Tough life. Students at Makerere University had by the year 1976 started to boldly protest against Idi Amin’s misrule. But as former minister Daudi Migereko, who was a student leader at the time, tells Isaac Mufumba, the killing of Archbishop Janani Luwum took the verve out of the students’ movement.
The evening of February 16, 1977, the day Archbishop Janani Luwum was murdered, was very unusual at Makerere University.
Save for a handful of students making their way either to or from the library, the roads were unusually deserted. Male traffic to Mary Stuart or Africa Halls was down to a trickle. The main hangout, the Guild Canteen, was equally deserted.
Instead students were gathered in small groups around their halls of residence. Discussions were being held in either whispers or very low tones.
Overhead, the noisy Russian-made MiG-17s and MiG-21s fighter jets crisscrossed the air around Kampala at unusually low altitude, while the stomping of jungle boots could be heard all over the city and on all roads outside the university. The state seemed to be sending out a statement, a fact which had not been lost on the students.
The cause of the whispered discussions was the deaths of the Archbishop Janani Luwum and two Ministers, Erinayo Oryema and Oboth Ofumbi.
Oryema had first joined the Uganda Police Force in 1979, but was later drafted into the King’s African Rifles, the colonial army, where it is believed he fought alongside Idi Amin outside the country.
On his return to Uganda he was posted back into the Police Force and promoted to the rank of Inspector in January 1951. In 1954 he was promoted to the rank of Assistant Superintendent of Police before he became Assistant Commissioner of Police in 1962. In 1963 he was appointed Deputy Inspector of General of Police.
Shortly after deposing Apollo Milton Obote and Amin ascended the presidency, Oryema rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Uganda Army and was appointed Commanding Officer of the Mubende-based Tiger Battalion.
In 1974 Oryema was appointed Minister for Minerals and Water Resources, and later for Lands, Housing and Physical Planning from July 1976 to the time of his demise.
Minister Oboth Ofumbi by the time Uganda gained independence been working as an Assistant District Commissioner in Lira, but had by 1965 risen to Permanent Secretary level.
The son of an Evangelist, Ofumbi had closely worked with Amin in the Ministry of Defense when the latter was Deputy Army Commander, and much later when he was promoted to become Army Commander.
By 1971 Ofumbi had become Defense Minister, a post that Amin let him keep when he overthrew Obote. After briefly demoting him to overseeing properties that had been left behind by Ugandans of Asian origin and other British protected persons, Amin reinstated him to the cabinet. He was the minister for Internal Affairs at the time of his death.
At the time, the president, who had also been the Chancellor of Makerere University, had started feeling uncomfortable with anyone assuming the title of President. Rotary Clubs were forced to do away with the title and replaced it with that of chairman.
In 1976 following the brief arrest and incarceration in Makindye, Military Barracks of the then guild president of Makerere University, Olara Otunnu, and 25 other students for leading demonstrations against his government, Amin scrapped the title of guild president.
“At that time, we did not have a (students’) guild; we had hall governments. Every hall had its own government,” Mr Daudi Migereko, the former minister of Lands in President Museveni’s government, recalls.
The students’ community, just like the rest of the country, had received news of the demise of the trio via Radio Uganda and Uganda Television (UTV).
One of the groups on the university compound had Mr Migereko, who was the Interior Minister of Lumumba Hall and James Kiwanuka Tondo, who was at the time the chairman of University Hall.
Mr Migereko was to later become personal assistant of the minister of Transport in the UNLF government, Prof Yoweri Kyesimira. He would later become MP for Butembe County in Jinja District in 1996 and hold various cabinet portfolios between 2001 and 2016 when he lost his parliamentary seat.
Mr Kiwanuka would later pursue further studies in Britain and the United States of America. He is currently a lecturer at the North Carolina State University.
“We found it quite hard to believe that an archbishop could engage the driver of the car in which he was travelling in a fight. May be the two Ministers, but the Archbishop! No!” Mr Migereko recalls.
Given the trail of blood that had manifested in public firing squads at Clock Tower, Bugembe in Jinja, Mbale and others in the North and the earlier “disappearances” of key Ugandans who would later turn out dead, there was no doubt that the three had been murdered.
Despite the fact that Amin had right from his first few days as chancellor of Makerere launched a charm offensive at Makerere University, the students community never really accepted him.
A sizeable number of the students there were in one way or another, linked to Obote’s Uganda People’s Congress (UPC). In some cases, close members of the families of some of the students had been members of UPC, while in other cases, the students had been active members of the National Union of Students of Uganda (NUSU), which had been founded by Obote’s government. These formed the main thrust of those who led student demonstrations.
“We had quite a number of demonstrations aimed at checking Idi Amin. We had hoped that at some point our demonstrations would result into the general public rising up against Amin,” Mr Migereko says.
The students had previously staged two major demonstrations against the regime during the year 1976.
The first demonstration was held on March 6, 1976. The previous day one of their colleagues, Paul Sserwanga, who was attached to the Faculty of Law, had been shot dead by an army complained who had allegedly developed interest in the students’ girlfriend.
An estimated 4,000 students took to the streets of Kampala calling for the overthrow of Amin. The protest march was later joined by thousands of residents of the city.
A week after the demonstrations, Esther Chesire, a Kenyan student at the University, was picked up by operatives of the much-dreaded State Research Bureau at Entebbe airport moments before she boarded a Nairobi-bound flight.
The government of Kenya demanded that their Uganda counterparts institute an inquiry into the disappearance and possible death of the girl, who is believed to have been a relative of Kenya’s vice president and later president, Daniel Arap Moi.
One of those who had been lined up to appear before the commission of inquiry which had been reluctantly instituted was Ms Theresa Nanziri Bukenya, the warden of Africa Hall, where Chesire had been a resident.
In order to escape culpability in the girl’s death, security operatives had been insisting that the girl never reported back to the university, a lie which they needed to have corroborated by the warden. She was, however, unwilling to peddle the same lie before the commission. For that, she paid the ultimate price.
On the evening of June 22, 1976, the warden who was seven months pregnant, went missing. Her beheaded body was the following day found lying very close to Africa Hall. The body was found on the same day she had been scheduled to appear before the commission where it was believed she would have stuck to her guns and revealed that Ms Chesire had actually reported back to the University and even signed in the hall’s registration book.
The students once again took to the streets of Kampala and were once again joined by hundreds of residents.
Nanziri, the Africa Hall warden, was a sister of Mr Charles Peter Mayiga, the Katikkiro of Buganda.
As Amin was still grappling with how to deal with the student’s unrest, he was once again dealt another blow.
On July 4, 1976, 100 Israeli commandos staged a 90-minute sting operation on Entebbe airport and rescued 102 people who had been taken hostage by hijackers of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – External Operations (PFLP-EO), killed all the hijackers and 45 Ugandan soldiers. They also destroyed over 20 Russian built MiG17s and MiG21 fighter jets of the Uganda Air Force.
Amin, who had a year earlier been elected Chairman of the Organization for African Unity (OAU) and had demonstrated to Heads of State who attended the OAU summit in Kampala how his “superior air power” would lead any planned charge on Apartheid South Africa, was humiliated.
The populace downtown Kampala, especially in Nakivubo area, took to the streets in celebrations. Amin reacted the only way he knew how – apply brutal force. Soldiers descended on those who were celebrating and battered them, leaving an unspecified number dead.
The brutality, however, still did not dampen the spirit of the struggle among the students.
During the same period word quickly got around that some officers, especially in the Air Force, had made an attempt on Amin’s life. At the same time Uganda was hit by a fuel crisis after Kenya cut off supply. All that sounded like very sweet music to the students’ ears.
“The student body was very excited. We viewed whatever was happening as a clear signal that we could continue with our resistance and demonstrations whenever an opportunity would present itself. We felt that we could mobilize and be in a position to get to stand up to Amin,” Migereko recalls.
They knew not that Amin still had one master card up his sleeve. Late in the afternoon on February 16, 1977, the man who had earlier declared himself Field Marshal and life president and awarded himself various other titles and military medals played the diabolical card that ended the lives of the Archbishop and the two ministers.
“If he could arrest and kill the Archbishop, he was going to stop at nothing. He would spare nobody. We realised that whoever threatened his stay in power would be crushed,” Mr Migereko says.
Besides, the two ministers (who died with Luwum) had been known to have been very close to Amin. That sent chills down the students’ spines. Consultations were swift and the resolution unanimous – there would be no more demonstrations.
“I think arresting and killing the archbishop and the two ministers was intended to strike terror. The game plan was to strike as much terror as possible within the general population and I think he succeeded,” Mr Migereko says.
Though diabolical, Amin’s move snuffed the fight out of the students’ movement. Resignation and hopelessness set in.
It was a state from which the country was only rescued by the combined force of the Tanzania Peoples’s Defense Forces and exiled Ugandan fighting groups like the Kikoosi Maalum and the Front for National Salvation (NASA).
The attack was after another act of madness on Amin’s part – Uganda’s invasion of Tanzania and annexure of the Kagera Salient.
(February 16 has since been designated as a public holiday dubbed Janani Luwum Day).