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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
I had planned to bathe but I couldn’t take off my
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
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
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
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.
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 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
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.
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
I got them from a library in the women wing but I was
the only person who accessed it. The newspapers came in
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)
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?
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
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
(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.
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
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
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
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.
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
What have the female MPs done about that? They are supposed
to be advocating for such issues.