By Nelson Twinamatsiko and Wilber Muhwezi Kasibante
Major Edward Rurangaranga who was born in 1932 started on regime change. When the Milton Obote I regime fell in 1971, he was on Idi Amin’s hit list.
On February 22, 1971, barely a month after Amin had captured power, soldiers went looking for anybody who sympathised with UPC or Obote. Rurangaranga was such a man.
They went to his home, arrested and tortured him.
Maj.EdwardRurangaranga and his wife Winfred at one of party functions in Bushenyi.
He was finally released after a few days, but was not in any less danger. As far as the regime was concerned, he was still a threat, even as a mere transporter with Kitagata Bus Service.
They waited for another chance to pounce on him.
The 1972 invasion of Uganda by exiles provided Amin’s soldiers with the opportunity they needed. And this time they sought to finish him off.
On the same date of the invasion, September 17, 1972, the soldiers picked him, shot and dumped him into river Rwizi in Mbarara. They were sure he was dead.
Surprisingly, he wasn’t.
Rurangaranga was found and plucked from death’s jaws by friends two days later.
They smuggled him out of the country to Kenya – a journey that took them 79 days.
He stayed in Kenya up to 1979 when he returned with the liberators who toppled Idi Amin.
Rurangaranga was more than willing to show you the scars from the bullets that were sprayed on him by Amin’s soldiers.
After Idi Amin was toppled from power, Rurangaranga became a major player in the successive regimes, courtesy of his role in the liberation movement.
He was involved with the “Kikoosi Maalum,” a military wing of that movement, and his work was to mobilize the people against the regime.
Though he had had no prior military training, Rurangaranga said his work was “superb” and was recognized by both the Tanzanian government – the main backer of the liberators – and by Milton Obote, upon which he was given the rank of Major.
In the Obote II regime (1981-85), Rurangaranga was Minister of State in President’s Office.
So in 1985 when the tides turned against the regime, Maj. Rurangaranga was in trouble again.
On July 27, 1985, soldiers led by Gen. Tito Okello Lutwa marched on Kampala and overthrew Milton Obote’s government.
As the city fell; something was happening at Rurangaranga’s home as well.
It was the trend all over the country. A witch-hunt was on.
Rurangaranga’s upcountry home at Kaitanjojo in Kitagata Sheema, like those of many representatives of the regime, came under attack. Not by soldiers, but by neighbours.
“We saw people in groups of 10 or more coming towards us,” he narrated.
“They were wielding pangas, machetes, shovels, spades, axes and were wearing angry faces.”
Rurangaranga’s guards were helpless as the mob descended upon his house.
“Not even one fired a shot. We knew things had fallen apart,” he said.
In the melee that ensured his neighbours “cut and demolished everything” – cows, goats, chicken, name it.
“They were all cut into pieces,” said Benon Nyerwanire.
Nyerwanire was a domestic worker at Rurangaranga’s home in Kitagata, Bushenyi.
By October 1985, the situation was no longer bearable. Rurangaranga flew out of the country that month.
He returned in March 1986 and was promptly arrested and detained for five years.
On January 21, 1991, he was set free.
When he arrived at his home, it was unrecognizable.
What could not be stolen was destroyed; plantations were slashed and buildings razed.
As the most powerful man in their area; a representative of a regime that they had come to despise; he bore the wrath of neighbours who accused him of “arrogance” and causing the death or disappearance of their kinsmen.
It is telling that despite this history, he was elected unopposed in 1992 to represent this constituency in the Bushenyi district council.
“They told me they wanted to show the whole world that I’m their man,” he said in an interview September 16. So why did they treat him badly?
Rurangaranga believed it was “just malice” at work.
He said he knows all those who took his property; among them a senior police officer that apparently offered to return the furniture and trunk that he took, according to Nyerwanire.
Rurangaranga then waxes religious; praying, “God shall reward them accordingly.”
There are inscriptions on the walls of the buildings that survived that show the extent of anger behind the attack on his property.
One inscription dated November 11, 1985 reads: “Rurangaranga, you have also lost! Are you still around with your family? I will come and you will see me. Your time is over, God has paid you in the same currency. You thought time would not come?”
Given their taunting nature, it is surprising that Rurangaranga has not erased them – yet; he has only just moved into this house.
His house sits on Kaitanjojo hill, Kitagata in Sheema from where he commands a beautiful view of the town and Muhito hills.
The inside of the renovated part of the house looks much more promising with the walls decorated with pictures of Rurangaranga and his wife.
But Rurangaranga spends his time on the verandah from where he entertains or reflects upon the past.
He attributes his regime’s collapse to “disorganization in the army.”
On top of his ministerial post, Rurangaranga was a member of the Defence Council, the army’s top governing body.
He says his president made a mistake when he allowed “a power vacuum” to prevail for two years after Chief of Staff Brig. Oyite Ojok’s death in 1983 in a plane crash.
Rurangaranga believes that although Brig. Smith Opon Acak was a well-trained officer he could not assert himself as Chief of Staff.
“He just became a victim of alcohol,” he said.
He has no respect either for the soldiers that staged the coup.
He says, “The leaders of the junta wanted only to kill Obote, they had no agenda, it’s the reason why they knelt before Paul Muwanga, in my presence, begging him to accept being their Prime Minister.
He adds, but not without a tinge of ambiguity,
“We looked on and knew Uganda was once again in horror which has not ended up to now.”
Rurangaranga, who died at 85, has been a trained teacher and agriculturalist,
He is not convinced that the current leadership is up to any good.
In 1994 he competed in the Constituent Assembly elections and lost to Elijah Mushemeza.
He says has never forgiven President Museveni for “allowing a refugee to be saluted by Ugandans under the Ugandan flag” – in apparent reference to a Rwandan who was once State minister for Defence Mr Fred Rwigyema (RIP).
“It was a grave mistake any country could ever make,” he said.
The Obote 11 regime is remembered for having launched a scheme in early 1981 to have all Rwandans chased out of Uganda. Hundreds and thousands of them were chased from the country while others got stranded at the border because President Habyarimana’s regime in Rwanda would not allow them back either.
But with the backing of the Ugandan leadership the refugees eventually invaded the country in 1990 and took power.
Mr.Edmund Rurangaranga;son to Maj.Edward Rurangaranga:He lives in London but has been participating in Sheema politics.
Rurangaranga has issues with them anyway.
He says there are still “so many” of them in the army and state structure and “Uganda cannot claim sovereignty over security.”
In reference to the apparent hostility between the leaders of the two countries, Rurangaranga says, “How can you develop antagonism, to the point of fighting, with such a country like Rwanda when you have their nationals in your security system?”
He is also riled by “the rampant corruption” and “moral breakdown.”
He said, “Corruption has been institutionalized” and cites Kitagata hospital’s recent situation of having no drugs, “because money has been diverted or embezzled by officials.”
In Obote1 government, Rurangaranga was deputy District Commissioner while Eriya Kategaya was the District Commissioner of greater Bushenyi . Museveni was the Minister of Defence.
He is angry as he explains this.
His first wife; Joy who was commonly known as “Mama Bushenyi” died in 1999 and he remarried shortly after. All his children live in England.
When he is not occupied in selling matooke or looking after his cows, he chats with youngsters who also run some errands for him.
For him though, the “good old days” are history indeed.
The house in his compound that housed soldiers has been turned into a clinic run by his wife.
Rurangaranga says as a leader he never neglected his people; the reason he returned in 1979.
If anything makes him feel vindicated it is the fact that his people elected him unopposed in 1992.
He was one of the founders of UPC in 1959 and has held various positions – official and unofficial – in the party over the years.
May his soul rest in peace.