Ex-President Apollo Milton Obote Plots to Overthrow Strongman President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni,

When the December 1980 general election took place, I was away in Tanzania for a course. I had escorted some 23 young officers to Tanzania for the training.

It was, of course, true that that election was massively rigged. I got reports that in West Nile, anybody who was not supporting UPC (Uganda Peoples Congress) party could be stopped on the nomination day at roadblocks on the pretext that there was danger ahead until the nomination period was over.

So [Dr Apollo Milton] Obote got quite a number of UPC candidates who came through unopposed, and rightly [Yoweri] Museveni complained that this election was rigged.

[Editor’s note: The December 10 -11, 1980 general election based on parliamentary democracy was organised by the Paulo Muwanga-led Military Commission, the successor of the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF). Mr Museveni of the Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM), Paulo Kawanga Ssemwogerere of DP, and Dr Obote of UPC were leaders of the key parties that presented candidates in the elections].

Museveni in protest organised himself with his 27 bush fighters and started the guerrilla movement.

I came back to Uganda some time in 1981 but did not stay for long before they [government] again sent me to Britain for further training in logistics for eight months in the Army School of Ammunitions.

I returned in 1982 when the fighting was already intensifying; Museveni had already declared Luweero Triangle a war zone.

I was posted to Magamaga [ordnance barracks] as logistician and in charge of the arsenal – all types of weapons and ammunitions of the army.

I was not directly in the battlefield but did my best in trying to supply weapons to the troops who were fighting.

However, our men started getting disorganised and got divided along tribal lines of the Acholi on the one hand, and the Langi on the other.

Maj Okwera, for example, surrendered the Fort Portal battalion to Museveni and unfortunately when he was returning home to the north, he met his death at Karuma. You know who killed him? Lieutenant Oola, an Acholi! They thought he was Col John Ogole – a Langi and Obote associate – who was commanding the UNLA.

From a distance, Tito Okello men saw a Land Rover with communication gadgets and thought that must be Col Ogole, so they shot him unknowingly. Capt Nicholas Agwa, who was in Loro [in present Oyam District], wanted to go back and see what was happening in Karuma.

Capt Agwa was a Langi, Oola was an Acholi and when Oola saw Agwa he said: “Agwa, I have killed my brother, I’m also killing you”, and that is how Capt Agwa met his death just because Oola felt so sorry for killing his tribe mate who was going to re-group in Gulu because he had already surrendered the troops to Museveni.

The Acholi in the military thought by surrendering they would work with Museveni, but it didn’t work out.

Museveni had his own agenda and that is why their peace talks failed and he continued until he overthrew them.

So when Museveni ousted gen Tito Okello six months later, that was the end of all armies. So many of them were rounded up, quite a number were killed and quite a number of them fled.

And they started reorganising themselves in Acholi and in Lango. There were some groups who were calling themselves Uganda People’s Army in order to fight back. Of course, they couldn’t make it, they were in total disarray.
I fled the country on January 26, 1986, that very Saturday at around midday when Museveni took over. I went to Kenya and joined Dr Obote and [former UNLA chief of staff] Brig Smith Opon Acak and all other fellows who had also run away. Two weeks later, we went to Zambia where I lived for another nine months.

Dr Obote soon sent me to Kenya to join the forces that were already retreating to Nairobi, some of them were already regrouping in Gulu. But I met Col Owiny and Bosco Oryem [former Kitgum South MP] in Nairobi. Dr Obote had told me “you go and join our friends in the north because this war will be a war of genocide, we must protect our people. When Museveni goes to the north, he’s going to kill everybody.”

I couldn’t believe that, of course, but when I went to Nairobi, do you know whom I met? I met Bosco Oryem, who was very active in overrunning Lira in the Lutwa’s takeover, and then I met Col Owiny, who was the permanent secretary in the ministry of Defence during Lutwa’s time. With all these people around, I became suspicious. I wondered whether these were the people Dr Obote was sending us to work with? All of them were Acholi.

First and foremost, the rumour before the overthrow was that the Langi officers and men were plotting to eliminate all the Acholi soldiers in the armed forces. Now, I thought, how do I go and join these people, and how would the morale of those people who saw us running away from our country look like when they look at us again?

I said I couldn’t in a meeting, which we had in a national park in Nairobi. I told them I’m not going. There were Maj Opor, and Brig Orwothwo in Nairobi. My reason was; first these people are in disarray – they are not holding the ground, how do you begin to organise soldiers who are in disarray?

Secondly, how would they feel? Because when these people overthrew Obote, we were supposed to be the people who were plotting to kill all of them and they see you as an officer now coming to command them.

I stayed with my cousin Obua Otoa [former minister in Obote II regime], in Nairobi for about two months while I made contact with people who were already in Museveni’s government.

I had my political friends; one of them was Kintu Musoke, who was already a very powerful personality in Museveni’s government.

And Kintu Musoke because of our relationship in the early 1960s, had sympathy for me and he told Museveni about me after my brother met him. Museveni knew me. I am told Museveni said: “Oh, Otoa is still alive?” Where is he? Musoke told him: “He is now in Nairobi”. Museveni told him: “Tell him to come back. I want him because he has got some specialty to train our army.”

So Kintu Musoke sent Obua Otoa back to Nairobi. My brother said Kintu Musoke had said I return to Uganda. We then had a conversation with Kintu Musoke, he told me “I’m guaranteeing your coming back. I am sending you a return ticket, come to Uganda, see what you can see, determine, decide whether to stay or to go back. I will be there to guarantee that”.

He sent me a first-class air ticket. So on Good Sunday, I left Nairobi airport together with first Museveni’s minister of Finance Prof Ponsiano Mulema; they were returning from Japan.

We landed at Entebbe; I found they had sent about four soldiers to welcome me at the airport. I was in the company of a Langi fellow – Obura. He was working with Bank of Uganda.

So when these soldiers saw me they asked whether I was Captain Otoa. I said yes. They said they had transport for me and that they had been sent to pick me up and drive me to some hotel they had booked for me. However, I declined. I told them that I wanted to go and live with my family whom I left behind some nine months ago; and they were living with my brother in Kololo.

So I told them follow our vehicle, which was going to take me right up to my brother’s place so that if there was anything they wanted from me, they could always contact me there.

They didn’t mistreat me, they didn’t ask me stupid questions, and they followed me. I went and I found my children; they all ran away upon seeing me. They were too young when I left, and they didn’t know me.

So the soldiers gave me time to stay there for about five days. On May 1, 1986, they came to me and said “afande, you are requested to come to Parliament building”. I said it’s okay. I told my wife – she’s dead now – that I couldn’t go alone and we went together.

So we went, and whom do I meet? Mr Jim Muhwezi, who was the director general of Internal Security Organisation!
A week later they asked me to go and meet Mr Muhwezi again. When I met him, he said he wanted me to find any house here [in Kampala] because by that time the army had officers’ houses which were vacant.

I, however, opted for a house in Jinja. So he called the director of barracks, which was at that time Maj Musana. Maj Musana came and found me; he was shocked to see me. He exclaimed. “Hey, Capt Otoa is back!”

At that time I didn’t want to go to a very big house to attract attention of the new officers who were looking for good houses.

So I took up a three-bedroom house in Gokhale Road where I lived with my family until two weeks after when Museveni made an appointment with me to go to State House.

When I went to State House, Mr Kintu Musoke accompanied me to meet Museveni. But they were told to wait downstairs. So I walked up there alone, dressed in the only suit my wife had kept when I fled the country.

When Museveni saw me, he left his office chair, came and we sat together on a big long chair.

He said, “Capt Otoa, how are you?”

I said, “I am fine Sir.”

He asked, “What is Obote planning in Zambia?”

I said, “Obote is not planning anything.”

He went on, “What about FOBA (Force Obote Back Again)?”

I said, “That is a name I heard when I got to Uganda. Obote is in Zambia and having a good time with his wine – Mateus! I don’t think there is much he’s doing.”

Museveni laughed and we talked for about an hour. I debriefed him and he said he was sending me to Lira to be the special district administrator.

I told him that I was just a soldier and didn’t want politics. He excused me and said we would keep in touch.
A few weeks later Museveni said I should form a school to train the logistics and supply officers in Jinja and I did that.”

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