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Uganda@60: When Museveni was a student at Ntare, he planned to blow up a prison

According deceased politician and scholar Prof Dani Wadada Nabudere, president Yoweri Museveni was already a John Rambo-kind of figure even when he was in high school at Ntare, ready to blow up a prison and free political prisoners from jail.

Yoweri Museveni

Nabudere was a key figure in Ugandan politics in the 1960s and late 1970s, following the ouster of former President Idi Amin.

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He is better remembered as a member of the famous Gang of Four, the power brokers in the post-Amin era, alongside Edward Rugumayo, the late Omwony Ojwok, and Yash Tandon.

His passing on reignited debate and reflection on his private, political and professional life. On November 23, 2006, he shared his experiences of being in a Ugandan jail, while talking about President Yoweri Museveni and Milton Obote.

Nabudere had to endure imprisonment for political reasons.

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"But being in prison was very hard. We were allowed visitors once a month, only relatives. My wife visited me regularly from Mbale municipality where I am told Museveni used to come and stay during holidays. She told me that once, Museveni came when she was [about to come] to see me.

Museveni told my wife that “when you are in prison, please observe these prison officers, what kind of guns they have and in which position they stand.”

My wife asked him: “Why do you want to know these things?”

He said: “I want to know because one day, I want to blow up the prison and release Nabudere.” My wife laughed but of course it was too complicated for her to know those guns. She did not give him any useful information.

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We were good friends [with Museveni]. We had met much earlier through youth meetings. He was at the time a student in Ntare. I think he was working towards joining the university in Dar es Salaam.

I saw him but I never got to understand his politics until much later when I met him in Dar es Salaam. Museveni was quite a patriot. My only problem with him is this tendency towards militarism; he thinks too much in terms of the military. As a result, his democratic credentials become very doubtful. He thinks it’s the gun which is very important, forgetting that it’s the people.”

"When I resigned from the East African Railways in protest at the Amin killings, I went into exile in Tanzania in 1974. I met Milton Obote at his Musasani House in Dar es Salaam [where he took refuge after the first coup]. I took him a letter written by his supporters, like Yona Kanyomozi, Akena p’Ojok, appealing to him to work with me.

The first thing he said when he saw me was: “Oh, Nabudere, how are you? I understand that you were detained, I did not know anything about your detention.”

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I remember Miria Obote was seated behind him in a high chair, and that woman is very brave, she disagreed with her husband in my presence. She used the following words, “Nonsense, Milton, nonsense; you knew very well when Nabudere was imprisoned.”

Obote smiled.

"He did not blame other people like our man today, President Museveni, who blames his ministers for his failings. Obote did not do that, he blamed himself. He said Amin came to power because he was more or less the one who created conditions for him to come to power but he did not admit that Amin was popular and that he was welcomed by the Baganda.

I told him: “You are mistaken, the people of Buganda and the people of Uganda generally welcomed your removal, celebrated and rejoiced in the streets.”

He said: “No, no that’s not true, that is propaganda. You know he was also a stubborn fellow."

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Nabudere, a former Minister of Culture, Community Development, and Rehabilitation of Uganda, died on November 9, 2011.

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