41-year search for Kiwanuka's remains
On September 21, 1972, the then chief justice of Uganda, Benedicto Kiwanuka, was abducted from his offices in Kampala by operatives believed to be from the State Research Bureau. Forty one years later, his family is still looking for the remains.
Kiwanuka, who was the first Prime Minister of Uganda in 1961 and later became the first black Chief Justice, deserved to live a full life and get a decent burial, but that was not the case. His kidnap and murder continues to haunt the family. They searched for his remains in various places where eyewitnesses have claimed he was buried.
On September 20 last year, during a memorial service at Christ the King Church in Kampala to commemorate 40 years of his death, the family launched fresh appeals for anyone with helpful information regarding Kiwanuka’s burial.
A close family member told Sunday Vision that they have gone through a lot of emotional torture. Kiwanuka was last seen in public on September 21, 1972. After attending mass at Rubaga Cathedral, he bid farewell to his wife Maxencia Zalwango, telling her he had some work to finish at his office.
As he left church a car trailed him and hardly had he settled behind his desk than armed men stormed his office, dragging him through the steps of the Court premises in full view of other people. His shoes and coat came off and he was quickly bundled into the waiting car and driven off.
His arrest attracted international attention, with then Kenyan President Jomo Kenyatta calling Amin in an attempt to secure Kiwanuka’s release.
Amin’s government concocted a document in which they alleged that Kiwanuka had been abducted by Ugandan dissidents based in Tanzania.Kiwanuka was, thereafter, told to sign the document, but he refused. Nobody knows what transpired thereafter.
His death a mystery
Different accounts have been given to the family with one stating that Amin pulled out a revolver and shot Kiwanuka twice through the head after he refused to sign the document.
Another version states that his head was sliced off at the behest of Amin. A diferent version was given by a Tanzanian intelligence officer, Deusderit Kusekwa Masanja, in an interview with Drum Magazine in April 1974.
Musanja himself had been detained in Makindye Military Barracks on accusation that he was spying for Tanzania. “It was in September in 1972 when I saw the former Chief Justice of Uganda Benedicto Kiwanuka at night. He was wearing an army uniform.
By that time he had lost weight, he was unshaven and barefoot. He looked very dirty. Some of the prisoners, especially the Baganda, recognised him at once and crowded around him to talk to him. By midnight he was taken out of the cell and taken into his own cell and instructions were given that nobody should approach him,” Musanja said.
He added that on February 28, 1972, Kiwanuka was brought into the cells again and killed by a hammer as some senior army officers watched.
The search for the body
Reports indicate that authorities concealed Kiwanuka’s body and all those who witnessed the shooting were also killed immediately.
The only survivor was a man known as Kahwa who lived to tell the family how the Chief Justice had met his death, but nobody could point out the location of his burial.
In 2006 the Democratic Party, which Kiwanuka founded, organised a memorial mass in remembrance of his contribution towards constitutionalism in the country.
“We started this initiative to remember Kiwanuka as a hero. We need to know where he was buried so that he is accorded a decent burial,” the then party spokesperson Jude Mbabali said.
Last year the local media carried reports of a woman who resides in Mugoye sub-county, Kalangala district, who claimed she knew where Kiwanuka was buried.
Kiwanuka shaking hands with Uganda students boarding the plane for the first ever special “scholarships airlift” from this country.
The woman, who was 20 years old in 1972, claimed a Land Rover packed with soldiers came to their home at Kiguuli in Lwampanga sub-county, in what is now Nakasongola district and the soldiers on board picked her father, Yokaana Katende Kiggundu (RIP).
The car then drove towards Wajjala, a village about two miles from Lake Kyoga, where they met other trucks and they were ordered him to dig a grave. The old man allegedly saw Kiwanuka’s body together with two other bodies buried in shallow graves.
The woman adds that her father was able to identify Kiwanuka’s body because he was a DP activist who had worked as Kiwanuka’s agent in Buruuli during the 1962 elections.
According to this anonymous lady, once the burial was over, the soldiers erased any signs of a grave by covering the area with branches and warned the locals who had dug the grave never to tell anyone.
Katende, however, died with the secret in 1979.
In an earlier interview, Uganda’s Ambassador to Switzerland and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, a son of the late Kiwanuka, said the family was informed that their father was buried in the same grave with the former Bank of Uganda governor, Joseph Mubiru, and one Captain Mukasa. Kiwanuka’s body was allegedly dressed in a suit and had a wristwatch.
Who was Ben Kiwanuka?
Benedicto Kiwanuka was born on May 8, 1922 in Kisaabwa village in present-day Bukomansimbi district.
Following the death of his father in 1940, he dropped out of school and opted to join the King’s African Rifles immediately and fought in World War II.
At the end of the War, he returned and was employed as a court clerk and interpreter at the High Court in 1945. He married Maxencia Zalwango in 1946. In 1949 riots erupted in Buganda which were sparked of by the Indian and Asian monopoly of coffee and cotton business.
Kiwanuka became a keen participant in the riots and even participated in the organisation of some of the meetings, secretly launching his career into politics.
When he was appointed to head the High Court library, he started reading law books and this interested him into studying the course. He sold his father’s piece of land and paid for his enrollment for a Law course in Lesotho (1950-1952) and later did a bar course at the University College of London (1952-1956).
He Practiced law privately from 1956 to 1959 and became the Democratic Party (DP) President General in 1958. He served as Chief Minister in March 1961 when the DP won the majority seats in Parliament after the other political players boycotted them.
He became the Prime Minister in 1962 in the New National Assembly.
The alliance between Kabaka Yekka and Uganda People’s Congress in 1962 led to the defeat of DP in the April 1962 polls. Even though the polls were not free and fair, Kiwanuka conceded defeat, congratulated Obote and tendered in his resignation.
He, however, remained critical of Obote’s government. He fled the country when Obote’s soldiers attacked the Kabaka’s palace in 1966. Three years later, he returned and was arrested on accusation that he was printing and publishing seditious and libelous material.
When Amin seized power in 1971, he freed Kiwanuka and other political detainees. Amin personally received them at the Kololo airstrip.
Kiwanuka and the other detainees organised a huge rally at Nakivubo stadium in support of Amin. When African countries refused to recognise Amin as President of Uganda, Kiwanuka contacted the Organisation of African Unity secretariat and lobbied for the military leader, saying he had the support of the people.
He became one of Amin’s political advisors and was appointed the first black Chief Justice of Uganda in 1971. However, Amin soon became wary of Kiwanuka’s popularity. He publicly accused Kiwanuka of being sectarian.
In May 1972, Kiwanuka celebrated his 50th birthday and silver jubilee marriage anniversary, but Amin did not attend, even though he had been invited. In August, Kiwanuka wrote a letter to Amin asking him to clarify on reports that the president was badmouthing him.
The arrest of a British businessman, Daniel Stewart, worsened the already sour relationship. Stewart had been detained in Luzira allegedly on orders of Amin.
According to Albert Bade, in his book ‘The illusion of liberation’, no judge or lawyer was willing to handle the case. The British High Commissioner appealed to Kiwanuka as the chief Justice to intervene in Steward’s case.
Kiwanuka agreed to take on the case though some of his friends advised him to drop it and flee the country.
As the showdown between the judiciary and the executive loomed, Kiwanuka decided to take some time off to go hunting with his childhood friend Charles Nsubuga in Mawogola.
After the hunting expedition, the two returned to Nsubuga’s home for the evening and according to Bade, “as soon as they reached home, Nsubuga said, I will plant a banana tree in your memory,” he notes.
Kiwanuka convinced the OAU to accept Amin as President
This was like a premonition of what was to come. The banana was planted and it remained standing for twenty four years.
As the two chatted into the evening, Kiwanuka opened up to his friend and told him of the difficulties he was facing and mentioned the Steward case. According to Bade, who interviewed Nsubuga, he advised his friend to drop the case and flee the country, but Kiwanuka refused.
Before he could leave for Kampala, he went to his village and bade his mother and siblings farewell.
On return Kiwanuka issued a “writ of Habeas Corpus” and warned the military against interfering with the works of the judiciary. He went ahead and released the detained businessman, stating that the army had no powers of detaining a civilian.”
The harassment started with phone calls. On two separate occasions, Kiwanuka received telephone calls deep in the night. He was already in bed. On the first occasion a certain Minister summoned the Chief Justice to immediately report to Parliament House and Kiwanuka was suspicious, why the urgency?
“And after all if you as a minister want to see me, it’s up to you to come to my office. A minister cannot summon the Chief Justice. I’ll be in the office the whole day tomorrow,” Kiwanuka reportedly told the minister.
But the following day nobody turned up at the office. A few days later another call came from State House and this time around, one of Kiwanuka’s children picked it up and surprisingly it was President Amin on the line.
When he called his father to receive it the line went dead. “He then instructed his son to sit by it which the young man did for nearly half an hour,” writes Bade.
When Amin called again, he never hung up and waited for Kiwanuka to be called to receive the phone call, “Who is greater, the Chief Justice or the President? Did you say we do not have authority to arrest the British?” Amin asked on phone as Kiwanuka and his wife and children sat the other side.
He laboured to explain that his judgment had been misrepresented and asked the President to first study the file. But Amin banged the receiver in a show of anger.
His wife would later grant the Drum Magazine an interview in March 1983. “As my husband was trying to explain, that that was not what he exactly meant, that he had been misinterpreted and that Amin should first look at the file, Amin blasted away and replaced the receiver,” she said.
Kiwanuka’s family begged him to flee for his safety, but he refused. He left his home and visited his parish Priest Father Agostoni and the two discussed Kiwanuka’s safety. He was eventually hunted down and killed a week later.
The family is appealing for anyone with information that could lead to the recovery of the remains to pass it on to them.
- Benedicto Kiwanuka was born on May 22, 1922 in Kisaabwa village, Bukomansimbi district.
- He dropped out of school in 1940, following the death of his father and joined the Kings African Rifles
- He fought in the Second World War and when the war ended, he returned to Uganda in 1945 and worked as a court clerk
- He married Maxencia Zalwango in 1946
- In 1949, Kiwanuka was instrumental in the riots that broke out in Buganda, protesting Indian monopoly of the coffee and cotton business
- In 1950, he went to Lesotho university in Zambia to study law
- In 1958, he became the Democratic Party president
- In 1961, he served as chief minister when the DP won majority seats in Parliament
- In 1962, he became the prime minister in the New National Assembly
- In 1971, he became one of Amin’s political advisors and was appointed the first black chief justice of Uganda
- In 1972, Kiwanuka was murdered in cold blood and his body has never been seen