In 1979, Uganda Law Society boss SAM KALEGA NJUBA called a press conference. Among other things he condemned the abuse of prisoners’ human rights; lawyers were being denied access to detained clients. Now, 25 years later, as Njuba recounts his role in the NRM External wing to Richard M. Kavuma, he is defending a client, to whom he has been denied access.
Before I got involved in this mess, I was happily practising law and I saw the liberators come. But then things changed drastically. Buildings were being blown up… They were stopping lawyers from seeing their clients and even stopped us from going to Luzira.
In July, I called a press conference to speak out on behalf of my society. I commented generally that: “if we are not careful, we are going to be worse (off) than (under) Amin.”
Two months later I was arrested, released, arrested again and released – just before they started campaigns for the 1980 elections. My wife had been very active in the founding of UPM, but she was more involved in getting me released than in forming the party. I went to see Yoweri Museveni and told him that I wanted to stay out of politics altogether. He told me something I still remember:
“If you leave active politics, people will not believe you. People will think you have gone underground. It’s better for you to stay in politics so that people know your thinking openly, rather than suspecting you all the time.”
So I made up my mind, not only to stay in politics but also to join UPM, which had already been founded. During the campaigns we said openly that we would fight if the elections were rigged – without knowing really what it entailed.
But before the elections, Museveni had proposed to train us. He said to me: “You recruit 10 Baganda”. I recruited eight; including Kigongo, Nadduli Kibaale, and many have now died. Elly Tumwine was the one training us in Kigongo’s home in Bbunga.
After the elections, we found that we had no choice but to go ahead with what we had planned. The day they hit Kabamba, they blew up the house next to mine in Bbunga. I came back to Gayaza and people came to me for guidance. Initially I did not recruit them directly. I did not want to get involved personally. It was too risky.
I did not know where I was going. Soon I had to go into hiding, living with different people in Nalusugga, Matugga, Bombo – and moving clandestinely. Sometimes I would move on a bicycle; some of these guys had a car so they could pick you up.
I continued to get messages from Museveni for a meeting or to do a mission. One time, Gertrude and I organised some money and we took it to him when he was still living in Makindye, but he said: “No, I think we have enough money”. But some weeks later he sent a message and I took him some money. And I would also look for contacts. One time we agreed to meet somewhere but he came late. At around 3 a.m. a car came to where I was staying and Museveni telephoned Joseph Nyerere, the elder brother of President Nyerere. He told him to tell Nyerere not to get involved in the Ugandan conflict.
Diving in exile
Later on, we met with Museveni and he said I should go to Kenya and join the others. I went by road through Jinja, avoiding all the roadblocks to Busia, assisted by a friend of mine called Kintu, who was a manager of Breweries.
Once in exile, I didn’t know where to start. I had only KShs 1,000.
Eventually I met Joseph Katende, a friend, who housed me for a few days. I knew there were our people in Nairobi; one of them was my former student at Makerere, Amama Mbabazi. As soon as he saw me, he led me to others – Matthew Rukikaire, Shem Bageine, Israel Mayengo and the late Christopher Mboijana, etc. We started discussing strategies and how to approach various organisations.
We were also trying to bring together all the anti-Obote groups in Nairobi. Yusuf Lule had started an organisation called Uganda Freedom Fighters, and we had started the Popular Resistance Army. There was UFM led by Balaki Kirya, Uganda Army…
Eventually Museveni and Lule met in Nairobi and formed the National Resistance Army. They also set up an external committee, led by Matthew Rukikaire and I was secretary.
As individuals, one could always find something to eat. What was more pressing was to feed the refugees and the recruits and to find them accommodation.
When we went there we became active in recruiting. Some people were already in Nairobi and we recruited them from there – like Dr Kizza Besigye and Ivan Koreta.
Officially we remained under cover all the time: the Kenya government was not keen to keep people who were training as guerrillas. The first thing I did when I got to Kenya was to become a refugee. I got a certificate but I did not go into a camp.
They were giving me Kshs 200 per month and I had between 12 and 30 people coming into my house everyday. I also did some business. In addition to feeding recruits, we had to look after wives of some of the people fighting in our camps. When Tom Butiime was in Libya for training, his wife was my neighbour.
Sometime around July 1981 I went with Museveni, Matthew Rukikaire and Ruhakana Rugunda to Libya. We met Gadaffi in his tent, although Museveni, when he wrote his book, The Mustard Seed, he edited me out. I no longer matter.
From there we went to London and met [Princess Elizabeth] Bagaya, Lule and Maj. Ssenkoma. What shocked us towards the end of 1981 was the attempted coup against Moi. We did not know what would happen. Whereas we had some few sympathisers in Moi’s government, we thought a military government would be worse and would kick us out.
Time and again there would be waves to arrest all Ugandans in Nairobi – refugees or not. We used to “dive” [go into hiding] until the wave had passed. And the Kenyan intelligence was so corrupt. They often demanded money from us.
One time they arrested Francis Bwengye and he had to fight to prove that he was a refugee. They then arrested Balaki Kirya and brought him back to Uganda. Mathias Ngobi escaped by catching the next plane to UK; Amama Mbabazi and Ruhakana Rugunda ran to Sweden, and Kisekka went to London, although he came back later.
One night in mid 1984, Kenya Police surrounded my house. One of my boys knocked at my door and told me. I had previously thought that I would run away if I was ever surrounded, but if I had tried, I would have died. When I opened, they pulled a gun on me and said: “Mr Njuba we want to check this house. How many people do you have in this house?” I said I did not know.
They found a lot of cheap medicines and I said: “people come here on their way to the refugee camps and they leave their medicines here.” They searched from 3a.m. until 7 a.m. Apart from common drugs like Asporo, they didn’t find any illegal drugs or guns. They took some “Resistance News” newsletters.
They then said: “Mr Njuba we are leaving, you sign here.” I refused, and we argued on and on. Fortunately they spared me – which was a miracle.
From then on I decided I had to leave the country. The UNHCR wanted to take me to Canada but I said I didn’t want to wash cups and dishes. I went to the University of Papua New Guinea as a lecturer.
In Papua New Guinea I was in charge of the region. I was a diplomat representing NRM in South Pacific. I found there James Wapakhabulo (RIP) and persuaded him back into the fold. We asked the Australian government for help (but) they said they would not give us arms but drugs and old clothes.
I came to Nairobi at the end of 1985 and I was assigned to Western Uganda, which we had captured by that time, to see if we could take there essential commodities. We went through Kigali and I found [now Kabaka] Mutebi in Kabale with Amanya Mushega.
After Kampala fell and Kisekka had been named Prime minister, he came to me and said: “Let’s go”. He dragged me along on their small plane with Mrs Museveni, my wife, Eriya Kategaya and his wife.
I think it was worth it. I have no regrets at all for having worked with Museveni. I have learnt a lot about people, including the man himself. I was in the struggle for five years and served nine years in government; I think I made my contribution.
But what disappoints me is that what we were fighting (against) is now gradually coming back – even faster than I would ever have imagined. So much that I wrote a book, which I have failed to publish: because whatever I was trying to justify as (lack of) progress has reappeared: corruption, nepotism, democracy – just look at the 10 points programme. We wrote a Constitution, yes, but it is now being trampled upon. We used to complain about business being done in State House by Binaisa and Obote, – Museveni is now doing it in State House.
So, why did we fight? We are not behaving any better than Obote. People are being arrested everywhere. I am doing a case tomorrow; someone who was picked up and they refused us access to her.
And it’s not only him. People have been killed; people have died in prison, why did we shed blood? Museveni used to ask of Obote: ‘how do you move with so many vehicles?’ Now look (at) how many vehicles Museveni moves with and how many soldiers accompany him.
How do you employ people like Kakooza Mutale? Even (when) joining NRM, Mutale came as a prisoner of war because he was disturbing areas. Now he is Museveni’s right-hand man.
Museveni has changed a lot. He used to consult and discuss openly with his colleagues. But over the years he has distanced himself. He has come to rely on people who are opportunistic: young people with no experience, who are totally dependent on him so that if he is to retire they have to go.
He is increasingly relying on people who do not know the background to our struggle – and they will not give him the right advice. When he edited me out of that book of his about our Libya trip, he mentioned Rukikaire. But Rukikaire is now anti-third term. I fear that in the next edition Rukikaire may not appear in that book.
Date of birth: 22 February 1941
Place of birth: Gayaza
Father’s name: Malachi Musoke Njuba (RIP)
Mother’s name: Eseza Nantege Njuba (RIP)
Schools attended: Makerere College School, Mbale SSS, Makerere University, Queens University, Belfast.
Wife’s name: Gertrude Njuba
Number of children: Many
Favourite dish: Smoked Semutundu (Bagrus docmac) with Matooke
Hobbies: Watching football (was 3rd chairman of Express SC)