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"I wanted to appoint Museveni VP", Godfrey Binaisa

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I wanted to appoint Museveni VP,  Godfrey Binaisa

(L-R: Muniini K. Mulera, Godfrey Binaisa, December 23, 2006.) 


The last time I enjoyed President Godfrey Lukongwa Binaisa’s company was on the evening of December 23, 2006, and at breakfast the following morning, when he and I were guests at the home of our mutual host in Kabale. He had come to my hometown to attend the burial of Omugurusi John Bikangaga, the distinguished educationist and public administrator, former Rutakirwa Engabo ya Kigezi (Constitutional Head,) who had served Uganda as a member of the colonial Legislative Council and, later as the Chairman of the National Housing Corporation, and Chairman of the Public Service Commission. 


Emmanuel Tumusiime Mutebile, then Governor of the Bank of Uganda, had done the honors of delivering the former president to us. The two gentlemen were some of the most open-minded people I have been privileged to know. Speaking in tongues or through both sides of their mouths was not their gift. Straight talk was their forte. 


As always, Binaisa was in his element as he walked us through our country’s turbulent history. Nothing he told us contradicted what he had told me during several recorded interviews I had had with him eight years earlier, while he was living in New York, New York, USA.


Mulera: Your rise to the Presidency was very surprising. What really happened?  

Binaisa: I was in exile in New York, where I was a very active member of the Uganda Freedom Movement (sic), together with Andrew Kayiira, who was in Connecticut. The Uganda Freedom Movement (sic) was one of the groups dedicated to the removal of Idi Amin, and I don’t think there was a group as militant as ours at that time.


Mulera: How come you were not a delegate to the 1979 Moshi Conference?

Binaisa: Oh, I was invited to the conference by the Tanzanian authorities, and flew to Dar es Salaam, together with Col. Gad Wilson Toko, who was then in Pittsburgh. We were joined by an Acholi Roman Catholic priest whose name I have forgotten. When we arrived in Dar, we were told that the meeting had been shifted to Moshi. On arrival in Moshi, we were told that Toko and I were too late to be allowed in. The priest, who had arrived with us, was admitted. Obviously, some people did not want me in the conference.


Mulera: Why keep you out of the conference?

Binaisa: They thought that I was going to be controversial. I learnt later that the British Government, President Julius Nyerere and Kenyan Attorney General Charles Njonjo had made a deal to have Yusufu Lule elected President. They feared that I would oppose that. Remember that Nyerere and Lule had lived together at Number 2 Palmerston Road in Edinburgh, when they were students in 1950.

 One of the reasons why the conference was taken to Moshi was to prevent Milton Obote from storming the hall. They knew he had organized various groups that could have caused them problems. They kept the “Lule secret” from Obote. So, the strategy was to have only “yes men” at the conference, which, incidentally, was weighted in favour of the Acholi. There were relatively few delegates from Buganda and the West. So, I stayed outside the main conference hall, learning of the proceedings in the corridors. I was sharing a room with Paulo Muwanga.


Mulera: Did you seek any job from Lule?

Binaisa: No, never. I did not think much of Lule’s political inclination. When Amin was thrown out, I only went to Kampala to see my parents and to assess whether I could revive my legal practice.


Mulera: So how did you end up in the State House?

Binaisa: It soon became clear that Lule was going to be a dictator who, for example, wanted to make major appointments without input from the National Consultative Council (NCC). I had spent the weekend in Nairobi and had returned to Uganda on Tuesday June 19, 1979.  At about 4 a.m. on Wednesday June 20, I was awakened by a call from my old friend Mukombe-Mpambara of Kigyezi, who sounded very excited. He just asked me to stay put in my room at the Kampala International Hotel, without explaining what was going on. 


An hour or two later, Mpambara called again and said: “Your Excellency, Mr President.” He informed me that they were coming to fetch me.At 6 a.m. on Wednesday June 20, Mpambara and Yoweri Museveni came to the hotel to take me to Entebbe. I first went to say goodbye to my sister who lived around UDYAM House. She was so scared she began to cry.


When we entered State House, everybody started clapping and Edward Rugumayo, who was Chairman of the NCC, addressed me as President and gave me a seat. I learnt later that Rugumayo and Paulo Muwanga had been candidates for the Presidency. I was told that I was nominated by a gentleman from Busoga, whose name I have forgotten, and that Museveni seconded the nomination.  (In fact, Binaisa was nominated by Yona Kanyomozi and seconded by Eriya Kategaya. MKM)


Later, Lule came downstairs and greeted me. He appeared rather blank and didn’t have much to say. To allay his fears, I told him to stay at State House. At about 10 a.m. I went to Nile Mansions, where I stayed in the Presidential Suite.


Mulera: What were your major failures, and do you have any regrets?


Binaisa: To begin with, I did not have an army. Secondly, I did not realize that I had been elected President as a stop-gap measure. They wanted some breathing space, so that they could sort out their internal conflicts. Third, although I personally do not consider it a failure, some people have told me that I should not have touched Museveni and Oyite Ojok, since they were fighters. Some say I should have treated them as special people, and not shuffled them out of defense.


Mulera: Indeed, why did you move Museveni from Defence to Regional Cooperation?


Binaisa: Intelligence reports suggested that there was something cooking in the army. I suspected that the non-Baganda were not ready for a Muganda as executive president. So, I moved Museveni from Defence, just as a precaution. My plan was to bring him back as Vice President. You know, I liked Museveni because he was open and, unlike many others, he would debate issues without losing his temper.


Mulera: Your attempt to remove (Chief of Staff) Brig. Oyite Ojok from the army was suicidal.


Binaisa: I knew that as long as he was there, he would bring Obote back. Yes, I had no personal faction in the army, and the situation was very dangerous, but I was the Commander-in-Chief and Ojok was under me. I thought I had the constitutional power to remove him. Of course, I respected him as a soldier who had served our cause very well. He needed to take care of his family, and I knew he needed a good job, with good benefits and respect. So, I thought making him His Excellency the Ambassador would not be denying him anything.


Mulera: But you were denying him real power, Mr President. Did you really expect Oyite Ojok to agree?


Binaisa: I knew it was either him or me. One of us had to go. I had to do what was right, given the information I had received from intelligence sources. By the way, Ojok, being a soldier who knew how to obey orders, had agreed to go. Then Muwanga called Dar es Salaam and Obote said no.


Mulera: So, it was Muwanga who really overthrew you.

Binaisa: Yes, he did, with Obote. Museveni and the others in the Military Commission were co-opted later.


Mulera: You announced Col. Sam Nanyumba’s appointment as Army Chief of Staff when he was away on a military mission to North Korea and China. Had you spoken with him, and had he agreed?

 No, I had not spoken with Nanyumba. I just picked him because I wanted a well-trained senior officer from the south.


Mulera: What would you like historians to say about your presidency?

Binaisa: First, that I showed Ugandans that a president could be above tribes.  Second, that I promoted and defended freedom of the press. Third, that I revived spiritual awareness in the country, by reminding everybody to worship God on their day of prayer.




Of the principal players mentioned in this drama:


Idi Amin Dada, who had fled to Libya, relocated to Jeddah, where he lived in exile as an honored guest of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He reportedly considered invading Uganda from Zaire in 1989 but was arrested by the Zairean government upon arrival in Kinshasa. He returned to Saudi Arabia, where he renounced all interest in active participation in political or military actions against the Ugandan government. He died of kidney failure in an Intensive Care Unit at King Faisal Hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on August 16, 2003. He was 78.


Julius Kambarage Nyerere remained president of Tanzania until his voluntary retirement on November 5, 1985. He continued to serve as the chairman of Chama Cha Mapinduzi, Tanzania’s ruling party, until 1990. He became an advocate for reform of Tanzania’s politics, including multiparty competition. He spent his last years engaged in international conflict mediation and delivered public lectures at universities in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. He died of a major stroke on October 14, 1999, at St. Thomas’s Hospital, London, UK, where he had been admitted for treatment of leukemia.  He was 77. 


Yusufu Kironde Lule was taken to Tanzania, where he was briefly detained before being set free to begin his second exile in London, England. He formed the Uganda Freedom Fighters (UFF), which merged with Yoweri Museveni’s Popular Resistance Army (PRA) in June 1981 to become the National Resistance Movement (NRM.) Lule was the first chairman of the NRM, while Museveni led its military wing, the National Resistance Army (NRA.) Lule died on January 21, 1985, of kidney disease at Hammersmith Hospital, London, UK. He was 72.


Godfrey Lukongwa Binaisa was placed under house rest in Entebbe. He was eventually set free, and he left Uganda for his second exile, first in the United Kingdom, then in the USA where he practiced law in New York City. He returned to Uganda on April 12, 2001, and spent his last years as a semiretired elder statesman. In an act of great humility and patriotism, Binaisa worked as a volunteer teacher at a primary school in a modest class neighborhood near Kampala. He died of natural causes at his home in Kampala on August 5, 2010. He was 90. 


Paulo Frobisher Seddugge Muwanga, became the chairman of the Uganda Military Commission, during which he exercised power as the de facto president of the country. Other members of the Military Commission were Yoweri Museveni (vice chairman), Maj. Gen. Tito Okello Lutwa (army commander), Brig. David Oyite-Ojok (chief of staff), Col. William Omaria (deputy minister of defence), and Col. Zed Maruuru (staff, ministry of defence.) 


Muwanga presided over the heavily disputed election on December 10/11, 1980, and personally declared his party, the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC), to be the victor, with Obote as the duly elected president. He was appointed vice president of Uganda, a post he held until the government was overthrown by the army on July 27, 1985.


On August 1, 1985, Muwanga was appointed prime minister of Uganda by the military men who had overthrown his government, but he was relieved of his job on August 25, 1985. He was arrested by Yoweri Museveni’s government in October 1986, released in 1988, detained again in 1989 and finally freed in 1990. He died of presumed heart-related disease in Kampala on April 1, 1991. He was three days shy of turning 67.


Apolo Milton Obote returned to Uganda on May 27, 1980, to participate in the elections that were held that year. He was declared the victor in the disputed election of December 10/11, 1980, and was sworn in as president on December 15, 1980. His government was overthrown in a military coup led by his army commander on July 27, 1985. He fled to his second exile and spent the next twenty years in Lusaka as an honored guest of the Republic of Zambia. He died on October 10, 2005, of kidney failure at a clinic in Johannesburg, South Africa. He was two months shy of turning 80. 


Yoweri Tibuhaburwa Kaguta Museveni served as the vice-chairman of the Military Commission under Muwanga. He was elected leader of the Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM), which was launched in Kampala on June 4, 1980. He lost the election for member of parliament for Mbarara North constituency which was held on December 10/11, 1980. On February 6, 1981, Museveni launched a guerrilla war by his Popular Resistance Army (PRA), starting in the Luwero Triangle. He merged his forces with Yusufu Lule’s rebel organization in June 1981 to form the National Resistance Army (NRA), with a political wing called the National Resistance Movement (NRM) chaired by Lule.


Museveni served as the head of the NRA and deputy chairman of the NRM until Lule’s death in 1985. He captured power on January 25/26, 1986, and was sworn in as president of Uganda on January 29, 1986. He has ruled the country for nearly 38 years and appears set to continue at the helm for the foreseeable future. At 79, he is one of only two surviving members of the cast mentioned by Binaisa as key actors in the latter’s spectacular rise and fall from the presidency.


Edward Bitanywaine Rugumayo, became a marked man, with the new rulers who overthrew Binaisa targeting him and the other members of the Gang of Four (Omwony Ojwok, Yash Tandon, and Dan Wadada Nabudere) for elimination from the Ugandan political scene. He went into exile again, started a very short-lived guerrilla movement, and eventually returned to Uganda after Yoweri Museveni had captured power. He served in the government again but quit to concentrate on the establishment of Mountains of the Moon University in Fort Portal, Tooro. Aged 89 now, Rugumayo is in full retirement. He has published his memoirs – Why Fireflies Glow - which, in my opinion, may be the most credible account of the chaotic immediate post-Amin period. 


Oyite Ojok, remained chief-of-staff of the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA). Even as he held this high military office, Ojok was appointed chairman of the Uganda Coffee Marketing Board, one of the most lucrative state corporations. He died in a military helicopter crash in Kasozi, Nakasongola, Luwero on December 2, 1983. Was it an accident or an assassination? If the latter, by whom? He was 43.


Gad Wilson Toko served as general manager of Uganda Airlines (1979-1985), and vice president and minister of defence of Uganda from July 1985 to January 24, 1986. He then fled to his second exile but returned to Uganda in 1995. He died in a motor vehicle accident on the Kampala-Jinja highway on August 18, 2002. He was 59.


Andrew Lutakome Kayiira, who had been a leader of the US-based Uganda Freedom Union (UFU) during the Idi Amin years and had formed the Uganda Freedom Movement (UFM) following the removal of Lule from the presidency, mobilised the organization’s military wing, the Uganda Freedom Army (UFA), to launch a war against the government army of Milton Obote on February 23, 1981. With infighting within UFM/UFA, the group split up leading to the formation of the Federal Democratic Movement of Uganda (FEDEMU) led by Dr. David Nkwanga. Kayiira was already back in Poughkeepsie, New York, USA from where he was attempting to mobilise funds for his military efforts in Uganda. 


When Gen. Tito Okello Lutwa’s army faction overthrew Obote’s government on July 27, 1985, Kayiira was called to join the new military government.  Mrs Betty Mutema Kayiira unsuccessfully pleaded with him not to join the Okello regime. So, she appealed to David Kavuma in Toronto to prevail upon her husband not to join Okello. Kayiira responded: “David, the country must be rebuilt, and someone must do it. I must try to be one of the many someones. In fact, you too should join us."


Kayiira joined Okello’s military government. However, he retained a fighting force that he mobilized again in the waning days of the Okello regime to take control of the southern suburbs of Kampala. With the fall of the Okello Junta, Kayiira joined the government of Yoweri Museveni as minister of energy. A few months later, he was arrested on treason charges. Following his release, Kayiira was murdered by unknown gunmen on March 9, 1987, at a friend’s home in Lukuli-Konge Village, Kampala. He was 42.


Eriya Tukahiirwa Kategaya, a founding member of the Front for National Salvation (FRONASA) in 1972 and the Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM) in 1980, sought election to parliament in December 1980. As expected, he was defeated. He became one of the main leaders of the Popular Resistance Army (PRA) that launched a guerrilla war on February 6, 1981, against the new government of Uganda. Though he did not engage in the fighting in the bush, he was a key partner of Museveni in the latter’s prosecution of the guerrilla war. He coordinated the external wing, diplomatic work, intelligence gathering, fundraising and other activities that supported the fighting force to capture power in January 1986. His National Resistance Army (NRA) enrollment number was RO-002, signaling that he was second only to RO-001, Museveni himself. 


Kategaya was a Brigadier General of the NRA and its successor Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF). He served under Museveni, as National Political Commissar, First Deputy Prime Minister (reportedly more influential and more powerful than the prime ministers), and minister in charge of various portfolios, including foreign affairs and internal affairs. However, when he opposed the lifting of presidential term limits, Kategaya was fired from Museveni’s cabinet in 2004. He left the NRM with a public declaration that he would never be part of Museveni’s regime again.


Whereas he joined the group that founded the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), Kategaya remained ambivalent about active participation in overt opposition politics. He returned to the NRM and Museveni reappointed him to his cabinet. By then Kategaya was a broken man, with his star greatly dimmed, largely because he had turned on his word and returned to serve under Museveni after the latter had removed presidential term limits. Ketegaya died of natural causes at a Nairobi hospital on March 2, 2013. He was 67.


Yonasani Bankobeza Kanyomozi was elected Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) member of parliament for Bushenyi South in the election of December 10/11, 1980. He served as minister of cooperatives and marketing under President Obote from 1981 to 1985. He was elected to the National Resistance Council (NRC) in 1989. He continued his legislative work as a member of the Constituent Assembly, then the Uganda Parliament and, finally, as a member of the East African Legislative Assembly in Arusha, Tanzania. Kanyomozi died on August 28, 2022, at Nakasero Hospital, Kampala, where he had been admitted with complications of diabetes mellitus. He was 82. 


Samuel James Nanyumba returned from his trip to North Korea and China, and continued serving in the army, capping his career as chief of staff of the Uganda People's Defence Forces under the rule of President Yoweri Museveni. He then served as Uganda’s ambassador to Rwanda until he was recalled in 1999. He died on November 1, 2011, at Mulago Hospital, Kampala from complications of a stroke. He was 72. 


Sepiria Mukombe-Mpambara, a former Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) strongman in the 1960s, who became the first chairman of the Tanzania-based Front for National Salvation (FRONASA) in 1972, fell out with his old friend Milton Obote following the latter’s return to Uganda. Mpambara joined the Democratic Party in 1980. In the aftermath of the fraudulent general election of December 10/11,1980, he left for his second exile. He returned to Uganda in 1985 and reconciled with President Milton Obote, just months before the latter’s government was overthrown on July 27, 1985. Mpambara then led a quiet life and died of natural causes on May 18, 1993 in Kampala, Uganda. He was two months shy of turning 66.


Margaret Hilda Thatcher, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, ran her country with an uncompromising firmness that earned her the nickname of “The Iron Lady.” She privatized state enterprises, deregulated British financial markets, neutered the power of trade unions, promoted individual freedom and responsibility, waged a victorious war against Argentina to reclaim the Falkland Islands, survived an assassination attempt by the Provisional IRA, and, in partnership with US President Ronald Reagan, helped bring the Soviet Union to its knees. 


The Iron Lady, who appeared invincible and in command of all she surveyed, was brought down by an internal parliamentary party revolt that forced her to resign on November 28, 1990. She retired from the House of Commons in 1992 and received a life peerage as Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven.  She died of a stroke at the Ritz Hotel in London, UK. She was 87.


Charles Mugane Njonjo, a former attorney general of Kenya, was appointed minister for home and constitutional affairs by Daniel arap Moi in June 1980. However, two years later, Moi forced Njonjo to resign on allegations that he had attempted to forcefully remove the Kenyan president from power. It was the end of Njonjo’s political career. He became a very successful businessman, a respected elder stateman, and a bold critic of the post-Moi presidents of Kenya. He died of complications of advanced age at his home in Muthaiga, Nairobi on January 2, 2022. He was three weeks shy of turning 102.

© Muniini K. Mulera




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