Speaking out. Ms Bridget Atwijukire, the 14-year-old pupil of Kanyaryeru Primary School in Kiruhura District who beat President Museveni’s security and delivered to him a letter on Saturday (April 19) has spoken out on her scheme and motive, five days after she and her mother were freed from police detention. In an interview with Sunday Monitor’s Rajab Mukombozi and Fred Anyine, on Thursday, Ms Atwijukire gives her account of how she and her mother, Generous Tumuhimbise, 39, planned to deliver their message to the President.
Hatching the plan
Just before we broke off for first term holidays, I complained to my school head-teacher about the promises the President made to our family, but most touching about the way we lived; my three siblings and I at the school.
The President had, among other promises, said he would cater for our school fees and all other scholastic requirements. But we were told by the school authorities that the only sponsorship that comes from the President is school fees. Yet we lack most of the necessities like school uniform, books, soap, pens and pencils.
So as we were breaking off for holidays, I asked the head-teacher to give me a letter to take to the President explaining to him how the school only receives school fees from him. The head-teacher wrote the letter and gave it to me.
I had not known the President would be at Ntare School on Saturday. At 12.00 pm, my siblings and I (two brothers and a sister) boarded a vehicle from school to meet my mother, who was waiting for us in Mbarara.
Upon meeting my mother, she told me the+ President was coming to Ntare School and that she had letters she wanted to deliver to him. I thought it was also an opportunity to have my letter delivered. I told her I also had a letter explaining our miserable life at school.
We put them in one envelope. My mother wanted to deliver the envelope to him herself but I refused. I knew being a grown-up person, she would not manage to pass through Mzee’s security.
But I also believed Mzee knew me because he always came to our school and interacted with us. So I told my mother I would deliver the envelope. She gave me the envelope and we moved to Ntare School.
She was checked first by security and then I followed. I concealed the envelope in the sweater I was wearing so it was not seen at the checkpoint. We sat in the same tent with my mother. I then waited for the opportunity, which I thought my mother also looked forward to. At times I could see her staring at me with unease.
I waited for an opportune time and after a performance by students of Ntare School, I said the final prayer – “God be my defender!” With the envelope covered by the sweater I was wearing on top of the blouse, I set off swiftly because I knew they would try to stop me before I could reach the President but I managed to get to him.
A short distance from the President, I pulled out the envelope from the sweater and knelt near where he was seated. He greeted me by shaking my hand and asked me what my name was, and where I go to school. I told him and he replied: “eeeehh Bridget!”
Because of this gesture, I imagined he had recognised me since he always came to our school. He said, “Okay, sit here.” I sat down beside him and he focused his attention to another entertaining group that was performing on the stage. Then a lady in uniform came from behind and held me by hand.
She said I should go with her and we talk. She took me behind Mzee’s tent. She asked for the envelope which I still had and began asking me how I had come to the function and many more questions. She was later joined by two men who asked where my mother was.
I showed them and one of them went and picked her. We were taken further away from Mzee’s tent. The lady who took me from Mzee’s tent said in a threatening voice: “You wanted to kill Mzee!”
I replied, “No!” Then she added, “Don’t you know you can get poison and put it in this envelope to kill Mzee?”
I told her, “The President knows me and I cannot harm him. Besides, I know he is the President of many people; I cannot kill him!”
She then called another lady in uniform and a man. My mother and I were put in a vehicle and driven to Mbarara Police Station.
At the Police Station
At Mbarara Police Station, we were told we had been arrested for trying to harm the President and that we were going to be imprisoned. They wrote our names down and told us to remove our shoes and drop other belongings my mother had like her bag and phone before we were led into a detention cell.
Inside the cell, my mother looked very worried than I was, though it was my first time to be detained. This was because I felt a bit relieved that I had delivered the message I wanted to Mzee. I knew we would be released soon as I was convinced he knew me so he couldn’t let me suffer since I had no bad intention against him as his people had thought.
In the cell, we found two other women. They picked a conversation with my mother, asking her why we had been arrested; they sympathised with us, especially because of my age.
The confidence I had that Mzee knew me and would not let me and my mother stay in cells kept dwindling as the night approached. On the first night, we had nothing to cover ourselves with. There were two torn blankets, very smelly and dirty, so we could not use them because we feared contracting diseases.
That first night I almost stayed awake, feeling betrayed by Mzee because I knew he would ask them where they had taken me. But at some moments, I would console myself that maybe he has not known my fate, and still trust he did not know we were arrested.
On the second day, some of our relatives had learnt of our arrest and they brought us some clothes to cover ourselves from the cold at night and food. At the police, we were having only two meals; lunch and supper of posho that was so bad.
After the second day in detention, my worries about our future increased. I began feeling sickly; maybe it was because of the coldness in the cells. But I left everything to God. Other people were brought in the cells and by the time we left on Tuesday, the cell which had two inmates when we first entered, now had seven.
Not sure of our fate, it was at around 7.00 pm on Tuesday when we were called out of the cells. Two men, who told us they were from the President’s Office, said our concerns would be addressed soon. They distanced the President’s security personnel from the act of detaining us, saying it was police. They said they only wanted us to be interrogated and then set free but not to be detained. We were then set free.
Ms Tumuhimbise’s pursuit of the President’s promise
The journey to seek assistance from the President began in 2000 when my husband, Aloysious Bakeihwamwenki, developed mental disorders and burnt himself in the family house in Kitooha, Birere Sub-county in Isingiro District.
All the household property was destroyed. He somehow survived but with severe burns; with part of his internal organs like the kidney damaged. But he lived on under extreme difficulties and finally died in 2008.
Following that unfortunate incident, the family was left with almost no means of survival. Because of this, I figured out how I could sustain the family. In 2006, I was advised by people in my village that if I could approach the President and tell him the hardships I was going through, he could help.
I sought recommendations from the local leaders, right from Local Council I to Local Council 5. In April 2006, I learnt that the President would be at his upcountry home in Rwakitura. I was given a vehicle by Mbarara Archdiocese to take me to Rwakitura to meet the President. Fortunately I met him and he told me to go to Kampala at Parliament Building and meet him again in June.
I went there as I had been asked and again managed to meet him. He then handed me over to Mr Abbey Mukwaya, (former presidential assitant) instructing him to ensure my issues were solved, including buying land for my family, building for us a new house and paying school fees for my children.
Indeed, all seemed well because he (Mukwaya) sent a team led by the then Isingiro deputy Resident District Commissioner Keith Mugabi, which carried out some measurements where the house would be constructed, among other things.
Then I went to Kampala twice, meeting Mr Mukwaya and discussing modalities of how this pledge would be handled. We did these in writing. But in 2008, I was called from my home in Birere to Isingiro District headquarters and received the donation. Mr Mugabi told me that the earlier pledge had been cancelled and that I should now receive only 20 iron sheets.
I refused the iron sheets, telling them I knew what was promised and made to sign for. The next day, while at home, I saw a vehicle with armed security personnel in uniform with Mr Mugabi bringing the same iron sheets but I again refused them. They abandoned them at my neighbour’s home and went away.
It is this same year that my husband died.
In 2009, Mr Mukwaya called from Kampala and asked me what was disturbing me. I told him the pledge the President made should be given to me.
He then gave me Shs1 million, promising the pledge would be fulfilled soon. I waited in vain. In 2011, I had gone for prayers at Karama (Mukama Ahurire Church) in Rwampara when I learnt that the President was coming. I contacted the Archbishop His Grace Paul Bakyenga and he arranged for my meeting with him.
I met the President and reminded him of his pledge and that my children were not going to school. He looked surprised about this and told me to take the children to Kanyaryeru Primary School (where they are in boarding). He then handed me over to one of his aides called Peace and said that other pledges will be followed up later.
I went to Kampala last year, looking for Mr Abbey Mukwaya but the people I found at the office where I used to find him [Okello House] chased me. They told me that Mr Mukwaya was even out of the country.
Feeling disturbed by all this, I now decided to find another way to meet the President. The envelope my daughter had, which landed us in the cells, had recommendation letters from the Local Council chairperson of Birere Sub-county, the RDC Isingiro, and Mbarara Archdiocese supporting me to meet the President, and then that of the head-teacher of Kanyaryeru Primary School brought by my daughter.
We are now waiting for the response from the President because his aides, who found us in the cells on Tuesday promised that our concerns would be addressed. They felt sorry for our being detained and said it was not their doing but the police.