Otunnu and Gen. Tito Okello did not take part in the coup against Obote

Dear all,
I think people who believe that Olara Otunnu took part in planning the coup against Obote will be very difficult to convince. However, the coup was actually the result of longstanding complaints by Gen. Basilio Okello. I knew Gen.  Basilio very well, and I spoke with him frequently when he was the Brigade Commander of Northern Brigade, based in Gulu. I knew about the coup  plan sometime in 1984. Although I did not believe that Gen. Basilio could pull it off ( I actually told him so). I talked to Gen. Basilio Okello many times before and after the coup. From what I know Mr. Olara Otunnu had absolutely nothing to do with the coup against Obote. Simmilarly Gen. Tito Okello also had nothing to do with the coup although he later became the President. Infact after the coup Gen. Basilio told me that he had at first  “house arrested” Gen. Tito Okello, for failing to take “atuah”. Atuah is swahili word meaning “ACTION or STEP” against president Obote.

According to Gen.Basilio Okello when he arrived in Kampala following the coup Gen. Tito Okello had already fled to Kenya by helicopter and was in Kakamega, western Kenya. That Gen. Tito was later persuaded to return back to Uganda by some elders. He said the (same) elders asked him to make Gen. Tito Okello the president, otherwise he should have arrested Gen. Tito Okello for failing to stop president Obote from misusing the national army and dividing the army.
Based on what know through my conversations with Gen. Basilio Okello before and after the coup of 1985 his reasons for toppling Obote were:
1. Gen. Basilo complained that President Obote was wrongly using the Army to solve political problems. He cited in particular the war against soldiers of deposed president Amin who where then waging a war on Uganda from Sudan across the border in West Nile. According to Gen. Basilio, president Obote needed to find a political solution to the West Nile insurgency but not to use the army to fight fellow Ugandans.
2. Gen. Basilio Okello  believed that the political difficulties which president Obote was having  with the Baganda was bad for the Acholi people, in the sense that the Acholi, through their sons who were serving in Uganda army where getting a bad name nationally and in particular with the Baganda, for fighting Obote’s political wars in Luwero. Gen.Basilio Okello was so anxious about this and always said that “time is going to come when we Acholi will pay for what we are being ordered to do by president Obote”. He urged that the Acholi should ” try everything in their power to resist getting entangled in president Obote’s political difficultiees which the former wanted to solve militarily using “sons of Acholi” soldiers.
3. One day in early 1984 Gen. Besilio Okello complained to me that “Right now the UPC have started recruting soldiers into the national army”. He said that there were about 200 recruits who were sent to Gulu army barracks by the UPC office in Gulu, however,  he did not know how these people were recruited in the army and he was therefore refusing to give them army rations. The general said that he was going to “eject” the recruits out of the army barracks. It was on this same day that he told me that “Obote has to be replaced by a military council”. I asked him whether it was possible to topple president Obote and he replied very affirmatively saying “ofcourse”.
4. Gen. Basilio Okello also believed strongly that Obote rigged the 1980 election. I remember one day, in fact it was at night,  when I was seated with the general in a hotel belonging to the Chairman UPC Gulu West, who was president Obote’s strongest supporter in Gulu, Gen. Basilio remarked that ” Even Museveni who is fighting in the bush, he has a cause”.

5. Gen. Basilio believed that president Obote was planning to arrest him at any time, as early as January 1984. Sometime in the year (1984) the governement cited Gen. Basilio’s name in allaged confession of  Lt. Olake, who was a  rebel UNLA soldier who had fled to Kenya but was subsequently captured in Nairobi and brought back to Uganda. It was alleged that Lt. Olake confessed that Gen. Basilio supplied arms to rebels fighting president Obote’s government. The general was so spooked by this incident thought that the government were going to come for him at any time. Infact he told me that he had laid his own “roadblocks” to counter any soldiers who might be sent from Kampala by president Obote to arrest him. The general later asked me to arrange a meeting with the UPC officials in Gulu so that he could explain to them that he was not supporting the rebels.( At that time I was the chairman of NUYO Gulu district, and I was also working closely with Hon.Otema Allimadi, although some people always (wrongly) accused me of being a “DP infiltrator”.) I duly arranged the meeting and it took place in the UPC Gulu East Constituency offices. The meeting was attended by the Chairman and the Secretary of UPC Gulu East Constituency, also present was my vice chairman of NUYO Gulu district. This particular man (RIP) was a very staunch UPC youth activist. During the meeting Gen. Basilio Okello said that he wanted the UPC officials to know that he was not supporting the rebels. I remember him saying ” you always see me here in Gulu if I was planning anything against the government you people would surely be the first to know about it”. The UPC chairman replied rather sarcastically that ” you are a soldier and we are civilians, there is no way we can know whether or not you are planning to topple the government”. Gen. Basilio tried to propose at this meeting that the UPC officials should arrange a meeting from the grassroots in Gulu so that he could meet with president Obote to iron out things, however the officials declined. 
6. An interesting incident happened when President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia visited Uganda and went to Gulu in 1984. During the reception for president Kaunda at the presidental lodge, Gen. Basilio turned up for the occassion dressed in smart casual civilian clothes. There was a ring of people formed by plain cloth security and UPC youth activist all round were the two presidents and other guest were seated, so that one had to pass through them before going to take their seats. when Gen. Basilio Okello arrived he was detained as he tried to walk through the security ring and searched by security and UPC youth wing. The general’s pistol was removed from him and he was held up for a long while and everyone turned around to see what was happening. It was a tense and awkward situatuion and very embarassing to Gen. Basilio. At this point Hon. Apiliga who was a government minister came to Gen. Basilio’s rescue and led him away to be seated. It was later alleged by some people that Gen. Basilio had planned to kill president Obote during the reception. 
7. Gen. Basilio Okello was very angry for the alleged killing of Lt. Col Peter Oboma and Lt. Apire Olok. These two were alleged rebel UNLA soldiers who had fled to Kenya and who had then allegedly come back to carry out some covert military actions in Uganda against president Obote’s governemnt and were subsequently captured. The two were later summarily executed and their bodies apparently dumped somewhere in Mabira forest. Gen. Basilio never blamed president Obote personnally for the death of the two former UNLA Acholi officers because according to him the two were killed by fellow Acholi’s who were in the army. According to the general when the two renegade officers were captured he “pleaded with their fellow Acholi captors not to kill them”. However, somehow the general held the government of Obote responsible for what he called “extra judicial killing of Acholi by the Obote governement”.

Further more the general always cited the killing of Gen.Pyerino Okoya in 1971 by unknown gun men from his residence in Gulu. Gen. Okoya’s wife (who happens to be Lango) was also killed. The killer or  killers were never brought to justice. However, Gen. Basilio held the Obote (I) government responsible. This was a constant source of resentment and anger which I know for sure that Gen. Basilio felt so strongly about and which he somehow  wanted to avenge.
8. As the casualties from the war with Yoweri Museveni’s then NRA rebels mounted, with several bodies being brought home nearly every other day, Gen. Basilio became so anxious that many sons of Acholi were dying for ” a meaningless war”. The General even said on one ocassion during the funeral of a slain UNLA soldier who was the son of a very prominent Acholi professor, that a way had to be found  of stopping these death. According to Gen. Basilio the only way to stop Acholi from dying in a meaningless war was to topple Obote himself, if Obote will not talk to Museveni in order to end the war. 
9. Gen. Basilio was against the government of president Obote for supporting the SPLA rebel group of Southern Sudan. His main arguement was that as the immediate neighbours with Sudan, any repraisal by the Sudanese government on Uganda for its support of the SPLA would foremost affect Acholi. Accordingly the general refused arms to pass through his brigade area onwards to the SPLA. He also told me of an incident involving millions of dollars which was supposed to be air dropped to the SPLA in Southern Sudan but which landed instead in Acholi area. When villagers found the money and eventually Gen. Basilio came to know about it the later sent his soldiers who collected the money. I think for sometime the general refused to release the money to the government authorities until he found assurance that Uganda government would not aid the SPLA through Acholi area again.
10. Gen. Basilio wrote a letter to president Obote just immediately before the coup in 1985, in  which he told the president that he the general had henceforth stopped his soldiers from fighting against the so called former soldiers of Iddi Amin rebels based in Southern Sudan. In the letter the general argued that “When I took the oath of my army office I swore to defend the territory and the  people of Uganda. The people who are in Southern Sudan whom your governement want me and my soldiers to fight are Ugandans. Therefore, as per my oath I cannot fight fellow Ugandans whom it is my duty to protect.”. The general concluded that president obote must find a political solution to his political problems since the army was now not going to be involved in fighting and killing fellow Ugandans.
As far as I know these are some of the reasons why Gen. Basilio Okello toppled the government of president Milton Obote. 
Pilipo Oruni Oloya


4 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.

    mr.oroya i cant believe you in some rspects ..otunu and tito may not have been in the coup but they joined murderes!!!
    the reasoning you rae giving basilio olala okello is too bright for a dense soldier of his calibre!! he could not be that good in any way..look at the after manth of the coup..more blood and more blood till NRA took over ..the truth is that ACHOLIS have always participated in almost all the antricities in UGANDA look at KONY an acholi killing fellow acholis for 20 years its an ethenicity nature..northerners have a temper problem and are naturally radical and have blood stained hands!!! god has paid them back through J.KONY.. no wonder iginirant acholis are supporting him!!!

  2. Anthony Rwaga,

    UNAA: Attacks On Dr. Abe Are Unwarranted

    By Moses Ocen Nekyon

    August 30th, 2009

    Writer claims Dr. Abe, who invited Uganda’s First Lady, Janet Museveni, shown here, is being unfairly attacked

    Re: “Unaa Convention; Will First Lady Speak?”
    Dr. Ben Abe’s integrity has been attacked.

    Mr. Musisi has accused Dr Abe with forgery! The issue at hand is who has invited the Minister Of State for Karamoja, who happens to be the First Lady of the republic of Uganda, The Hon Janet Museveni MP.

    On Unaanet the online discussion group, there are arguments pro and against Dr Abe’s actions! We should remember this is the “Silly Season”! In less than two weeks UNAA conducts it elections for a new executive and National board!

    Mr. Musisi, who is running for President has based his campaign on the fact that he is protecting UNAA from take over by NRM ! Other candidates namely Flex Kabuye and Moses Wilson suggest that it’s all a figment of Musisi’s imagination!

    Things are never that simple in UNAA!

    I joined the National board in 2003 as its Vice President! Serving with me among others were Ms Rosette Sserwanga (President), Abdul Kimbugwe(Treasurer), Flex Kabuye (Youth), Sgt Frank Musisi(Member), Dr. Ben Abe Omara(Member).Most of us were first timers and thus the guidance of Dr. Ben Abe was invaluable!

    I believe starting from 2003 UNAA ‘s trajectory aimed higher! So it was of great importance for UNAA to have wise counsel as it navigated the tricky horizon!

    Ben Abe, has been a selfless servant of the Diaspora community as a board member and Uganda by extension. He has participated in projects geared towards attempted alleviation of suffering by the occupants of the Displaced camps in Gulu and NORTHERN UGANDA. Much of what he has done has gone un-publicized because he has always felt that it was his duty as a true son of the soil.

    Some of the projects he has undertaken include but are not limited to:

    (1) Rehabilitating derelict Bore holes in the abandoned Villages in the North
    (2) Taken Wheelchairs to assist the disabled.
    (4) DISTRIBUTED and DONATED Mosquito Nets
    (5) Re-equipped the Dental Clinics in the North.
    (6) INSTALLED Solar panels for the Government Hospitals in KOCH GOMA AND


    It’s this selfless spirit that we on the National board of UNAA have experienced with no interruption. This has continued even when he stopped being a board member in 2007!

    Ben, has been the main organizer of the Northern Forum in UNAA since 1997. That role came as a result of an unfortunate occurrence in UNAA, history that most people do not recall. At the time as the war in the north raged most Ugandan’s and the world at large had not become sensitized to the

    tragedy that was unfolding. A group of distinguished Northerners had formed a lobby group known as Kacoke Madit, whose role was to publicize the on going tragic events up north. Since UNAA was an Annual event which attracted the largest gathering of Ugandans in the Diaspora.

    The then leadership was approached BY DR ABE to provide a forum in which Kacoke Madit could educate the rest of the Ugandan brethren on what was going on up country. Unfortunately the National board felt it could not accommodate this request because it was felt it was too political. The social aspects of the war had not been realized by the rest of the country. It’s this response by the then Board that had given UNAA the stigma that it’s pro-Buganda and anti-North. I ran for office in order to try and alleviate that view and I will say that as a result of the work done by DR Ben Abe, Northern issues have been given their due respect. He has organized every single forum for the last 15 years at no cost with the blessing of the national board.

    So I find it odd that Mr. Musisi is now accusing Ben with impropriety. John Mutyaba who is the Vice Chairman of the Chicago convention gave Ben the go ahead as far as organizing the Forum MUCH BEFORE MUSISI EVEN BROACHED THE IDEA.

    About 2 months ago Musisi took a trip to Uganda which gave him the opportunity to travel up North. On his return he decided to displace Ben as the Chairman without the authority of the national board. Word on the street is that Musisi intends to show case his profile during the convention and Northen forum by viewing a DVD of his trip! Ben’s forum has been geared towards deliberate discussions and debate. Which would not give Musisi the space and time he requires to try and win the northern vote!

    My belief is that if the Minister of State for Karamoja and the First Lady had not accepted to come for the convention we would not be talking animatedly about the UNAA Northern forum. The reason I say this is because Musisi has through out his tenure injected politics when dealing with his board. Whenever decisions went against him, he saw the “invisible” hand of the Government of Uganda.

    Why is this fact important to note?

    I now see some of Musisi’s supporters calling Ben an agent of the NRM government. This far from the truth. Ben is a self-made man who owes no obligations to no one or any political party but the people of Uganda.

    It’s unfortunate that Musisi’s battles with his National board has spilt into the natural trend of organizing political forums! As they say a week is a life time in UNAA, one wonders what else is coming next?

  3. Anthony Rwaga,

    On August 25, Aswa County MP Reagan Okumu presented a list of 200 people he claims were killed by the UPDF in northern Ugandan at the height of the LRA insurgency. Why did he bring it out now? The Independent’s Bob Roberts Katende spoke to him and below, excerpts:Government says it has never participated in killings civilians. What evidence do you have to the contrary?It pains me that some people want to show that their hands are clean. It shows that they want to rewrite history. Telling the world that they have not killed people yet they have killed many.
    Another reason why we are bringing this is that our ultimate goal is to have a truth and reconciliation commission established. If not, we want an independent human rights inquiry into the war to be conducted so that a ‘post-mortem’ is carried. The survivors of these atrocities will tell it all.

    Don’t you think coming up with such allegations of crimes committed is actually opening healing wounds?
    It is not an allegation; it is not opening wounds. Why should you bury your heads in the sand that you are hiding when your body is being seen? What I did is just little of what I have. That is a sample. And I released that because government was saying publicly that they have not committed any crimes. And that Olara Otunnu may be arrested. The army spokesman and the police spokes person alluded to the same thing. So I just wanted to let them know you are treading on very dangerous ground. You don’t know what you are talking about. You think the people have forgotten. Actually it is government opening old wounds.

    Olara Otunnu has accused NRA/UPDF of committing atrocities. Is it a coincidence that you are making these statements during his return?
    This is not the first time we are making these statements. I wrote a six-page letter to President Museveni in 2001, warning him of war crimes. We could have opted to go to court to embarrass him but we want to settle these things politically. So we’re just reminding these fellows to stop that white washing. There was also a rumour that he was going to be arrested on arrival. But I ask government to be a little bit humble because we have print, video and at that time the NRA was very primitive about the media. Whoever went to record them they thought that was fun. It is only today that they have become very sensitive when they see a camera they want to know. During those days they were so free even torturing people on camera. We have documentary evidence so at the end of the day this over-zealous spokesperson should be a little bit guarded.

    As a member of the opposition, the Electoral Commission has been reinstated, what plans do you have up your sleeves?
    Firstly I have a different view. I think part of the problem is the opposition because we are not organised. If we get organised even with this current commission we can win. We have to be militant in the coming elections. This is what I have done in northern Uganda we were able to mobilise people especially the youth who were throwing out soldiers at polling stations because they had voted already. This included quarter guards. And we succeeded. The only problem why we are not succeeding is that we are not organised. That is why even in the Supreme Court we failed to produce substantial evidence because some of our people did not get [declaration] returns from the polling stations.

    How far have the talks concerning working together gone?
    The talks have so far been successful. The leaders of the parties had a retreat in Jinja; what we called the retreat of five generals for three days and in this meeting we agreed that we should move from cooperation to an alliance although this position has to be sanctioned by the party. After reporting to our parties then we should be able to proceed. I think we have gone a long way and there is no way we can turn back. We foresee even fronting one candidate.

    But there are some undertones from members in some parties that may seem not augur well for the cooperation. How far will this go? For example MP Katuntu has been quoted as saying there is no way Otunnu can become the single candidate for the opposition. Don’t you think it would be good at this stage to concentrate more attracting other parties to join you?
    Katuntu was referring to members who were saying that Otunnu wants to join FDC and at a senior level. The alliance we are talking is that FDC will come with their presidential candidate, and the same will be true of UPC, CP, and JEEMA and we agree on the modality of narrowing it to one presidential candidate. This does not mean that these people will change their party colors.

    How does Otunnu’s entry onto the political scene change the political landscape?
    Otunnu really catalyses the politics of Uganda in a more civilsed approach. For example there is a statement that he made while touring Jinja. He said even with all this money the donors have been giving, is this the state of things? That was a big statement. He knows how much money has been given to Uganda. You can see that the area of corruption is coming to the elections. It is going to be an issue based election. He also brings credibility to the elections. Few people join opposition. Whoever comes from abroad joins government. The opposition will be boosted because as someone of high profile, he could have stayed abroad comfortably, he can walk to Downing Street, White House at anytime. But he is now coming back and saying I am joining the opposition otherwise he could have joined government and been given a position like vice president or any other position as the president had offered him. If for example he came and said I am joining government, the opposition would be finished, we would be completely demoralised.

    He also brings another dimension that President Museveni has been monopolizing; that he has been a lone player but Otunnu is a diplomat and the opposition will no longer be disgruntled when it comes to international politics. They should be able to knock doors and be listened to. NRM will also benefit in some way. He has been a critic from abroad now that he has come home, NRM will say Uganda is okay; you can come and talk from home

  4. Yoga Adhola,


    An insider’s view on Otunnu

    Sunday Monitor, March 28 2010 at 00:00

    It is a misnomer to say the last UPC presidential election contest was between Olara Otunnu and Jimmy Akena. The elections was really a contest between the ‘Gang of Four’ and the Obote family. Could this explain why Otunnu at his first press conference said: “I am not going to allow myself to be used as a tool to fight the Obote family?”

    The Gang of Four is a group of men: Peter Walubiri, former secretary general of UPC; Chris Opio, former vice chairman of UPC; Prof. Patrick Rubaihayo, former national chairman; and Livingstone Okello Okello, former vice president of UPC. Often times, Mindra, the Corporation Secretary of MOF is viewed as the fifth member of the gang.

    The Gang of Four got into trouble with former party president, Miria Obote, over their cabinet posts for various reasons including attempts to connive. This removal hurt their egos and they resorted to hating the Obote family. The first time they got opportunity to humiliate the Obote family was during the re-organisation of MOF. Much as Akena had played a major role in the struggles which led to the re-organisation, he was completely marginalised.

    Humiliating president
    As for Miria Obote, much as the president of the party had always been chairman of the Board of Governors, a scheme was contrived which required that the position should be subjected to a vote. They ended up humiliating the office of the party president. Dr Moses Apiliga voiced objection to this, saying the president of the party should not be subjected to a vote.

    The kind of negative attitude displayed by the Gang of Four was not only unhealthy, but they were soon to become simply obstructionist in cabinet. They next called a meeting of what they called the East African Law Review at Lugogo Indoor Stadium. The object of the meeting was to create a parallel machinery to that of the mainstream party to organise the grassroots election. For this they were suspended. In response, they went to court to challenge their suspension. The court granted them an injunction which resulted in the freezing of all party activities.

    Around this time, Chris Opoka came up with the idea that Olara Otunnu runs for the presidency of UPC. He was of the view that Otunnu had support across the board and he would be able to become the candidate for the Inter-Party Cooperation. When Opoka mentioned this to Okello Okello, the Chua County MP rejected the idea arguing that no Acholi could be elected leader of UPC at the present time. He later changed his mind.

    The Gang of Four through Okello Okello then sought to politically own Olara Otunnu.

    Eventually, it came time to make a ruling on the case the Gang of Four had brought in court. The court found that the party’s 2006 constitution did not have the force of law because it had not yet been filed with the Electoral Commission. In that circumstance, the 1970 constitution had to be resorted to. This rendered the case of the Gang of Four unsustainable.

    In the meantime, Akena was traversing Teso and consolidating his support at the grassroots. Given the large crowds he was attracting, the Gang of Four decided to manoeuvre for elections using the 2005 delegates, thus by-passing the grassroots elections.

    There was absolutely no plausible reason for resorting to the 2005 delegates. There was money which had been given by the donors for the purpose of grassroots elections. And there was time as well.

    Chris Opio had been in charge of the 2005 grassroots elections and knew he constituted the delegates. He knew he could manipulate the delegates.
    In the negotiations, the Gang of Four managed to secure agreement that the National Council be called upon to decide the use of the 2005 delegates for the purpose of electing the party president.

    Akena let this through for two reasons. One, they did not expect the National Council to go ahead with the idea of an unconstitutional manner of electing the party president. Two, even if the matter were brought for debate, they expected to easily defeat. After all, they had earlier defeated a motion about the IPC which had been brought forward by Walubiri. Unfortunately, the National Council was agreeable to the four and the end result was not what the Akena camp expected. And thus with the decision to elect the party president by the 2005 delegates, the first act of rigging had taken place.

    The initiative had clearly drifted into the hands of the Gang of Four. The Akena camp tried to stem the tide by calling for the inclusion of women and youth, something which had not been in vogue in 1970. The Gang of Four, particularly in the person of Walubiri, tried to resist this proposal but lost; it was however an inconsequential loss for them.

    The Akena camp was hoping that since Obote’s son was good with the youth, he could bolster his chances. And this is also the very reason the Gang of Four was opposed to the addition of the youth to the delegates. They feared that the addition of the youth would thwart their scheme. The next major phase of the rigging occurred during the election of the youth and women representative.

    Then came the election itself. Nobody was sure of the delegates of 2005, and so there were three lists of delegates. One of the lists, and the last one to be brought in, was drawn by Chris Opio and Mindra of MOF.

    And then came the real mother of scandals. In the 2006 national elections, there were numerous cases of names being absent from the voter register. This was scandalous. I never expected, however, that the same kind of thing could happen at a UPC election. If we can do this at a UPC election, what moral right do we have to complain against President Museveni?

    Then there was the case of the number of youths and women to vote. While each constituency was supposed to be represented by one woman and one youth, some constituencies ended up having two women and two youths.

    Gang’s expectation

    What does the Gang of Four expect for all this? After all they are the kingmakers. One, at the election time, they treated Otunnu as a trophy. That is why they were at his side all the time.

    Two, they expect to control him in the same way they initially held Ms Obote hostage. They will also demand a diminished profile for the Obote family. Walubiri stated it succinctly: “It means that the Obote family will be like ordinary UPC members; enjoying equal status not a special status by virtue of birth,” (The Observer, March 14). In the meantime, The Observer reports that Otunnu is reaching out to mend fences with the Obote family.
    Mr Adhola belongs to the UPC’s conservative wing of leftist purists and was editor of the party’s newspaper, The People, during Obote II

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