First Published by : The Daily Monitor on August 12 2012
Mzee Boniface Byanyima was in the news as having forgiven and reconciled with his adopted son, President Museveni, over a number of issues. The two have had personal differences for about two-decades now. Sunday Monitor’s Felix Basiime caught up with the aging politician at his home in Ruti Trading Centre, about 4km on Mbarara-Kabale road in Mbarara Municipality. Below are the excerpts of their chat.
Mzee, there have been reports that you met President Museveni in recent past and agreed on a compensation for your ranch and that the money was paid. How true are these reports?
Weija kunterera enaku (Have you come to add salt to the injury?)? I have never seen the money, I was told about it by others who read those newspapers.
How did all this start?
Government grabbed ranches in Kiruhura District, it was not government restructuring ranches as was reported, but it was government attacking the ranches. Unlike other ranchers, I resisted the invasion, government soldiers beat up my wife and left her unconscious, I took her to hospital. It is about 20 years ago, police then arrested the suspects but later released them. Affected ranchers united to sue government but later feared that the guerilla-led government would kill them, but for me I successfully sued it and government has since then never paid me.
What happened after the court verdict?
After the invasion on my ranch, workers houses were burnt, fences destroyed, 1,200 heads of both Freisian and Boran cattle taken and about two square miles of land given to squatters. After court verdict, settlers remained on the ranch and I was never compensated up to now.
Press reports also say that you met, held discussion with President Museveni and forgave him. What did you exactly drop and or take?
I did not forgive Mr Museveni. Not until government restores my ranch. During our meeting he accepted that the manner used in restructuring the ranches in Nyabushozi was wrong.
Then what have you been discussing on phone with the President after that meeting at State house?
I have never talked to Museveni on phone this year and he has not solved any of my problems, I am still heavy laden with them.
How about reports that you went to South Africa for treatment and someone else picked your medical bill?
It was on my cost, not Mr Museveni’s as sections of the media alleged. No way.
You say that Museveni or his government has not given you anything, but you recently thanked the NRM government at your elder brother’s burial, what prompted this?
Yes, I thanked government at my brother Kabangora’s burial for the peace I see around but I said this is false peace of lies and vote rigging, in the north and other parts of the country there is no peace. If government compensates me, they will no longer be my enemies but this does not mean I have joined NRM or back it, no way, they will be giving me what is due to me.
When did you last meet President Museveni, where and what was the purpose?
I and some of my children met Mr Museveni early this year at State House; we only discussed about my land and compensation nothing else. Mr Museveni said I won the court case and that I will be compensated according to the judgment.
But press reports say you have been ‘bought’ off in this compensation thing, what is your take on this?
I have never been bought, no government can afford to buy me. Obote called me thrice for a ministerial post and I rejected it, he bought off some DP officials but I remained stuck to my DP up to today. Amin came but I did not request him for any post, Museveni came and never suggested to appoint me anywhere because he knows that I can’t accept.
Back to the ranches, you were on the Mugerwa Commission what did you recommend to government?
We recommended that active ranches that were occupied by the owners should be left intact but those that were idle should be parceled to the other landless people. There was no David Pulkol Commission as reported; Pulkol just headed government soldiers that attacked our ranches.
You joined the Democratic Party (DP) then highly regarded as a Catholic party. Do you still believe in it?
I long ago rejected mixing politics and religion. I joined DP because of truth and justice, people then laughed at me that I had joined a party for Catholics, so any one to bribe me must come in truth and justice. I have never left DP. I despise the Museveni government more than Obote’s (Ex late President Milton Obote) because they are thieves especially in elections.
What do you mean exactly about truth and justice, what does it cure for any government?
I fear for any government that does not lead with truth and justice. It reaps problems and chaos only. Amin tried to fight for the truth but later failed because of Nyerere and the Whites who wanted Obote back. For Mr Museveni, he rigs elections, lifted term limits, he cannot be removed because there are no term limits and there is poll rigging all the time, this results into chaos. I pray for Uganda so that we should not plunge into another chaos. Removing term limits in the Constitution of any country abates violence because by removing them and continued rigging of elections, the population must resort to violence.
What was your role during the National Resistance Army Bush War?
I did not take active part in the bush war but I told DP members that DP had won the 1980 elections so that we should reject the results but Ssemogerere (Paul, former DP President) refused and joined Parliament. I supported all who went to the bush because the government in power was illegitimate but I did not buy and supply arms from Democratic Republic of Congo as alleged.
Your daughter Winnie and Rtd Col. Kizza Besigye run against the NRM government in elections in 2001 and 2006, what role did you play in their quest for State House?
Press reports say that I told Winnie and Besigye that they cannot defeat Museveni, why not? Those are lies. I can’t tell Besigye not to stand. I am a DP member but I back all opposition parties; UPC, DP, FDC whenever they have a candidate running against this government that rigs elections, but what shocks me is the way the people of Uganda are bribed at the time of elections.
Part of your family lives outside the country, what exactly led to this?
My children fled the country over mental torture by government agencies on my family, but last year one of them came back and said he was persuaded by government that he would not be harmed and that government would pay the family all the old claims. We later met officials of the Justice Ministry last year, discussed but never agreed on the compensation.
What did you exactly say at your son Anthony’s wedding at Sheraton Hotel?
I thanked Mr Museveni for contributing to my son’s wedding. I said I and Museveni parted over my ranch and other people’s ranches and for destroying Uganda’s economy, I did not go beyond this.
Mzee Byanyima, the rigidly principled man
Mzee Boniface Byanyima, has been described by many as “rigidly principled” and stubborn. He is an elder of the Democratic Party, one of Uganda’s oldest parties.
Until 2005, he was the national chairman of DP and is still a strong pillar of the party.
He is the father-in-law of President Museveni’s bitterest rival, opposition Forum for Democratic Change leader Dr Kizza Besigye. President Museveni is said to have grown up in the Byanyima homestead, commonly known to as Green Cottages, in Ruti, 4km outside Mbarara town, along Kabale Road. Mr Byanyima paid President Museveni’s school fees and he stayed at his home. In his piece, Mr. Charles Onyango Obbo describes the Museveni’s relationship with the Byanyima family as the proverbial one of the ugliness of family fall-outs.