By Patrick Kamara
Information about an attack by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels on Hakibale Sub-county in Kabarole district came very early. I was told there had been an attack in a village called Rwembogo on the edge of Semuliki National Park and above the rift valley.
I rushed to then-District Internal Security Officer Lt. Akiiki Kabalega to get more information and find out whether it was possible to get there. There he was at his Boma office together with Maj. Kamanyire who was heading to the area. Armed with my recorder, I hiked a lift on their army pickup truck.
Rwembogo was like a war zone. Soldiers with guns cocked and ready to shoot patrolled the area. The horror and devastation of the ADF attack was everywhere. Five people had been killed in three homes. They included elderly men, women, and a child. The attackers had hacked them with machetes.
Rwembogo is one of the villages nearest the national park where the ADF had hideouts. It is close to Kijura trading centre and a tea factory.
To understand the significance of this attack, one needs to know the importance of Hakibale to the Tooro kingdom.
Hakibale sub-county in the north of Kabarole district is a very distinctive location compared to the rest of Uganda. For those who have been to Kenya, it pretty much resembles Kericho because of its large and unending tea plantations that stretch to the end of horizons. The people are by village standards fairly rich. It is here where most of the people in Ankole who own Friesian cows came to buy them in the late 80s. Even in the most difficult days there were people who managed to maintain the farms of pure exotic cattle. People like Mzee Erisa Kakyomya, Assa Kiiza, as well as shrewd politician, farmer and Businessman Basaliza Mzee Kijana; the father of former MP, Omudumizi Col. Steven Basaliza.
Here are a people who are closely related and true to the rest of Tooro people are in away related either by blood or marriage. Most families have a link that connects them even though they could be separated by many generations. We are such a small group of people.
My friend is killed
This is where Kijura is located. Its main attraction is Kijura trading centre. When I was young, there was popular tale in Mwenge where I grew up that the people of Kijura were cannibals and very advanced in witchcraft. So I was not surprised that during the time when the Uganda army was battling the ADF, tales of cannibalism surfaced.
Rumours started spreading that rebels were eating human flesh and drinking blood.
It all started with attacks on two areas; one in Bundibugyo district and the other in Kazingo village in Kabarole all around the Rwenzori Mountain.
Kazingo village was attacked at night. When I arrived there, I saw a man mourning in a manner that I remember to this day.
He was an elderly man, possibly in his late 70s. The rebels had hacked his dear wife of a long time to death as he watched. The pain he was going through was unbearable. He was moving about restlessly. Occasionally he would sit down and look at the remains of his wife. Then he would wail. It was as if he was talking to the dead; asking questions. They had been living alone in the house.
“Who will know that am hungry…,” he wailed.
“Who will tell when I am sick…
Who will I run to when am tired…
Why have you died?”
His situation made everyone around teary, and a few joined him in mourning loudly. This was the time when such attacks were occurring daily and Kazingo village and the neighbouring areas at the foothill of the mountain had been deserted. They had become ghost villages haunted by the bloodthirsty militants.
In the other attack, the suspected ADF rebels had waylaid a pick-up truck below the mountain ridges at a place called Sempaya on the road to Fort-Portal town from Bundibugyo. Three brothers of mixed race; half Asians and half Batooro, were killed during that attack. They were Kassim, Anuar and Husssein – all children of Mzee Sefali and Mzee Said from Kitumba.
In fact, they were my friends in the transport business and one of them, Hussein, had been a soldier in the Uganda army when Gen. Idi Amin was president.
It was claimed that the ADF possibly might have spared the brothers had Hussein not attempted to snatch a gun from one of the rebels. The rebels shot everyone on the truck and slit all their throats open. It is alleged they took away pieces of their throats. That caused a real scare in the whole district.
That evening I went to the home of Mzee Said in Kitumba when the remains of his children were brought. There was an outpouring of grief in Tooro, more especially among the large mixed race community of Fort-Portal. It was a big blow and everyone was talking about how ADF rebels had turned into cannibals. Why else could they slit people’s throats and disappear with body parts? Everyone was terrified. The rebels were real cannibals!
In reality, the tales of cannibalism could have been started by the rebels to instil fear amongst the population. They reminded me of the tales we were told when we were children that that once a native of Kijura cast a spell on you, it was impossible to recover. Later, when I grew older and wiser, I learnt the myth was designed by elders in Kijura to protect their gorgeous girls.
Indeed, those days, no man would easily venture to Kijura in search of a wife. Kijura had beautiful girls. I think some of the most beautiful ladies in Tooro kingdom are born here. There is Beatrice Kiraso, Princess Rebecca Kimoome Bagenda, Jennifer Kabakuba, Naome Agasa, and many more. All are from different generations and all remarkably beautiful.
In the early 1950’s and I think because of many tea factories, dairy farms and large plantations, the locals nickednamed Hakibale their “Denmark of Africa”.
A number of soldiers in the UPDF had their homes here including the former Joint Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Robert Rusoke, the former PS in the ministry of Defence the late Brig. Noble Mayombo, Major Kamanyire and a host of others. This is indeed the heart and soul of Tooro. So when the rebels decided to strike here, they had attacked an area so dear to many.
Maj. Kamanyire decided to hunt for the killers. We followed him with about 25 soldiers. Deep into Semliki national park we found an area where the rebels had gathered to make a meal. We picked a few of their belongings and saw leftovers of food.
The local people had told us they were attacked by a force numbering to about 200 men. I thought it was suicidal on our part to chase 200 men when we are only twenty five. Anyway we followed the soldiers deep into the jungle for several hours without having any contact with the enemy force.
Soon, I was thirsty and my leg was hurting. When Maj. Kamanyire decided to send a few soldiers back to Kijura I grabbed a chance to head back as well. I found people in Kijura still wailing and cursing the attack and the death of five innocent people.