By Patrick Kamara
I had always wanted to speak to the rebel Allied Democratic Force (ADF) commanders. I wanted to ask them about their war strategy and why they were killing people in cold blood; moreover unarmed civilians. Since they always talked to Shaka Ssali; the Ugandan host of the Voice of America’s (VOA) Straight Talk Africa programme, I had asked him to give them my telephone number so that they call me. He had done exactly that.
In the wee hours of one morning, a phone call disrupted my sleep. “..Is this Kamara?” a voice at the other end of the line asked.
“Yes..,” I said.
The caller said: “I have managed to get your number after hearing your inaccurate reporting and interview on VOA and VOT”. My heart pumped faster.
“Who are you and what inaccuracies?” I asked.
“I am comrade Rogers Kabanda, the spokesperson of the Allied Democratic Force,” the voice answered.
“Where are you calling from?” I asked.
He answered in a rather stubborn way: “I am calling from where am calling from.”
I knew he did not want to reveal his location. I had heard almost a similar answer from the former Sudan People’s Liberation Army Commander, the late John Garang while he was being interviewed by Robin White on BBC’s Focus on Africa programme. Also on the battle for Kasala and Malakal, he had told Robin White “I am calling from where am calling from”.
I asked Commander Kabanda why his forces were killing innocent people.
“These are soldiers,” he answered, “they are camouflaging in civilian clothes but we know them.”
“How about the students you abducted?
“No …No abduction. These are freedom fighters…they joined voluntarily,” he answered. Kabanda even denied the killings at Kicwamba Technical College and blamed it on the military. I insisted to him that there was evidence his forces had killed innocent civilians. But he wouldn’t take it.
Then he told me he was giving me a scoop; the ADF would the next day attack Bubukwanga Military Unit which, at the time, was guarding the Internally Displaced People’s camp in Bundibugyo district. Indeed we woke up that the day to the news of a horrific attack on the camp. Over twenty people had perished. We drove to Bundibugyo and again this act had the hallmarks of the Kicwamba attack.
That evening I heard Kabanda speak on VOA. He had claimed that they nearly captured the Division Commander, the late Brig. James Kazini.
“He survived because he managed to run… we were this close”
Weeks later Kabanda called again claiming that in the Bubukwanga attack, his ADF rebels had only killed UPDF soldiers.
I told him I had interviewed families of people who lost their loved ones and they are not soldiers.
To this day, I have never understood what the ADF rebellion was all about and why the ordinary person was the target. I kept in close phone contact with this Kabanda up to the time when their fighting was tremendously reduced.
He had managed to do a lot of propaganda that even an international broadcaster like Shaka Ssali was was convinced the ADF was more organised than Museveni’s guerrilla army in its fourth year. That coming from Shaka had shocked me even though we debated about it for almost an hour. I was arguing on one premise that ADF did not have local support which is crucial in any civil war if it’s to be sustained.
These calls I was getting from the ADF spokesman Rogers Kabanda and the stories I was running on radio had in away rubbed the powers that be the wrong way.
A newly appointed Division Intelligence officer apparently had wanted to meet me and basically try to understand what kind of person I was.
Maj. Mugisha arrives
Maj. Fred Mugisha was a soft spoken man, tall and well built. He is one of the smartest soldiers I have seen.
While the Second Division headquarters is based in Mbarara all the military operations were in the Rwenzori area. Mugisha had come to Fort-Portal to carry out his duties.
One evening I received a call on our office line. Maj. Fred Mugisha wanted to see me in person.
“For what purpose,” I asked him.
“I want to be your friend,” he said. I found that funny. I was hesitant to meet him but eventually I accepted to meet him at Mountains of the Moon Hotel.
Mugisha is a soft spoken man, a career soldier who spent more time in the intelligence circles. He rose to the rank of deputy head of chieftaincy of military intelligence, commander of artillery and air defence, Commander of the African mission in Somalia and Joint Chief of staff. He is one soldier friend I have seen rise in ranks from Captain to Maj. General.
In his mind I suppose he was here at Mountains of the moon hotel to meet “a rebel” collaborator. In our coffee talk on the beautiful Fort-Portal evening, I think he realised that I was just a daring young journalist who could be contacted on phone by rebel commanders and nothing more.
We parted ways that evening as friends even though I was not sure what the soldier wanted from me. He was so guarded in his talking that I could not comprehend his intensions. His motives were revealed to me almost four years after our coffee chat.
He had called me at the former Nile Hotel (Now Kampala Serena Hotel) for another coffee meet during the arrest of my former colleague and O.B at the Daily Monitor newspaper. Frank Nyakairu had been arrested for a story in The Daily monitor that said a UPDF helicopter gunship had been shot down by another rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Gulu, northern Uganda. Mugisha believed that story was a fabricated report and wanted to know what was going on. Having known that I had worked with Frank Nyakairu in Tooro, Mugisha was perhaps convinced I knew the source of Nyakairu’s story.
“Why is Nyakiru writing this..why?”
He asked me several times. I had no answer for him simply because I believed Nyakairu’s story. I had always known Nyakairu to be a reporter who can go to great length, sometimes in very risky circumstances, to establish the truth and make that final phone call to cross check facts.
“This is our country,” Mugisha said, “We can choose to destroy it or build it.” Lt. Col. Mugisha was angry to say the least. In his anger he revealed the intention of our first meeting in Fort-Portal!
“Are you aware that when I first met you in Fort-Portal the report I had about you was bad?” he asked. He told me how I had been mistaken for a rebel collaborator and that I could have been incarcerated in jail if it he had not taken trouble to establish the truth! Despite that revelation we remained friends even though he is a man who will always want to keep journalists away.
In that year alone in the Rwenzori, the ADF rebels suffered a major blow in the capture of their chief of staff known as Benz. We went with Major Fred Mugisha to Kisomoro where Benz was paraded to the local population. You should have seen the anger that evening. People wanted to tear him to pieces. This Benz man was a very stubborn character. Even as a prisoner of war, he still had an aura of arrogance.
I think it was the creation of the Alpine Brigade that you could say crippled the rebel force as a fighting unit. Col. Dura Mawa hunted them up in the mountain with his specially trained Alpine force until they disappeared into the Congo again.