21 April 2018

Uganda: How Binaisa Escaped Being Shot By Bodyguard

The President is the most admired person in the country. He has an army at his disposal, access to the state coffers, immense powers, including authority to appoint people to top government positions and fire them.

No wonder, former President Godfrey Binaisa is recorded to have once said "entebe ewooma", meaning that the presidential throne is enjoyable, during his short reign.

He was President of Uganda for nearly 12 months. His reign lasted June 20, 1979 to May 12, 1980 when the six-man Military Commission chaired by Paulo Muwanga ousted him in a bloodless coup. The deputy chairperson of the Military Commission was current President, Mr Yoweri Museveni.

Binaisa had become President after his predecessor, Prof Yusuf Lule, was censured by the Uganda National Consultative Council (NCC) which was Uganda's interim Parliament after the fall of Idi Amin's regime in April 1979.

The NCC lasted until December 1980 when the new Parliament was elected after the December 10 General Election.

In his early days in office, while he was getting to feel the real "sweetness of the presidential seat", Binaisa was almost killed by his bodyguard. In September 1979, for the first time since he was inaugurated President, Binaisa travelled to Busoga sub-region with some of his Cabinet members and held a rally at Iganga Primary School in Iganga District.

A snake scare

The President had just sent the crowd into a thunderous applause. Binaisa had announced that from that day, by virtue of his powers, he had renamed former Bokassa Road in Kampala City to Nkrumah, after fallen former president of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah.

In 1972, President Amin had changed the name of the road from Aldina Visram to Bokassa, after his friend and fellow dictator Jean-Bédel Bokassa, the then president of Central African Republic.

As people cheered and chanted, there was a snake scare. There was a stampede as people attempted to flee the crowded field where they had gathered to hear Binaisa's speech.

Some people ran towards the President's podium. While stopping the people from fleeing towards Binaisa, one of his bodyguards accidentally pulled the trigger of his cocked gun, releasing several bullets into the crowd. According to Mr Alexander Waibale, then a member of the NCC representing Jinja District, one of the people hit by the bullets was a family friend, who he only identified as Azuba, a Kamuli District treasurer.

"The bullet hit him in the stomach. He was rushed to Iganga hospital and later transferred to Kamuli hospital. He survived and passed on recently. "Mzee Azuba was the father of the current Minister of Works Ntege Azuba," Waibale told Saturday Monitor recently at his home in Jinja Town. "I think about three or so people were hit by bullets. But I don't remember others."

President pushed under a table

"During the scare, Binaisa was pushed under the table by security people and the table was surrounded to protect him. Soldiers went on shooting in the air for three or four minutes. Everyone thought that there was an attempt to assassinate the President. Later Binaisa was pulled from under the table. We saw the President slowly crawling from under the table where he had been hidden. Although it was a scary experience, we laughed at it," Waibale recalled. Indeed, it was a sight to behold, a President emerging from underneath a table.

Museveni remains standing

Mr Waibale also witnessed another outstanding character at the scene. "As bullets went off, I heard a voice speaking in Swahili, telling the soldiers to stop shooting. And when we raised our heads from under the chair where for about four minutes we had lain like dead bodies, we saw the man ordering the soldiers to stop shooting was Museveni. He was the Minister of Defence. He was dressed in a military uniform. He was the only one who remained standing," the former Speaker of the Parliament of Uganda recalled.

"Even the soldiers who were shooting in the air had taken cover."

He continued: "Later Museveni called the public to order and told us that there was no snake but a careless soldier had accidentally let bullets off his gun. And I remember when the meeting resumed, people kept on talking about Museveni; wondering where he got the courage to stand amidst a hail of bullets," Mr Waibale narrated.

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