How could the 1980 bush war that produced two presidents go wrong?
Kampala, Uganda | HAGGAI MATSIKO | When on Feb. 3, 1981 a group of rebels held a meeting at Mathew Rukikaire’s house in Makindye to plan the first attack, they essentially launched the war that brought President Yoweri Museveni to power in 1986.
The attack on Kabamba Military School was to enable the rebels get more guns. Although the rebels were 41, they only had 27 guns and a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) that mysteriously disappeared before the attack. Of the 27 guns, sources say Julius Chihanda, who had been a junior officer in the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) brought sixteen guns.
The rebels who did not have guns were meant to carry the forces bounty after an attack. In his book, Sowing the Mustard Seed, President Yoweri Museveni says they used to call the unarmed carrier rebels `commandos’ to make them feel as important as the fighters.
This is why although there were 41 at the start of the war; the most renowned in the history of the National Resistance Army (NRA) are the historical 27 as they came to be known.
Of the 27, only nine are still alive. These include; Gen. Yoweri Museveni, Gen. Elly Tumwine, Brig. Julius Kihande, Brig. Fred Mwesigye, Brig. Andrew Lutaaya, Jack Mucunguzi, Paul Kagame, Col. George Mwesigwa, and Col. Charles Tusiime Rutarago.
While Museveni and Kagame remain Presidents of Uganda and Rwanda respectively, only Elly Tumwine has been so influential in the UPDF. The rest of the 9 either retired or remain in lower ranks and less influential positions. The Independent traces them;
Kagame, a Tanzanian-trained spy, was a refugee in Uganda at the time he joined Museveni’s Front for National Salvation (FRONASA). His intelligence credentials got him a pass into the UNLA army at a time when they were excluding foreigners that had helped them oust Amin. However, as Museveni went to the Bush, Kagame was right there. He attended the meeting at Rukikaire’s home and was armed with a pistol when the rebels first attacked Kabamba—he and a few others raided the communication office according to Museveni.
His intelligence skills came in handy in the bush—sources say he gathered intelligence for Museveni and helped neutralise cliques that threatened the struggle. Kagame was central to Museveni’s project to find out who had stolen the RPG. Kagame also dealt with Mucunguzi to squeeze out of him information about the plot against Museveni. Out of the bush, Kagame still worked as an intelligence chief. He later left the country for studies and later led the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) that liberated Rwanda, which he, to date still serves as president.
Mwesigwa, who was also among the 27, is now the Second Division Garrison Commander in Mbarara.
Tumwine abandoned teaching to join Museveni, his former student teacher in the war to oust Idi Amini under FRONASA. When Museveni broke ranks with the UNLF government, Tumwiine picked the gun again shooting the very first bullet during the first attack on Kabamba. He grew to become one of the first commanders. He has since served as Minister of State for Defence, Director General of the External Security Organisation (ESO) and Presidential Adviser . Tumwiine was also Chairman of the High Command Appeals Committee. His last big posting was as the Chair of the General Court Marshal. Today, he remains a UPDF parliamentary representative and one of the most outspoken army officers.
Lutaaya was a seasoned driver in the bush. He had been Chihanda’s driver and he is the one who delivered the sixteen guns that Chihanda reportedly escaped with. He has since retired into private business. He owns Ssese Construction Company, is also into the hotel business and also owns an airfield in Kalangala.
As early as 1981, when the rebels were about 2-300, organised in six units, Mwesigye was already a commander leading one of the units called Nkurumah. At the time Tumwine was leading Kabalega. Indeed as the rebels took Kampala, Mwesigye was still among the top 20 commanders. He has since served as the General Manager, Luwero Industries and the Managing director, National Enterprises Corporation (NEC), the trading arm of the UPDF. He currently represents the people of Kabura County in Nyabushozi in Parliament.
He had joined FRONASA during the war against Amin. In the bush, he was the commander of the fierce Mondlane Unit but left mysteriously following an incident in which, he allegedly killed a one, Stanley Muhangi to conceal a plot him and Sam Magara, another officer had hatched against Museveni. Muhangi was privy to the plot that failed after Magara was gunned down in Kampala, sources say that fearing that Muhangi would expose him, Mucunguzi killed him first. However, some have said that it was an accident.
Mucunguzi, who is the brother to Maj. General Fred Mugisha, the former Force Commander, African Mission in Somalia (Amisom), worked for the defunct Coffee Marketing Board and later as a security officer Uganda Revenue Authority.
Chihanda also fought under Museveni in FRONASA. When Amin was ousted, he went to Monduli for further military training. From Monduli, Chihanda would end up at Gulu military barracks. When Museveni announced the war, Chihanda escaped with 16 guns that were part of the 27. He was very close to Salim Saleh, the President’s brother that he became his best man. But he later fell out with the government, spent about a year in a cell at Lubiri military barracks after allegedly aiding his friend, Col. Ahmed Kashilingi, to flee the country. Kashilingi who currently works in the President’s office was accused of plotting a coup especially after the burning of military documents at Republican House, where he was in charge. Today Chihanda is an attaché in Uganda’s embassy in Saudi Arabia.
The other one is Rutarago, currently the Commander Royal Guards—a force that ensures security of all cultural institutions in the country.
Those who passed away
The rest passed away. They include; Fred Rwigyema, Sam Magara, Arthur Kasasira, Nathan Mweinemuzei, David Ndayondi, Robert Kabura, Lauben Ikondere, Paul Kagina, Shaban Kashanku, Enock Mondo and Frank Kifuba. Others are; Aziz Bey, Maurice Katungi, Muley Muwanga, Akanga Byaruhanga and Hannington Mugabi.
In an interview, Brig. Pecos Kutesa told The Independent that he calls his book, Uganda’s Revolution 1979-1986: How I Saw It, the book of the late because most of the colleagues passed away in the bush. Kutesa said it brings a lot of tears to him to see that people died fighting for what they thought was a noble cause only for a group of people to emerge and “think they are the authority on why this war was fought”.
However, Mwesigye who believes that the NRM government has delivered the fundamental change as promised says that his lost comrades would be happy with the state of affairs in Uganda.
“We have restored democracy and the rule of law, which we fought for, the economy, is growing very well, agriculture is growing, ICT is transforming this country,” Mwesigye said, “Ugandans are much happier than they were before.”
He told The Independent that the only thing the lost comrades would be unhappy with the government is the fact that we have not yet built capacity to look after the welfare of their children.
However, of the nine still alive in Uganda, it is only Museveni who remains very influential and to some extent Tumwine—the rest, remain at lower ranks and less influential positions.
But for Mwesigye, they went to the bush not to fight for titles but see Ugandans happy, which is the case today.
Sources say that others like Chihanda had fallen out with the government never to be recognised fully for the roles they played. For instance, President Museveni re-appointed Chihanda after news spread that the man who had supplied 16 of the 27 guns was hustling selling charcoal. His military career had been killed and his life messed up because he was Kashilingi’s friend and was therefore suspected to have advised the former to escape. He was released after the Court Martial found him innocent but very few Ugandans know him.
Others like the Late Tadeo Kanyankore were even worse off. Kanyankore, a senior UNLF military officer had not only supplied the NRA with information to attack Kabamba, when he later joined them in the bush, he literally trained the whole force. Apart from the small clique of Monduli-trained officers, the NRA was built from scratch. Even the CHC himself had not acquired any official military training.
But Kanyankore’s military career dated as far as the Kings African Riffles, the reason his skills were so critical to the war, it is this that even put him on the High Command’s select few. Sources say Kanyankole had trained more than half of the NRA’s 20,000-force by the time they captured power. However, it is that achievement that is said to have put Kanyankole in the bad books of the NRM government. The fire of intrigue that gutted the rebel group in the bush did not spare him, he was suspected of plotting to oust Museveni through the soldiers he was training.
He lost his job as the Chief of Training in 1986 and remained un-deployed until 1988 when he was promoted to Brigadier and appointed General Manager of the Army Shop. It is here that Kanyankore was charged and later dumped in prison for squandering the army’s US$1 million in 1989. Those who knew Kanyankole say some junior officers misappropriated the money but because he had had long standing disagreements with senior army officials, some of whom wanted the US$1 million deal and never got it, he got into trouble. From prison, he was dismissed from the Army with disgrace and even when he died, the UPDF was not even represented at his funeral.
Army spokesman, Felix Kulaigye told The Independent that Kanyankore’s punishment could have been a stern warning to the soldiers not to lose “our bush character of a force without blemish”.
Critics say apart from Kanyankole, most of the historical fighters have either been sidelined, not promoted or put on Katebe—a state of no deployment. For instance, Brig. Matayo Kyaligonza, could not understand why he had not been made a Lt. Gen just like Tinyefuza, Saleh or Tumwine. Kyaligonza, now Uganda’s ambassador to Burundi had been one of the topmost fierce commanders.
Chihanda too had issues; he remained a Colonel years after the ranks were introduced. Kutesa too, remained a Colonel and was un-deployed for a long time. The two are now Brigadiers and Kutesa is the head of Doctrine UPDF. These and several of their bush war comrades were among the high rank and file of the NRA.
Critics have cited such incidents to claim favoritism in the UPDF where some soldiers are fast tracked, while others are ignored.
These claims shot through the roof last year when Muhoozi Kaineruga, the President’s son was promoted to Brigadier taking full charge of the Special Forces. Muhoozi born in 1974 was utmost 7 years old when the 27 were in the jungles of Luwero.
Others say Katebe is president Museveni’s way of dealing with dissenting views in the army.
Although the UPDF has grown from the original 27 to the 20,000 who took power in 1986 and about 55,000 today, katebe and promotions remain a contentious issue even as the government celebrates 27 years.
But Kulaigye disputes these views saying the main reason is performance.
“It simply that the leadership is not satisfied with their performance,” he told The Independent, “but it is humble although the officer is not active, they earn salary because given their contribution, you do not hit a nail on their head.”
He said that promotions are based on political clarity for senior officers and also on training and courses attended.
Kulaigye added that apart from these, superiors also consider discipline and how one carries themselves, handles subordinates, in promotions.
He said that although one cannot ignore the invaluable sacrifice these fighters made, the force had to maintain a high level of discipline inculcated in the bush that was the biggest contribution to their victory.
He also agreed with those that cite professionalism as one of the reasons some officers end up on Katebe. Since the force embarked on an effort to professionalise, young officers that are more educated have taken over the force replacing the old guard.
Kulaigye said that the army is currently at 77 percent along the journey as the force focuses on consolidating the achievements they have made.
“We want to be a productive army that contributes to the treasury, hence the Chieftaincy of Production and Welfare under Brig. Gen Musajja Awaza,” Kulaigye said, “and of course, leading contributors to peace in the region and the continent.”