Mugwisa: The man who was appointed Minister after the president saw him through the State House window


There is a litany of stories of how people joined the Uganda government cabinets right from the days of colonialism, post-independence to the present times.

You have heard stories of Henry Kyemba, a permanent Secretary then who arrived at an event earlier than his boss, the Minister and as the function started in Entebbe, he was bothered on where the minister was.

And while at it, the president (Idi Amin) told him to take over as Minister there and then. So Kyemba walked in as an official under the minister but walked out of the premises as a full minister.

A story is told of Samwiri Mugwisa, who became the minister of Agriculture on Obote II’s government, literary through the window.

Mugwisa, a UPC stalwart came to the limelight after the 1966 debacle when Obote created four districts of East Mengo, West Mengo, Mubende, and Masaka.

The move by Obote was to neutralize the Buganda region which had in previous times become a niggling thorn in his flesh.

Mugwisa, one of the founding members of UPC was now raised in stature and appointed Deputy Secretary-General of UPC in Mubende, then a very big post.

Mugwisa was apparently handed the position as a way of Obote relieving himself from him and indeed, he held the position until Obote’s overthrow in 1971.

Indeed, in his previous interviews, Mugwisa claims he had been deserted by Obote who remained aloof all the while to the extent that he dismissed his intelligence on Amin’s planned coup.

Mugwisa claimed that he got to know of Amin’s planned coup while at a party in Mubende and he dashed to Kampala to brief Obote, but he received no audience.

In the end, Mugwisa gave the message to Minister Nathan Kalema who burst out in laughter. Kalema laughed at the joke of a very illiterate Amin taking over an established government.

Alas, a few weeks later, Amin was president of Uganda, and Obote was overthrown while airborne.

Mugwisa and the UPC crew started a panicky exit from Uganda, as many of Obote’s ‘people’ were being hunted by pro-Amin forces and supporters.

Mugwisa ended up in Kenya where he was housed in a tiny hotel room in Nairobi for the next couple of years until 1978 when he was appointed a diaspora coordinator for Andrew Lutakome Kayiira’s Uganda Federal Union Forces based in Nairobi, a gig he obtained through the ‘powerful’ connections of the Godfrey Lukongwa Binaisa, a practicing lawyer in Europe.

Mugwisa’s chances through the window start

By nature of his new posting, Mugwisa was now back in touch with the likes of Ruhakana Rugunda, Tarsis Kabwegyere, Paul Kawanga Ssemwogerere, and a legion of UPC bigwigs, leading to his summoning to Tanzania where Obote was remotely organizing a coup against Amin with the help of the likes of Yoweri Museveni.

On seeing Mugwisa, Obote deployed him to Uganda to head the Masaka axis in mobilizing the masses to warm up to the war against Amin. The other leaders were; Chris Rwakasisi (Ankole) Maj Edward Rurangaranga (Ankole), Joseph Okune (Masaka economic research).

Meanwhile, Mugwisa was in Uganda, the UNLF government was forming in Tanzania and he was overlooked. A list was sent in through Yusuf Lule and he was missing.

It was not until he appeared spontaneously in Tanzania that Lule saw him and wondered where he had come from. Lule late realized that Mugwisa had been with them all along but for some reason, his name had never been fronted. The list was brought back and again Mugwisa got onto it through the window by replacing Sam Magezi in the last minutes as District Commander for Kyotera.

Kampala would later fall and Yusuf Lule was installed as president of Uganda.

For the umpteenth time, Mugwisa was overlooked in appointments and left as DC Kyotera. There is a way Mugwisa always found his way into intelligence and he claims he got the first information that Lule’s government was falling.

Like with Obote, Mugwisa now traveled to Nile Mansions and asked to meet Lule so he briefs him on the news that the government was going to fall, but he (again) could not pass another minister (Samuel Ssebagereka of Finance) who kept the information from Lule until his overthrow.

Mugwisa would again be appointed minister of agriculture in Binaisa’s government but his name was deleted from the list in the last minutes and replaced by Matiyansi Ngobi.

Left with fewer options, Mugwisa now sought political office, standing for Member of Parliament in Mubende North East Constituency during the 1980 general elections.

Mugwisa flanked miserably owing to heavily rigged elections in the area. Infuriated that nothing was working, he traveled to state house this time with determination to meet and speak to Obote.

Mugwisa had been at State House for several hours and not able to see Obote, and just like luck would have it, a passing Obote spotted him through the window and shouted: “Mugwisa, you are the minister of Agriculture.”

And like that Mugwisa became a minister until Obote’s overthrow in 1985. He was arrested briefly and released months later.  He joined the business until his death in 2014.



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