruption charges. But Justice Okumu Wengi acquitted her after 11 months in jail. In ‘My Prison Life’ this week, Nambooze tells MICHAEL MUBANGIZI how she shared a room with a dead person; was locked up with mentally ill persons, and how the ‘ghost’ haunted her by mentioning her daughter’s name. She claims her arrest and subsequent imprisonment were politically motivated. Nambooze also narrates how she witnessed prisoners having sex on a prison bus. Read on:

I was born in a humble family on July 13, 1969 to Peter Kayongo and Justine Nakato in Nkowe Busiro, Wakiso district. I was the fifth of my mother’s eight children.

My father was in 1980 arrested, beaten almost to death by Obote’s soldiers. Since then we turned into destitutes because he couldn’t provide for us.

We turned to vending banana leaves, pancakes to raise our fees. That is also why despite doing well at Senior Four, I went to Nakawa Postal and Telecommunication School where I graduated as a Postal Officer.
But that was for convenience, it wasn’t my calling. I had set off from the very beginning to study law because I love justice. So after that course [postal], I went to Law Development Centre where I got a first class diploma in law. I am currently a law student at Makerere University.

Joining politics
About joining politics, I was influenced by my brother, Michael who used to talk and discuss politics at home. I found my post office job very bad. Each day one of our colleagues, myself inclusive, would record a statement at a Police station not because you are a thief but because a luggage came torn, and you are the officer who received it.
That is when I joined journalism as a news reporter for Mirror, Munno, Ngabo and Citizen newspapers.

Nambooze’s daughter Tendo

I settled at Citizen, a DP paper. That is where I met Michael Kaggwa in the early 1990s when he was starting DP Mobilisers’ Group which I also joined. Our actions weren’t welcomed by the then President General, Dr. Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere.

He said that our mobilisers’ group wasn’t part of DP and when we went to the streets we were condemned by everybody, so we chickened out and I went back to NRM.

The arrest
At one time people in this [Mukono] town had a conference and we resolved to change its LC-III leadership. We called ourselves Ab’endowooza. We thought things weren’t being done properly: grabbing of people’s land; there was no market, no order…

By that time the mayor was Charles Ssemanda. Rev. Bakaluba Mukasa was Information Secretary and Senyonga Muyanja-Youth Secretary.
We-Ab’endowooza agreed to get Muyanja on our side and make him mayor. He agreed and came to our side.

In the 1998 polls, Muyanja became the mayor; Bakaluba stood as a councillor and lost. I also stood as an LC-V councillor and lost.
After the elections, in 1999, there was a vacancy for a law enforcement officer in Mukono. I had the diploma [in law] that they wanted, so I applied. I was interviewed by Mukono District Service Commission and given the job. My work involved keeping law, order and directives.

Nambooze today

But I also had a political mind. In 2002, I started declaring my intentions to stand as an MP in different Mukono constituencies. I went for pre-campaigns in those areas and it did not augur well with the incumbents.

All along I had been [rightly] looked at as a Movement cadre. I taught Mchaka Mchaka courses in the district and supported Movement supporters.

But when Col. Dr. Kizza Besigye wrote his reform document [in November 1999], I thought Besigye had a point. In 2001 I was with Besigye in Reform Agenda, but I don’t know if my being there was noticed by anybody. Despite being a civil servant, I intensified my fight against the government.

On radio talk-shows, I always spoke my mind and my opinion was taken to be anti- government. People said I should get out of the civil service because I wasn’t behaving like one and I think they had a point. But I continued working.

Then Rev. Bakaluba Mukasa (Mukono North) encroached on his neighbour’s land. As a law enforcement officer, I was ready to enforce law even on the honourable MPs. I sent my officers to break down his structures. But he never took it lightly.

There was a man, Hannington Kanyike, a neighbour to Bakaluba. His father had died, so he wanted to send away the young widow with her children to take the land, but I stopped him.

So Kanyike, who is a Musawo Omuganda (traditional healer), and Bakaluba Mukasa, a reverend, became friends because they had one enemy-Nambooze who was failing their schemes.

Ambushed at CBS
On [February] 28, 2003, Kanyike came to my office and said he had realised he was wrong and asked me to reconcile him with his step mother. I said it was ok and we parted.

That evening I had to appear on CBS radio’s Kiriza Oba Gaana programme. It was about 7:30 p.m. and I was about 30 minutes late, so I was running as I climbed the steps entering CBS Bulange building when I heard somebody calling me “sister?”

It was Kanyike. When I stopped, he almost knocked me down. He said “these are your things.” I asked “which things?” Then the things he was handing over to me - an envelope - fell on the stairs. In a short time a police woman appeared. She told me, “You are under arrest. You have been taking a bribe from Mr. Kanyike”.

Kanyike had run away. I hadn’t discussed anything to do with money with him. I thanked God that I had not touched the envelope. It was picked by that police woman. That was even said in the Police report.
Other people, policemen, surrounded me; another group, a pick up full of policemen, was waiting outside Bulange.

Outside, there was a scuffle, people gathered and wanted to resist. “You will not take her, you can’t arrest her from here. You say she has been taking a bribe, where is the money?”

That is when they counted the money and said Shs 60,000! I laughed because Shs 60,000, sincerely, was very little money!
The armed men at one time said “either you let us take this woman or we fire at you”. I didn’t resist. I said, “People, let these people take me”.

I had a vague idea about the arrest. I did not bother asking them. I said, “I have been waiting for this, don’t bother concocting stories”.
We left Bulange after 10p.m. to go to the IGG’s office on Kitante Road. They said my case was very important, that then IGG Jotham Tumwesigye was handling it himself and that he was waiting for me in his office.

Kaddu Mukasa insisted on going with me. It was a small saloon car with very big escort. Kaddu sat in front; I sat in between two cops [at the back]. I wasn’t handcuffed. We reached the IGG’s office at midnight.

IGG, Bidandi in
As they had said, the IGG was there. They took me to his office. He told them to take me to the Director of Operations. As we moved to that room, one of the policemen said, “Nambooze, we know you would have loved to speak to Bidandi Ssali but he is out of the country.”
I asked myself, why is this name coming up?

But some days earlier Bidandi had called me and said, “You know the President called me and asked me about you; I tried to explain but I don’t know if he was convinced.”

The allegation was that Bidandi had authored a propaganda document saying that some Movement big wigs had in a meeting planned to rule for 50 years. And that he (Bidandi) was using me and Tamale Mirundi to circulate it. That was of course not true. Somebody had posted that document to me but after reading it, I knew it was propaganda. So hearing that I was the one circulating it was terrible.

This Director of Operations said, “This is a very important case, even my boss is still in office at this time.” That he was doing me two favours; that I call my husband because I was going to be imprisoned and to choose between Kiira road, Jinja road or Old Kampala Police stations where I would be detained.

I told him I didn’t want to call anybody; my friends had already called my husband. I also told him, “I have never visited any of the three Police stations. I don’t know the difference, take me where you want.”

To Jinja Road
They took me to Jinja Road Police station in a Police vehicle. We reached there at around 1:00a.m. The IGG people said, “We have brought you this Nambooze, she is ever on radio shouting, now she is here, she is a very corrupt woman.”

The policemen were a bit civil; they said, “Bambi Nambooze waffe” (Oh our dear Nambooze!). Then one of the IGG people told me, “When your people come here, tell them to prepare for your imprisonment. We are not letting you out in the near future. You have a lot of problems in Mukono.”

By that time my husband had arrived with my little girl Tendo to breast feed. They had taken my shoes, my bag, and coat. I was taken in the women cell where I found five women. Bullying started when the door opened.

“Kneel down and greet us, tell us your name…,” one of the women said. I obeyed.

Winnie mats
It was a small uni-port. There was a mattress and small mats that the [inmates] said belonged to Winnie Byanyima. They said she brought them when she was (detained) there. I sat on one of the Byanyima mats but I did not sleep that night. I was thinking about my baby, the [time] I was to spend in jail because I had been told I would stay there for long.

One of the ugliest things in that uni-port was easing self. I am a very shy woman when it comes to privacy; I couldn’t sit on the bucket and ease myself when everybody was looking! But these ladies could walk to the bucket, ease themselves and even defecate.

It was stinking; the smell from that bucket was like fermenting cabbages. I swore never to eat cabbages. The following day, the women turned the uni-port into a bathroom and started bathing.

Then men in a nearby cell started yelling, “We are seeing you…show me this…show me your buttocks, show me your breasts…”
When one of the old women complained about it, they answered, “You want us to die here, what is wrong with displaying our bodies for a chapatti?” It was an embarrassing situation.

I had planned to bathe but I couldn’t take off my clothes.
But then one police lady came and took me to her home in the quarters and I bathed from there. I didn’t know her but I think it was an order from the OC who I also didn’t know.

She later took me to the OC’s office where I stayed the whole day, meeting visitors.

Back to IGG

Later that day, I was taken back to the IGG’s Office and given details of my arrest. That Kanyike was seeking a building permit to construct a house in Mukono Town Council.

That I had told him to give me Shs 100,000 to assist him get the permit and Shs 60,000 was part of it. It was also said that I had told him to bring me the money at CBS.

But imagine, Kanyike and myself work and sleep in Mukono, but I tell him to bring the money to CBS in Kampala! Does it make sense?
But when they talked about a building plan, I was a bit relieved. I remembered Kanyike had applied for a permit and it was granted in January 2003. I was arrested on February 28, 2003.

So I couldn’t see how he could turn around and bribe for something he already had. I told them this man got the permit long time ago.
The mayor brought a letter from the town clerk to that effect and it was like a setback for their mission. But they insisted and I returned to the cell.

Mukono Town Council sent me a lawyer but my friends insisted that it had to be [Kampala Central MP Erias] Lukwago. And if you want to know how I joined DP, that was the point of entry.

Lukwago took over my case for 11 months and we became close. DP members were among the many people that helped me. When I came out of prison it’s a group I was feeling comfortable with, so I could not leave it. I thought I was so much indebted to Lukwago.

Wishing death
The next day I was taken to Buganda Road Court, charged with abuse of office, soliciting and receiving a bribe from Hannington Kanyike and remanded to Luzira.

We went there in a bus and that time I prayed to God that the bus crashes and I die. It was so congested. I had never been to prison, I had my baby and I had just got married. In fact, it was like my honeymoon because I had wedded on November 22, 2002 (three months before).

I produced Tendo two months before the wedding. But people sympathised with me. A prison warder got out of her sit in the bus and said, “Nambooze, have a seat”

At Luzira, you left every thing - money, drugs, shoes…at the gate.
The searching I saw done on the other people was very bad. First of all, prisoners undress, the ladies touch even the most private parts of your body, searching.

They don’t want you to enter with drugs and money. You know some prisoners can even put money in the anus. While I was still there, a lady who I later learnt was one of the superiors came and took me to the ward.

She counselled and comforted me - that they would look after me properly. “We are not part of that group [arresting you], our work is to keep everybody who has been sent here,” she assured me.
She directed one Nabakoza - the head prefect/ Katikiro in the ward to look after me very well.

There were more than 80 women there. Nabakoza made me tea, gave me warm water to bathe. The bathroom was perfectly clean. There was a mattress, blanket, bed sheets but still I wasn’t comfortable.
When I looked at other women in my ward, I realised they weren’t normal. Some were crying all the time, others were laughing and others wagging their tongues.

I privately asked Nabakoza why. I was told, “Oh, you don’t know? Bambi, eno wadi ya balalu”. That ward is for the sick and mentally ill people who committed crimes because of their mental state. I thought they had brought me there for someone to strangle me at night.
The arrest was meant to murder me politically.

I was given novels, newspapers to read but I concentrated on the radio. The next day, my Tendo was brought in and the OC allowed me to be with her. She also promised to give me a more spacious room. She took me to the sick bay with Tendo. Initially, I thought it was a privilege but later I realised it was a punishment. It was solitary confinement.

There were no other people except one lady [looking after it] with who I wasn’t supposed to converse. The rest were people they admitted once in a while. It was like living in hell. The building was near the cemetery, opposite the condemned section.

I always asked the guards to allow me visit the ladies in the condemned section who eventually became my friends. Like them, I also didn’t work.

They loved Tendo very much. She would be with them all day. They aren’t as bad as people think. They are saved women and very understanding. Most of them are accused of killing a husband, step children or co-wife. I was allowed visitors on Tuesday and Thursday.
My husband brought me raw matooke, meat, fish…so I never ate prison food. Prison authorities assigned a prisoner to cook for me daily. I usually had one meal a day at around 3:00p.m. I took tea at night.

Routine activity
It was compulsory for all prisoners to wake up at 5:00a.m. and squat. Then the prison authorities would come and inspect to see who had escaped.

We were only two in my room. Other prisoners would go out to work but I stayed in the room. Initially, I would cry but eventually I started reading. Lukwago brought me cases on corruption and bribery; I am a law student myself so I would be preparing my defence.
I also read novels, European history and some books about Uganda’s history.

I got them from a library in the women wing but I was the only person who accessed it. The newspapers came in the afternoon.

Writing books
Later, I started writing books. I wrote three books in the 11 months I was there. They never allowed me to write but neither did I tell them that I was writing. I would write at night whenever the light was on.
I would then fold them in clothes, give them to my husband or keep them in an exercise book. Besides books, I also wrote poems and letters to my husband.

One of the books was Bonna Bakombozi? (Are they all liberators?). Every leader who came to Uganda claimed they were liberators, so I was asking if it is true that all these people (leaders) are liberators?
Another one was His Excellency Lugondamajja.

It was about the Lugondamajjas of this world, people (leaders) who are only nice at the beginning. People thought I was writing about President Museveni, but it focuses on Obote. But even Museveni, I am not shy to say he is also a Lugondamajja like his predecessors.

The third was The Innocent Prisoner. People thought I was writing about myself but it was about my daughter Tendo and the children of prisoners who are imprisoned with their mothers and others who stay at home.
I was with Tendo for four months and I had to wean her prematurely.

Ghosts in Luzira
Tendo left after four months. When I went to Luzira, there was talk that ghosts would come around and call people but I never believed it. But one night, I was seated writing at around 3:00a.m. I had a voice of a woman coming from the side of the cemetery crying, “Wowe, wowe nyabo! When she reached my way, she started calling “Tendo? Tendo?”

I almost ran out of my skin. I was shivering. There was a sick lady in the sick bay. She was saved, when she heard the voice, she started praying, “Go, Satan, go.”

At first I thought I was dreaming but when she started praying, I knew it was real. The next day I handed Tendo to her father.
One of my books, The Innocent Prisoner, caused me problems with the prison staff who thought I was revealing a lot.

I wrote that it’s easy for a woman to conceive in the prison bus and they did not like it.
But it’s possible, I saw people kissing and having sex in that bus. How can you put a man who has been in jail those years on the same bus with a woman and squeeze them?

The prisoners do all sorts of things, including sex, touching the female wardresses, and using obscene language in that bus.
The men would pretend to be falling down and they get to you. Some of these women are also malayas (prostitutes).

But sometimes it was not done willingly, you could just find your skirt wet because somebody has been rubbing himself on you.
(Asked whether she ever found her skirt wet or had sex on the bus) - what should I say? If I say yes, I would look like somebody exaggerating, if I say no, you would ask, how did you know, but just know that those things happened.

To court
I would say I was given a speedy hearing, according to Ugandan standards. In 11 months I had been heard, convicted, sentenced and appealed. For mention of my case, I went to court every two weeks, when hearing started I sometimes went to court daily.
I don’t know if the magistrate erred, made a poor evaluation of the evidence or if he was influenced.

He said there was no evidence against me, that all the witnesses had exposed themselves as liars; that they should even be charged with perjury (lying under oath). But still, the Chief Magistrate [Frank] Othembi found me guilty and sentenced me to two years’ imprisonment.

He said that according to section five of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1977, court can find somebody corrupt under some circumstances. So I was assumed corrupt.

My appeal was initially handled by [Justice Edmund] Lugayizi and concluded by Okumu Wengi who ruled that it was an absurdity that I was sent to prison because I was presumed corrupt.

I left prison on January 28, 2005, after 11 months in detention. The release was a nice moment but since then I have been in struggles.
I published my books, went into the federo campaign and campaigns for Mukono North constituency. I had made up my mind and declared my intention to stand while still in the dock. If you see somebody misusing power, you remove it from him.

I won the election but was not declared winner. Up to now I have declaration forms which show that I won.
I went to court and proved that. Court nullified the elections. My rival (Rev. Bakaluba Mukasa) has made an appeal but I am sure he will lose it.

Belief in God and a supportive husband kept me going in prison.
I also knew that the public court had not convicted me, the public knew I was innocent.

Looking back, I don’t regret having been arrested. It’s part of the struggle. I think I am a better politician now. You can never threaten me with imprisonment because I have seen it.

You can only threaten me with death but even then I am a believer, a charismatic Catholic. I know I will only die when God decides. I always look at people in prison as innocent. I was there for 11 months when I had done nothing.

Bad days
I started a school for those women in prison. I requested the OC to give me at least two hours a day to teach the women how to read and write their names and it was granted. But the most interesting thing was on Christmas Day when I almost forgot that I was in prison.
Prisoners were all brought together to dance.

We (female prisoners) were visited by the wives of several ambassadors. I was made the judge, awarding marks to the winners; never mind that I don’t know how to sing myself! The OC was there and the askaris danced with us. The worst day was when I stayed in a room with people I didn’t know were insane.

Then days when a prisoner was condemned in court, one would think that somebody had died in Luzira. Prisoners would cry in the cells. Looking at somebody being taken to the condemned section was also terrible.

Then one day, it was Idd; the whole day I was locked inside the room with a dead person. A prisoner had come to the Sick bay on Monday not feeling well. She suddenly fell down and started vomiting blood and later died at around 9:00a.m.

Her body was wrapped in a blanket and left there. Because it was a public holiday, there was no driver to take the body to Mulago mortuary. So your Nambooze sat in the sick bay with the corpse! Unbelievable!

I requested to go in another ward, but they refused. It was designed that I sleep in that situation, but someone came with a vehicle in the evening delivering firewood and offered to take the body to Mulago.
It would be prudent for prison authorities to provide separate buses for women. That is why we are not locked in the same cell.

What have the female MPs done about that? They are supposed to be advocating for such issues.

mcmubs@ugandaobserver.com