In her new book titled “Pieces of Time, the Silent Witness” launched at the Kampala Serena Hotel on Thursday, the author Pamela Ankunda narrates her true story of how her father (late Izidon Tirwomwe) was buried alive by former President Apollo Milton Obote’s gunmen.
In her emotional publication, Ankunda narrates that her father was not buried alone but with 2 of his colleagues in the same six feet of the earth.
She had been told that her father had disappeared at the hands of Obote’s gunmen, something that remained a mystery to her. Years later, she started following up on clues as to what might have happened.
In her book, Ankunda ascertains that mystery disappearances, regime brutality and murders were common, giving rise to the different mass graves largely found in the Luweero Triangle.
Visit to Luweero
Ankunda assigned herself a hard task of going to Luweero in search for her father.
“I kind of felt my own assigned task of finding dad would probably take me five years or more. It felt like an assignment that had been passed on to me inadvertently to hunt for dad or at least trace anything to do with his disappearance,” Ankunda writes.
“I imagined that if you (father) were dead and buried in a mass grave or in a remarked grave somewhere or old and eating from a dustbin somewhere, it would take numerous DNA tests and more complex procedures to finally convince myself that you are the one,” an excerpt from the book reads.
“A friend of mine, Asuman, had told me it could be a big possibility but all I needed was thousands of dollars to get the task started. I still couldn’t figure out how though. Luweero is big, Luweero is vast, close to 9000 square miles,” said Ankunda.
She narrates that she embarked on a mission to look for her father and her first stopover was in Masulita in Wakiso district where she found a fairly old woman that directed her to a certain place where another person had told her was a centre of furious fighting during the 1981 – 1985 war.
She suspected that if people were fighting there, then many were probably killed and the bodies must have been collected.
The fact that she did not exactly know where in Luweero she was going, she told the old woman that she was looking for a place where bodies could have been buried. The old woman gave her and her driver verbal directions but they,unfortunately, got nowhere.
“Inside me, I wanted to meet Dad so bad that I began to imagine how it would feel,” said Ankunda.
Her body began developing lapses which made her ask herself whether she still had the determination of continuing with her mission. She was however sure she needed to proceed.
As she and her driver proceeded following the directions they had earlier been given, they met another frail old woman (jajja mukazi) carrying a pumpkin and a small jerrycan of water and Ankunda’s driver helped her carry the pumpkin and a jerrycan up to her destination where she lived with 3 young children (grand children), the eldest looking to be 10 years old.
“Jajja mukazi lived miserably under the hopelessness, wrinkles of poverty and grief from total destitution visibly seen,” Ankunda narrated.
She added that jajja mukazi’s family members that survived the Obote regime had died of HIV.
“Jajja mukazi had born 11 children but none was alive. 3 had been killed in the 1981 – 1985 war, 2 died shortly after birth, 1 of her daughters had followed a man she didn’t know and never returned while others succumbed to HIV/AIDS,” she wrote.
Jajja mukazi told Ankunda that death was a “constant visitor” and prayed to God that if death returned, it should take her, and not her grand children.
Still fearing to ask her about the Luweero graves, Ankunda offered jajja mukazi some money and as she and her driver got set to leave, jajja mukazi asked them whether anyone could have sent them to her.
That is when Ankunda decided to tell her why they had come (to look for graves where victims of the Obote regime were buried). Probably her father could be among those buried in mass graves.
Jajja mukazi asked Ankunda when the incident (her father’s disappearance) happened, under whose watch, where he was picked up from, why he was picked up and why she thought her Dad might have ended up in Luweero.
Jajja mukazi then showed Ankunda a faint face and speaking in local Luganda dialect said, “granddaughter, we used to pass by human skulls piled up like bunches of firewood. Our children played with human bones unknown to them. Sometimes scavenger birds plucked out their eyes. May be your Dad was killed with my children. She shook her head. Every time soldiers found us in a territory, they assumed we supported the rebels (NRA), they killed many among us.”
She then pulled her “gomesi” towards her eyes and wiped a stray tear.
To Ankunda, it seemed pretty obvious that finding the remains of her father was a perfect impossibility.
Jajja mukazi further told her that she could get the bones scattered in her plantation by the dogs and buried them so they could rest. But the fact that it was a daily occurrence, she couldn’t do much.
Jajja mukazi encouraged Ankunda to try her luck in another location – Katikamu. Ankunda said she regretted why she had made the visit. She had not told any of her family members because she wanted to surprise them with a possibility of her father’s reburial.
How Ankunda got to know that her father was buried alive
“I met another woman in Lyantonde, (she doesn’t want politics anymore). Their mum, who was incidentally a family friend, was in the same cell with my dad and uncle Charles. So, every Friday, names were read out and they never came back to the cell,” she narrated.
“People in the cells thought those were the lucky ones that probably went back home. Unfortunately, it was not like they thought. Those whose names had been read out, would be taken and killed,” said Ankunda at her book launch on Thursday.
“When my dad and two of his colleagues were called, they were asked to dig a pit (grave). They called three women, one of whom was Mrs Buzaabo and another woman in Lyantonde who doesn’t want anything to do with politics because she buried many people. So, they asked the three men (Ankunda’s father inclusive) to jump in the pit (grave) and they asked the women to cover the pit. So, they covered them alive. You know the horror, that was horrible,” she narrated.
Ankunda also recounted how her now late mother moved up and down in search for her husband.
“She went to different police stations knocking on the doors asking for her husband. Imagine leaving Kabale (district) and going to Mbarara and all you have to say is, I am looking for my husband.”
Her mother would later die, and at her funeral, Ankunda and her siblings were taken by their uncles to be looked after.
“Uncle Charles, uncle Zach; we are so indebted to you. I can’t express the depth of this. So indebted. I don’t know whether this love still exists. I am so grateful,” she applauded her uncles.
Ankunda explained that she wrote the masterpiece not only to honor her slain father but also ensure that past nasty times of violence and anarchy don’t reoccur.
“I wrote because I wanted to share certain stories to help shape some kind of thinking. When I see what is going on today, those who participate in what is going on today have probably not seen what happened in the past,” she said.
“Because if you did, you would work towards a better Uganda. You would forgive. It shouldn’t be so nasty. I saw young boys climbing CCTV camera and I said, what is he fighting for? Because, whatever we are supposed to fight for as young people, we achieved. Can we stop in our thoughts and think about the Uganda that we want?” she said.
Ankunda further stated that she wrote the book “to tell these stories and hope that this kind of violence, this kind of anarchy, this kind of bloodshed does not happen again. Where Muslims don’t see eye to eye with Catholics, where Catholics don’t see eye to eye with Anglicans. If you don’t tell these stories to shape a new Uganda, then the country is at risk of degenerating.”
Lessons to learn
“What is our role as young people, as people who are living today to make sure these things don’t happen again? Every time they say 1986 (when the current NRM Government captured power), people say we are fed up of this story yet they went to school, studied King Louis and is not boring. Why should Uganda’s history be boring. Why shouldn’t we learn this history. Why shouldn’t we tell these tales so that they don’t happen again?” Ankunda asked.
“Right now, the police at the extreme end is saying we shall enforce the law as it is but our friends are saying we shall fight till our last blood. Is it worth it? It was shed then. No amount of anger can force us to go to the extremes to burn our country. Nothing, whatsoever, and this is why I wrote. To say the worst is behind us. No matter what we do, we have a responsibility to build Uganda better,” said Ankunda.
The former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, who was the chief guest at the book launch, said that Ankunda’s tale is an “accurate account” of Uganda’s history.
“There is no doubt that narratives found in stories shape how we see the world. And coming to Pamela’s book, it is a powerful tale of the void the disappearance of your Dad created in your life. It’s a tale of a child keen to discover her true identity. A child that went all lengths to carry out an intensive investigation that finally resulted in the discovery of the truth. Pamela has recorded an accurate account of our history,” he said.
Mbabazi added that the book is a powerful reminder of the starvation, the plundering and shear brutality of the past.
“What’s the difference between today and then? The difference, as I have said many times before, is that today you have the rule of law. I have said time and again, the level of civilization of any society is the extent to which it applies the rule of law,” Mbabazi added.
Mbabazi also said that Ankunda’s father (Izidon Tirwomwe) paid the highest sacrifice.
“In the case of Izidon, he paid the highest sacrifice. There is no bigger sacrifice known to humanity than to lay down one’s life in defense of nation. I suggest that you use today’s book launch as an occasion to honor his memory and also to remind everyone his sacrifice and that of thousands of Ugandans will forever be remembered in our hearts and minds,” he added.