By Haggai Matsiko
How could the 1980 bush war that produced two presidents go wrong?
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.