Details on how Museveni escaped from Rwanda to Uganda emerged
Yoweri Kaguta Museveni’s origins are shrouded in mystery. Many versions of where he was born and his true nationality are claimed. Those who know him view the vagueness around his origins as deliberately created. He one time said that he was born in Mbarara Hospital even as he claimed he does not know his exact date of birth. That was in Mbarara in April 1992.
But later he changed and said it was Ntungamo! This feigned ignorance of his exact birth date is atypical of a man who otherwise boasts of having an incredible memory and ability to recall events that many people have forgotten. The clearest signal of Museveni’s origin comes from the stigma that Rwandese and Ugandans of Rwandese origin have been subjected to.
Yoweri Kayibanda, a.k.a Rutabasirwa, was born in Rwanda, despite his insistence that he was born in Uganda. The most informed sources who have known Museveni since his early childhood insist that he and his mother, the late Esiteri Kokundeka, came to Uganda from Butare, southern Rwanda, where he was born around April 1943. One of these sources, Gertrude Byanyima, the wife of the late Boniface Byanyima, the former national chairman of the Democratic Party, says Museveni came to Uganda as a child from Rwanda.
This is a reliable source given that Museveni spent the biggest part of his early teenage life in the Byanyima family home in Mbarara town in Western Uganda. Byanyima used to pay Museveni’s school fees or at least part of it. Not once has Museveni denied this.
One time when she was speaking to party supporters at her home in Mbarara on 2 March 1996, Mrs. Byanyima said: “Museveni is just like us here. He came here at 16 and it’s us who brought him up. He was never a good academic performer. The cupboard you see there was Museveni’s library. When you check in it you’ll find his books, a lot on imperialism, with his former names Yoseri Tibuhaburwa.”
When Byanyima said that Museveni “came here at 16”, it was not so clear whether she meant that Museveni came to Uganda at the age of sixteen or that he first visited the Byanyima home at that age. After she made that claim, some of Gertrude Byanyima’s children; Martha, Winnie, Abraham, and Anthony wrote a joint letter apologising to Museveni for any embarassment caused to him by their mother’s claim. But mark you, they did not specifically refute or question the substance of what she had said!
Gertrude Byanyima referred to Museveni as “Yoseri” rather than “Yoweri” and said those were his original names.
It should be noted that during his university days, Museveni used the initial “T” from a name Tibuhaburwa he had given himself. In full, it comes from the Runyankore expression “Obwengye Tibuhaburwa”, meaning intelligence is natural born, not learned. In a thesis he wrote in 1971 titled, “Fanon’s theory on violence: its verification in liberated Mozambique”, the author gave his byline as “By Yoweri T. Museveni.”
Many people from Western Uganda hold this same view of Museveni’s Rwandese roots, among them the Banyarwanda of Western Uganda or the Rwandese refugees who lived for thirty years in Uganda before returning to Rwanda in the 1990s.
Most of these people give his origins as in Rwanda. Some of these people who know Museveni point out the fact that his mother never spoke any Ugandan language fluently all her life, but only Kinyarwanda, the national language of Rwanda.
Many times, Museveni has been challenged to prove his Ugandan roots by showing the public any graves and burial sites in Uganda of any of his grandparents but he has always studiously avoided commenting on that. Those challenging him to do so bring up the issue because they know that there is nothing to show and want to put him in an embarrassing position.
The rumours around Museveni’s origins grew intense in 1992, leading him to appear in army combat uniform before a live national television audience where he listed a number of Runyankore names that he claimed were his. In February 1994 while on a visit to Gulu, Museveni addressed a public rally. Some teenagers from St Katherine Girls’ Secondary School began to shout at him complaining that his NRM government was filled with Banyarwanda. “Look at him,” they remarked, “he is a Munyarwanda proper!” Museveni heard the comments and commented: “These girls are saying I am a proper Munyarwanda. Maybe they bore me and they are in a better position to explain to us.”
The embarassed headmistress of the school, Beatrice H.A Lagada, suspended six of the girls. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, though, neither confirmed nor refuted the girls’ claim.
Esteri’s mental problems in Rwanda lead to Museveni’s hatred for Rwanda
During her years in Ankole in the mid-1960s, Museveni’s mother had become a convert to the Born-Again Christian faith. She sometimes visited Bweranyangye Girls’ Secondary School and took part in mission outreach activities in Ankole.
Many people who observed her became convinced that her eldest son had taken his personality from her. She was eccentric and was fond of wearing woollen clothing. In some way Esiteri Kokundeka was ahead of her time.
The main fashion of the day among the ordinary women in Ankole at the time was the traditional robes. Kokundeka on the other hand took a liking for European fashions and so stood out as odd whenever she went about in public, wearing woollen clothes and western-style dresses, some of them above the knees in length.
At first some people wondered who this strange woman was, who was so different from the rest of her contemporaries in a society that was still very traditional. She did not have formal education and had not traveled widely out of her home area but looked to be very modern. Moreover she was a modest woman and a devout Christian. In between periods of depression and silence, she experienced bouts of high energy.
Her repetitive phases of high excitement had many common villagers convinced she might be mentally disturbed. What was beyond doubt at the time was that Museveni’s mother was suffering from some kind of mental disorder. She certainly showed all the signs of what these days would be called bipolar personality. (Madness, for most non-mental health professionals).
Bweranyangye Girls’ Secondary School in Ankole, where her daughter Violet was studying, is one of the places Kokundeka used to visit a lot to preach. She was dreaded and shunned by many of the girls. They saw her as a tyrant, a complicated and extremely difficult woman to get along with. On some occasions when she visited the school, girls would avoid meeting her and hide in their dormitories. She did not display the normal affection and motherly traits that would be expected in a parent, even toward her own children. She was seen as too unreasonable and hard to understand. Like her fellow villagers, many at Bweranyangye became convinced that Kokundeka had a mental problem.
In 1967, she did have a real mental breakdown. The details of that are not very clear. But that year, she was admitted at the famous Butabika Mental Hospital on the outskirts of Kampala. Her mental disorder, perhaps arising from a series of traumatic experiences in Rwanda, affected her so drastically as to lead her to reject her son, are themselves most likely the rock on which the crisis in Museveni’s life originated. That crisis in Museveni’s life lies at the root of the personality that we shall examine further in the following pages.
Museveni presses Esteri to tell him his real father
Kaguta is not Saleh’s father. Saleh’s physical features; curly hair and light Arab-Somali skin complexion, are an additional giveaway.
When Museveni came to power in 1986, rumours that he was Rwandese filled Kampala. Does anybody think Salim Saleh would not have used Kaguta’s name in order to bolster his Ugandanness if Kaguta was really his father?
In a Boston Globe article published on 1 May 2005, a former U.S ambassador to Uganda Johnnie Carson referred to Caleb Akandwanaho (Salim Saleh) as Museveni’s “half-brother”. This fact, which was widely known in Uganda, is one of the signs that Museveni’s biological father was different from Saleh’s. The name of Salim Saleh’s biological father is not known. It’s not clear whether Saleh himself knows his father.
During the 1970s exile, the Museveni family lived in the Upanga Estate, next to Salender Bridge in the Shimo la Udongo area of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
The teenager Saleh was very close to the Arab and Somali community although the rest of the Museveni family was polite but distant from their Arab and Somali neighbours. These Somali and Arabs regarded Salim Saleh as one of their own. Many people assumed that he was a Somali or coastal Tanzanian. Saleh, in his younger years, was even slimmer and more light-skinned in complexion and you could easily see the physical features of one with Arab or possibly Somali blood.
It is only in the 1990s as he grew bulky and his skin began to darken, that his features began to change.
Museveni became close to Libya’s Colonel Gadhafi by using Saleh’s Arab blood to convince Gadhafi he was really pro-Arab. We shall see later why Gadhafi also became close to the Tooro kingdom through another of Museveni’s manipulations.
Meanwhile, when Museveni came to power in 1986, his biological father Kayibanda came to Uganda from Tanzania to visit his son and share in his new-found recognition and fame as President. Museveni gave his father a blasting that he never forgot! He gave him money and angrily told him to go away and never to return.
Museveni’s mother came to Uganda pregnant with the boy “Rutabasirwa”. That is Museveni’s real name. His middle name was adopted from his stepfather Kaguta and he only began to use the middle name Kaguta after he became president.
According to Museveni’s inner family members, Kaguta’s brothers live in Rwanda. This shows that even Museveni’s half-sister Kajubiri is a Rwandese. It was strange that Amos Kaguta did not seem to have immediate relatives in Uganda and yet there were never any reports of any of them having died and been buried in Uganda.
During the 1930s and 1940s and even right up to the 1950s, there was tremendous prejudice among the Banyankole tribe against Rwandese, particularly the Tutsi. The prejudice ran much deeper among the peasants. Does anyone think it would have been possible for Esiteri Kokundeka, a Rwandan Tutsi, to get married to a Munyankole man, more so if she already had another man’s child?
Only when you know that Kaguta is a Rwandese Tutsi do you understand why Kokundeka got married to him. She also decided to stay with him when the ethnic Twa Kayibanda had been banished to Tanzania.
One of Museveni’s closest childhood friends was Eriya Kategaya whose mother too was a Rwandan Tutsi and a Munyankole father. The bias that the Banyankole felt toward the Banyarwanda at the time would have made it difficult for Museveni and Kategaya to be so close, if one of Kategaya’s was not a Rwandan.
In the 1990s, Museveni made a habit of publicly promoting the Runyankore language, praising the Ankole cultural heritage and saying he was compiling a Runyankore-English dictionary. Those who know him and watched him commented that this was a bid to make himself look a true Ugandan and bury any lingering rumours that he might be Rwandese.
The very first sentence on the very first page of “Sowing the Mustard Seed” is revealing. Museveni writes: “I was born among the Banyankore Bahima nomads of south-western Uganda in about the year 1944.” In this first line, Museveni would once and for all have dispeled the rumours about his origins by stating categorically “I am a Munyankore Muhima.” He was careful not to be specific about that. Instead, he vaguely says he was born among the Bahima.
Museveni’s school days and first job
Museveni attended Kyamate Primary School, Mbarara High School, and Ntare School, all of them Anglican Protestant schools. During his time in secondary school, his schoolmates found him strange and many thought he might be mentally unstable. His radical views and eccentric behaviour while at Ntare School made him stand out. He was an ardent member of the school’s debating club and the Scripture Union, the study group of the Anglican church in Uganda. Members of the Scripture Union found him to be domineering and even in a religious setting, he was always trying to force his views on the association. Instead of a conciliatory Christian stance when others expressed views contrary to his, Museveni during unguarded moments displayed a militant attitude. Museveni’s behaviour at Ntare School in Mbarara was similar to that of his mother’s. Even when his friends and classmates made an allowance for his behaviour being part of the normal turbulent teenage years, some of it was not. One time in 1965, Museveni called a strike which became so violent that a prefect in the school was beaten to death. Museveni was arrested and taken to the Mbarara Police Station. He was taken to the Mbarara district commissioner, at the time, Edward Athiyo. When Athiyo saw this young boy who was so thin and had almost had no buttocks, he could not believe that Museveni could cause such chaos.
So Athiyo ordered Museveni to be given 12 strokes of the cane and released.
That is how people tended to underestimate Museveni for many years. They always thought him weaker than he really is based on his looks, politically and physically. It was troubling because Museveni never did things on the spur of the moment. He always thought things out, and appeared to know what he was doing. But what he did was rarely the acts of a normal person. One of the persistent statements that Museveni had started making was that he was determined to be the president of Uganda one day in the future. He was laughed off as a clown by his schoolmates who saw this as one more of his characteristic outbursts. He kept mentioning this time and again. He was ignored and dismissed by onlookers as out of his mind, as usual. Something that has never been analysed is his obsession with being Uganda’s head of state that began to drive Museveni from his late teens. The young man was too obsessed to be president that one has to ask sincerely why he was consumed by only this and no other career ambition.
Museveni never explained what he planned to do when he achieved this dream. There is no definite evidence in this regard, but it can be assumed that Museveni went through a terrible experience as a teenager either being mocked about his dubious origins or watching with deep envy his friends and other schoolmates with families and a sense of social belonging and he with none.
Museveni was ridiculed and mocked over the fact that his half-brother Saleh was an Arab and these insults cut deep into Museveni. A humiliated Museveni must have developed a great need to compensate for his shameful background. There could only have been one way to do this and that would be to become a powerful head of state, thus rising even above the traditional kings of Ankole, Tooro, and Bunyoro of western Uganda, whose subjects he lived and studied among.
To be president required simple Ugandan citizenship which he could claim to have. Beyond that, one did not need to be from a particular ethnic group because the presidency was not hereditary. He had to dominate and domineer those who had insulted and mocked him.
After sitting his advanced level exams in 1966, he passed to go to read law at Makerere University in Kampala in 1967. In his A ‘Level exams, he scored three principals: DDD in History, Economics, and Literature. We do not know what he got in the compulsory General Paper supplementary subject. One day, a journalist should ask him at a press conference to tell us how much he got in General Paper.
But you can see why he feared to tell us how much he got in A-Level when he wrote the Mustard Seed because if Ugandans knew he got DDD they would wonder how he is the only man with a vision to rule Uganda! DDD even in the 1960s was not a result to make you celebrate.
Makerere was at that time one of Africa’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning. But Museveni was unable to complete his first year there. He has claimed the reason he did not complete Makerere University is that his original first choice had been Dar es Salaam and Makerere had only been a second choice.
According to a source at the time then working in the Office of the President, Museveni actually did study at Makerere. While at Makerere Museveni had a mental breakdown. Uganda’s Prime Minister Milton Obote quickly had a letter written and arranged for Museveni to be flown to Sofia, Bulgaria, in eastern Europe where he was admitted in a psychiatry hospital. Because of this, he was unable to continue at Makerere. It is not clear what triggered Museveni’s mental breakdown. Maybe it had something to do with his mother’s breakdown that same year and therefore was part of a cycle of mental breakdowns by mother and son or it was an incident isolated.
How does one explain why Obote got involved in the personal matters of an obscure student from western Uganda? The reason is that Museveni had been a youth-winger and member of the ruling Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) party. Obote was well-known for his loyalty to even the youngest and most obscure people affiliated with his party.
President Obote subsequently rang up his Tanzanian counterpart President Julius Nyerere and said he wanted Nyerere to recommend “this illustrious young man” Museveni to the University of Dar es Salaam. A letter was later written to President Nyerere formally requesting him to help gain admission for Museveni at Dar es Salaam.
Much later in life as President, Museveni was hostile to Makerere University in an unexplainable way. Some now trace that hostility back to the haunting memories it gives him of his mental illness in 1967.
At Dar es Salaam University between 1967 and 1970 Museveni studied law for his first year but owing to his underperformance, he was transferred to the Political Science department for the remaining two years. On the first day of law class, the lecturer asked each of the students to stand up and introduce themselves.
They did. Museveni was seated right at the back of the class. When it came to his turn, he stood up and said, “I am Yoweri Museveni of Rwanda.” Some Ugandan students in the class were stunned, as most of them had always assumed that he was a Ugandan from Ankole. Knowing his stubborn ways, they dismissed this statement as one of his pranks and attempt at humour. He soon became involved in radical nationalist and leftist politics. In September 1968, during his second year at Dar es Salaam University, Museveni visited the military camps of the Mozambican independence group, Frente de Liberatacao de Mocambique (FRELIMO), and acquainted himself with their goals. He had gone there to research for his thesis.
At Dar es Salaam University, Museveni was one of the leaders of a radical student association, the University African Students’ Front (UASF), a discussion group that advocated pan-African unity and advanced the struggle for Africa’s independence. The university published a Marxist magazine called Che Che, whose main theme was revolutionary causes and African liberation. In one of its issues, Museveni wrote an article in which he compared President Nyerere to the 19th century German leader Otto von Bismarck.
An aide to Nyerere read it and was impressed by the article and sought out this Museveni who had understood Nyerere in such visionary terms. A mentor-protégé friendship between Nyerere and Museveni soon developed. In 1969, Museveni visited Makerere University to speak at a seminar on African liberation.
Museveni had recently returned from Mozambique where he had watched the FRELIMO guerrillas train and was impressed by their level of organization and in particular, their interpretation of the role of a soldier in Africa’s independence struggles. In his speech to the Makerere students, he passionately argued that war was the highest form of political struggle and could only be conducted by political fighters not by politically-neutral soldiers. This speech spelt out Museveni’s beliefs and because he emphasised them so forcefully, we can surmise that he had now come to the conviction that war was to be, henceforth, his principal vehicle for the pursuit of his ambitions and the application of his political ideas.
One day late in 1970 while at Dar es Salaam University, Museveni suffered another mental breakdown, like that of 1967. This time he was flown to a psychiatric hospital in Oman in the Middle East. After undergoing treatment, Museveni returned to Dar es Salaam. After completing university in Tanzania in March 1970, Museveni applied for and got a job in Uganda’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. President Obote met Museveni again in August 1970 and was impressed enough by the young man that he had him transferred to the Office of the President at the parliamentary buildings in Kampala.
This is the man, Museveni, who has surpassed Amin in brutality and hated Rwanda because it reminds him of his mother’s banishment.
This story is an edited version that was originally published by the title “Museveni’s origins.”