Former Minister of State for Health, Soroti Municipality
MPs currently NRM vice chairman (eastern) MIKE MUKULA was
recently remanded to Luzira Prison together with his colleague
Dr. Alex Kamugisha by Chief Magistrate Margaret Tibulya
for abuse of office and embezzlement of funds for the Global
Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI).
In My Prison Life this week Mukula tells MICHAEL
MUBANGIZI why he thinks he is innocent and how
he has lived an honest and sincere life.
Mukula adds that all Ugandans are potential prisoners. He
reveals the jokes he cracked while other prisoners snored
away the night. His story:
I wasn’t interested in joining politics but I joined
national politics on September 27, 1995. I was running an
aviation company [Speed Bird Aviations] that had five aeroplanes
and I was flying President Museveni, Lindah Chalker [former
UK secretary for Overseas Development] and other British
High Commission officials from Kidepo national park going
to Nyakisharara in Mbarara when we had a mishap, a plane
crash that almost brought us to death.
When we survived this plane crash, that’s when I
saw the determination of this man called Yoweri Kaguta Museveni.
The mishap also gave me a deep understanding of Uganda’s
politics and I chose to join the political crusaders of
NRM struggle that day convinced that Museveni and NRM had
a mission to help this country.
I wanted to see a social, political, economic, and technological
transformation of our people.
The major problems of the world are in Africa; poverty
is much more common in sub-Saharan region, HIV/AIDS is about
70% in Africa, drought, wars and human miserly have all
been in the African continent.
So as a nationalist and Pan-Africanist, my conviction
was to be part of the building block that would make Africa
through Uganda a much stronger continent.
I don’t want to dwell so much on the arrest because
it has already happened. Mistakes have been made and have
I want to see that the Police force and instruments managing
the security of this country are improved and that human
rights are observed.
We are soon hosting CHOGM, we are part of the UN, Commonwealth,
and African Union. There are some practices that we must
We have to abide by the UN charter. The charter provides
for basic methods of arrest. My view is that the arrest
should be by court summons or an arrest warrant issued by
courts of law or the Criminal Investigations Department
(CID). All these weren’t done in my arrest. I was
neither invited nor summoned.
A call for me to appear at CID headquarters should have
been sufficient. I have never resisted arrest. I am a law
abiding citizen and senior citizen of this country. There
was no indication that I was going to resist an arrest;
I am not a violent man.
My concern is the manner and the method in which I was
But I leave that as a case study for those in the security
organs to see that much better arrests are carried out in
future not only for me but for the ordinary persons also
because we are all equal before the law, no body is above
the law nor should anyone be below the law.
There should be fairness and justice across board so that
Ugandans can feel that these constitutional changes that
we have gone through are not cosmetic but fundamental.
At home I refused to be harangued into these police vehicles.
I persuaded people who had come to arrest me that I am a
law abiding citizen they should let me drive.
They did not have an arrest warrant but all the same I
agreed to go because they introduced themselves as police
officers of the Republic of Uganda. They told me that I
was wanted at CID headquarters over the case of GAV-Global
Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation. I had no worry,
so I said let’s go.
Before CID officers
We spent seven and half hours without recording any statement,
we weren’t even given breakfast or anything to eat
but I am happy they eventually recorded the statement.
My wife, many MPs, friends and relatives were all there.
After recording the statement we drove to the magistrate’s
court and they preferred those charges [of abuse of office
and embezzlement] against us and sent us to Luzira. Obviously
I denied the charges because I knew I was innocent.
They did not handcuff us but we were prisoners. A prisoner
is a prisoner whether handcuffed or not. [Asked about remarks
he allegedly made while in dock, that his arrest is persecution]-
I will not get into that; that is sub-judice.
Let us not go into areas which will put me in a legal
quagmire. I want to discuss what you suggested- my life
From Buganda Road Court to Luzira Prison I was a guest of
the Republic of Uganda, I couldn’t have travelled
in my vehicle.
But in Luzira Prison, authorities received us when we reached
We had to remove all our belongings-coats, ties, shoes,
stockings, belts and give them to prison authorities.
Then we were registered, I was number 949. Dr. Alex Kamugisha
was number 950. Then we were briefed about what prison life
is about; what is expected, the time we would go to sleep;
how we would bathe, use and clean the toilet, the time they
close and other things. The prison normally closes at 4
p.m. and they aren’t opened until about 7 a.m unless
there is an emergency.
Excellent prison officials
In prisons we were in a room of approximately 26 people
with different charges. There are some who are already convicted
or on remand.
The inmates were humbled by our being there; we weren’t
the first MPs or leaders of this country to be there.
You know that under Obote, five or six ministers were
detained in Luzira. Ministers were detained under Idi Amin
and [even under Museveni’s government;] Omara Atubo
[ then minister of state for Defence, now minster of Lands
], Zachary Olum, Moses Ali were there.
So there are many people who have been to Luzira, we are
neither the first nor the last leaders in this country to
go to Luzira.
One of the things I noted is that the Prisons officials
are well trained in human rights, discipline, and management
of prisoners. I truly commend them. The capacity they have
in terms of human resources management is excellent.
The only problem they have is lack of equipment and necessary
infrastructure. They are over congested for instance they
have an average of two buses yet the number of prisoners
is close to 4,000.
Murchison Bay was built in 1947 to accommodate 604 prisoners
and hasn’t had any rehabilitation and major change
in terms of infrastructure.
So Luzira prison has dilapidated infrastructure, the toilets
are archaic and pre-colonial. But at least you have continuous
running water in the toilets but they aren’t flashed.
The toilet doubles as a bathroom and it is a very small
toilet, about 3 feet across.
I donated my mattress
I had a one-inch mattress that my family arranged for me;
the authorities don’t want big mattresses because
the space is small.
But there are people who sleep on mats provided by the prisons
because they can’t afford a mattress.
I was particularly humbled by somebody who before I left
said, “please give me your mattress because I hardly
sleep, this floor is killing me.”
I gave it to him.
Dr. Kamugisha slept on my left, another engineer who I
won’t name slept on my right. Kamugisha has hypertension
and a number of complications, his pressure kept fluctuating.
His conditions were abnormal. Even the engineer had high
blood pressure and it was also fluctuating. I had to look
after them. At night I would wake up three or four times
to see that they are sleeping well.
Jokes in Luzira
I was okay and had a peaceful state of mind. I remember
cracking jokes of those who were snoring. I would tell them
that the frogs from the swamp would complain because it
was too much.
At night when you wake up to ponder you would hear these
people, the mentally impaired snoring at different levels.
You could hear people dreaming, having nightmares which
shows that someone is worried.
At 4 a.m. the bathing starts because there is a queue
of many people wanting to bathe. For me I normally bathed
at 6 a.m. my usual time. In Luzira, the night starts earlier
at 4 p.m when you are locked inside, and at 5 p.m most prisoners
The ventilation is poor; air circulation inadequate. So
the rooms are very hot, you can’t use a blanket yet
bed sheets are not allowed because they fear that prisoners
can hang themselves using bed sheets.
Concerning health my problem with Luzira was tuberculosis
(TB) or upper chest respiratory infection. Because of the
poor ventilation, if somebody with TB in early stages is
brought into the general congested halls then you have a
I think there should be a questionnaire aimed at ascertaining
if one has an infectious disease. There should be separate
rooms for such people.
I ate prison kawunga
I think the provision of welfare still lacks in Uganda prisons.
The feeding in Luzira is not the best because prison is
ill-equipped and under funded. It is an average meal, very
basic- posho and beans, dry tea and may be porridge.
The law doesn’t allow any food to be taken into
prison, people would get into difficulties of adulterated
food being given to prisoners and if somebody died in custody
it would cause problems. So I was eating prison food. But
there is no torture and harassment and I did not hear of
cases of sodomy (gay sex) in Luzira.
Another thing that I noticed is that there are about 500
people who have been sentenced to death waiting to be hanged
This is a worrying number because the day they hanged them
all at once it will be a massacre.
And about 40% of Luzira inmates are charged with defilement.
Some people have been in Luzira for between four to seven
years without any trial.
Some of their cases are misdemeanours for which if someone
was to be charged their sentences would not exceed nine
months, at most two years, but they have stayed there too
long. Remember justice delayed is justice denied.
We are basically living in different worlds. The conditions
in Luzira are extreme. An average meal a day of posho and
beans, a cup of dry (black) tea with very little sugar;
prisons can’t afford milk and they don’t have
enough recreation activities.
They can’t have football, television sets, books
to read, newspapers are limited to those who can afford
to buy them. I want to see that Luzira and any other detention
centre should be for correction purposes; to rehabilitate
people so that they come out of incarceration better people.
It should be a reform centre. Luzira is filled with mostly
young people at their prime. An opportunity to read should
be offered and a tertiary institution should be built there.
Even long distance learning should be availed so that
those who can pay and are sentenced for a long time can
come out with a first degree, master’s degree or PhD
such that when they are out they aren’t liabilities
but can help this country.
It is true there are those who get spiritual healing in
Luzira by turning to God but also there are others who become
hardcore criminals, they get hard.
In fact I am told there are those when they come out,
they commit other crimes and they are returned to Luzira
so it means prison hasn’t helped them.
When you see 500 people condemned, it means there is something
fundamentally wrong. There is need to improve the prison
industry because this is free labour especially of young
people to be used.
The prison industry needs more support. I want to see
the parliamentary committee of Defence and Internal Affairs,
ministers of Internal Affairs, the Prime Minister visiting
this industry, talk to prisoners and listen to their complaints.
It wouldn’t be a bad idea if the president himself
went to see the life in Luzira and see how it can be corrected.
Jesus spent a lot of time visiting people of this nature.
The less privileged people of our society should be helped
to become better citizens.
Then another thing that I noted is that it is very difficult
for the elderly and disabled to use toilets. It’s
one way where you have to squat and it is a trying time
for someone who is either disabled, or advanced in age.
Everybody, even you; all people are potential prisoners,
so you can’t say; I will never be a prisoner or go
to prison. It is a question of a decision being taken or
you being caught on the other side of the law.
Remand shouldn’t be a punishment, a person is presumed
innocent until proven guilty. So this argument that somebody
should remain on remand yet there is a provision of bail
in Article 23 of the Constitution .
Blessing in disguise
Experience is the best teacher. So the arrest to me was
a God given opportunity for me to see the conditions in
Luzira. I now have the experience of having been in Luzira
and nobody can tell me and I take it as a fairly tale, it
is something I have gone through.
I have seen the realities of Luzira, the suffering in
Luzira, the challenges people go through. I appeal to other
people to feel for those who are in Luzira. I think we need
to give an opportunity to those who are there and have been
detained for a long time to have a speedy and fair hearing.
I want to see that justice is done not for the rich, it
should be for all. Even me as I go through the trial of
my case I want to see a quick trial so that I am given the
opportunity to prove my innocence to the rest of the world.
I have already told you that there are people who have
been in Luzira for over seven years without trial, do you
call that fairness?
Do you see it as just? There is also need to provide legal
aide to people who don’t know the law.
I recently read a judicial review by the Court of Appeal
in Mbale that acquitted two young people who had been sentenced
to death in Mbale.
If nobody had taken that case, if they did not have the
money to pursue it they would have been hanged.
How many more do we have in that state, who don’t
have legal aide to address their grievances before courts
of law? That is the injustice I am talking about.
Prison is not a good place. Your human rights are withdrawn.
Then being there knowing that you are innocent is worse.
Thirdly, you are not allowed to communicate; you are not
allowed a phone. Allowing these facilities as it is done
in other countries is something we must review in the Prisons
But the positive as I have said is that I have been able
to experience the other things, major setbacks people go
through and there is need for us to review the conditions
as I have already said. Actually I wanted to stay there
a bit longer.
I would have loved even to start my trial in Luzira and
be acquitted while in Luzira if that would have satisfied
those who had sent me to Luzira, but my lawyers managed
to get me bail. Being self willed kept me going in all this.
I am a very strong willed person once I am convinced about
You remember when the Barlonyo massacre took place people
were going there and getting blood pressure but me I went
there without putting on a mask. When I went to fight Joseph
Kony in the outskirts of Soroti Municipality all the people
left but I remained.
So in prison my mind was convinced that I am innocent.
I am a very strong willed person, even if you put me in
Luzira for 30 years I will come out as strong as I am.
But prison was a difficult, trying time for my family
and friends. I was sentenced by the various opinions but
I think now that it is before an appropriate organ of the
state, I am looking forward to the earliest start of this
You heard people on radio; there are those who thought
that we were guilty; others thought that we were untouchables.
But I am happy that it is before courts of law, I want to
see the trial.
I don’t regret having been arrested as I have said.
It is something I have been looking forward to. But now
I want it behind me. I want a speedy trial because it affects
my family, children, friends, travel and my political party.
My last word is that I thank all who have stood by me
through this trying time. The Baganda have a saying that
Tosala gwa kawala nga to nawuliriza gwa kalenzi [Meaning
you can’t make a judgement before you listen to both
sides]. The truth will come to light.
Those who stood by me in this trying time; I am for ever
indebted to them. Whereas the law is clear that you are
innocent until proven guilty; some people stayed away but
others chose to be with me, those who stood by me are heroes
in my heart.
I want to thank my friends from all over the world, the
leaders across who put aside their party colours, and stood
by me. I thank the Movement leaders who were with me, the
MPs from various ideological fronts. The truth will come
out. I have lived a sincere and honest life.
I will prove my innocence and honesty before courts of
law so that the people of Uganda and the whole world can
know the truth.
I also want to say that no body knows the truth except God.