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Understanding Museveni Through The Byanyimas

31 Min Read

Back in December, 2005, Boniface Byanyima (2nd right front row), the recently-deceased Ugandan Politician, bared all to Benon Herbert Oluka in a special interview.

Museveni spent a good part of his early life at Mzee Byanyima’s home and the two remained close until mid-1990 when they fell out. Here is a reproduction that is still fresh in more ways than one.


I don’t remember the year but he came to Mbarara High School when I was teaching. It was in 1950s I think. He came in [Senior] One. That is when I first met him.

It took me time to understand him because Museveni is secretive. You cannot understand him at once. There is one side, which he shows you, and another side he keeps to himself. So, it took me time to understand him.

At first, he appeared to be friendly to me and my family. He visited us frequently. He liked me and my family,…my children. We treated him as our child. Those were the first impressions we got; he was a friendly person, a friendly young man.

Mzee Byanyima (seated 2nd R) and some members of his family

Even when he went to Ntare School, he used to come to my home. When he was staying in my home, he didn’t appear to be political. But he was interested in learning like other students, like the [Eriya] Kategayas. He was an ordinary student.

He was not actually one of the bright students, but he was trying to learn. When he was staying at my home, I would give him little pocket money like all the [needy] students. We stayed with him but it was on and off. He used to come for holidays. Even when he went to Dar es Salaam, he used to come here to our home and we stayed with him.


He was a young man of ambition, always trying to show that he was better than other students. And he appeared to be ambitious in small things. Whenever he got a chance, he wanted to show that he was an important person. He wanted to be respected.

For example, at one time when I was MP staying at Uganda Club [present-day Kampala Club], he came to see me. I had my nephew there and I wanted to give them lunch at Uganda Club where I was staying. I wanted to take them to the dining room, but he said: ““No. Me I can’t go there. I can’t dine with this young man who is a son of Kanyamunyu.” Kanyamunyu was the treasurer of Ankole kingdom.”

He said: “Me Museveni, you give me my small money, I will go and eat in Shauri Yako. I can’t eat with big people.” Small things like that. He wanted to show that he was different from others… to be recognized.


When he was in Dar es Salaam, he started coming to my home with communism literature. He was talking of Russian-type communism. He was praising Lenin and other communist leaders. He was talking about communist slogans and phrases like proletariat, common man…

He never told me of his political ambitions. He only told me that he was fighting for the common man. He was praising people like Che Guevara, a South American revolutionary. He was praising the [Julius] Nyerere leadership and talking of crushing capitalists. That kind of language.

One day he came to my home and said he had been to Mozambique. He came towards the end of his holidays, and I asked him why he was late. He told me he was in Mozambique fighting the Europeans who were grabbing African land.

And he was boasting that he killed a white man there. I said I don’t want that sort of language here. He kept quiet but whenever he got a chance, he would boast of his activities against capitalists.


When he came back from Dar es Salaam, he joined [Milton] Obote’s government. He was in the intelligence section, and I interacted with him at that time very often. He was talking of overthrowing the Obote regime because Obote was a capitalist. Before [Idi] Amin overthrew Obote, there was talk of elections which Obote was proposing in 1970. They wanted a type of election where a candidate would have four constituencies; it was called three plus one.

He would have to stand in all regions of Uganda; his home constituency, then plus three others in other regions. And Museveni took the opportunity to become a candidate, to stand against Vice President [John] Babiiha.

He was trying to stand in North East Ankole against Babiiha because he was opposing Babiiha for establishing ranches in Ankole. Museveni said he did not want ranches because ranches were capitalist institutions. He was trying to show me that he was fighting for the common man.

But I didn’t believe him because I could see that he also wanted an opportunity to show that he was important. I thought that even if he took power, he wouldn’t put into practice what he was talking about. I looked at him as the kind of person who wanted to promote himself rather than working for a principle because he would say one thing now, then another time a different thing. He didn’t show me consistency.

Then one day he came to me to help him, to give him DP young men to campaign for him in my constituency because DP had been banned. I told him I could not because my party is banned and I am not practising politics at the moment, and in any case I don’t want your party, UPC. It was 1970.

So, he tried to campaign for himself against Babiiha. When they were campaigning, Amin overthrew their government. Obote ran to Tanzania and Museveni and others followed him there.


I did not meet him throughout the time Amin was in power. I met him after they returned from Tanzania when Amin had been overthrown. Then he came here and deceived me. He told me that Obote was not coming to Uganda. Nyerere would not allow him because he knew that Obote had committed mistakes in Uganda.

He never revealed what kind of government Nyerere was intending to establish in Uganda. He only kept on saying that Obote would never come back here but Nyerere would restore democracy. At that time I had no other information; so, I believed Museveni. [Yusuf] Lule was appointed president, in two months he was overthrown.

[Godfrey] Binaisa came. But Museveni kept on telling me that Nyerere is going to bring democracy back in Uganda. How? I didn’t know, but one day… one night it was 9 O’clock, I saw a Tanzanian Land Rover coming into my compound here.

Then [Chris] Rwakasisi [former Obote minister now pardoned from death row] jumped out. He told me he was going to Bushenyi to prepare the way for Obote’s return.

I said: What? Obote is returning? He said: “Yes. That is why I have come to tell you as chairman of DP to start reviving DP so that we can compete.”

I told him what Museveni had been telling me. Rwakasisi told me it was a lie.

“We know that Museveni has been lying to the people of Uganda, telling them a lot of lies. Museveni is trying to find his own political line in Uganda. We know him,” Rwakasisi said.


The next morning Museveni came here. I told him Rwakasisi had been here at night and had told me Obote is coming. Museveni appeared shocked. He said: “

”What? Has Rwakasisi told you that? You see, these people are bad. He is revealing Mwalimu’s secret.”” So, I said:“ Museveni, that means that you have been deceiving me all this time. You knew that Obote was coming back. So, you have been working for Obote. You always come to my house while you are working for Obote and you tell me Obote is not coming back?

That is Museveni. He is secretive. He has got his own line of thinking and he can’t reveal it to you. But he appears friendly, talks to one person one language, then talks to a different person another language. So, from that time, I trusted Rwakasisi more than I trusted Museveni.


After a few months, Obote arrived. He started campaigning. But all along, Museveni had been pursuing his own political line; he had been recruiting his own soldiers and calling them Fronasa, giving them guns…I was seeing that.

I think the money was coming from Tanzania. They were bringing money to recruit soldiers to replace Amin’s soldiers. Obote came like a president. He was accompanied by Tanzanian soldiers, he was treated like the president of Uganda, and Museveni was lying low. He was not meeting him.

I could see that because he had been undermining Obote’s plans of returning to power, and Mwalimu Nyerere’s policy of returning Obote. When the 1980 elections came, the elections were rigged in favour of Obote and Museveni went to the bush. He was already well-equipped. He had soldiers, he had guns. He was prepared.

I don’t think [Museveni was right to go to the bush]. When you go to the bush, you go for a purpose and for a good purpose. Museveni said he went to the bush because elections were rigged. But do you think it is true? Then why does he rig elections himself?


When Museveni was in the bush, I never saw him. He sent me his men, and he wrote to me a letter. This was about 1983-84. They continued to come here. For example, this [Maj Gen Jim] Muhwezi came here. In the letter, he was sending a message of cooperation. He was asking DP to cooperate with his soldiers.

I never believed in him but of course when his people came here, I wouldn’t hand them over to Obote to be killed. For humanitarian reasons, I sent them away, but I avoided direct cooperation with Museveni because I knew that Museveni was a liar and a troublemaker.

But whenever his men came here, I treated them nicely. I gave them food and transport to go back. These Muhwezis, until [Tito Okello] Lutwa overthrew the Obote government.

Then Lutwa asked Museveni and [Dr Andrew Lutaakome] Kayiira to come from the bush and work with him to form a government. But when he came from the bush, he again undermined Okello’s government. He overthrew Okello and took over power himself. I knew that was typical Museveni because by that time I had understood him. I wouldn’t work with him.


Karagwa [Winnie Byanyima] joined Museveni in the bush [but] she did not tell me she was going to join them. She was at school. She had gone to Europe as a refugee. She was at Makerere University first. When her cousin, a young man called James Kanyamunyu, was killed by the Amin regime, Karagwa got frightened.

She ran out of university and went to Europe. She joined Manchester University. She stayed there and took a course in engineering, and when she was finishing, she found Museveni.

I can’t remember when or how she joined them, but she became one of the guerrillas, and then she was in their government. When they came from the bush, she came here and I warned her. I told her not to join the Museveni government. I told her that Museveni was not a reliable character. But she wouldn’t listen to me.

Then Museveni came here proposing marriage. He wanted to marry her, which I opposed. I told my daughter Museveni was not a reliable character. I think it was in 1987. By then he was married to Janet [Kataha]. I knew that.

First, there came his father [Amos] Kaguta to propose. I said no. Then Museveni came here when he was president. I said I can’t agree. I said if you are marrying her, …if she wants, it will be her responsibility. Me I don’t want that.

They stayed together for a while. When people are staying together, you can’t know for how long [but] they were staying together at Entebbe. Then Karagwa realised that Museveni was not a good person to stay with. I think she discovered what I had told her about the character of Museveni; so, she left Museveni and his government.

When Museveni became president, after a month or two, he started coming here. He was always coming here every week or every month to see me.

First, he came to ask me to marry my daughter, which I refused. He was not annoyed because he knew that I would not allow it. He took it lightly. That didn’t prevent him from coming here often just to say hello. He continued to appear friendly.


No. He knew I wouldn’t because I was even trying to block DP from joining his government. I told [then DP president general Paul] Ssemogerere never to join his government. When I heard that Ssemogerere had joined his government with some senior DP members, I went there and told them that they had made a mistake.

The Museveni government was not a proper government to join. They would be disappointed. I told Ssemogerere, [Robert] Kitariko, [Evaristo] Nyanzi and [Joseph] Mulenga that they had made a mistake because that was not a broad-based government.

He was deceiving them. He was only employing them as individuals. So, I proposed approaching Museveni to make [an] agreement with him about a broad-based government so that all parties might work together with a purpose of having direct elections at a later stage.

Museveni kept on dodging us without agreeing to form an agreement as a basis of cooperation. I told Ssemogerere and others to quit but they didn’t. They stayed until 10 years later when they were disappointed, and some of them were imprisoned like Nyanzi, some dismissed. Ssemogerere got out. He tried to stand against him, he was defeated and Museveni went on strengthening his regime and killing parties until now.


At a personal level, when he attacked my ranch. It was in July 1990 when soldiers and many squatters entered my ranch with guns. They beat up my people, heaped [the squatters] everywhere. When I went there, I could see that they were [sent by] government because soldiers were driving the cattle of squatters which were entering the ranch.

Museveni had given me his telephone, the direct line; so, I rang him and said I am being attacked. Museveni pretended not to know [about it]. He said: “Who are they? I am sending my bodyguard, Kavuma, to check so that we can deal with them.””

Kavuma came to my ranch. He found many people [camping with their cattle]. He was surprised and went back. I waited for two weeks, nothing happened. Then I rang Museveni again. Museveni pretended again not to know.

He said: “Nothing has been done? Even police has done nothing? I am now sending another guard called Kabwisa.”” Kabwisa came here; I took him to the ranch.

He saw people were still camping there, causing damage on the farm. He went back to report.  I waited and another month passed, nothing happened. I telephoned him again.

He said: “Now I am sending a high-ranking soldier who will do something.” But by that time, I had noticed squatters were not invading my ranch only, they were invading other ranches in central Uganda. The high-ranking soldier came, a man called Mugume Chagga. He found my cattle had started to die because of ticks, he was surprised. Then he went back.

I waited and nothing happened. So, I knew that Museveni…well, it was not the first time of course to know that Museveni was treacherous. I had already formed an opinion that Museveni was not a man to trust.

So, I went to Entebbe. I asked for audience. I went to his office. I told him, face-to-face, a piece of my mind. I told him I had now confirmed that he was not a leader. He couldn’t lead Uganda because he was a tribalist, treacherous and not a person to trust. And now I had ceased my cooperation with him altogether, and I would join forces to overthrow his regime.

Then he said: “How can you fight me? How can you fight my regime?”” I said: I have no guns but I will join people who want to fight your regime because your regime is a bad regime.”

I said: “I kept your mother when you went to the bush; you left your mother in Mbarara township, she was stranded. She was attacked by hooligans. I took her to my house, I kept her, looked after her while you were in the bush, until you came to government. And when you come to government; that is how you have paid me! You have been treacherous to me. He kept quiet. I went out.

I went home, waited for him to remove the people he had put on my land. After two or three years, when he didn’t, I took the matter to court. I won the case and the government appealed, I also won it. The court awarded me compensation of about [Shs] 100 million.

But for the damages and animals which had died and the pasture destroyed, it was not enough. And these people are still there. Government has refused to remove them up to today. And it is not only my ranch. It occurred on all ranches, from Mbarara to Buruuli in central Uganda, which the government grabbed to settle in Bahima.


When he was young, he appeared to be friendly, but when you closely observe all his actions and moves, he is a selfish person. He works alone, is secretive and his politics is like that.

I wouldn’t describe him as a nationalist because a nationalist works for the benefit of a nation as a whole but Museveni is selfish person…he is looking for the promotion of his own clan, his own family. He is not a straight kind of person.


Past leaders were not selfish. Obote was a nationalist. Although I opposed him for 10 years, I can describe him as a nationalist. He was trying to work for a nation but he made blunders.

Amin was a nationalist. People hated Amin but I thought Amin was more nationalist than Museveni. He was trying to work for Uganda, but they never gave him chance.

He made mistakes because he was not educated. All the mistakes Amin made were not intentional. He failed as a person who was not educated. But I would say the people he killed, he killed them in self-defence. They wanted to kill him too.

But in my view, he was genuine. He was not working for self-interest. He was not working for his family, for example. I would say Museveni is like Amin in one respect. That he is using militarism to keep himself in power. But unlike Amin, he is promoting his family against the wishes of Ugandans.

He is too selfish, and I wouldn’t say that Amin was selfish. And I wouldn’t say that Amin, for example, was taking money from this country, or was looting Uganda, or was looting other countries around.


Has Museveni done anything good of lasting importance? I don’t see it. For example, he hasn’t built hospitals like Obote. Whatever Museveni does is of temporary value and it is to promote his interests. He does it for politics.

This UPE is nothing to boast of because the schools have deteriorated. The quality of teaching has deteriorated because imagine one class containing 100 children! How does one teacher teach 100 children?

He simply ordered that tomorrow, all schools are free. There were no preparations for it. So, as a result, the quality of education in primary is poor.

If they say the army is disciplined, why are they slapping people? Is that discipline?

No, his army is not disciplined. His army is politicised. I think it is even worse than Obote’s because if you study the causes of the northern war, I think it is indiscipline in the army, which caused that…

I was told by my friends from the North that they had to take up arms again because they were being killed for tribal reasons. So, the [Joseph] Konys and others went to the bush again.

When [Lutwa’s regime] collapsed, Museveni’s soldiers went up to the North and continued to hit these people, to kill them. So, I don’t see any good things he has done. If anything, he has caused tribalism because [in the past] an MP of UPC was recognised anywhere in Uganda. If he was a Langi, Ankole or easterner, he was accepted by Ugandans wherever he went.

But these Movementists in parliament, they don’t appear to be nationalists to me. An MP from Mbarara, for example, I don’t think he is accepted in Acholi, or even in the East. He is being looked at as a Munyankore looter.

Whereas Obote was trying to unite the people of Uganda, I think Museveni has divided them. I think people of Uganda now are more tribalistic than they were during the Obote regime.


When they went to the bush, they looted [commercial] banks. When they came here, they changed the money and for a man who had one million shillings, he came out with seven thousand shillings. I think this was looting. Where did this money go?

Now, neighbouring countries are not free from Museveni. I hear Congo has been looted. They are being accused.

They looted properties of Uganda that were set up by previous governments. [Uganda Development Corporation] is no more. Government houses are no more. Government institutions are no more. They sold them up cheaply. That is the strong point of Museveni. It is the only one.


His greatest weakness is lying. When this man took over, he said he had come to bring democracy back, which we had been denied by Obote. And he set up a system which he called the all-embracing Movement government.

But it was so funny that those people from other parties who went there found that it was not all-embracing. They were elbowed outside. Only the hardcore Museveni men were inside.

Then in parliament, he told parliament that they were one family. There was no division, no debate. It was called a democracy…they were to discuss things as one family. But behind parliament, he had what he called a caucus which he told his secret policies. And the caucus consisted of members of one tribe, who steered government policies. The rest of the MPs knew nothing.


First of all in parliament, he said MPs were being elected on individual merit. Then he deceived them on that and they went to parliament on individual merit so that they may not unite and discuss a point there. No, everybody should be for himself. He divided them like that so that he could push his [interests].

Now, when these people found that Museveni had divided them like that after 20 years in power, he brought this other element of one person with a vision. Now these people of individual merit are nothing. They are not being encouraged now. He is encouraging himself as a man of vision, and a man of vision is himself.

That is why he says a man like Kizza [Besigye] cannot rule because he has no vision. Nobody [else] has a vision. But who appoints this man of vision? He appoints himself. It is him who appoints a man of vision. And who is the man of vision? It is himself.

No. Museveni has spoilt this country.

Editors note: This article was first published in the Uganda Observer in 2017 under the title The love-hate relationship between Museveni & the Byanyimas