Museveni’s origins are shrouded in mystery. Many versions of where he was born and his true nationality are claimed.
Those who know him view the vagueness around his origins as deliberately created. He one time said that he was born in Mbarara Hospital even as he claimed he does not know his exact date of birth.
That was in Mbarara in April 1992. But later he changed and said it was Ntungamo! This feigned ignorance of his exact birth date is atypical of a man who otherwise boasts of having an incredible memory and ability to recall events that many people have forgotten. The clearest signal of Museveni’s origin comes from the stigma that Rwandese and Ugandans of Rwandese origin have been subjected to.
Yoweri Kayibanda, a.k.a Rutabasirwa, was born in Rwanda, despite his insistence that he was born in Uganda. The most informed sources who have known Museveni since his early childhood insist that he and his mother, the late Esiteri Kokundeka, came to Uganda from Butare, southern Rwanda, where he was born around April 1943.
One of these sources, Gertrude Byanyima, the wife of the late Boniface Byanyima, the former national chairman of the Democratic Party, says Museveni came to Uganda as a child from Rwanda.
This is a reliable source given that Museveni spent the biggest part of his early teenage life in the Byanyima family home in Mbarara town in Western Uganda. Byanyima used to pay Museveni’s school fees or at least part of it. Not once has Museveni denied this.
One time when she was speaking to party supporters at her home in Mbarara on 2 March 1996, Mrs. Byanyima said: “Museveni is just like us here. He came here at 16 and it’s us who brought him up. He was never a good academic performer. The cupboard you see there was Museveni’s library. When you check in it you’ll find his books, a lot on imperialism, with his former names Yoseri Tibuhaburwa.”
When Byanyima said that Museveni “came here at 16”, it was not so clear whether she meant that Museveni came to Uganda at the age of sixteen or that he first visited the Byanyima home at that age. After she made that claim, some of Gertrude Byanyima’s children; Martha, Winnie, Abraham, and Anthony wrote a joint letter apologizing to Museveni for any embarrassment caused to him by their mother’s claim. But mark you, they did not specifically refute or question the substance of what she had said!
Gertrude Byanyima referred to Museveni as “Yoseri” rather than “Yoweri” and said those were his original names.
It should be noted that during his university days, Museveni used the initial “T” from the name Tibuhaburwa he had given himself. In full, it comes from the Runyankore expression “Obwengye Tibuhaburwa”, meaning intelligence is natural-born, not learned. In a thesis he wrote in 1971 titled, “Fanon’s theory on violence: its verification in liberated Mozambique”, the author gave his byline as “By Yoweri T. Museveni.”
Many people from Western Uganda hold this same view of Museveni’s Rwandese roots, among them the Banyarwanda of Western Uganda or the Rwandese refugees who lived for thirty years in Uganda before returning to Rwanda in the 1990s.
Most of these people give his origins as in Rwanda. Some of these people who know Museveni point out the fact that his mother never spoke any Ugandan language fluently all her life, but only Kinyarwanda, the national language of Rwanda.
Many times, Museveni has been challenged to prove his Ugandan roots by showing the public any graves and burial sites in Uganda of any of his grandparents but he has always studiously avoided commenting on that. Those challenging him to do so bring up the issue because they know that there is nothing to show and want to put him in an embarrassing position.
The rumors around Museveni’s origins grew intense in 1992, leading him to appear in army combat uniform before a live national television audience where he listed a number of Runyankore names that he claimed were his. In February 1994 while on a visit to Gulu, Museveni addressed a public rally.
Some teenagers from St Katherine Girls’ Secondary School began to shout at him complaining that his NRM government was filled with Banyarwanda. “Look at him,” they remarked, “he is a Munyarwanda proper!” Museveni heard the comments and commented:
“These girls are saying I am a proper Munyarwanda. Maybe they bore me and they are in a better position to explain to us.”
The embarrassed headmistress of the school, Beatrice H.A Lagada, suspended six of the girls. Museveni, though, neither confirmed nor refuted the girls’ claim.
Esteri’s mental problems in Rwanda lead to Museveni’s hatred for Rwanda
During her years in Ankole in the mid-1960s, Museveni’s mother had become a convert to the Born-Again Christian faith. She sometimes visited Bweranyangye Girls’ Secondary School and took part in mission outreach activities in Ankole.
Many people who observed her became convinced that her eldest son had taken his personality from her. She was eccentric and was fond of wearing woolen clothing. In some way Esiteri Kokundeka was ahead of her time.
The main fashion of the day among the ordinary women in Ankole at the time was the traditional robes. Kokundeka, on the other hand, took a liking for European fashions and so stood out as odd whenever she went about in public, wearing woolen clothes and western-style dresses, some of them above the knees in length.
At first, some people wondered who this strange woman was, who was so different from the rest of her contemporaries in a society that was still very traditional.
She did not have formal education and had not traveled widely out of her home area but looked to be very modern. Moreover, she was a modest woman and a devout Christian. In between periods of depression and silence, she experienced bouts of high energy.
Her repetitive phases of high excitement had many common villagers convinced she might be mentally disturbed. What was beyond doubt at the time was that Museveni’s mother was suffering from some kind of mental disorder. She certainly showed all the signs of what these days would be called bipolar personality. (Madness, for most non-mental health professionals).
Bweranyangye Girls’ Secondary School in Ankole, where her daughter Violet was studying, is one of the places Kokundeka used to visit a lot to preach. She was dreaded and shunned by many of the girls.
They saw her as a tyrant, a complicated and extremely difficult woman to get along with. On some occasions when she visited the school, girls would avoid meeting her and hide in their dormitories.
She did not display the normal affection and motherly traits that would be expected in a parent, even toward her own children. She was seen as too unreasonable and hard to understand. Like her fellow villagers, many at Bweranyangye became convinced that Kokundeka had a mental problem.
In 1967, she did have a real mental breakdown. The details of that are not very clear. But that year, she was admitted at the famous Butabika Mental Hospital on the outskirts of Kampala.
Her mental disorder, perhaps arising from a series of traumatic experiences in Rwanda, affected her so drastically as to lead her to reject her son, are themselves most likely the rock on which the crisis in Museveni’s life originated. That crisis in Museveni’s life lies at the root of the personality that we shall examine further in the following pages.
Museveni presses Esteri to tell him his real father
People who knew Museveni very well during the mid-1960s say that he changed his attitude towards his mother, Esiteri Kokundeka. He was asking her something she was not prepared to reveal and there developed a mutual rejection. But it seems to have been very traumatic for him to be rejected by someone he had considered as to rock and foundation of his whole existence.
Museveni had tried to probe his mother to tell him who his real father was and she dismissed his questions. But Museveni persisted with his questions and in her impatience, his mother finally disclosed to him the circumstances of his birth.
Those who knew Museveni’s mother all through her life in Uganda remarked at how bitterly she hated and resented Rwanda.
In 1982 during Museveni’s guerrilla war, one of Museveni’s most trusted commanders, Kahinda Otafiire, was assigned the task of smuggling her out of Uganda to Rwanda. Museveni’s mother protested vehemently saying she hated Rwanda and did not want to go there ever again in her life. After repeated begging, Otafiire managed to get her to Kenya.
This gives us an interesting look into Museveni’s origins, and most importantly his hatred for Rwanda.
Why would his mother resent and hate Rwanda so much unless she had once lived there. Would simply hearing about Rwanda be enough to make her feel so upset about the country?
It is one thing to hate Rwanda. It is quite another to choose to remain in harm’s way in Uganda than to set foot in Rwanda. What was it about Rwanda that repelled and horrified Museveni’s mother so much?
Esteri knew Rwanda much better than the average illiterate village woman in Ankole. She definitely hated the country. She seems to have had such a terribly traumatic experience in Rwanda that her outlook toward that country was clouded under all sorts of resentment.
What terrible memory could this be?
Might she have been raped as a girl or young woman or sexually molested by someone while she still lived in Rwanda?
Had she become pregnant by a relative while in Rwanda, so that she had to live with the stigma of having an incest sexual relationship hanging over her and bringing her distress? Did she become pregnant by a brother, a father, or an uncle, and, unable to stand the shame of the affair and decided to flee Rwanda for Uganda, bringing with her the illegitimate son of that illicit relationship?
Whatever the case, she resented Rwanda and rejected her son.
This could explain her hatred of anything to do with Rwanda. If this is true, we have the basis of an understanding of why she seemed to lack any maternal warmth towards the young Museveni. In turn Museveni thought he could win his mother’s affection by hating Rwanda even more than his mother did.
It is likely that Esteri conceived her son with a close relative, or a servant in the homestead in Rwanda in a forced sexual encounter. In such circumstances, she came to see in her son a reminder of the shaming incident in Rwanda that led her to abandon her home and flee the country for Uganda.
It turns out Esteri was trying to protect his son from developing his own trauma. So, it seems that she must have directly or indirectly told Museveni of the circumstances of his birth and parentage and that once he knew this, a deeply traumatizing personal crisis shook him as well. Needless to say, Museveni failed to recover from this story.
Museveni’s biological father was an itinerant Rwandan peasant called Kayibanda, now deceased. Kayibanda had also migrated from Butare to Uganda and then to Tanzania.
Esteri banished from Rwanda
The real scandal, though, was that Museveni’s mother was of royal Rwandan Tutsi stock. Apparently, during one of her idle moments at the royal court in Rwanda, she was seduced by – or she seduced – one of the court workers, a Mutwa (“pigmy”) named Kayibanda.
Museveni was the result of this liaison, making him paternally a Twa and maternally a Tutsi.
Her proud Tutsi royal family had to quickly chase her for shaming them. So she fled to Uganda forever. Because of the disgrace she had brought upon herself by this liason with a commoner, she, the commoner, and their son Museveni were banished; they fled across the border into Uganda.
Being desperate to find means of supporting the woman and their child, Kayibanda was given employment as a herdsman by a young cattle owner named Amos Kaguta, also of Rwandese stock who had earlier migrated from Rwanda. Kaguta’s brothers are reported to have remained in Rwanda when he migrated to Uganda.
Soon Kayibanda began an affair with Kaguta’s wife. Kaguta angrily banished Kayibanda from his home. Kayibanda fled to Tanzania with Kaguta’s adulterous wife.
But Kaguta retained Esteri Kokundeka and her child Museveni as his wife and child.
Meanwhile, before being banished from Katuta’s home Kayibanda and Kokundeka had had a second child, a girl who later got married to a Rwandese Ugandan named Nathan Ruyondo. Ruyondo would became a Ugandan civil servant in the town of Masaka. Museveni, therefore, had one direct sibling, this girl who got married to Ruyondo.
The day before he started his guerrilla war in 1981, Museveni travelled to Masaka and spent the night in his true sister’s home, on 5 February 1981. He used Ruyondo’s Peugeot 304 to drive to the Kabamba army barracks for the attack the next day, 6 February. When he narrates his attack on Kabamba in “Sowing The Mustard Seed”, Museveni describes Ruyondo as “one of my acquainatnces.”
How, with a sensitive life-and-death attack coming, could he borrow the car of an ordinary “acquaintance” without worrying that this acquaintance might betray him to the authorities, if the car’s ownership was traced back to Ruyondo?
This Peugeot 304 belonged to Museveni’s brother-in-law, a fact he has never disclosed because in Masaka, it was commonly known that Ruyondo’s wife was pure Rwandese. And so, for Museveni to even hint at a close relationship with Ruyondo or to admit that Ruyondo’s wife was his direct paternal and maternal sister, would have confirmed to many that Museveni is indeed Rwandese himself.
Even more interesting is that Ruyondo’s wife was open about being Kayibanda’s daughter. So by openly admitting to being his sister, Museveni would have been confirming that Kayibanda was his father.
Kaguta, having retained Esiteri and her son Museveni, later in 1949 had a child with her himself. She was named Violet Kajubiri because she was born in the “Year of the Jubilee”, the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Protestant Church in Uganda.
This story is an edited version that was originally published by the title “Museveni’s origins.”
- “Yoweri Museveni alias Kayibanda est-il né à Butare?! D’un Mutwa?”
- “Editions Sources du Nil 20 Juillet 2009 1 Biographies”
- “Biographie non autorisée de Yoweri Museveni”