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Museveni-Buganda bush war deal: Who is telling the truth?

By P. Matsiko wa Mucoori & Odoobo C. Bichachi

Was there an agreement between rebel leader Yoweri Museveni and Buganda monarchists in the bushes of Luwero as the two fought Milton Obote’s UPC regime in 1981-85?

President Museveni rejects the existence of any such agreement.

‘When we triumphed in 1986, the subject of restoring the traditional leaders started coming up. Even in the bush, opportunists like the late Kayiira started bringing it up. In the bush, however, especially during the Kikunyu conference of 1982, the NRM openly rejected Kayiira’s position of talking about monarchies. We said that we were fighting for the freedom of Ugandans; once the Ugandans had got their freedom they would decide on what to do. That was our position. Our major points were captured in the 10-Points Programme.

Therefore, those liars who say that we committed ourselves to monarchism in the bush should be disregarded,’ Museveni told the country in his national address after the recent riots across Buganda protesting the blocking of the Kabaka from visiting Kayunga.

Yet many Baganda, especially elders who were part of Yusuf Lule’s Uganda Freedom Fighters (UFF) that merged with Yoweri Museveni’s Popular Resistance Army (PRA) to form National Resistance Army/Movement (NRA/M) insist there were agreements. And that there was not just one meeting at Kikunyu; there was a meeting in Matugga, one in Nairobi, one in London and another in Tripoli, Libya.

‘By just talking about the Kikunyu meeting, Museveni is being diversionary because that meeting was with Uganda Freedom Movement (UFM) of Kayiira not UFF. Let him tell the country about what he agreed with UFF,’ one of those familiar with the agreements said, adding that the 10-Point programme was actually a 12-Point programme and that some things were left out of the public document because of sensitivity on how the rest of the country would take it.

Be that as it may, nearly everyone who was either party to the UFF-PRA agreements or is privy to the contents of the agreements is so scared and cautious that they only reveal minimum information.

One of them, a senior NRM leader was so terrified and broke down in tears when we asked him about the agreements and what exactly transpired in those early years of the war.

‘My colleagues are dead. Do you want me dead too? Please let’s not talk about those agreements now. I have written down everything; my children will publish it when I die,’ he told The Independent with tears streaming on his cheeks.

Even one of Yusuf Lule’s sons, Wasswa Lule, is also guarded about the agreements. Wasswa often travelled with his father and was also privy to what transpired in the London meeting between then Prince Ronald Mutebi (now the Kabaka of Buganda) and Museveni at Yusuf Lule’s residence in London. This is the meeting President Museveni referred to in his speech after the recent riots. But when Wasswa was asked about details of the agreement between NRM and the Buganda fighting groups in Luwero, he remained guarded with his words.

The Buganda-Museveni bush war agreements seem to be at the centre of the current bad blood between the two former allies. President Museveni, according to Buganda, broke the agreements ‘ having only gone half-way ‘ and this is possibly the reason they are unwilling to seriously engage him in talks to reach any further agreements. On the other hand, for two years Museveni has frantically worked the phone to get the Kabaka’s ear. He knows that without Buganda, his grip on power is tenuous. Buganda, arguably, helped him ascend and remain in power for 23 years. He needs it to stay in power and ‘win’ the 2011 elections.

The Independent has not yet managed to get a copy of the UFF/PRA/UFM agreements but has established that copies exist and some of the former UFF operatives and fighters are still alive, including some members of the UFF High Command but all are too scared to reveal anything, let alone talking about the bush war. The late Ahmed Seguya, the first NRA commader was from UFF.

Wasswa Lule came close to revealing anything. He said Museveni and the late Lule agreed on restoring Kabaka and a kingdom with administrative powers. This would imply that Museveni and Lule agreed on restoration of Buganda Kingdom to its federal status of 1966 before Obote abolished the kingdoms.

He however refused to say whether the agreement was verbal or written.

‘The people of Buganda did not contract with NRM in the bush for the restoration of a traditional leader as restored, a cultural leader, an Aga Khan, a paramount chief, a traditional chief or village chief. And the 1993 Constitutional Amendment Statute is considered to have been merely a dress rehearsal for greater things to come€¦. We have never sought for a constitutional cultural head whose existence does not require constitutional recognition. That’s all I can say for now,’ Wasswa said.

When reminded that the Kabaka has been restored and is recognised under the constitution, he retorted. ‘Do you think Lule would sit to discuss obwa Kabaka bwomulujja (a household monarch)? Nobody in their own senses would do that. Kayunga is in Buganda but the Kabaka cannot go there. He can’t go here or there. What type of Kabaka is that? Lule would not discuss restoration of such a Kabaka.’

When pressed harder, Wasswa said he would say more at an appropriate time because ‘the struggle is gradual.’

The existence of the controversial agreement is also alluded to by a bush war historical Sam Njuba, now MP for Kyaddondo North. He talked of a meeting in Libya during the bush war time. He says this meeting involved various people such as Godfrey Binaisa, Balaki Kirya, the late Andrew Kayiira, Lt. Gen. Moses Ali and others but there was no specific delegation for Buganda nor did they discuss anything particular for Buganda. He says the meeting discussed general issues of a united national front which was to be launched in London. However he added that although there was no specific discussion on Buganda issues, it was generally agreed that the struggle was for correcting mistakes of the past regimes and restoring the constitutional order of 1966.

By 1966 Buganda kingdom was a federal state with the Kabaka as the head.

Njuba could not comment authoritatively on whether in the subsequent meetings in Luwero, Museveni and Lule made an agreement on restoration of the Buganda monarchy. He said he was not part of those meetings but contended that the Baganda groups in Luwero were strong monarchists and they couldn’t have entered an agreement with Museveni that did not involve restoration of federo and the monarchy.

Njuba’s hypothesis was confirmed by an NRA/M bush war historical Hajji Abdul Nadduli, the former Luwero LC-V chairman. Nadduli told The Independent that there was a meeting and an agreement between NRM and Buganda fighting groups in regard to the restoration of the monarchy and federo.

He said all the Buganda fighting groups, be that of Lule or Kayiira wanted restoration of Buganda kingdom and federo. It did not matter which group. Nadduli said that in September 1982, NRA/M and the Uganda Freedom Movement met for a whole week at Kikunyu in Makulubita sub-county, Luwero, and agreed on the restoration of the monarchy.  He said they also agreed that after the war they would sit and discuss ‘federo, the kingship and the like.’ He said it was even incorporated into the 10-Point Programme (the NRM’s bush war working document).

He said that there was general agreement that upon capturing power, they would redress errors of the past regimes. He said that under this principle, they agreed on the restoration of the abolished kingdoms, return of their properties and the entity [monarch].  He said this was not only for Buganda but all the affected regions of Uganda which had kingdoms as of 1966.

What does Nadduli say about President Museveni’s statement that NRM never agreed with Buganda to restore the monarchy?

‘Then how did the Kabaka come to the bush during the ceasefire between NRA/M and Okello Lutwa group?’ he asks, adding ‘the Kabaka toured Luwero, Mubende, Mpigi, Masaka up to Katonga.’

Nadduli is the only person who was involved in the Kikunyu meeting who said there is a written agreement between the NRM and UFM. President Museveni has maintained that issues of the monarchy and federo came up in several meetings in the bush but there was no written agreement on the subjects. He said he never committed himself on restoring federo nor the kingship. But Nadduli equates Museveni’s statements to Apostle Simon Peter’s denial of Jesus in the Bible on the day he was crucified.

‘That’s a Peter’s denial. Do you think when Peter denied that he had ever known Jesus, he was telling the truth? We wrote something on the things we agreed on at Kikunyu. It’s there. Ask the people who were there like [Moses] Kigongo. They have a copy,’ Nadduli said.

Hajji Moses Kigongo declined to discuss anything about the agreements with The Independent.

Another UFF veteran who spoke on condition of anonymity said that in the bush, the catchword was ‘Kabaka ya’tutumye’ (we are the king’s agents) and Col. Kasirye-Ggwanga and other Baganda rebel officers went on every peasant’s door telling them this and asking for their support; food or concealment from government troops.

Why Museveni allied with Buganda

The story of Museveni’s war against Obote II seems to be littered with broken promises, suspicion and betrayal. According to information available to The Independent, Museveni was forced to make alliance with Buganda fighting groups after he found the ground hostile to him, and after he had inexplicably broken an alliance with Uganda National Liberation Front ‘ Anti-Dictatorship (UNLF-AD) forces.

According to our source, before the launch of the bush war on February 6, 1981 Museveni’s PRA was suspposed to attack Kabamba barracks in Mubende with forces of UNLF-AD led by Augustine Kayonga and Chefe Ali which had set up bases in the Rwenzori Mountains. The UNLF-AD Kayonga’s group had been tasked with making all the reconnaissance and attack plans which they shared with Museveni’s PRA, through its commander Sam Magara. Magara and Kayonga had been classmates at Dar es Salaam University and enjoyed good rapport.

On the agreed date, Kayonga brought his forces from the mountains 24 hours before striking time to the rendezvous (tactical base). They were 55 men armed with 15 guns and an RPG which had been given to them by Magara. Hungry and tired, Kayonga’s force waited for Museveni’s group to make contact but they never did. They waited another two days. They lost hope and decided to withdraw to their mountain bases feeling demoralised and betrayed.

Two days after their withdrawal on February 6, Museveni attacked Kabamba, which was a training school, with 40 men armed with 27 guns. The attack was however messed up because Elly Tumwine, who was then a Lieutenant in the national army UNLA, panicked and shot a UNLA sentry who was manning the Quarter Guard, alerting the entire barracks. In the result, a Tanzania instructor who was polishing his shoes in front of his house jumped into the armoury. He started firing from inside and made it impossible for the advancing rebels to break into the armoury. The Tanzanian instructor threw a grenade at the advancing rebels and wounded their commander. The Museveni rebels gave up on the armoury but managed to grab a few guns and supplies in the barracks using their inside collaborators.

Both Augustine Kayonga, who is now a lawyer based in Fort Portal, and Prof. Edward Rugumayo ‘ who together with Prof. Dan Nabudere were the political leaders of UNLF-AD ‘ confirmed the aborted joint attack on Kabamba.

‘We were surprised when PRA did not turn up. We thought their commander Sam Magara had got green light from Museveni but it seems there was something we did not know,’ Kayonga told The Independent, adding that his group felt betrayed

‘They thought that we should not get a boost and that our presence in the Rwenzori or that of any other fighting group was a threat to their quest to get power. He [Museveni] never forgave Magara for giving us an RPG,’ he concluded.

Interestingly, this incident has never been acknowledged in NRM’s version of history of the war against Obote II; not even in President Museveni’s book, Sowing the Mustard Seed.

Other mysterious/broken deals?  

The Independent received that Museveni may have entered into agreements with several other fighting groups opposed to the Obote II regime but interestingly, all the players remain cagey ‘ and some even fearful, suggesting that the agreements were betrayed, the price for pursuing them could be high, or they are not based on solid ground.

For example in a side agreement with then Brig. Moses Ali’s Uganda National Rescue Front (UNRF), Museveni reportedly agreed that Ali would be vice president of Uganda at the rank of General upon capturing power. But this was kept a secret between the two because they did not know how the other fighting groups would receive it given that Ali had served in the much hated Idi Amin regime.

Well, Ali was never appointed vice president and was in the early years of NRM/A arrested for treason. Analysts say this was because he tried to follow up this agreement. Ali, who was recently promoted to the rank of Lt. General and retired, declined to discuss the matter when approached by The Independent.

President Museveni also is said to have made an agreement with the Democractic Party while fighting in the bush and after taking over Kampala. Former DP president-general Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere and its former secretary general Robert Kitariko in the past referred to a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ with Museveni in 1986 which he failed to honour.

When The Independent contacted Ssemogerere about the issue last week, he said it was ‘a long story and this may not be the right time to discuss the matter,’ promising that when he thinks all is fine, he will contact us and tell DP’s story with Museveni.

Museveni also reportedly betrayed a gentleman’s agreement with Olara Otunnu, then Uganda’s ambassador to the UN in 1985. According to Otunnu, Museveni was the second person to call him immediately after Maj. Gen. Bazilio Olara Okello staged a coup against Obote’s second government. Museveni who was then in Sweden informed him that the army had overthrown Obote and that from the information he had, they were planning to call Otunnu and give him the job of foreign minister. Museveni reportedly requested Otunnu to accept the job because he wanted someone serious on the other side with whom to talk peace and fix the country. Otunnu became foreign minister and led the peace talks in Nairobi on the Lutwa junta side. Unknown to him, Museveni was not interested in peace talks and continued organising his forces. It is during this time that Prince Mutebi toured various parts of Buganda and western Uganda which were under NRA control. Eventually, Museveni launched a putsch against the Okello government, overrunning the regime on January 25, 1986 although he declared victory on the following day to avoid a coincidence of the January 25, 1971 when Idi Amin overthrew the Obote I government in a coup.

Can Buganda trust Museveni?

With this background of alleged broken promises, betrayed trust and unacknowledged roles, analysts think it will be difficult for President Museveni to weave another credible and sustainable political alliance with any group especially Buganda. This, they say, explains Buganda’s reluctance to enter any further agreement with Museveni.

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