BY JOHN NJOROGE
Many of you remember the 2011 Walk to Work campaign for its drama and chaos. Some of us lived that campaign everyday. Myself and photojournalist Isaac Kasamani swallowed teargas every week as we covered particularly Dr Kizza Besigye. Without medical by the way!!! Hmm
The routine was simple. Every morning by 6am we would find our way to Dr Besigye’s home in Kasangati and waited outside his gate for him to leave. Many times he literary “escaped” from us. We would be waiting outside only to hear he is in Kasangati town centre, yet a few minutes earlier, we had just seen him outside his gate saying good morning to us.
At first I did not understand why he did this. I mean, we, the media, where here to cover him. He had just come out of a heavily contested election which he believed had been stolen. We had heard rumours of how diplomats had been calling him asking him to stop the walk to work campaign but none of us could prove it, so we could not write it.
But what we could prove was that his life was in danger.
As a survival instinct, Kasamani and myself befriended the infamous police van crew UP1926. You all remember them. My best was Musa Walugembe. Musa is a very nice man. Make no mistake. He is very loyal to his country and a very obedient police officer. And a very good human being.
He is a hard worker too. You saw him in action. Many times I have said, that van, may have brutalized Dr Besigye, but taking him away usually saved lives, shockingly including his own as we where to discover.
For the longest time a plan was being cooked and it plotter were always in the walk to work crowds. Problems was how to get close to Dr Besigye because a number of loyal youth usually formed a tight ring around him.
So one morning at 5am I called Dr Besigye. It was part of my routine to call him to find out if he would “be walking” from his home or he would “appear” from somewhere else so that I am there.
I owed my readers to make sure I was at the right place at the right time. My editors at the time Alex Atuhaire, Daniel Kalinaki, Henry Ochieng and Joseph Mazige depended on me for live updates of everything as it unfolded.
We literary had a command centre for walk to work. We had insiders at the FDC who would tell us the campaign strategy of the day. We had “friendlies” within the security system, particularly at the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence, who would tell us what intelligence they had gathered and where not to be at what time because several parallel forces where working day and night to ensure Dr Besigye is neutralized.
That 5am call was interesting. Dr Besigye told me he would not be walking. I was shocked. Really! Why? He told me he had a lot of work to catch up on and had decided to take the day off. Then he said something that really shocked me even more.
He said: “John, don’t come here because there is no need. I will not walk today. Please just don’t come.”
I remember these words so vividly. I was seated on my bed. I woke up my wife and told her what Dr Besigye had said. I wondered had I angered him? Did I write something funny? Ok, he says he is not walking but telling me not to go to his home, that is different.
Few journalists at the time had exclusive access to Dr Besigye like I did. It was a time when any association with him meant you are in the opposition. My “Friendship” with General Kale Kayihura ended because I was branded an opposition journalist. At one time I was at the Media Centre and Mr Ofwono Opondo said I had “one leg in an one leg out”.
I told my Mrs that I felt something was a miss. She was happy that I did not have to take that long Boda ride from Naalya to Kasangati in the wee hours. She told me to rest some more. And so I went “into the covers”. It was what I needed.
Hours later my phone rang at 7:45am. It was Mr Atuhaire.
“Where are you Njoroge?”
I told him I was at home. He told me there was a protest taking place at Dr Besigye’s home. I told him I spoke to Dr Besigye but he had told me he was not “going to work” since he had work to catch up on. Mr Atuhaire told me this was another protest, this time by his own FDC supporters.
“Go there now, I am sending a car and Kasamani is on his way”
I jumped out of bed. My son had gone to school and I did not say bye, I was in a panic. I jumped into the shower, madam made me a cup of tea without sugar. Before I went to bed the previous night, I had swallowed a bottle of something bitter-sweet so tea without sugar is magic.
But instead of going to Kasangati, I went to office. When I arrived, Mr Atuhaire nearly hit me with a cup.
“Why are you here? Something is happening at Besigye’s home leave now. Take a car.”
I did not even switch on my computer. I was frog matched to a car and driven to Kasangati. When I got to Dr Besigye’s home, it was calm. Nothing
I called Mr Atuhaire, told him nothing was happening. He was in shock. He told me to hang up and he calls back using the office line. When he called, he told me he was in complete shock because his intelligence sources had told him there was a protest at Dr Besigye’s home.
Alex Atuhaire is one of the most resourceful editors I have ever worked with. He never makes a decision without confirming and trusting but primarily confirming. Now his primary source had lied.
I activated my other source. I called my CMI friend who shockingly told me that same thing. That there was a protest at Dr Besigye’s home. I told him I was standing outside the man’s gate. Actually me and other journalists and there was nothing happening. He too was in shock. He told me to stay there and that he was coming but he would not get near the residence.
I called Dr Besigye. Remember he told me not to go to his home. When I told him I was outside he was enraged.
“I told you not to come here.”
Within minutes he was outside. We all ran to the gate. We told him we had been told there was a protest here. He said “I am not walking please go back to your offices.”
He looked at me and Kasamani and said please leave here. Kasamani and myself where is shock. The man is chasing us. Unaware of what was about to unfold.
I will not mention his name, but he is one of the most dangerous and effective operatives the Uganda Police force has. I saw his car passing at a distance. I know h because we are friends outside out two different jobs. I funny friendship between a killer and a human rights defender of a journalists. Many cannot understand such a friendship. How do you seat and eat with a person who’s daily life is planning death yet you claim to be defending life. We are still friends so I will not mention him here.
Makindye is an interesting place. The night before, a lorry collected men from Makindye and Katwe, gave them FDC membership cards and alcohol. They also gave them SHs 50,000 each.
These men where to arrive at Dr Besigye’s home by 7am, claiming to be polling agents of the just concluded 2011 election who had not been paid. All they where supposed to do is just shout and speak to the media that they had not been paid.
Oh oh….not to forget and also flash their FDC membership cards. 4am the alcohol was flowing for these chaps. Each of them had a 50k note an booze was all over. The person who came up with this idea had another plan. There was another group who’s job was to wait for Dr Besigye. As soon as he came out of his gate, they were to administer something to him.
It was going to look like Dr Besigye was harmed by his own supporters.
Time check 10am, suddenly, groups of youth started emerging at Dr Besigye’s house holding FDC cards and demanding for pay. Small droves, and they where drunk and they shouted “FDC oyee FDC oyee but we want our money we want to speak to Colonel”
Then I saw this Pickup, white in color. Stopped a distanced from DR Besigye’s residence. We all saw the car. Four men got out of it and mixed with the rest.
Dr Besigye suddenly emerged from his residence. As these youth ran towards him, we where shocked to see another group of youth emerging from Dr Besigye’s home.
The drunk youth here scattered. A few caught among them was one of the four men we saw coming out of the white pickup.
Those of you, in the media, who where at Dr Besigye’s home that morning remember what those captured boys said.
For starters they thought they where going to be killed. Dr Besigye however had his boys in control. They narrates where they where got, what they had been given and even showed as money. Then they told us that some of their colleagues had tried to purchase things in the morning but realised the money was fake. That way why they never made it at Dr Besigye’s home by 7am. Because the rest refused after realizing the money was fake.
Yes, nearly 50 youth were fed on alcohol and fake currency to cover up another mission. After they told us all they could, Dr Besigye asked his youth to release them. They ran to the “loving arms” of the police who all this time watched without intervention.
Dr Besigye lived another day thanks to fake currency and waragi. His sources, I later discovered, had briefed him. The master planner was actually this friend of mine. Doctor did not want me, Kasamani and those near him in the event this attempt was executed.
It was a Friday like today.