New Book | Daniel Kalinaki – “Kizza Besigye and Uganda’s Unfinished Revolution” – A Three Part Serialization

Posted December 19, 2014 by Ugandan Diaspora News Team in book review ~ 10,160 views


L-R: Col Kizza Besigye, Maj Amanya Mushega, Maj Kaka, Maj Tom Butime, and other bush war comrades pose for a photo. Monitor Photo

L-R: Col Kizza Besigye, Maj Amanya Mushega, Maj Kaka, Maj Tom Butime, and other bush war comrades pose for a photo. Monitor Photo

One morning in late February 1981, Besigye was preparing to fly to Nairobi to buy stethoscopes for sale to the growing number of private health facilities in Kampala. Although committed to the medical profession, he was ever quick to spot a business opportunity. Besigye collected his air ticket from the Uganda Airlines office at Kimathi Avenue then walked to the Kampala International Hotel, as the Sheraton Hotel was then known, to meet Saidi, a friend who was also the son of a prominent Tanzanian opposition leader, Abdallah Said Fundikila.

The hotel, a towering edifice in the heart of Kampala, was in the process of changing its name back to Apolo Hotel after Obote’s return to power, a semantic reminder of the constantly swinging pendulum of political power in the country. Besigye headed to the hotel house telephone booths to announce his arrival. He had just lifted the telephone receiver to his ear and was reaching for the rotary dial when somebody tapped him on his shoulder. Besigye turned around and saw a man he had never seen before.

“Put down the telephone,” the man said. ‘Why?’ Besigye asked. “Put down the telephone and come with me,” the man repeated, his voice growing firmer and impatient.
Besigye gave the man a withering look of anger and contempt. Who was this man and just who the hell did he think he was? “You want to return Aminism here?” Besigye finally shot back. “If you want me, sit there and wait.”

He was turning back to the telephone booth when the man now reached out and grabbed Besigye by the collar with one hand and yanked him out of the telephone booth. A pistol suddenly appeared in the man’s other hand and he pressed its muzzle against Besigye’s ribs. The power fight had shifted considerably into the man’s favour with the introduction of the firearm into the conversation.

Seeing a man point a pistol at another also convinced other people in the hotel lobby about the importance of finding better places to be, and many hurriedly scampered outside and away to safety. Another man who had been lurking in the background now also approached Besigye and the two led him outside the hotel. A Land Rover pick up truck was waiting at the hotel guest drop-off point. Besigye was thrown onto the back of the Land Rover, which then sped off. He did not know where he was being taken, and why, but he recognised the familiar landmarks as the truck sped down the hill and, a few moments later, drove into the International Conference Centre, also known as Nile Mansions.

Amin’s government had built the conference centre in 1975 when Uganda hosted the annual meetings of the Organisation of African Unity, that infamous eclectic club of the continent’s patriots, despots and scoundrels. The complex, later to become the Kampala Serena Hotel, was the best of its kind in the country. It was a reminder of the schizophrenic nature of Idi Amin, who built impressive national facilities that stirred feelings of patriotism, while hunting down and murdering citizens with blood-curling brutality.

The arrest
First under Amin and now under Obote, security agents used part of the complex as a detention centre and a torture chamber. It was here that Besigye’s captors brought him and handed him over to a policeman. He was ordered to remove his shoes and belt. His briefcase with his money, passport, air tickets and other important documents were taken away. A metallic door was swung open and the policeman shoved Besigye into a makeshift cell that had been an office in the conference centre. Neither the plain-clothed men who had arrested him, nor the policeman, had identified themselves. The door clanged shut behind Besigye.

There were about 30 people lying on the floor of the cell. Besigye could not identify any of them in the poor light. A couple of inmates advised Besigye to sit down and make himself comfortable. However, the cell floor was filthy and the room reeked of sweat and unwashed bodies. Besigye did not want to soil his clothes by sitting down.
“I am on my way to the airport,” he said to everyone and no one in particular. “I am on the Uganda Airlines flight to Nairobi this afternoon.”

There was silence from the other inmates. Besigye remained standing. He could not imagine his white jeans rubbing against the dirty cell floor. He stayed close to the door. The ventilation was better here. In any case this was a terrible mistake and as soon as it was discovered he would be set free, he thought to himself. It was around 11:30am. Only half an hour had passed since his arrest. Seconds ticked by. Some inmates whispered to one another. One or two gave him bored but curious look-overs. Others stared ahead blankly, their minds wandering with the freedom their bodies could not enjoy.

Minutes passed. Then hours. Soon it was 1pm. In the faint distance a muezzin called the Muslim faithful to prayer. Cars hooted. Life went on. Two pm.  By the time it got to 3pm, Besigye’s legs were numb. He squatted. His flight was scheduled for 4pm. It was now clear that he would not be on that flight to Nairobi. Comfort overtook cleanliness at around 6pm. That is when Besigye, his legs now a hot furnace of needle pinpricks, cleaned out a portion of the dirty floor as best as he could and sat down. It was Besigye’s first time inside a cell. He did not know it then but it would not be the last. Sometime between 8 and 9pm, two drunken uniformed soldiers came to the cell door. They were speaking to each other in Luo. They peered into the cell and one of them asked if anyone wanted tea.

“Yes please,” Besigye said urgently, his voice over-eager. He had not had anything to eat since morning. Earthquakes of hunger rumbled through his stomach. He slowly rose to his feet. He found it odd that none of the other inmates came forward. Maybe they were just not interested.

Come to think of it, he thought quietly, they did not particularly strike him as tea-drinkers. He soon discovered that ‘tea’ meant a beating, not a beverage. The soldiers rummaged through a corner and produced copper electricity wires that had been wound together to form a whip. They started whipping Besigye like they were killing a snake. Whack! Thump! Slash!

They did not care where they hit. Backside, buttocks, neck, feet, they struck without discrimination. Besigye did the best he could to cover his head with his hands, but that left the rest of his body unprotected from the blows. The beating continued for a while until an elderly inmate cried out in Kiswahili to the men to stop. They initially ignored him but when his shrill voice started irritating them, they turned to the old man, slashing through his old, wrinkly body with their savage wire whip. The other inmates stayed quiet.

When the drunken soldiers finally tired from their physical exertions, staggered out of the prison. Besigye lay on the floor in the foetal position. His body was ablaze with pain and he was bleeding badly. The old man was groaning in a corner. The grim reality of his situation now hit Besigye. This wasn’t just a terrible mistake; it was hell.
After three days of detention and beatings, Besigye was taken to the dreaded room 211 in Nile Hotel for interrogation. At least he would now be told why he was being held and what crime he was accused of committing.

The room was notorious. Many who had been interrogated here had never been seen again. The few that came out and found freedom spoke of men who did bad things to make people talk. Besigye’s captors wanted to know if he had attended a student meeting at Makerere (he hadn’t) and if he was in touch with Museveni and his fellow fighters (he wasn’t). They were also curious to know about his trip to Nairobi, which had become a base for opponents of Obote’s regime. Besigye told his captors he knew nothing about the alleged meetings and gave details of his planned purchases of stethoscopes in Nairobi. Still they continued to hold him prisoner.

More than three weeks after Besigye’s arrest, a colonel in the Tanzanian army came to the detention place. The Tanzanians had stayed on after defeating Amin and continued to wield significant influence over the government as the Obote regime attempted to rebuild the Ugandan Army. Besigye had earlier treated the colonel at Mulago Hospital. The officer instantly recognised the prisoner and had Besigye brought to him to a bench outside the cell. Besigye narrated his ordeal to the Tanzanian officer. The colonel was surprised to hear that Besigye was in custody and accused, of all things, of collaborating with the Museveni rebels. He promised to see if he could secure his release.

His release
At around 7pm, some guards came and called him out. They handed him his shoes, his belt, and even his wallet. The wallet did not have a lot of money but whatever had been in there was still intact. He was led to Room 226 of the Nile Mansions and presented before Maj Francis Agwa who was in charge of military intelligence. The Tanzanian colonel was also in the room.

“There are these allegations that you seem to be involved in subversive activities,” Maj Agwa said, thumbing through a paper file on the desk in front of him.

“We are investigating and we wanted you to assist us in that investigation. Maybe it should not have taken that long. Our people are not efficient as yet. Anyway, my brother here knows you. He knows you cannot be involved with this kind of thing. We believe him. So we are going to release you. Just keep coming here and reporting everyday at 3pm. There will be somebody here whom you can report to everyday.”

It was 8:30pm when Besigye got home. He was hungry. He was tired. His body was covered in wounds. He had not had a shower in a month and a half. He telephoned a friend, and narrated his ordeal. His friend offered to come over in the morning. Besigye got into the shower.

Escape to Kenya

When the friend turned up in the morning he agreed with the decision Besigye had arrived at in the dead of the night: Uganda was not safe for him anymore. He offered to help Besigye flee the country immediately.  And so, without even a toothbrush, spare shirt or [a pair of] trouser[s], which Besigye feared could give him away if they were stopped and searched, he entered his friend’s VW Beetle. They drove from Kampala, taking back roads to avoid the several roadblocks littered across the main roads. The VW Beetle coughed and splattered as they snaked their way through eastern Uganda, past the Owen Falls Dam in Jinja, all the way to the border. They bribed the border guards at Busia, crossed into Kenya at around 6pm and checked into a hotel for the night. Besigye was now out of Uganda but he still wasn’t sure about his destination or his options. Fate was about to deal him a wild card.

At the hotel Besigye ran into Jim Muhwezi and David Tinyefuza whom he both knew well. Muhwezi was from his village in Rukungiri, while Tinyefuza was chairman of Besigye’s Mitchell Hall of residence at Makerere. Muhwezi and Tinyefuza had also been members of the UPM ‘third force’ campaign. Both were policemen and had fled the country earlier after breaking out of Jinja Road Police Station cells where they had been detained.

They were now sneaking back to join the Museveni rebels to fight Obote. This coincidental meeting opened Besigye’s mind to the possibility of joining the effort to remove a government whose brutality he had witnessed first-hand. His arrest and detention had renewed the sense of grievance that he felt earlier towards Amin’s soldiers and his fleeing into exile was to remove himself from further harm. Yet here were two of his contemporaries who were not just turning the other cheek or running away; they were coming back to fight back. [Continues in the Saturday Monitor]

EDITOR’S NOTE: Except where noted, direct quotes attributed to various personalities in these book extracts are to the best recollection of Dr Kizza Besigye, the main interviewee, and/or Mr Daniel Kalinaki, the interviewer and author.

Mr Kalinaki is a Ugandan journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya.

Source — Daily Monitor

About the Author

Ugandan Diaspora News Team

Ugandan Diaspora News Online is an independent, non political news portal primarily aimed at serving Ugandans who work and reside outside Uganda. Our aim is to be a one stop shop for everything Ugandan and the celebration of our Ugandan heritage.


    Mugabe Robert

    I 4real love to get one for the love of my president Dr.kiiza besigy the liberator


    Where is this book available in the diaspora?


    Where can we get this book in The Netherlands?


    Good job Kalinaki !!!

    FREEDem Front

    well penned but that is half the story. not even M7 is willing to tell the other half. at the time of besigye’s first arrest was he really not part of the underground network M7 had built to undermine the obote II gov’t? how many orders did he have for the medical equipment supplies he was going to purchase in Nairobi? did kalinaki interview any one of the then young doctor’s customers? does besigye mention why he sat on the proposals that mzee odongo onyango( worked under besigye while political commissor

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