It was mid-day, 27th July 1985, and everyone loyal to Dr. Apollo Milton Obote, had fled or was fleeing the country following the takeover of government by his army commander Brig. Bazilio Okello. The takeover came at the height of tribal divisions between the army leadership coupled with the surging pressure mounted by rebels of the National Resistance Army led by Yoweri Museveni.
Obote, deposed and frustrated, remained stuck in the Nile Mansions (now Serena Hotel) where he had taken permanent residence for the most part of his five-year second term in government. Milton Obote, who had vowed to die in his country upon his return from exile in 1981, had made up his mind to indeed die rather than flee to exile again.
According to a narrative by Capt. Rufino Akena, a soldier (and personal aide to Lt. Col. David Oyite Ojok) who closely worked with Obote in both the first and second governments, as his close associates and mostly his Langi tribe-mates were fleeing for dear lives, Obote locked himself alone in a room at Nile Mansions. He refused to listen to anyone and he was armed with an AK-47 threatening to fire at anyone who comes close to him.
In his book titled; I saw Oyite Ojok Die, Capt. Rufino presents a narrative of events as they unfolded at Nile Mansions and how he used commando skills, disarmed Dr. Milton Obote and helped him flee to Nairobi en-route to Zambia where he lived until his death in 2005. Capt. Rufino Akena, says he wanted Obote flee the country and organize a second liberation rather than stay and be killed. He says he was determined to make sure that Obote flees before him.
Akena says that when he learned that Obote had rebelled, refused to flee, armed himself and was dangerously unapproachable, he stepped in. At first he implored Obote’s bodyguards to use all the skills they had learnt to disarm him and get him out of the country but they warned him how he was armed and vowing that he is ready to die in Uganda.
“I desperately wanted Obote to flee, because I thought if he did, he would organize us to recapture power like he did against Amin in the 1970s. So when I realized that the pressure I was mounting on the guards were futile, I became more desperate to get my president out of harm’s way. Daringly, I stealthily sneaked through the kitchen window, dived on Obote, grabbed him from the back and called on the guards for help. We disarmed him and forced him into a car, and through the eastern route, he was driven to safety in Kenya.
When Obote had settled in the car and ready to flee, I told him: Mr President, I am sure you see value in our action of forcing you to flee, because if you are out and safe, you can ably mobilize us for a second liberation struggle.”
After helping Obote to flee, Akena says it was his turn to flee the country. Stuck in the middle of Kampala, time was running out so fast against him as the Okello’s army’s footfalls growled loudly as they invaded Kampala City. At this point, he says the eastern direction appeared to be the only escape route available as the Okello’s were staging roadblock in strategic points across the country with a mission to trap elements they deemed enemies of the power they had grabbed.
He tells of how he narrowly escaped being captured by soldiers who had staged a roadblock at Jinja Nile Bridge sealing off the easterly main route after hesitating before he approached the bridge. He was to later witness the arrest of Obote’s strongman, Chris Rwakasisi who had overtaken him just a short distance from the bridge.
Nevertheless, Akena made it across the River Nile using another path ending up in Kenya where he spent several months but later made up his mind and returned to Uganda and settled down quietly in his home village, Akokoro, Apac District. Later in January 1987, Akena as arrested by NRA soldiers and taken to Apac Military base where he was tortured to near death. This story is for another day.
In his narrative, Akena is certain that the Obote II government would not have fallen had Obote gotten rid of Bazillio Okello whom he said was “a thorn in Obote’s government and another Amin in Obote II.” Akena says, had Obote heeded the many calls to remove Bazilio Okello from the UNLA, Uganda’s political history would be different.
In our next issue, Watch out for “Who Killed Oyite Ojok”
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