By Mubatsi Asinja Habati
As the National Resistance Army/Movement (NRM) celebrates 26 years in power, residents of Katebwa, a village that falls in Bunyangabu county, Kabarole district, which was at the heart of the bush war are yet to enjoy the benefits of their support for the fighters about 30 years ago.
Katebwa lies in the famous Luweero-Rwenzori war zone. Mention the name among former NRA bush war fighters of the western axis and many will recall the very cold hilly place in the Rwenzoris. From 1981 to 1986, Katebwa; a valley basin sitting on the foot hills of the Rwenzori Mountain ranges became a haven for the NRA rebels under the command of NRA war-heroes, including Chefe Ali and Fred Rwigyema.
It is from here that the attack that precipitated the fall of then-president Apollo Milton Obote’s second government in Fort Portal and the whole of western region was launched. In the days leading to the fall of Kampala, Katebwa became the training ground for NRA guerillas that later delivered the final assault on Kampala causing the collapse of Obote’s government.
During the 1981 -1986 bush war, Yusuf Maate was a coordinator of the NRA’s clandestine work among the Katebwa villagers. He recalls how it was dangerous to support NRA/M. He had dropped out of school in primary three and lived in a mud and wattle grass thatched house. But he was relatively affluent with 8 head of cattle. He coordinated the secret collection of food for the NRA fighters, mobilised recruits, directed fighters through the villages to training camps in the neighbouring Rwenzori Mountains and ensured that everything remained undercover and everyone was safe.
He knew the consequences of his actions. He says if the then government of President Milton Obote knew of his activities, he would have been charged with treason whose maximum sentence is death. But he says because of the bad political situation in the country at the time, he decided it was “good to support the fighters”. He later became the first village Resistance Council (RC) leader in Katebwa by the time the NRA captured power.
But 26 years later, Maate still lives in a mud and wattle house albeit with a corrugated iron-sheets roof and a bare earth floor. The 30 iron sheets roofing his house were given to him in 2002 by the current government in recognition of his pioneer leadership of the area Resistance Council (RC). None of his 15 children from two wives has studied up to senior four. Some of his cattle died of disease while others were sold to pay for the medical bills when his first wife was terminally ill.
As a historical name in the Luwero Triangle, Katebwe, is a high sounding white elephant with nothing much to show for supporting the bush war. The village homesteads around this mountainous terrain are a symbol of poverty. Maate is bitter.
“We gave them (Museveni fighters) everything that they needed to win the war,” Maate says, “but they seem to have forgotten our contribution,” he says.
Nearly everyone in this village has a story to tell of how they helped the Museveni’s then-NRA rebels led by Elia Mwine aka Chefe Ali, who were at the verge of starvation. Chefe went on to become chief-of staff of the NRA now turned UPDF by the time he died in 1999.
But three decades after the war, the villagers of Katebwa continue to wallowing in poverty. Like Maate’s children, most are uneducated.
Point 6 of the famous NRM government Ten-point Programme promised to improve their life, provide basic social services–clean water, health dispensaries, literacy, and housing for all citizens. However, areas ravaged by the wars that ended the regimes of Idi Amin and Milton Obote were promised special treatment.
After the capture of power, the NRA leadership asked the area leaders to name six children who had completed S.4 but the village could only manage one. He was taken to the then Soviet Union Russia for studies. Nothing has changed. Today, Katebwa has no government aided secondary school. The only O’ Level school, Katebwa High School, was built by the community members frustrated by sending their children to far away schools whose fees they could hardly afford.
Katebwa village remains far away from social services like hospitals, with the nearest hospital being in Fort-Portal town, 30 km away. When a person falls sick, the villagers carry him or her on a stretcher descending through the mountain slopes tracing foot paths all the way to the main Kasese –Fort Portal highway.
Before the bush war, the area boasted of Katebwa SDA church. But it was destroyed by the rebels who used it as an arms store. There was a clinic and a primary school but because of the war activities, all were destroyed. In 2004 the NRM government built a monument for its fallen soldiers who lost their lives during the war in Katebwa. The monument which is in form a small house is almost the size of the gatekeepers’ shed in rich people’s homes. A few metres from the monument, is the unsightly brick church structure.
In early 1990s after the NRA captured power the commanders that had been hiding in this base would come back and associate with the locals slaughtering bulls and cows as part of the celebrations.
At one time in 1990s then-minister for Luweero Affairs, Janet Mukwaya and other war veterans visited the area and promised to rebuild the church clinic but as a bigger health centre. But it was not until 2002 when actual construction of Katebwa health unit began. Katebwa health centre II is now operational but suffers from the problems that affect the delivery of health care in Uganda. The centre is supposed to treat simple ailments like malaria, and attend to pregnant mothers. It has three medical staff on government payroll but they are rarely at the health centre to attend to the patients. If they work, they arrive late arguing they live far away from the health centre as it does not have staff houses. Sometimes when they appear for work but the health centre has drug stock-outs. The health centre in-charge lives in Fort-Portal town, 30kms, from the health facility and the nearest nurses attached to the facility live in Nyakigumba trading centre, 7 km away from Katebwe. These workers report to the health centre irregularly citing long distance. Katebwa’s position, as a hard-to-reach area because of the mountainous terrain, might have rendered it as perfect for waging a guerrilla war against the government, but it makes it hard for it to attract better professionals.
Katebwa sub-county has over 10 primary schools but each hardly gets 5 pupils passing in first grade at national primary leaving exams. Most of these schools being in a mountainous area they hardly attract better teachers and inspection from the ministry of education.
In 2005 Katebwa sub-county was formed curving it out of Kisomoro and Buhesi sub-counties. The new subcounty gave the mountainous people in Kabarole district the first true representation at the district local politics. Before the new sub-county, which the locals were told was “a gift” from President Yoweri Museveni in recognition of the support they offered to the NRA rebels, people’s participation in politics in this area stopped at parish level.
“Politicians at sub-county level are the village level policy makers and implementers and if you eliminated from this you are likely to lag behind as you have seen in this village,” says Emmanuel Muhindo, LC I chairman Katebwa I village.
The church is now being rebuilt, giving the area a new beautiful look. The area LC I chairman says the government is doing something to help the community but he says his village would be happier it build a technical school and a secondary school for the community to help increase literacy levels.
Fate of Luweero
The story of Katebwa is more or less the same in areas that supported the NRA rebels. In Luwero, particularly the Nakaseke district area, residents live in abject poverty in spite of the support they gave to the NRA rebels. The only difference from Katebwa is in the number brick and permanent houses constructed in the area. Luwero is nearer to the capital, Kampala, and its political leaders occupy top political positions. Katebwa’s Bunyangabu County also got a minister in 2001.
The current minister for Luwero-Rwenzori Triangle, Rose Namayanja, hails from Nakaseke. This area of the Luweero Triangle bore the brunt of the six-year war against Obote. The majority of the estimated 300,000 people killed during the war were residents of this area. The districts of Luweero, Nakaseke, Kiboga and parts of Mubende have at least 25 mass graves.
The people in places where NRA had bases have been expecting compensation and appreciation from the sitting government as some gave the then rebels food, cows, vehicles, medicines, protection, among other services as they fought in the bushes.
In frustration, several groups have since 2003 been camping at various government buildings to demand compensation. In 2003 a group of such people from Luwero pitched camped at parliament asking to meet President Yoweri Museveni over their demands.
Current Luweero-Rwenzori Affairs Triangle Minister Rose Namayanja says the compensation has been done in some parts and over Shs 200 billion has so far been spent since the scheme began. She argues that the compensation programme delayed because some of the claimants were “not genuine and need to be cleaned up”.
She says people who supported the NRA bush war have not been forgotten and some have been compensated. “Others we are planning to compensate soon, they have been budgeted for,” she said.
Her predecessor, Nyombi Thembo, made several trips to the Triangle and met with the civilian NRA veterans (collaborators) and made similar promises. But as the NRM marks 26 years in power, most of these rural people are yet to really benefit from the blood and sweat they shed to bring President Museveni to power.
Many of them did not go to school and say giving bursaries to some of their children would lift the illiteracy lid off their communities and spark some form of development.