NEW SERIES: MY PRISON LIFE
 
 
June 28, 2007
After 4 years without seeing Besigye, we met in one cell!

JOSEPH MUSASIZI KIFEFE, a brother of FDC president, Dr. Kizza Besigye, one of the People’s Redemption Army suspects has since November 2004 been detained in Kigo, Luzira Prisons, Kampala Central Police Station (CPS), CMI, and Nyamushekyera prison in Bushenyi, on several charges, including treason, terrorism and murder. Musasizi was recently released [on bail] while bedridden at Mulago Hospital, suffering from cancer of the blood (leukaemia).
In an emotional account of his prison ordeal, Musasizi tells MICHAEL MUBANGIZI that troubles with his health began when he was denied treatment in Bushenyi prison where he says the three PRA suspects were exclusively denied medical attention forcing them to resort to healing “the natural way.”

I studied business and have always been in business, so I am a businessman not a politician. But every individual is a politician because you always see things you want to comment about. Because my brother [Dr. Kizza Besigye] is into politics, sometimes I fail to take decisions. And this is what I see in many families where an older person joins politics, you find yourself unable to either oppose or support him directly.

Musasizi Kifefe with his son Joshua during the interview

That is the predicament I am in. But some of us had politically disagreed with the system.

The arrest
Before the arrest, my friends used to tell me that security operatives always followed me, but I didn’t care. Because I thought I was innocent until November 23, 2004 when I was arrested.

I arrived at my place of work, Total Nsambya, as I entered my office, some operatives dressed in civilian attire came in.
One of them told me that they had come to arrest me, I said “what about?” “Our boss wants to interrogate you at CPS,” he said. They didn’t tell me which boss. They allowed me to move with my cashier who was going to the bank.

We went to Crane Bank. But instead of going to CPS thereafter, as they had told me, they commandeered my vehicle and took me into a different vehicle to the Joint Anti-Terrorism Task force (JATT) offices in Kololo.

JATT offices
About five casually dressed JATT and CMI operatives interrogated me from one o’clock to 10p.m. They were asking me about my dealings [with my brother] Col. Kizza Besigye, whether I knew anything about the PRA. I said I didn’t. In the process, my hand phone was taken as an exhibit. I hope it will be brought in court.

Around 10:30 p.m., they took me to CPS where I stayed for a night. The following day they took me to CID headquarters for further interrogation, this time by Police.

But these JATT people brought a file of what they had compiled the previous day to guide them (police at CPS). So it really did not make sense because they picked questions from a file where I was interrogated under duress (at JATT offices).

I requested to get my attorney during the interrogation but they refused. So it took a lot of time for me to accept to be interrogated without my lawyer.

The interrogation took the whole day, up to around 5 p.m., but finally my lawyer Yusuf Nsibambi located me. The following day, I was charged with treason and misprision of treason at Buganda Road court and sent to Kigo Prison where I spent one month.

Kigo Prison
I found there one guy, Mugisha Willy, who had been arrested in relation to PRA. I hadn’t known him before but he welcomed me and showed me where to sleep and provided meals.

Later, they brought other PRA suspects and I knew about four of them who hail from Rukungiri like me. They were allegedly arrested in Koboko, Arua and Yumbe, while some had been picked from town, like Darius Tweyambe, who was a student at Makerere University.

About an hour later in Kigo, they served supper - posho and beans, including my share. I looked at the posho and wondered if I would survive. I refused to eat it. I ate biscuits and drank two bottles of mineral water.

The following day my wife came with a number of friends and brought me some provisions - food stuffs, mattress and a blanket.
The room I was detained in was congested and they didn’t have treated water. They had water from Lake Victoria; actually new people would be given preventive treatment for bilharzia because the water is bad.

Every 14 days I would be taken to Buganda Road Court on a truck because there is no bus in Kigo.

Christmas in Luzira
After one month and towards Christmas, we were transferred to Luzira on December 23, 2004, so you can imagine the kind of Christmas we had.

I have never known why we were transferred there but they said they were taking us for better facilities which actually they are. Unlike in Kigo where we slept in open wards, in Luzira we had individual cells where we stayed one or two people.

At one time I stayed with a colleague but most of the time I have been in my own cell. They have some method of selecting people to stay alone; they looked at things like status and education level.
We reached Luzira at around 7:30p.m. and the first night was terrible. I had prepared my food with Mugisha and we carried it in boxes but we were taken to different rooms; I stayed with the sauce and Mugisha stayed with the food.

There was no power. We were congested, five of us were dumped in one room. I think it’s about 8 by 6 ft. We kept wondering what the next step would be.

One of us suggested that we were in the condemned section which made people worried; wondering if we had been condemned before being tried. The following day, we were formally received at the reception. The other prisoners had heard about our arrest.
We continued to make our own food but we had to first apply through the medical personnel - it is a doctor who recommends that you can have special diet.

We had come with food stuffs from Kigo that moved us for three days as we applied formally. The doctor said, “Well, if you can afford your own food, why not have it?” Since then I have always had food from home.

Chicken mash posho
Of course prison food is not the best. The posho is sometimes like chicken mash. But we also feared being poisoned. We selected from among us fellow inmates to prepare the food. But we ensured that people who prepared our food ate with us to be sure that nothing had been dumped in the food. We often cooked matooke, potatoes and posho.

That is why I praise my wife Christine; every week she brought me provisions. My colleagues also got some. I would get like on Monday; another one would get on Wednesday; another one on Friday; that combined would take us through the week.

The hygiene in Luzira is much better, compared to other prisons I have been to. There was constant running water in my ward but I don’t know about other wards because our movements were restricted. They didn’t want us to interact with other inmates.

There are Protestant (Anglican) and Catholic churches, and a mosque. I never missed going to the Anglican Church.

Meeting Rwakasisi
That is where I met Chris Rwakasisi (former Minister of State for Security in Obote II) who is now on death row; he is a church elder. He is very strong and bright. I think he has come to terms with his conditions. He takes Luzira as his home and family. His friends are young men whom he comforts. My interaction with him was mainly spiritual. He is a very good Bible teacher. We always had Bible studies. He knows the Bible very well.

It was also in the east wing that I met - I don’t know whether to say famous or notorious – [former ADF commander] Benz. I think he is on highway robbery charges.

Health wise, he is okay but he looks hopeless because he hasn’t been to any court for three and half years. He is bitter because you know he brought himself out of the bush; he thought he would work with the system. He feels the same system has framed and incarcerated him.

Censored newspapers
They gave us newspapers everyday at around 10-11a.m., except Red Pepper. There was a problem of censoring.
Some pages concerning pornography would be removed. I must thank the media for the coverage they have given us, reading reports about ourselves and our case was comforting.

We would know that someone cares, someone is concerned and thinks about us, and I think it would put pressure on the powers-that-be to have the trial expeditiously done.

I have been reading your My Prison Life series. After reading them I would realise that much of what they tell you is identical. Their experience was the same; same diet, same treatment, same everything. Sometimes I would be surprised because you would write about things I thought I was experiencing alone. This was especially true of people like [Robert] Kitariko, [Prof. Dani Wadada] Nabudere and [Night] Kulabako. You would look at an institution as something that doesn’t change.

Civilised prison staff
I must say prison staff are more civilised in the way they treat people compared to other places I have been to. In Luzira they have a library where we would borrow books, so if there was electricity you would read books, papers, until you slept.

They opened around 6 a.m., then we would wake up, bathe and have breakfast between 9-10 a.m. Our breakfast was mainly tea, porridge, sometimes with bread, but mainly with chapatti.

We had guys from Bombo who made good chapatti. Once in while we had katogo whenever we got a lot of matooke from relatives.

Besigye my cellmate
Besigye came in when I had spent a year in prison. As I told you, I was arrested in November 2004 and he was arrested in November 2005. We were following his arrest on KFM radio because there is a radio in Luzira. So we expected him. Before he came, we were all evacuated from the east wing and taken to another ward.

Actually, that night he stayed there alone. But the next day I think he protested. He had slept in my previous cell, so when we came back from court they took me back to east wing and I joined him; he became my cellmate.

We had taken about four years without meeting because I was arrested when he was in exile. Ordinarily, I would feel happy meeting him but under prison conditions of uncertainty even greeting each other was a bit difficult. After four years without meeting a brother and you meet in a cell!

It was difficult; in fact we spent some good minutes without talking; we were just looking at each other. Finally we talked but it wasn’t easy.
The likelihood of being poisoned became high since he was more of a target than us. So most of the time I would keep guard on the cell wherever he was out, and so did he.

There was a ray of hope after his arrest; we had a presidential candidate so we knew our trial would be much faster. No body believed Besigye would leave and spend a whole year while we are still in prison [although it has happened].

Dodgy amnesty
I have gone through whatever the rest have gone through, only that there was a time when they would call individuals either to cajole or to coerce them into applying for amnesty and I wasn’t among them.
They (CMI, Amnesty Commission) would come and tell us, ‘you know they called us; they were telling us this and that’.

But we also had our own idea about what amnesty was all about. It be would like convicting yourself of something you never committed.

Black mamba day
On November 16, 2005, we left Luzira at around 8:30a.m. and by 10:30a.m. we were in the court room (High Court). It did not take long for Justice Ssempa Lugayizi to make a ruling that bail was a constitutional right and we were entitled to it.

By 1 p.m. we had met the [bail] conditions, like the sureties. There was excitement. We thought we were going back to our families.
But we started seeing people with walk-talkies, calling here and there. We started seeing commotion and the Black Mamba.

We, including our lawyers, said that the best thing was for us not to sign or else we would be re-arrested. So we went back to Luzira.
Two days later, on November 18, we were taken to the General Court Martial [in Makidye] and charged - I think with terrorism and illegal possession of firearms. This was a holding charge aimed at legally holding us in prison much as we had been granted bail.

It breaks one’s heart to realise that court has granted you bail but other forces say, “no way, you aren’t going out.” You wonder if you can ever get justice!

This time I was in Mulago Hospital when I heard that I had been granted bail but there was no excitement. I thought it was the usual joke.

In the evening, I expected people to come and say, “No you are not going anywhere”. As PRA suspects, we kind of became a family in prison; we started looking at ourselves as a family of haunted citizens. We also made friendship with other inmates but rarely do you see inmates visit fellow inmates after prison.

I think the picture is so bad that you wouldn’t want to see prison again.
But generally other inmates looked at us - PRA suspects - with sympathy, especially as the case dragged on. People started seeing that we are being persecuted.

Dumped in Bushenyi
We were transferred to Nyamushekyera Prison on March 2, 2007. We had come to the High Court because there was a civil application by the Solicitor General, Lucian Tibaruha, challenging the bail we had been granted.

We thought we would get out because the Constitutional Court had ruled that we were entitled to bail and that the Court Martial had nothing to do with us. It also ruled that all our cases before the General Court Martial should be quashed.

While in court, our lawyers brought in preliminary objections to Tibaruha’s objections and the Solicitor General said he had been ambushed. He couldn’t respond to the objections. He had done this earlier and for three times he hadn’t appeared in court to challenge it.
That is when Justice [Elidad] Mwangusya threw it out with costs.

He had earlier, I think, made a mistake to remand us on a civil suit which we challenged. So this time he said his remand warrant had expired that day and he could not remand us further. He said we were free to go but we were re-arrested instead and taken to Bushenyi prison.

Three of us; myself, Tweyambe Darius, and Frank Atukunda were picked from the High Court at night and dumped at CPS where we spent the night. Some of my colleagues hadn’t got bail and as such they were taken back to Luzira.

At around 5:30a.m., some senior police officers came, put us on a Police pick-up truck and said they were taking us to CID headquarters for interrogation.

Instead of CID, they took us to CMI headquarters in Kitante and dumped us in a cell. There was no interrogation.
At around 8a.m., some of our colleagues who had been taken to Luzira the previous day were brought in and they joined us. We asked them why they had come. They said, “No, we have been told that we are being put on a permanent transfer to Arua”.

At about 9a.m., I was put in a military double cabin vehicle. The other colleagues were put in another car. There were also two police escort vehicles.

That is when we heard of Bushenyi as drivers were being briefed to take us to Bushenyi and drive back. So we started wondering, why Bushenyi of all places? None of us comes from Bushenyi. I and Darius come from Rukungiri, while Atukunda comes from Ntungamo.

Anyway, we drove non-stop to Bushenyi Police. They did not tell me anything along the way until we reached Bushenyi. We waited there for an hour as they prepared the charge sheet.

Murder charges
They finally took us to a court opposite the Police station where we were charged with murder and the same military trucks took us to Nyamushekyera Prison.

When they read murder charges, we actually laughed. We have gone through a lot such that when they said murder, “we said now what?”
We knew this was a holding charge, after all we had been granted bail the previous day and were brutally re-arrested. They had to look for something to hold us in prison ‘legally’. The murder charge caught me by surprise, although it doesn’t at all worry me. Even today I don’t know the person they said I ‘killed’, not even the place where I allegedly killed him. I only hear of a place Maramagambo and a certain - I think, John Byarugaba.

Worst prison
Nyamushekyera prison has so far been the worst prison I have been to. Its conditions are pathetic.
It has terrible sanitation, they have no running water, yet they have flashing toilets. They are so congested; a ward meant to accommodate 46 people accommodates 130 people. To add salt to an injury we were denied access to medical facilities! Remember we had been clobbered at the High Court when we were being re-arrested at night at around 8:30p.m.

I don’t know what group it was [that clobbered us] because it was at night when were being re-arrested, brutally I must say.

Cause of illness
So we became hopeless for a month and half. We could not access medical facilities; that is when we said, “okay, let’s heal the natural way.” And this is where I got this problem (leukaemia) that led me to being in Mulago all this time. Because I was denied treatment!
It could have been diagnosed much earlier.

Other inmates would be taken to Ishaka Adventist Hospital, unlike the three of us who were denied access to medical facilities. We were also denied access to our lawyers. We requested to have access to our lawyers and the OC said, “No, you can’t access anybody.”

We actually looked at it as Guantanamo Bay (US naval base in Cuba where Al Queda suspects are locked up). We were taken there to suffer. But since Bushenyi is closer to our homes [in Rukungiri and Ntungamo], relatives and friends brought us provisions.

Originally, everyday was visiting day but after one week, they said that for us (PRA suspects) visitors are allowed on Monday, Wednesday and Friday only.

Protests in prison
However, we slowly protested, made some noise until they made it uniform for all of us. We did not see any reason why we should be treated differently.

But later they put instructions that we should only receive close relatives - wife, parents, brothers and sisters, which we also protested and was reversed.

We slept like others - squeezed about 130 people in a ward. Mattresses were allowed for those who had them. We got ours from our relatives but there are others who sleep on cement.

We would just go out, chat, read newspapers and books. But there are others who spent days without going out because they were restricted in a ward.

They had what they called parties: water party for those who would fetch water; firewood party for those who looked for firewood. This was looked at as a privilege [to move out].

Then there were those, especially capital offenders, who didn’t have parties and remained inside. We called them 360 because before the law was revised, these are people who stayed on a mandatory remand period of one year [before appearing in court]. Now it is 180 days. I happen to be a capital offender so I had no party. Besides, the three of us were treated differently. We sat the whole day facing the OC’s office for easy monitoring by the warders. That is where we read newspapers and had our meals until 4 o’clock when we went inside.

Reflections
Knowing that I am innocent has kept me going. I looked at my imprisonment as a test we must all go through. Life is never straight. I knew that much as I may suffer, one day I would come out although it may take long.

I greatly missed my family, young as you see them (points to his young daughter and his six-year-old Joshua whose frequent visits disrupted the interview). They have missed that fatherly love and a number of things in my absence.

I used to drop them to school but when I was arrested they started going by the school bus which they don’t like. Now they tell me that they want to leave it and I start taking them. But sometimes problems bring families closer.

I think the experience has brought my wife and children much closer. My business has declined and my savings have been greatly depleted. I would have to start from scratch. Rejuvenating my business will be difficult, especially since I have to spend some few months at home and feed without earning.

After prison you look at things and individuals differently. People you call friends spend three years without visiting you, yet they are residents of Kampala! Socially, you wonder what kind of persons they are. Even politically, you start looking at things differently. If you can pick a businessman [like me] and allege that he was engaged in subversive activities, you wonder where Uganda is going.

Now I think I am more politically oriented than before. I had never thought I would engage so much in politics but almost everyday I find myself discussing, thinking politics because it has greatly impacted on me. But I will remain in my business, I won’t engage in competitive politics.

Prison has taught me that as an individual you should expect anything anytime. You can never be safe; you can never say that you will never be imprisoned because you are clean. Anytime there can be allegations [against you].

Another thing that bothers me is this thing by Police that “investigations are going on!” Why don’t you investigate first so that by the time you arrest me you are sure to have me charged, tried and may be convicted, or set free?

Last word
I am happy am out on bail. The case is not yet complete. The major consideration [of granting me bail] was my health conditions. My release on bail is an indication that some semblance of rule of law is taking shape. My prayer is that my co-accused be allowed to exercise their right to bail. I wish they grant them bail so that this case can be done away with.

mcmubs@ugandaobserver.com