Thirty-seven years ago on Thursday, security operatives raided a home in Bunamwaya, Kampala, and arrested 25 people believed to have belonged to a group going by the name “Abataka ba Kirimuttu”.
“Kirimuttu” reportedly means something secretive, or one that is not easy to decipher.
The group was said to have been part of a group of Buganda traditionalists who were keen on fighting for the immediate restoration of Buganda Kingdom and the cessation of Buganda from Uganda, a desire that dates back to pre-independence times.
The group had reportedly been planning to overthrow President Museveni’s government. The plotters were reportedly angered that Mr Museveni had in his swearing-in speech in January 1986 not mentioned the crown prince, Ronald Muwenda Mutebi, now Kabaka, or his role in the war that brought the National Resistance Movement/Army (NRM/A) to power.
That arrest on August 24, 1986, set the ground for subsequent arrests and trials on charges of treason of many others. Among those who were arrested was the former vice president under Milton Obote II, Paulo Muwanga, who was arrested on October 3, 1986, and the minister of Commerce, Evaristo Nyanzi, who was picked up on October 5, 1986, from Entebbe airport where he had been due to board a flight to Yugoslavia.
Dr Charles Lwanga, then chairperson of the Federal Democratic Movement of Uganda (Fedemu), who was also the minister for Environment in the broad-based government, was arrested on October 4.
Anthony Ssekweyama, who was the editor of Citizen Newspaper, a mouthpiece of the Democratic Party (DP); businessman Joseph Mukasa Mubiru; Maj Aloysius Ndibowa, a former officer of the Uganda Army (UA) trained in India, who had risen to become one of the top commanders of the Federal Democratic Alliance (FDA); Fred Kiberu Mpiso; and Capt Davis Ntambi Ssozi of Fedemu who had also formerly been with the, UA.
Muwanga was never tried, but the State on October 25, 1990, announced that it had lost interest in the case. He died six months after his release. That was long after the others had been tried.
Others who were arrested during the period but were never subjected to trial were DP lawyer Francis Bwengye, Dr Lwanga, an obstetrician at Rubaga Hospital in Kampala, businessman Joseph Musaka-Mubiru, and Joseph Ssozi-Ntambi.
Nyanzi’s group was later arraigned in court where then Director of Public Prosecutions Peter Kabatsi told court that the accused had between August and October 1986 plotted to overthrow the Government of Uganda by force of arms.
Kabatsi told court that the group had held planning meetings at diverse locations in Mukono and Kampala.
One of the meetings was said to have been held on September 16, 1986, at Pope Paul Memorial Centre, while another was held on September 26, 1986, at Dr Lwanga’s home in Rubaga.
Some army officers, including Col Fredrick Bogere, Drago Nyanzi, Sam Wasswa and Fog Kasirye, who had reportedly been recruited to execute the plot and allegedly participated in the said meetings later worked as State witnesses.
A police handwriting expert, John Baptist Mugizi, and one Kanabi, the manager of Colline Hotel Mukono, where one of the meetings was reportedly held, also testified against the alleged coup plotters.
While Drago told court that it was during the first meeting that Maj Ndibowa introduced the idea of a coup, Wasswa said he had at the prompting of Nyanzi said it would cost at least Shs15 million to execute the coup plot, but that Nyanzi had advanced them only KShs1,000.
Joseph Balikuddembe and Remmy Kasule, who recently retired as a Justice of the Court of Appeal, who represented the defendants, poked holes in the evidence and testimonies of the witnesses, saying they were strewn with contradictions and inconsistencies.
Whereas Kasirye had, for example, told court that Dr Lwanga was spotting a beard when the group met at his home in Rubaga, Wasswa said he did not spot a beard.
Whereas court had heard that Dr Lwanga was at his home plotting a coup on September 26, 1986, there was irrefutable evidence that he was on the said day attending a doctor’s meeting in Kisubi.
Justice Kasule also poked holes in the alleged written copies of the blueprint of the coup plan.
Two different copies of the plan were presented. One was eight pages long and another 10 pages long.
The witnesses’ accounts on how Nyanzi and Ssekweyama had arrived at Pope Paul Memorial Centre also varied. Whereas Drago had told court that the two had arrived at the centre in the same car, Wasswa said they had arrived in separate cars.
Balikuddembe described Drago and Wasswa as hired guns who had been paid to frame Ssekweyama. He said whereas Drago claimed that he had met and talked to Ssekweyama, it turned out that the two had not talked.
The lawyers were also of the view that the soldiers turned State witnesses should have been in the dock since they had actively participated in the planning, if at all there was any planning, and that one of them, Drago, had been viciously arrested. He subsequently required medical attention at Makindye Military Police Hospital.
On March 23, 1988, Justice Alfred Karokora acquitted Nyanzi, Maj Mpiso, Ssekweyama and Dr Lwanga, saying they had no case to answer.
“There was no evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt that they attended the meeting at Dr Lwanga’s residence in Rubaga, Pope Paul Memorial Centre in Ndeeba and Colline Hotel,” he ruled.
Maj Mpiso was years later said to have teamed up with a renegade UPDF officer, Maj Herbert Itongwa, to form the rebel National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which in December 2000 claimed responsibility for the killing of the then south western regional police commander, Erisa Karakire.
Maj Ndibowa, Capt Ssozi and Mubiru were, however, convicted and sentenced to death.
That effectively meant the end of the talk about the “Kirimuttu coup plot”.