"The Birth of Ahmed Mbayo"
Mbabazi arrived at Makerere University not quite sure of what to expect. He had been there before as a student activist to participate in meetings of NUSU and the debate clubs had been hosted to national debates on the Makerere campus. Ntare School had been a wonderfully different experience. It was the only school without any formal school rules and yet under the management of William Crichton, students were most disciplined and excelled in their various branches of education. He wondered what kind of rules would govern his studies at Makerere.
With a positive feeling of wanting to push ahead with his studies, he made his way to his hall. He stood outside University Hall and took in the magnificent building and entrance. He had arrived at this particular spot at Makerere with nothing more than a dream of a bright future. He noticed that he had been placed in a Hall whose symbol was a goat. Here he was; son of Kezekiah, who started out as a goat and cow herdsboy, and was content to tend his fathers’ livestock. It was a surreal moment almost as if the hall chose him. His responsibility to his father and mother made all too clear by that hall symbol. Kezekiah Bagwowabo had always wanted him to get to university and pursue law.
As he stood there silently registering the journey that he and his friends from Ruhita had embarked on, his thoughts went to settling in quickly and finding his friends that had made it thus far on the journey. He had learnt from Ntare that the madness of President Amin was no longer restricted to the Acholi and Langi tribes, but that it was spreading to all other citizens. Aside from all the Ntare students from the northern region that Crichton had protected from Amin’s brutality, the violence had spread to other people from other regions.
Mbabazi thought that better find his old friends and see how they would navigate their way through Makerere. He would go in search of his friends the Ruhita seven, Ruhakana Rugunda, Emmanuel Gasana, Micheal Odeke and others from Kigezi College Butobere, Ntare School after settling in his room and understanding his living arrangements.
He cautiously walked through the entry way only to see a magnificent courtyard in the center. It was ironic that the building could represent freedom, yet Uganda was not free. Even on campus, the effects of Idi Amin’s notorious regime were spreading and it was evident in the way the students that day seemed to notice with trepidation Amin’s State Research agents and were trying hard to avoid them. In the midst of all of this Mbabazi was supposed to preoccupy himself with acquiring his law degree?
The new students received their welcome packages at the courtyard and then made their way to their rooms. Mbabazi was to make his home in D block which is on the right hand side of the court yard. As he made his way past A block which was where the Hall chairmen preferred to stay; walked down the right to the very end; turned to his left and walk down a flight of stairs. He found his block and proceeded to enter it. His room was 3D. As he entered his room, he found his new roommate Rwandume Mugizi had already settled in. After a short chat with Mugizi, he decided that this was an affable guy and they would get on quite well as roommates.
The hallways were noisy from the excitement of meeting new people, new things but they were relatively uncluttered primarily because most other students like Mbabazi came from families where the clothes you had on your back and a pair of shoes were all one had. After seven days familiarization for the new students, the continuing students arrived. He found old students who told him that from that point on he would call University Hall “the goat”. The old residents fondly joked that they were “The Hall” and the rest were halls. If Mbabazi thought this was the highlight, he was in for a surprise.
The first evening at dinner, as he reported to the dining hall, he and all Freshman University Hallers were served a 3 course meal. The food and especially the deserts were world class. Here was a Mukiga boy used to a traditional vegetarian diet, then all of a sudden university was introducing him to a whole new feeding regiment.
As exciting as the first day at the University hall was, so was Mbabazi’s first day of lectures. The best students from all across the Country were rushing to their faculties and it felt as mad as the bus park. Everyone spoke English though and he didn’t have to switch to the local dialect. It was not so strange for him considering that as a member of the Current Affairs club, they had travelled to other schools in other regions to debate and it was always in English.
The intake of 1972/73 was interesting as he already knew some of the students through the National Union of Students of Uganda (NUSU). NUSU was a countrywide organization and Mbabazi had been its chapter leader of Kigezi College Butobere in his Senior One. Makerere was a beehive of activity but it is nothing compared to its present day status. Meeting the other students and getting to know them almost all by name was not difficult. Mbabazi having taught during his A’ level vacation, learning names was one of the skills he had picked up. There was such a vibrancy about Makerere. What they did not make up for in human traffic, they certainly did in the discussions between peers.
It was easy to get along with the rest of the students. They were all polite to each other, mostly because they felt like they had been dropped in the deep end of the lake. Their parents were miles away so they had to form a bond to make up for the vacuum created by moving into a new town.
Mbabazi was enrolled into the Bachelor of Laws course. He recalled that what led him to law was the fact that when still studying in Kigezi High School primary, his father lost a land dispute case in court in Mbarara and Kezekiah attributed it to the fact that his opponent had a lawyer and he did not. Mbabazi decided then to become a lawyer and pursue justice for the ordinary man and woman.
The year that Mbabazi joined university, the students were given allowances to help them manage their expenses in Kampala. Students then received full scholarships covering their tuition and board as well as out of pocket expenditure covering health and transport. This allowance they called “boom” and it enabled the students to socialize.
The conversations during all these social events tended to turn into animated political discussions about pan Africanism and the hope of a transformed Africa. Mbabazi learned not to say much as he could not be sure of whom his neighbor was. Instead, he studied the character of his friends and pretty much could tell after a while from conversations who was dependable and who was not. The social events exposed them to Amin’s State Research agents.
As many male students then, Mbabazi was smoking, a habit that he had picked up at Butobere. His favorite brand of cigarettes was Rex. With the independence too came a new found love for chess. He and his friends would spend their free time trying to outwit each other on the chessboard. Life for most first year students seemed as if it was moving in the fast lane. Additionally, there was the whole matter of getting used to the co-ed environment.
Walking into the halls, one would be forgiven for mistaking them for coed residences, they sure felt like a coed environment. As expected, there was the issue of girls and the peer pressure of courtship. Mbabazi didn’t join the courting scene because he was pre-occupied with the political situation in the country then. He also wanted to focus on his education. Law school was markedly different from the other stages of school. It required a lot of hard work and plenty of reading. Reading was not his problem, but trying to concentrate in the political environment under President Idi Amin was quite tough.
If he was not in a lecture room, reading in his room, socializing with his friends, he was at his sister Phoebe’s home. She was teaching at Seeta Primary school, in Mukono and Sundays were a good day to catch up with her family. Since she came to Kampala, Phoebe had children who were not much younger than Mbabazi so going to her house was quite enjoyable. There was so much to catch up on during those visits. Phoebe also would serve him the Kikiga food he missed the most like pumpkin leaves and peas.
Of all the lecturer’s, the one who had the greatest influence on him was John Katende. Katende, helped to keep Mbabazi close to the law faculty and had he not done this, probably he would not have attained his degree. Actually by the time Mbabazi reported to university in 1972, he had already made up his mind to raise his level of opposition to the Amin regime. He had joined FRONASA. His mind was, therefore, more focused on the means to resist the dictatorship than to his law classes³. Suffice it to say that circumstances in the country under the Idi Amin dictatorship forced him to join the armed struggle. He remained studying at university partially to cover his activities as he continued to pursue his law degree. He also opted to take part in student politics so that he could have a platform from which he would spread the anti-Amin message.
Life on campus was not easy. Idi Amin’s in-disciplined officers were becoming more aggressive. The ladies bore the brunt of this constant harassment and the school was affected by his paranoia. Everyone who was suspected of being a UPC youth winger or a member of NUSU was keenly watched and harrassed. The entry into Makerere student politics for Mbabazi happened in this environment. In his freshman year, he decided to take part in the campus guild election. He was elected by University Hall to the Guild Representative Council. He also was active in the campaign to elect Olara Otunnu President of the Guild in 1972.
In 1973/74, Mbabazi decided to himself compete for the Guild Presidency. He had strong chances at taking the seat and would have most likely been elected the next leader but President Idi Amin being weary of the student body and their strong anti-government sentiment, decided to cancel the guild elections and suspend it indefinitely. Protests ensued on campus and Amin sent in his troops to take control of the situation.
The harassment of students by state research agents intensified after the protests. Many student leaders had no choice but to go underground. The lecturers too were leaving the university as any form of written or verbal expression in the lecture rooms was construed as resistance to the regime. Of those that stayed on campus and remained active, they were constantly hiding from the regime operatives. Other than Mbabazi the other student activists that were set for purging were Otafiire Busingye, Denis Ochwo and Kagata – Namiti. It became untenable for any of these to remain neutral. With revolutionary spirit and enthusiasm Mbabazi and his colleagues plunged into guerrilla warfare.
At the beginning of 1974, Mbabazi would move off Makerere campus and to Kitante courts in Kololo with his wife Jacqueline, a fellow Makerere student. Jacqueline was pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree. As well as make life difficult for all students on campus, President Amin had issued a decree that all Bachelor of science and arts intake from Jacqueline’s year onwards were all to do a concurrent diploma in education. This meant that they now had a fourth term added to meet the Presidential decree. There was a shortage of Secondary School teachers which had been exacerbated by the expulsion of Asians.
At their new home, despite the heavy schedule of a law student, Jacqueline said that Mbabazi would disappear from the house for three weeks, sometimes more. He would disappear dressed in a t-shirt and plain trousers as if he was going to the market. He never told her where he was going. She noticed though that he seemed to consistently disappear after a phone conversation with one Rutabandama. She discovered much later that Rutabandama was Yoweri Museveni.
The state research bureau received reports of an enemy living in Kololo but they could not find the person. They were searching for a phantom. It seemed his cover was safe. Mbabazi started to do his part to fight the Idi Amin dictatorship. He would communicate to his colleague Rutabandama who in turn would call in search of Ahmed Mbayo.
Ahmed Mbayo had been born.
³ Mbabazi’s involvement in the armed struggle is a subject of another publication under preparation.