The author shown with a copy of his novel “The Greedy Barbarian.” He paid the price by being totured by Gen. Museveni’s secret police.
On the 18th day of September 2020, I was in bed sleeping when the house manager awoke me with a soft knock on our bedroom door. I checked for the time on the phone and it was exactly fifteen minutes past 6AM in the morning. I had been sandwiched between my wife and our youngest daughter, Siima, who is one year and eleven months old.
“Yes Anita, what is it?” I asked.
“Uncle, there are three men outside who want to talk to you,” Anita, still standing at the closed bedroom door, said.
“Who are they?” my wife asked, with a sleepy voice.
“I do not know them and they are asking for Uncle,” Anita retorted.
“Have you opened the gate for them or they are still outside?” asked my wife as she got up to draw the mosquito net.
Anita had sauntered away and she didn’t listen to the question posed by my wife. When my wife walked to the bathroom to ease herself, I went and opened the door. Four men in civilian clothes stood in the corridor facing our bedroom. They were all wielding guns.
I shut the door immediately and screamed to warn my wife. The men kicked open the door.
“You are under arrest. Put on your clothes now and we go!” one officer commanded while pointing his sniper gun at me.
“Is this how you bombard people in their bedrooms while they are still sleeping and you arrest them?” I demanded.
Then I recognized he was the same operative who had commanded the operation when I was first arrested from my home back in April. Short and energetic with a big nose and a hairless face decorated with two owl eyes and a chubby mouth cracked with dehydration. The argument of course attracted his fellow rascals who now entered the bedroom breathing fire. They threatened that they would take me in my underwear.
“…You are teaching us how we should arrest you? Are you an insane, tall man?” the ring leader barked.
No arrest warrant, no civility, no humanity, only impunity and braggadocio. I opened the closet and put on a pair of jeans, a white cotton vest and a grey t-shirt.
One officer handcuffed me and marched me out of the bedroom.
“Last time you took my husband when he was well and brought him back when he was almost crippled,” cried my wife.
“Our job is to arrest, we take orders and deliver the suspect, so we do not know about that,” one of them, a boy in fact, in cheap tight jeans and a faded t-shirt, said.
There were two men in Uganda People’s Defense Forces uniform in the dining area, standing with another police woman, all armed to teeth. Behind them stood our village chairman and his deputy who had been, conceivably, called to witness my arrest.
“Where is your phone and the computer?” the commander of the operation asked, looking at me like I had his kidney.
“I remember last time you came here, you took my computer and phones and up to now you have never brought them back, yet I was acquitted of your bogus charges,” I shot back.
“So what do you use to write insulting books and or maybe communication, Mr. writer?” the tall gentleman in full combat asked.
“None of your business,” I answered.
There was a white Toyota Noah vehicle with private number plates parked outside my gate with the engine running. I sat between two officers in full combat. The car, designed for seven people, now carried about eleven of us, -including other officers who had surrounded my house. By 6:30 the Toyota was roaring toward Kampala.
“I am thirsty; I need to drink some water please. You have arrested me without my wallet so you have to buy water and give me I take,” I said, but was ignored. We had passed Magamaga barracks in Mayuge district.
“I need drinking water you guys, don’t you have ears?” I raised my voice. I am used to waking up in the morning and guzzling two cups of water infused with fresh and succulent lemon.
“This son of a bitch wants to fill his bladder with water such that we make unnecessary stopovers along the way,” the officer on my right mumbled.
The driver, who was also the commander of the operation, made a call and requested money from his bosses, saying they had no fuel and that the suspect—me—was hungry and thirsty and demanding breakfast.
They withdrew the money from Mukono, bought for me a small bottle of a thousand shillings, toothpaste and toothbrush of about two thousand shillings. They shared the rest of the money amongst themselves. Ten thousand shillings each.
“What is the toothpaste and brush for?” I asked.
“Where we are taking you, you will need it,” the one who was a mere boy retorted.
“You need it more than I need it young man because your mouth is smelling like a latrine,” I said.
Around midday when we reached Bweyogerere, I was instructed to remove my rimless spectacles. I knew from my April arrest that this meant my head and face would be covered with a beanie. I was not meant to know where I was being taken. As a frequent user of the same road I related the car’s movements as headed toward Mbuya Military barracks. When I alighted the vehicle, I was sprayed with sanitizers for about five minutes like a cow in a kraal.
By 1PM I was seated in the corridor of the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI), on clean and cold tiles, handcuffed, barefooted and blindfolded with a beanie.
The harrowing screams from the interrogating rooms across scared the hell out of me. I prayed to God to lead me. When I was tapped on the head and asked to get up, I knew it was my turn to be hurt. I was determined to break their eardrums and concrete walls with my shrieking cries. In fact, my spirit jumped out of my skin when we entered the interrogation room and was welcomed by the same lazy Kikiga accent that I was cognizant with from the April torture.
“Kakwenza, how are the tiles now?” he asked, laughing.
“What do you mean, sir,” I asked.
He came closer to me and I could catch a whiff of the same cheap street perfume from before, still strong through the thick beanie that covered my face.
“Idiot, you described everything in your latest book,” he said. “Who taught you how to describe things perfectly?”
He ordered me to kneel down on the tiles and raise my hands.
“No sir, I am not in good health to kneel down. I am still sick from the other torture,” I said.
The slaps from the people who had surrounded me rained from every angle, hitting every part of my body. I capitulated and knelt. One brute began to hit under my feet with a baton incessantly and with a lot of energy. Another hit me on the head until I lost balance and fell down on the tiles.
“Now you are going to do fifty push-ups,” the perfume man commanded.
I was still handcuffed. I tried a few push-ups and failed. When I requested that the handcuffs be removed I was kicked and I fell in a heap.
“Let him sit on the chair and he tells us about this book,” a voice with Luo accent said.
I was led to a chair to face my interrogators. I could sense some standing behind be ready to strike me on signal.
My tormentors had acquired the soft copy of my manuscript for “Banana Republic, Where Writing Is Treasonous.” One read out loud the introductory poem to my book, written by Kagayi Ngobi, titled “THESE PEOPLE.”
I was asked to explain who “These people” were. I told them it referred to the people in power. The slaps rained on my cheeks for about two minutes.
He then read the epilogue of the book where I list the government’s failures and criticize the foreign countries that sell weapons and teargas to the country.
I was tasked to explain why I involved Museveni in everything I write. I told them that since Museveni is the head of state called Uganda, he is responsible for every mess that we are entangled. I reminded them that Museveni once said the problem with Africa are the leaders who overstay in power and that he has been president since 1986.
I reminded them that Museveni said he would not preside over a country where someone is arrested and tortured for expressing themselves. I said I had written “The Greedy Barbarian,” a political fiction novel and they had picked me up and tortured me almost death. Now I had narrated my ordeal from April in a new book and they had arrested me for documenting their impunity.
“We like you Kakwenza for speaking the truth,” one interrogator said. “So, do you want the president to step aside such that you become the president or you are just making noise?”
“Leadership comes with responsibility to speak the truth and to stand by your promises. Your boss Museveni has failed in all so he no longer has the credentials to continue leading our country” I said.
“Your country? You and who?” the interrogator asked, sounding incredulous.
“It’s my obligation to be a responsible citizen of this country and by doing so I have to make sure that my country is led well and to a right direction,” I said.
I braced myself for the slaps and maybe even a baton. Not this time.
“Banana Republic Where Writing Is Treasonous,” the interrogator said, repeating the title of the new book. “Why not Banana Republic Where Writing Subversive Literature Is Treasonous”?
“Sirs, I have never written subversive literature. Whatever I have been writing is nothing but the truth and bravely enough I have written when you my tormentors are still around, such that you read it and say this man is not a liar. So, you would not really take me seriously if you read about what you did to me in exile or when your bosses have been catapulted.”
“We wish you good luck in all your plans to catapult the government or perhaps in your next book about this arrest,” the interrogator said.
“Are you going to write another book and narrate that this time we treated you nicely or?”
I didn’t answer the question. I was ordered to crawl out of the room.
At around 6PM I was bundled into a vehicle still blindfolded and seated between two people. Was I being taken back home?
I was wrong. The brutes took me to the Special Investigations Unit in Kireka where I slept Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and the whole day Monday until Hon. Michael Kabaziguruka, Member of Parliament, came to secure my police bond. It was a herculean task because
clearance had to come from Statehouse in Entebbe.
I am free. For the moment.
The writer, a Black Star News columnist, can be reacghed via [email protected]