Part Four: “I Thought I Would Die In Museveni’s Torture Chamber”—Kakwenza Rukirabashaija

 I was dying, I said.
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The author was waterboarded by Ugandan dictator Gen. Museveni's military intelligence services. Uganda has received as much as $1 billion in financial and military support from U.S. taxpayers aid.  

Black Star News is serializing below a new book Banana Republic, Where Writing Is Treasonous by Ugandan author and our columnist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija. He has been arrested twice, first on April 13 and then Sept. 18 and beaten and totortured by the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI), dictator Gen. Yoweri Museveni’s secret police because of this book and an earlier one, The Greedy Barbarian about an African kleptocrat who turns a country’s treasury into his family’s personal ATM. PEN International has called for all charges against him to be dropped. American taxpayers who read the following excerpt should contact their elected representatives and tell them "no torture with my tax dollars."


Part Four:

Because these two are human rights lawyers, they thought that perhaps I am so close to them that I would throw open to them the doors to the CMI’s closets of murky secrets. I had nothing valuable for them. Eventually, they gave up on asking about the individuals and switched the interrogation to the article I had written for Chimp Reports about the impact of coronavirus and the warped presidential directives on farming. The article read thus:

That very night when President Yoweri Museveni declared a transport shutdown in Uganda and suspended the movement of private vehicles, I was driving from Kampala. I had spent the day downtown buying pesticides, seeds and fertilizer for my farms in Kayunga and Busoga. My farm in Kayunga is very big, a hundred acres, so I loaded a truck full of bags of fertilizer and seeds and flagged it off to Kayunga. The ones to take to my farm in Busoga were loaded into the trunk of my private car and some on to the rear seats.

As I drove towards Jinja, listening to NBS Radio, I heard the president declare that all the private vehicles were to stop moving throughout the whole country in an effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus. At first, I thought that such a directive would work only in the major cities and towns but, alas, even us in the villages are effected and very badly. I had planned to drop the stuff off at my farm in Busoga and give directives on what to do and then drive to Gaaliraya to find the other truck which had set off with bags of fertilizer and seeds. Right now, I cannot drive to Kayunga to supervise my workers at the farm as they plant, yet as a farmer, armchair or phone or office farming is the most common cause of failure in the farming business. I can neither walk long distances between my farms nor ride a bicycle. One cannot just sit at home and call at the farm for something to be done without direct and physical supervision. I tried it once and ended up making heavy losses and since then I have been making sure that at least at every farm I appear there a minimum three times a week.

Before the president banned public transport, I had ready chickens amounting to two thousand which are kept in the cages erected in my compound at home. These chickens are ready for slaughter and buyers would move using taxis from Mbale, Tororo and Malaba to buy them. Broilers eat a lot of feeds and the more you keep them the more they eat even on the profits. Right now, I am stuck with a thousand chickens at home since buyers have been banned from traveling to my farm. I have been sharing with one friend in farming circles, Grace Bwogi, who narrated to me that presidential directives found her in Kampala buying medicine for her sick goats and now she cannot travel in her car to deliver the medicine to her farm in Rakai and, as a result, her goats have started to drop dead.

The Ministry of Works and Transport should consider and hastily come to our rescue to provide us with movement permits lest the country is going to run short of food in the coming months. We are also essential workers since we produce food for the country to feed on. Myself, I supply more than five schools with food and right now it is planting season but I am stuck at home following President Museveni’s directives.

Let President Museveni revise his directives in favor of us commercial farmers living in the villages. It does not make sense when I am driving to my farm in the village and I am alone in the car loaded with fertilizer and seeds and I am accused of spreading the virus. Spreading the virus to the plants?

I had shared the same article on my Facebook account with a caption:

Museveni be serious otherwise you won’t love the comeuppance of your warped and unconstitutional directives. If the country plunges into the abyss of famine in the months to come, never blame coronavirus but yourself.

They asked me, at gunpoint, to explain the unconstitutionality of the presidential directives. They reasoned that my Facebook post would incite my followers to be recalcitrant against the directives and hence spread coronavirus.

I pointed out to them that the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda 1995, as amended, states, under Article 79, that it is only Parliament which is tasked to make laws for the peace, order, development and good governance of Uganda. The same constitution further provides that no person or body other than Parliament shall have the power to make laws. I told them that the president can issue directives only after he declares a state of emergence, which he had not done as the constitution demands under Article 110. I had studied such things in the first year of law school in Introducing Law and Constitutional Law classes so to regurgitate them for the benefit of ignorant torturers was very easy.

I heard them whisper to themselves what to include and what not to include on the charge sheet. I heard them debate between defamation and doing an act which is likely to spread the disease contrary to sections 179 and 171 of the Penal Code Act Laws of Uganda, respectively. Then another officer, whose accent sounded like he was Luo, suggested that they charge me with cyber harassment.

They pushed me out of the room. An officer then led me into the corridor where I was directed to remove my clothes and stand with my palms pressed flat against the wall. He had removed the chains and handcuffs to allow me to remove the clothes and he had immediately put them back on when I handed him the clothes. Now I had on only a pair of boxers and a vest. The officer returned from stowing away my clothes and commanded me to lie down on my back, facing the ceiling. My head was already covered with a beanie. Now he wrapped a thick piece of cloth around it and was soon pouring water on it to create a drowning sensation. When I later described this method of torture to my lawyer, he told me it waterboarding. I believed that the time to kill me had now arrived, as the pulchritudinous lady who had served me porridge had threatened. They waterboarded me while hitting my ankles again and again. After about twenty minutes, they took me back to the rails and hung me on them again.

Later at night, I heard someone walking on the stairs and I called out for help. I was dying, I said. The officer came to me and raised my chin and adjusted the beanie. I begged him, as he looked into my eyes, to help me and loosen the handcuffs and chains. Surprisingly, he looked at me with merciful eyes. He was chewing gum and the breath of menthol filled my nostrils. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a bunch of keys and climbed the stairs to unlock my arms from the upper rail. He climbed down and unlocked the chains with which my legs had been fastened to the lower rail.

“Look, I am going to help you. Tonight you will sleep in the basement with others but early morning, I will come and pick you and hang you again here before seven,” he spoke for the first time. I felt so relieved that I showered him with blessings. He took me down into the basement where I spent a night with fellow inmates – hundreds of them. Rwandans, Congolese, Ugandans, Kenyans, others from the Horn of Africa. There was an Iraqi or Saudi national who told me that he had been an investor in Uganda before he was brought to the dungeon and that his family didn’t know of his whereabouts. I was shown a space on the floor that had nothing laid on it to sleep, just like the others. The Good Samaritan didn’t remove the handcuffs and leg chains and they hurt throughout the night.

The Good Samaritan returned early at six in the morning, and took me back and hung me back on the rails. He confided to me that he had done what he did out of humanity, and that he had been commanded to have me spend the night hung up again. I blessed him and asked whether, in the future when I would be writing about the incident, I could include it, and he okayed the idea.

I was picked up again from where they had hung me by another officer and they took me back to the interrogation room. One interrogator demanded that I pluck out my beard one hair at a time because it was overgrown. This would serve as a substitute punishment for not managing to kneel on the rough stones. My body could no longer allow me to stand or sit or kneel and when I requested to go and pee and was allowed to do so. I urinated blood. It was a Friday morning. When I told them that I had urinated blood, they rubbished it without a hint of remorse. They said that, after all, they were going to kill me for disturbing the peace of the president with my novel.

On Saturday morning, breakfast was long in coming and I thought that my captors had forgotten all about me. I had listened to the sound of the mop on the floor early in the morning and the pounding of boots on the tiles for a long time and I had concluded that it was perhaps 10 a.m. I grew impatient and kicked the door twice. Within a few seconds I heard the key turn in the door lock and saw the inside knob turn slowly. Then I saw a plump officer whose potbelly entered the room first, then his boots, and eventually his whole rotund figure stood in the middle of the toilet-cum-cell. He wore a feminine perfume that smelt strong and nauseatingly unnecessary. He examined my ankles that were visibly swollen and asked what had happened to me before he could even greet me.

“These people are beating me for my novel that I recently published,” I answered.

“So you are being beaten for your knowledge?” he asked, laughing. “You are the tall man who dwarfs everyone that stands near you? Your arrest is already breaking the internet. You should thank God for you are popular because of your height and book, otherwise you would die here.”

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a bunch of keys and unlocked the chains and handcuffs and asked me to follow him. I was amazed at his mercy as he didn’t mistreat me like the other officers had done. I was so hungry and thirsty that my body was shaking. It was from hunger, thirst and the inhuman treatment they had subjected me to for several days. As we walked slowly, with me tottering behind him like a new-born calf behind its mother, I prayed to God that the hope I had been harboring that I would be released was now being fulfilled.

I followed the officer as we climbed the stairs. He held my hand so that I would not to miss any of the steps. He thought that with the blindfold, I could not see the stairs. I had worn the beanie over my head and adjusted it in such a way that I could see up to a certain limited angle. On the third floor, while we walked in the corridor, he asked me to remove the beanie and pocket it. He pulled out my specs from his breast pocket and gave them back to me to wear. The lenses were clouded by the frequent careless handling with greasy hands.

I cleaned them with a sleeve of my T-shirt.

“Sorry for what you have gone through. Forgive them please,” he apologized on their behalf.

“I forgive them? Why are you exculpating yourself?” I shot back.

“What is the meaning of that word?”

We had been standing in the corridor until the clatter of boots seemed to be approaching our side.

“We shall talk later. Come on!” he suggested.

In the boardroom, we found about eight men and two women seated comfortably in their seats. I was shown a seat at the head of the huge mahogany table where they sat. They had been breakfasting on English tea and bananas which had not properly ripened. The boy serving the tea stood far in the corner, and looked like he was on standby. He came forward and served me tea and bananas when he was commanded to do so. Two of the men and women at the table had their smiley faces stuck in the novel.

The clock on the wall soon struck 10.30 I didn’t know then that I would be interrogated up to 6.00 p.m., and that the interrogation would be centered on the things they had asked me before. It was as if they were confirming the earlier submissions I had made at gunpoint. Later on, the officers walked out, except one lady and a haggard man who looked like he was in his late fifties. The former introduced herself as an officer from the Criminal Investigations Department, Kibuli, and the latter said that he was a police officer attached to the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI), Mbuya.

They were friendly and wondered why I had been tortured and denied a lawyer contrary to the provisions of the law. Either they were exculpating themselves to paint themselves as angels before me or they were genuinely concerned about my plight. They took my statement. When we were done, the plump officer who had brought me up came again and walked me downstairs, where an army double-cabin pick-up had been waiting for me.

© Kakwenza Rukirabashaija 

Serialization of Kakwenza Rukirabashaija’s “Banana Republic, Where Writing Is Treasonous” will continue this week on 

Rukirabashaija can be contacted by e-mail message via for book orders

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