• Lutwa was in the dark about NRA capture of power
• Museveni struck names off cabinet list as ministers were swearing in
As the National Resistance Movement celebrates 27 years since it captured state power, officially on 26 January 1986, Edward Ochwo, 77, the retired secretary to Cabinet and clerk to Parliament, gives a personal account of the events surrounding the swearing-in of the then NRM rebel leader, Yoweri Museveni, as president of Uganda.
Ochwo was appointed Secretary to Cabinet in 1980 after President Godfrey Lukongwa Binaisa was toppled by Paulo Muwanga. He doubled as clerk to the National Council/Parliament between 1980 and 1988 under Paulo Muwanga, Milton Obote, Tito Okello and Yoweri Museveni.
In an interview with Peter Mwayi, at his home on Mutungo hill, Ochwo remembers how President Tito Okello Lutwa showed up for work oblivious to the fact that his government had been overthrown.
When Tito Okello took over, I was transferred to cabinet as the Secretary to Cabinet and I served for the six months that Okello was head of state. But I soon started to see cracks in cabinet, because this was a collection of different people from different political parties and different ideologies.
I could see that they were disoriented, each had their own ideas. Cabinet was torn in spirit, and even the two Okellos [President Tito Okello and the de facto number two Bazilio Okello] had different ideas. Bazilio wanted DP to gain the upper hand yet Tito could not hear of that. So they were already quarrelling about key appointments and promotions in the army.
I remember one Acholi, Ojok Mulozi, then minister for Information, telling me: "Now Tito has turned this thing into UPC again."
By the time Museveni came, things were about to erupt within the cabinet. Andrew Kayiira [leader of the Uganda Freedom Movement] was holding one part of Kampala, and [a UNLF faction] was holding the other part, so the Okellos were just in the centre, they had no control over Kampala.
There was going to be another showdown, which Museveni, thank God, nipped in the bud. Museveni's takeover saved this country from another bloodletting which was going to be so bad because the Bazilios were ruthless men. They were holding and expressing anti-Baganda sentiments.
The [week] before Museveni's soldiers marched into Kampala, Tito Okello adjourned a cabinet meeting and Bidandi Ssali whispered to me that there would be no other meeting since "the men" were around the corner.
The following morning, I dutifully reported to office and found just a few junior officers. All the staff who had connections with the NRA [National Resistance Army] did not report for duty. All the men from western Uganda did not turn up for duty. At 11 o'clock, Okello comes into office, calls me, and asks if the ministers are ready. I tell him "Sir, there is no one in office." He asks why, and I say I have no idea, so he tells me to ring all of them.
Of course, at that time, communication was not as modern but I managed to talk to most of them. They told me they were not coming to cabinet that day. I told him that no minister was coming. At about midday, Bazilio Okello and a host of other smartly-dressed soldiers came in, walked into Tito's office, and sat for an hour.
Tito called me and said since there was no one around, the meeting should be postponed to the following week. By this time, he had changed into his full general's military uniform. He walked out of the International Conference Centre, boarded one of the jeeps in the waiting fleet and off they drove eastwards.
[Shortly afterwards,] Yoweri Museveni announced a takeover.
Drama at swear-in:
I was not involved in anything, as soon as the guns went silent, I reported for duty at the cabinet secretariat and that is where some soldiers approached me, the only one I remember is [now major general] Kahinda Otafiire. I could recognise him because he had been a Foreign service officer, so I knew him.
"We have to swear in the new president, can you come and organise the ceremony? We want it on the steps of Parliament House," Otafiire [asked me].
I was a bit disorganised and went back into my office to recollect myself. Otafiire came in and said, "Now the president is about to arrive, can we do this faster?" I walked out and hundreds of soldiers had surrounded the building. I was the only civilian walking among them. We then proceeded to Parliament and Justice David Potter presided over the ceremony [on January 29, 1986] on behalf of the then acting Chief Justice George Masika, together with Chief Registrar Serwano Kulubya.
The list of the new cabinet was worked out and given to me to present after Museveni was sworn in. As I read out the names, I came to the name of Mwene Mushanga. The president exclaimed, and asked if I was swearing in my own cabinet, to which I responded that this was the list given to me.
The president then said that the name I had read was not on his cabinet list, so he asked who had given me the name. I told him my duty was simply to present the list, so we had to briefly stop the [ceremony].
They went inside to refine the list, and when they came back, three names had been removed. We proceeded and swore in the cabinet. I could read in that, that obviously some people wanted to be in cabinet yet the president was not keen on having them there and indeed they were struck off. I recall someone calling me and saying: "You man, you have had a brush with the president already!"
After the swearing-in ceremony, which was followed by no jubilations, I waited for the president to greet him and he said "Oh, Bwana Ochwo, you are still here? We shall work together."
He knew me because [we worked together] while Museveni was minister of Defence in the UNLF government.
What I marked right from the start was that everything had to be done the way Museveni wanted it done. Cabinet would sit from nine O'clock, discuss, make resolutions and so on. Because the president was not there all the time, it was always [Prime Minister] Dr Samson Kisekka chairing cabinet. Then Museveni would arrive almost at the time we were breaking off for lunch and ask for a brief of what had transpired.
On being briefed on the resolutions, he would sit and say, "No, it can't be like that!" He would then go over the whole thing, changing this and that. You would notice people scratching [their] heads wondering why their time had been wasted. This continued for all the time, especially when there was something important to be passed.
He would dictate to the secretary what was to be adopted and he would cause the resolutions to suit what he wanted to happen. That control over the cabinet is one of the things I marked about Museveni's ways of procedure. Obote was different because he tried to persuade cabinet to see things his way.
Ochwo blames the corruption in government on the interference of ministers in ministry operations. He recalls a time when he was asked to provide a million US dollars to a "certain Indian" who had played a role in the NRA bush war. He says he could not refuse the request but demanded a written request from the president.
He refuses to give details of what followed, characterising the matter as "confidential government business." He also recalls being ordered to provide 280,000 British Pounds, ostensibly to buy books.
These incidents, he says, were early indications that the government was beginning to go astray. Ochwo believes recent threats of a military takeover should not be taken lightly. He says there is a crisis: the country has no money, yet there is a need to justify the incessant government extravagance.
Who is Ochwo?
Born on August 15, 1936, to Tefiro Oloo Alen and Ezereni Abbo in Lwala, Mulanda sub-county, Tororo district, Ochwo excelled in school despite having to walk three miles daily to Mulanda Primary School. He passed the P.4 exams and joined Rubongi primary school near Tororo town. After P.6, he joined Nabumali Junior School and then Nabumali High School where, he says, he was popular with the teachers.
He then joined Kyambogo School of Commerce, Institute of Chartered Secretaries, before getting a public service job as an administrative officer. He rose up the ranks to become clerk to parliament/secretary to cabinet in 1980.
Having helped to establish the National Resistance Council, he served as clerk to the council until 1989 when he retired.