Kyemba: The man who took a bullet for Milton Obote


On December 19, 1969, as he left Lugogo Indoor Stadium in Kampala where he had just addressed a UPC delegate’s conference, President Apollo Milton Obote survived death by a whisker after he was shot.

Shortly before 10 pm, it was time for the President to leave and so he stepped out of the hall amidst cheers and chants from the delegates and walked on but somewhere within the vicinity, stood an armed man whose episode was set to start rolling in a bit.

“……I walked out and I saw somebody aiming a gun at me. After that I don’t know what happened because I was shot at: I broke my tongue, broke my teeth, then I was taken to Mulago Hospital,” Obote narrated.

Three months later, six people led by Mohamed Ssebaduka were arrested, tried and sentenced to life imprisonment but were set free by new President Idi Amin, three years later.

As the events on the day unfold, Henry Kyemba, the then Principal Private Secretary to Obote watched and saved him from death.

“These assassins properly dressed in red were waiting for us but we didn’t know,”Kyemba begins his narration.

“We were walking after dark as we enjoyed music. He was on my right and other party dignitaries were following.”

In his narration to media before his death, Ssebaduka recounted that Obote walked out from the hall into a brightly lit compound and that a couple steps away near a Cypress tree he, (Ssebaduka) stood armed and ready for action.

“I waited there until Obote and his entourage was near enough and from their left, I quickly reached for the semi - automatic pistol strapped under my belt and I fired hitting the President in the mouth who fell down instantly,” Ssebaduka said.

According to Kyemba, as they neared the  Cypress tree, shots rang out and there was a state of confusion everywhere.

“We didn’t realise it at that time that they had shot us but we all fell to the ground. Everybody was for himself. The bodyguard lifted Obote,” he narrates.

He adds that he shouted to the guards not to kill anybody at the scene as the president was put into another car, driven to Mulago hospital and he(Kyemba) later followed them.

The Principal Private Secretary says he used the Vice President’s car to Mulago adding that he never realised he had been shot until he arrived at the hospital.

“My concern was with the head of the state and didn’t think about anything else. When I went to the theatre where he had been taken, one of the nurse asked where I had got the blood all over my shirt.”

Kyemba adds, “On checking, blood was all over my shirt and the bullet had grazed my neck.”

He believes the bullet that grazed his neck was destined for Obote and by hitting him, the president survived in one way or the other.

Another attempt

Kyemba narrates there were many attempts on Obote’s life following the souring relationship between him and the Mengo establishment that that saw an attack on the Lubiri and the then Kabaka, Sir.Edward Muteesa II exiled to London where he died from.

The other attack was in Bugolobi as Obote left a function where he had presided over the pass out of prison warders at Luzira prison.

In an interview with the Daily Monitor, Dan Kamanyi, the brain behind the attempt on Obote only for his deputy  John Babiiha to get hit, admitted they had for long planned ways of killing Obote until this day came.

“We started planning on how and where we could hit Obote from. Ambushing him was the easiest option but knowing when and where he was going was hard. As we finalised the details of the ambush, lady luck smiled on us with the announcement that the president was to preside over the pass out of prison warders at Luzira prison,” Kamanyi told the Daily Monitor in 2013.

According to Henry Kyemba, before leaving Luzira at round 9 or 10pm for Entebbe, he asked the driver of the police lead car to put off the flashlights but little did he know this saved the life of his principal.

“This is where you have to note the power of God. I got out of the car and told police to switch off the light because it had no use.”

He says despite the flashlight being a security matter where he had no control, the police driver complied with his request without any hesitation.

“It was a security matter and I had no cause to interfere but fortunately no body questioned as they complied. I mentioned it to him (Obote) that I had asked them to switch it off because it had no use,” Kyemba says.

He adds that the drove successfully up to Entebbe road when news was broken to them that the Vice President, John Babiha had been shot at near Silver Spring hotel.

“It was the Vice President following us according to protocol and he had put his flashlight on. While along the road at Kajjansi, we heard on the radio call that the Vice President had been shot at,” he says.

He adds that after investigations, it was found out that the attackers were Mengo sympathizers who had laid an ambush at Silver Spring hotel in Bugoloobi and targeted Obote.

Kyemba however notes that everything in his line happened because of the will of God.

The part 2 of this story will be published next Sunday

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