Immediately Gen Tito Okello Lutwa, the former army commander of the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) became President of Uganda, he reached out to the National Resistance Army (NRA) rebels led by Yoweri Museveni, aware that he could not defeat them.
Gen Lutwa became president after the Saturday July 27, 1985, coup in which president Milton Obote was toppled for the second time by his soldiers.
While other rebel groups joined the military government, NRA rebels refused the offer. Two days later, Justice Saulo Musoke sworn Lutwa in as president at the Parliament building in Kampala.
On realising that the NRA rebels, who had a week before the coup allowed UNLA renegade soldiers led by Gen Lutwa and Brig Bazilio Olara Okello to cross through their territory in Luweero, were not willing to join his Junta, Lutwa called for peace talks. The NRA rebels accepted and Nairobi, Kenya, was chosen as the venue.
Negotiations started officially on August 20, 1985, and concluded on December 17, 1985, when a peace accord was signed between the NRA and the military government.
Rebels lacked information about talks
At the time of toppling Obote, Museveni was in Europe soliciting for financial and logistical support for his rebel movement.
Aware that Museveni was abroad, the junta under Gen Lutwa asked NRA, especially commander Salim Saleh who is also Mr Museveni’s brother, to come out of the bush and join their government.
At the same time, the junta backed by the Ugandan media reported that Museveni had in the second week of August 1985 travelled to Lusaka, Zambia, and had a meeting with then president Kenneth Kaunda in secret.
The media reported that a dubious multinational, Lornho, chartered the plane that flew Museveni to Lusaka. This caused confusion among the rebels. They wondered whether Museveni had been flown to meet Obote in Zambia where the former president had taken refuge.
The propaganda machinery also mentioned that Museveni had accepted a 50-50 share of posts with the junta. Somehow, this threw the NRA outfit into confusion. This meant that the rebels in Luweero needed accurate information about the proposed peace talks in Nairobi. And Serwanga Lwanga was chosen for the mission.
Getting Museveni to talk on phone was hard, so the High Command in Luweero agreed to send someone to physically take a message to Nairobi and find out the truth.
Serwanga, also known as the horse in the bush for his swiftness and intelligence, was chosen for the deadly mission.
To travel between Luweero and the Busia border was like walking through a poisonous snake-ridden forest in the dark expecting not to be bitten. But Serwanga was ready to take the risk.
Sunday Monitor was unable to establish the exact day Serwanga left Luweero for Nairobi. But from Luweero, he went through Kayunga, Mukono, Jinja, Iganga via Lake Victoria and finally to Busia.
Unfortunately, Serwanga, who was travelling under a pseudonym, Samuel Kayanja Serwanga, was arrested on September 10, 1985, at Busia border by Ugandan security personnel.
Talking to Sunday Monitor, Ms Gertrude Njuba, a member of the NRA/M team, recalls that Serwanga lied to his captors that he was a delegate and went on to tell them that if they harm him in way the government and Uganda as a nation would be in very big trouble.
However, he told them, Ms Njuba says, that all the trouble could be averted if they handed him over to the Kenya government or the United Nations.
NRA plots Serwanga rescue
On learning that Serwanga had been arrested, the NRA leadership devised means of rescuing him. First, they used diplomacy. On September 25, 1985, the NRA/M delegation in Nairobi led by Museveni refused to attend a negotiation meeting at Harambe House.
Through a press a statement, NRA said its members had been kidnapped and stopped from attending the meeting. But the move did not seem to have any impact.
It was then that the NRA rebels in Luweero planned to hijack a Uganda Airlines plane which they hoped to use as a bargaining chip.
On November 10, 1985, in a well-orchestrated move, an NRA hijacker at Entebbe airport entered the Ugandan plane heading to Arua, West Nile sub-region.
When the plane entered Masindi, two hijackers stood armed with pistols, one at the rear and the other near the cockpit and announced that the plane was being hijacked.
They ordered the pilot to change course and land at Kasese airfield, a territory under the NRA rebels.
Capt Justus Tinka, who was flying the Fokker with less than 20 passengers, obliged. At around midday, Tinka and his co-pilot Kamji, of Asian origin, safely landed at Kasese airfield. The terrified hostages were calmed by NRA junior field commander Frank Guma-Gumisiriza who received them and took them to Hotel Margarita in Kasese Town. He then introduced the hostages to then deputy field commander (deputy army commander) Fred Rwigyema.
Rwigyema arrived and found the captives having snacks.
On November 30, 1990, one of the former hostages wrote in the defunct Weekly Topic appreciating Rwigyema’s humility towards them.
The author who signed off as AN, wrote that some of commander Rwigyema’s words were: “You are welcome to the new state! I call it a new state because you are going to realise a difference between the administration of Kampala and the NRM in its areas.
“We are, however, very sorry to have brought you or forced you to a destination not of your choice. On behalf of the NRA/NRM were are indeed very sorry and we apologise to the foreigners who have also fallen victims of these circumstance.
“For the Ugandans, we hope you will not feel much inconvenienced because apart from being separated from families, you are still in Uganda. During your stay with us, you will enjoy. You should not get worried.”
With the plane and several hostages in the hands of the NRA rebels, negotiations for the release of Serwanga went into high gear.
Peace deal signed
On December 17, 1985, a peace accord between the NRA rebels and the junta was signed. But Serwanga was still detained at the Nile Mansions, now Serena Hotel in Kampala.
In the second week of January 1986, a deal was concluded and Serwanga handed over to the NRM external wing in Nairobi. The rebels also released the plane from Kasese airfield.
Ms Njuba was in Nairobi when Serwanga was brought to the hotel where NRM delegates were staying.
“We were all overjoyed to see him alive and well. He was not physically harmed. But was physically weak,” Ms Njuba says. “I remember he was dressed in a dirty coat which also looked better than him.”
Serwanga Lwanga is remembered for his role during the making of the 1995 constitution. He is also remembered as the President’s Private Secretary who made jokes at the President’s expense. He sometimes called Mr Museveni Mzee kiwalata (bald-headed man)
He passed on in mid-1996 at the rank of Lt Col.