June 28, 2007
Arrested five times in two years

Uganda Young Democrats firebrand MUWANGA KIVUMBI has been in and out of detention. The latest was shortly after the anti-Mabira forest give-away demonstration. In 'My Prison Life' this week, he tells MICHAEL MUBANGIZI that he was sprayed with teargas until he fell unconscious. He also claims to have been detained with a mad man who made noise and banged the door throughout the night.

I never grew up in a political family. I don’t even have relatives who are in politics. But I knew so much and read a lot. I read Karl Marx’s books in my Senior Four vacation, so I knew the basic tenets of political economy and developed knowledge of what is right and wrong at an early age.

When I joined Makerere University in 1994, that was the time of Constituency Assembly (CA) debate; politics was at the centre of everything.

So we started UYD-Uganda Young Democrats and I became its national chairman. That marked the beginning of it all. But it’s my work as head of the Popular Resistance against Life Presidency (PRALP) that led to many of my arrests.

Muwanga in a pensive mood during the interview

There was [debate] in 2004 that the constitution was to be changed to give President Museveni a chance to stand again for the presidency.
We decided something extraordinary; an aggressive campaign against the move. We got everybody opposed to this idea on board irrespective of their party’s (UPC, DP, CP, Reform Agenda) ideology.

That is when we started the PRALP to ensure that the constitution is not manipulated and democracy is not derailed. We printed materials, fliers against life presidency and distributed them in the countryside, like in churches. As a result, we were arrested many times.

The recent [Mabira] arrest was one among the many. Sometimes I lose the count but they are in dozens. Some lasted short hours, a day, weeks; others are a simple call to police but they all amount to arrests.

First arrest
My first arrest was in 2005 in Sembabule district. We were detained at the district headquarters prison with Kasozi Ibrahim, Bukenya Church Ambrose, and Eng. [Ssenabulya] Kateregga for four days. We had started opposing the third term under PRALP.

The conditions were horrible. Here you are, you have never been without a toilet, and you are now forced to defecate and urinate in a basin!

In the same cell, they brought a mad man. He made noise, banged the door and shouted all the time we were there. So there was no sleeping. On the forth day we were taken to court in Masaka where we were charged with organising an illegal assembly and released on bail.

Another arrest was in Seeta-Mukono where we were put in a ‘safe house.’ We were kept in a very tiny room. We found there other detained people. But the funny thing is that the LC-3 chairman of that place, one Nsubuga, came with a big stick and men wielding sticks to hit us on the head.

The chairman had crossed from DP to NRM but he never believed that I knew him, so as he was lifting the stick to hit me, I called his name and said “don’t do that”.

If I didn’t know him he would have hit me and other people. We were later released that day. We were again arrested in Jinja and Masaka.
The arrest in Masaka was [particularly] brutal. It was at the beginning of 2005. We had gone for a rally as PRALP members at Nyendo Park. A huge crowd turned up but as we were moving to the venue three vehicles surrounded us.

Teargas spray
A policeman told us to climb a 999 police patrol truck and we were made to sit down. As we were there, a police man ordered: Mubawemu doze (Give them some dose). They fired teargas to each one of us several times in the face, using a container similar to that for doom insecticide.

I lost consciousness and never knew what was happening. The next time I knew I was at Masaka Police headquarters where we were all crying but as a leader you have to recover very fast because you have to provide leadership and make administrative decisions. So the moment I regained my consciousness, I calmed down everyone, but the skin was itching.

Released at midnight
At night, the District Police Commander (DPC) called us and said he wanted to release us. I asked him where he expected us to go at mid night. There was a debate among us and we agreed. We slept in a nearby DP office that night.

My longest arrest was a two-week detention in Masaka again. I was out on bail but skipped going to court to sign my papers because I was doing exams for my third degree at Uganda Martyrs University Nkozi.
It was after the exams that I went to Masaka court. They cancelled my bail and put me in [Masaka remand] prison. I found there Church Ambrose and Kasozi.

There was a hell of lice (ensekere) and skin disease in that prison. Then we had to bathe in a funny way. I had never stripped myself before anyone but in prison I did.

Prisoners get out of their rooms at 7a.m. and are locked in at 4p.m., so you had to find time to bathe in broad daylight when everyone is looking. The first day I thought I couldn’t do it but the second day I had nothing but to do it.

Mabira arrest
The latest arrest was unique. I participated in the Mabira demonstration like any other Ugandan. My active role was at Clock Tower where our experience as organisers was required.
There was a massive crowd but all the MPs - Beti Kamya (Lubaga North) Susan Nampijja (Lubaga South), and [ex-MP] Ken Lukyamuzi had disappeared in thin air.

A few [leaders] remained, like Imam Kasozi and some honourables –Hussein Kyanjo (Makindye West), Beatrice Anywar (Kitgum Woman MP) and Nabilah Naggayi Ssempala (Kampala Woman).
Hon. Kyanjo was in trouble, he [was addressing the crowd but he] did not know how to finish.

That is when me, Kenneth Paul Kakande addressed the crowd.
When you organise a demonstration in the city, it must end in the city, not in a suburb. That is where we played a role in seeing that it takes place. That is when the second demonstration of people marching from Clock Tower to town came. But that couldn’t have been enough to warrant my arrest; there are people who wanted get back at some of us because they believed that much as PRLP was quiet, its core cadreship was behind the opposition in the city.

It also arose from my statements on radio. There is an [accusation] that I called the President Kasulu-Kayungirizi (broker) on Radio Simba which I don’t deny.

In 1980, President Museveni accused Godfrey Binaisa (former president) of turning State House into a clearing house for giving tenders, licence and everything.

So I said that Museveni had also become a property agent more or less like Patrick Kasulu (former proprietor of Property Masters), something he accused Binaisa of doing.

The other statement on the same programme was made in reference to the Vice President, Prof. Gilbert Bukenya. There was a moral crisis on Bukenya when he got in trouble with this lady Jamilah Nakku.
In enlightened countries, Bukenya wouldn’t be a Vice President by now.

There was also no way a president of a country would go and embrace Bukenya in his Kakiri home, praise him and not condemn him [as President Museveni did].

So in that line, I made another statement in Luganda that I did not know hurt the powers that be. I said that ekivundu kyetororwa nswera, (Rotten stuff is surrounded by flies). As long as the presidency is [bad], it cannot chase away flies, I said.

I was arrested on Sunday (April 22, 2007), but on that day I had visited families of a few of my friends who had earlier been arrested - former Kampala central division chairman, Charles Sserunjoji, and Besigye aides; Ibrahim Kasozi and Nuwagaba Jethro to ensure that their children had what to eat. In the evening, I went to Radio Simba for a talk-show where I made another statement about the powerful people.

There was a debate on who was behind the Kiboko squad. I made a cultural analysis and said that the method of fighting emanates from the social context of any group of people.

So I said that [to know who was likely behind Kiboko squad] you had to study which group of people in Uganda fights using sticks. I stopped at that. I did not draw any conclusion but the audience replied, “Pastoralists and Bahima”.

After my presentation, at around 6:45p.m., I left the station. Little did I know that military men had been deployed outside the station.

Arrested again
As I was getting out of Simba, two huge fellows armed with guns, not in uniform, approached me from the back and said, “You are under arrest.”

I never wanted to give them a reason to beat me so I said, “okay I am here”. I did not even ask them why they were arresting me.
I was taken out only to see a heavy deployment by the military and police. I was taken to a waiting 999 police patrol truck where I sat in front with two cars one in front and another behind as we drove to Kampala Central Police Station (CPS).

I kept quiet but my phone was ringing. I think the radio had already announced that I was under arrest. I think relatives and friends were calling me. I wanted to pick it but a man grabbed it. We reached CPS at around 7p.m. and I was taken to the office of the regional CID boss, one Muhammad, who asked me in Luganda to explain the manner of my arrest.

CPS cells
After I had explained, he took me to CPS cells. I knew Serunjoji had been arrested, so on the way I asked this man to call for me Serunjoji.
Sserunjoji came and took me to a room where I joined colleagues, Jethro, [John Mary] Ssebuwufu and Kasozi. There were about 20 people. It was fun, like a party or reunion. Kasozi gave me a pillow and a small mattress to sleep on.

On Monday, I was called to make a statement. There was a poster in Kampala named Mabira murder [showing bodies of two men who had been shot dead during the demonstration].

The poster also likened President Museveni to fallen dictator Idi Amin. They accused me of being behind it. I did not have any knowledge of it.

In the evening, at 4:30p.m., [A police official came down with] a list calling the other 11 people - the Kasozis and Sserunjojis, to go to Buganda Road Court, except me and Jethro. They protested, “No we are not leaving Muwanga, he is part of us”.

They allowed us to go but as we were entering the court, they retained me. Somebody warned me against resisting, that they were looking for an excuse to beat me up. So I was taken back to prison with Jethro. Of course that was a setback, we had been 11 but now we were two.

Besigye aide
Good enough, that evening they brought in Sam Mugumya, the personal assistant to Dr. Besigye, and [Issa] Sekidde from Ndeeba.
There were men who are not even policemen in room 44 at CPS who took Ssekidde in that room and started questioning him. They brought him back at 9:30 pm. He had lost his heart because he had been questioned for many hours but we comforted him.

Later at 11p.m., they called me to go in that room. Sekidde had told me that the people who questioned him had told him that they would call me at midnight and question me. I said over my dead body. They called me and I refused. As a policeman came for me, I told him to behave professionally. There was no business to be done at midnight and that whatever he was doing was irregular.

A rumour was spreading that they were going to kidnap me from CPS, so other inmates gathered at the door threatening to beat up the policeman but he left. On Tuesday nothing happened, I wasn’t taken to court. Mark you the official hours of my arrest had ended on Monday. Even on Wednesday I wasn’t taken to court.

But Mugumya made my prison life a bit better; he is an intellectual just like you would expect a personal assistant to Dr. Besigye to be. We debated global economy, world trade, and international politics. They didn’t allow me visitors but my sister was allowed to bring me food.

The following day on Thursday, I was taken in an office where a guy wanted a statement from me. I told him that I could only make a statement in the presence of my lawyer. I also demanded that he address my irregularities and illegal arrest.

I had been there for more than 48 hours. I told him that until these were addressed, I was ceasing any co-operation with police.
Of course he had nothing to do, so I went back to my cell played cards and continued with our debates.

Later they called me, Ssekidde and two other boys, and took us to court where we were accused of participating in a riot. It was towards 5:00p.m. and it was done before magistrate Stella Amabilis.

To Luzira
We were given bail but it was late, so we had to go to Luzira. But another crisis set in because there was no vehicle to take us to Luzira.
It was raining cats and dogs, so a decision was made to take us back to CPS until the following day when we would be taken to court.

But as we were entering CPS, a policeman came and said, “The vehicle has come and these people have to go to Luzira, orders from above”.
That is when another humiliating and despicable act happened. They put us down in a pick up truck when it was raining.

It was another horrible journey to Luzira. The policemen were stepping on us. We reached Luzira at around 7:00p.m. Immediately we jumped off the pick up truck, I told this man that it wasn’t the best way to treat Ugandans. He looked very shy. Luzira was such an intimidating place with all the silence you can think of, dilapidated buildings, no windows…
All the prisoners were inside. I was taken to what is called a state lodge for new inmates.

Cup of coffee
I broke my resolve not to eat anything. I had not taken anything warm since Monday, so I was craving for a cup of coffee. I found the chairman or head of the ward taking coffee. He knew me. “Kivumbi, have a cup of coffee,” he said. He also gave me a slice of bread and it was difficult to refuse it. Much as I had other considerations not to take anything in Luzira it was irresistible.

I think it’s the sweetest cup of coffee I have ever taken. After that, I was taken to a big room of about 300 inmates where I found two Bayindi (Asians). They had been convicted and they were about to finish their sentences. They gave me a good place to sleep. We slept on the floor.

There were a lot of mosquitoes and ensekere (lice). The head of the ward who gave me coffee had also given me a book about positive living, so I read it until 2a.m. when I slept.

The following day, on Friday, we were brought to Buganda Road and our bail was formally granted.

People in prison tell you horrible stories. One tells you, “I murdered a person”, another one; “me I raped”, another one says, “I gave some body poison.”

So you imagine those are the people you sleep with! Sometimes you are in prison with people who are mentally ill. It’s a very worrying and shocking thing.

In prison you also have a lot of free time because as political prisoners we were spared the hard labour. That is why I recommend any prisoner to have playing cards because they keep you going.

Spying ‘prisoners’
In prison we were often detained with some other suspicious people and these are dangerous. Each time we were arrested there was fear for our lives. So we had to take personal security seriously.
That is why for all my arrests, I never eat prison food or take their tea. I was getting food from outside for security reasons.

Secondly, all the time I have been in prison we have always slept in shifts. I have been lucky. I have always been imprisoned with colleagues so we have always made a private arrangement not to sleep at once.

That is why cards are important so you sleep as others are playing cards. You don’t tell any one but that is what you are up to ensure that nothing suspicious happens.

Generally, arrests and imprisonment make you stronger. There are so many things one can’t do for fear of prison but having been in prison, the only thing I fear is death.