In The Dungeons of Nakasero, WodOkello Lawoko tells the story of his 196-day imprisonment in the dungeons of the State Research Bureau in Nakasero and the post-independence history of Uganda that led up to the 1971 coup. It is not a story for the squeamish; there is no fantasy about this horror story. It actually happened and he tells it just as it happened.
Lawoko was the Head of Programmes at Radio Uganda when Idi Amin took power. After two years of media management and technology training in America, he eventually was appointed Controller of Programmes, Radio Uganda. In February 1977, together with other Ugandans, he was arrested and charged with high treason. Six months later, the military government produced the group of sixteen and tried them before a military tribunal.
Lawoko was found "guilty as charged, but freed" into confinement. Following a tipoff from sources close to State House, he was warned his life was in imminent danger; so, he fled to Kenya, which in fact denied him asylum. One could dwell at length on graphic descriptions of the torture and brutal executions, but I shall not do that. I prefer to try to understand how Lawoko himself was affected by the experience.
Once in the relative safety of Nairobi, he could afford to sigh with relief and celebrate a new lease of life. Yet, he writes, he was unable to feel any genuine happiness at the time. A strong sense of identity and solidarity with those people who had seen, and heard, what very few others will live to relate was overwhelming.
"I had become cynical", he says, "and sought persons with an experience similar to my own, but there were none ... I was unable to find language expressive enough to sufficiently describe the feelings that one experiences as he witnesses the bludgeoning of a human skull, or snapping of the neck...I was not capable of describing the anger, frustration and despair written over the face of Mr Nyagahima as guards bound him tightly to the grille door on the ready with the sledgehammer. The silence reigning in that cold, dark, damp dungeon as Farouk's men selected individuals to be "transferred to permanent happiness" could not be sufficiently described in words.... One was short on words to match the feelings eating him on the inside..."
Lawoko records one lecture Farouk [Major Farouk Minawa] gave them, in which he kept referring to the prisoners as the "I-know-more" type, who were Uganda's greatest problem, and had to be replaced. The educated man, according to Farouk, was the one with the gun. "The gun is your mother, your father and your bank!"
History has plenty of lessons, if we are only ready to learn. One is: make sure you keep from power, at all costs, people who are mostly illiterate, without values and basic human feelings. This straightforward, vivid but unsensational account of some of our worst years makes a valuable addition to books of Uganda's recent history.
Book: The Dungeons of Nakasero
Author: WodOkello Lawoko
Publisher: The author, 2005
Volume: 336 pages
Cost: Shs 45,000
Available from Aristoc and all major bookshops.