I woke up early on Monday morning, August 15th 2005 and went through the morning roll call. I was entering my fourth day in jail at the Central Police Station. It had been a hectic three nights and three days. My time had been very busy. Although I had deliberately tried to avoid the temptation of hoping that I would be released soon, I had been working overtime to do as many interviews as possible with inmates. By this time, I had interviewed many inmates who had been victims of torture and illegality at the hands of informal and former state terror machines. But I had also expanded my interests. I was also listening to stories about peoples’ experiences with the state.
Thus, I deliberately made myself upbeat about this possibility of going to Luzira, because I knew I would continue my work of studying prison conditions, interviewing inmates and thinking. I had started writing a book in May 2005, and I felt Luzira would provide me the atmosphere to think more critically, and in a less disturbed environment. The book deals with the crisis of the state in Africa with specific reference to Uganda and Rwanda – the former as a case of a failed reconstruction process, the latter as a case study of genuine post conflict reconstruction and the evolution of a strong and effective state.
I was informed at 9am that I was supposed to go upstairs. Upon reaching there, I was told to go back to the cells and carry all my belongings with me – I was going to court. The news of my impending appearance in court and the possibility of bail were exciting, but also distressing. The prospect of regaining my freedom was exciting. However, in those few days I had developed a strong attachment to the people I stayed with in the cells. A whole new world had opened to me. I was living mostly with ordinary people. They told me refreshing stories about their lives, their families, their beliefs and hopes. It was a great experience.
I rushed down stairs to pick my belongings. Then something hit me! I was leaving these people behind. I was privileged. My constitutional rights were respected because I had a name. Many of the other prisoners who were in jail for crimes they did not know were going to remain behind without possibility of bail. All the prisoners came to see me leave. It was an extremely emotional moment for me. I hugged each and every prisoner as the police guard insisted I hurry up. I looked in each person’s eyes as I hugged them goodbye, and there was both pain and celebration. They were happy I was regaining my freedom, but sad that a friend was leaving them. Many still wanted to tell me more of their stories so that I can write them in the newspapers.
The police officer insisted that I had to go – NOW! I picked my belongings and turned to wave goodbye to inmates. Everyone was looking at me. I felt so sad, and all energy ran out of me. Then I started to cry. Tears just rolled down my chicks. It is difficult to recapture the emotional tone of that moment. The policeman who was pushing me to leave the cells urgently was taken by the emotional tone of that moment and stopped pushing me to leave. Some prisoners cried too. Others came back and hugged me. I was leaving my new family. How does one describe that moment – excited about rejoining your friends, yet sad to be leaving others? Somehow I found the strength and walked away.
Upstairs, I was given my cowboy boots back. Then the police took me through a dark corridor to the rear court yard where I was put in a pick up and driven at break neck speed to Buganda Road. As I looked behind, I saw a large crowd of people around both Buganda Road Court and at CPS. Somehow, journalists had gotten news of how police were smuggling me out of jail, and had braced themselves for the chase. Photographers on boda boda and others in cars chased the police car. As we drove through the crowded streets of Kampala on a Monday morning, people would turn and watch, shocked at photographers chasing a police 999 pick-up. I was taken to CID headquarters.
At CID, I was joined by many opposition politicians among them members of parliament Aggrey Awori and Ken Lukyamuzi. My sister Margaret, a die-hard NRM person was unhappy that opposition politicians were coming to see me. She interpreted their concern as a strategy to use me to win political capital and practically asked them to leave me alone. Margaret seemed very agitated about this. I asked her to leave my visitors alone. I told her that my arrest was not a family matter but a political and therefore public issue where my family would have very little say. I had not been arrested for raping or stealing. I was arrested for defending freedom and liberty. Every Ugandan therefore had a stake in my arrest and all should be free to come and see me.
Margaret seemed to back off her threats to opposition politicians, but she is not one who gives up a fight. She stayed with me all morning, still trying to chase away opposition politicians. My dad had threatened to drive himself all the way to Kampala to come and plead with Museveni. At 78 years, he would be putting himself in danger. In many ways, many in my family tended to treat my arrest as a family feud where Museveni would be approached to show his magnanimity by releasing me. I firmly resisted this tendency because it plays into Museveni’s psyche where he pretends to be the kind father punishing his children. I wanted (and still want) him to continue with the case in the courts of law so that I can use the court as a platform to expose his dictatorial tendencies.
At CID, the police took me into a laboratory where they took pictures of me as a criminal. They took my fingerprints, took my ex-rays and all. Later I was whisked off to court. I thought I would be taken to Buganda Road Court. I was wrong. I was instead taken to some village in Nakawa in the middle of nowhere. I learnt from the policemen who drove me there that a huge crowd of sympathisers had crowded Buganda Road Court. Museveni and his handlers were feeling guilty and cornered by the public’s response. So they could not confront the public reaction to their political machinations. They took me to some remote place.
At Nakawa court, I was again put in yet another jail where I met other suspects – pick pockets, drug dealers, idlers and other petty criminals. Many were waiting to be taken to Luzira. I immediately fitted in this company. I posed for pictures with inmates, discussed politics with them and began to train them on the skills to survive in small prison cells. One of the tricks I picked from Arthur Koestler’s famous novel – Darkness at Noon. The main character, Nicolas S. Rubashov used to walk five and a half steps to the door, and five and a half steps to the window. Each time, he turned on a different side – to avoid becoming dizzy, and each time he stopped on the third black tile.
So, the prisoners joined me in the walk inside the cell and it turned out to be great fun. Rubashov used his walks to contemplate on vital issues concerning “the revolution”. I had limited time to do that. It appeared to me that I was heading for bail. It was both welcome, and unwelcome. Welcome that I would have gone home a free man, and my mother and girlfriend and other family and friends would have been relieved. It was unwelcome because I wanted to go to Luzira, stay with more inmates and listen to more stories about how prisoners are treated in Ugandan jails. I would have loved to stay in Luzira maximum prison and hold lengthy discussions with people like Chris Rwakasiisi – a man I always considered a semi literate thug until I met and had a four our conversation with him in Luzira. He is an extremely intelligent fellow.
Later, at 4pm, I was taken to court, charged with sedition and given bail. Although New Vision was later to report that I looked worried as my bail application was being considered and that I was relieved to be given bail, the truths is that bail was an anti-climax for me. Immediately after getting it, my energy disappeared and my asthma allergies took a better hold of me. I drove from Nakawa court directly to hospital before going home. The five day stand-off with Museveni was over.