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Where Were You on Tarehe Sita 1981?

posted onFebruary 8, 2018
President Yoweri Museveni during the NRA/M war. Courtesy Photo.

By Dennis Katungi

I had just started senior One.  My home area Kazo, being within the constituency of then Mbarara North had seen a hive of activity since the UPM Campaigns of 1980. The Constituency had high profile contestants, Sam Kuteesa a Lawyer, Yoramu Gucwamaingi a former District Commissioner & Yoweri Museveni a freedom fighter, then Minister of State for Defence.

Yoweri Museveni had made his intent clear- during those campaigns.  He could see all the maneuvers of UPC headed by Paul Muwanga the then powerful Chairman of the Military Commission, of which he was a member. He had a vantage position to observe the goings on behind the scenes. His was not a threat; he stated that a fraudulent electoral result would see him take up arms against a fraudulent regime.  He made good his warning on the 6th February 1981 by attacking Kabamba with 27 armed fighters thus, Tarehe Sita, an indelible land mark date for the NRA revolution was etched.

It was Hon. Sam Kutesa who was declared winner in the stiff show of wits to represent the sub-counties of Kazo, Kashongi and Nyabushozi which were still joined together as Mbarara North. UPC had negligible support and did not attempt to alter the result. Currently, former Mbarara North comprises 3 Constituencies represented by Hon. Fred Mwesigye, Hon. Tumuramye & Hon Gordon Bafaki.

What was the situation like? Tense, but exciting to young people. There was a flow of adrenaline in the Youth supporting UPM. There was a sizeable chunk of well trained UNLA soldiers deserting Government to join rebels. The youngest of the 27 fighters who attacked Kabamba was my classmate Robert Kabura, who left us about to do PLE & joined Fronasa forces then training at Kakoba, Mbarara at the ouster of Amin.  Some adults had mixed thoughts. I remember people of my parent’s age in ‘introspection’ the word meaning ‘the examination of one’s own mental and emotional processes’

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Kabaka of Buganda Ronald Mutebi (Prince by then) while in Luweero Triangle witnessing how the war was advancing towards Kampala. He was with Mr. Museveni and other soldiers during the bush war. Courtesy Photo.

Wikipedia adds that: ‘quiet introspection can be extremely valuable’.  In the end, it indeed was - because our people, quickly gleaned that they had no option but to support the NRA revolution. Their sons and daughters had sparked off the bush war, how would they hold back?

There was of course the exception to this rule.  UPC had little but lethal support.  The Youth wingers, the powerful UPC District Chairmen, and the National Security Agency (NASA) functionaries.  These were not prepared to take the NRA rebellion lying down.  Another war of wits unfolded before our own eyes. It cost sweat and blood.

A fairly sophisticated State Intelligence apparatus headed by Chris Rwakasis against a clandestine recruitment of rebel fighters by Yoweri Museveni, the stage was set for the Luwero triangle war drama.  The reverberations stretched across Uganda, more so the South & Western part.  Kazo & Nyabushozi counties were at the heart of this revolution in contributing officers and men.

We had a core cohort of NRA fighters emerging from our area. Some had fought to oust Amin as Fronasa, but many were recruited at the fall of the tyrant in April 1979.  The Mbarara North boys being part of the Museveni security detail & following him to the bush meant that their parents, relatives and friends quickly became targets for the UPC functionaries.  I have written before about fighters from our area, not in any way exhaustively but indicative of the power house that Kazo/Nyabushozi was to the NRA struggle.  Tough fighters some of them Generals today and others long deceased came from our area.

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Mr. Yoweri Museveni swearing in as a president of Uganda in 1986. Courtesy Photo

Elly Tumwine, Salim Saleh, Joram Mugume, Stephen Kashaka, Burundi Nyamunywanisa, Fred Mwesigye,  Skaagi, Francis Kashaka,  Sam Kavuma, Lates Hannington Mugabi, Chef Ali, Patrick Lumumba, Geoffrey Taban, Kankiriho, Lauben Ikondere, Muhanguzi Kimosho, Frank Kamuninga,  Akanga Byaruhanga, Robert Kabura, Kamwerere, Poteli Kivuna, Geoffrey Katumbuza, George Rwaibanda, Katuuku, Fred Kabigyema, Kakwezi Kachamu, Rutembana, Kamuntu, Kagumire, Kagina, Tumusiime Koozi, just to mention a few. I should add that these are people I know personally, it follows that there are many I did not.

Just to get a feel of how powerful Chris Rwakasisi was as Minister for Security during Obote II, read his comments, addressing the people of Kashongi, near Kazo in his heyday. His father, the late Asanasio Rutimbirayo was the UPC Chairman for Kashongi. Rwakasisi visited the area to neutralize the popular UPM Chairman Mzee Phinehas Kabuye, a retired teacher, and to display his power, he got the Speaker of Parliament, Francis Butagira, Prime Minister Otema Alimadi and the Minister of Education, Prof. Newton Ojok to accompany him to Kashongi Primary School where he addressed a large crowd thus:  “Imwe abantu ba Kashongi, nyowe ninza kukora omwiraka, haza Speaker ayetsyamure, reero Minister Wa Education agire akakororo, haza Engaanzi eyimutsye orukororo ruhango, abandi imwe abanya Kashongi mukwate orukororo mweena! ( I will clear my throat, the Speaker will sneeze, the Minister of Education will sneeze louder, the Prime Minister will catch a cold and you people of Kashongi will get it as well.  

Earlier in the Campaigns, the same Rwakasisi had decampaigned his UPC colleague, Dr Rubaihayo running for MP North Ankore. Rubaihayo belonged to ‘Science’ or the elite UPC supporters who were thought not to be fully aligned to the actions of another group called ‘Syndicate’, to which Rwakasisi belonged. Referring indirectly to Rubaihayo’s PhD in Agriculture, he said in Runyankore again:

“Mbwenu itwe tukarwaana twasingura orutaro rwamaani, orwa Amin.  Baitu kwonka aba abarikusiiba nibashambanisa Enyabarashana nebijamba, tinkukumanya yaba nibabasa obwebembezi.” (We fought and won a hard war, (Amin’s) but those who spend their time making the Black Jack weed mate with vegetables, I am not sure they can manage leadership.

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President Museveni (foreground) during the advanced stages of the NRA struggle. Courtesy photo

Dr Rubaihayo, a geneticist with a PhD in Agriculture did not take the insult lying low. Pulling out a pen from his jacket pocket and waving it to the crowd, he said: “Embundu baginaga ahansi aha, nimbasa kugihaho ngikozese ahonaaho; kwonka akacumu aka nakanaga aha, banywani bangye abarikugambisa amaani, tikabainire mugasho. (If a gun is dropped in front of me, I can pick it up and quickly fire it.  But if I drop this pen, my friends who speak with gusto may never utilize it).”  The point he drove home was that anyone can learn how to use a gun quickly, but one cannot become a Professor anyhow. He knew Rwakasisi had had a limited education, so it was a slap in the face! These were the crafty Nyamurunga top honchos!

You can glean some of these interesting exchanges from the thriller - Fat Cats & African Farmers by Odrek Rwabwogo.

As the NRA troops attacked Kampala to oust the Tito Okello junta in February 86’ I was in Senior Five in Jinja. Had it not been for the fact I had lots of cousins and close family friends as top Commanders in NRA, I would have absconded from School to join the Liberators in that excitement.  On the single occasion I tried, I was quickly escorted back to School because most of the Officers Commanding & training the troops in Jinja knew me from Kazo.  I was promised a Cadet slot after completing A’ level, but by then I had lost interest joining the armed forces.  I have remained a civilian cadre with keen interest in security matters to date.

The writer is the Communications & Media Relations Manager, Uganda Media Center 

Twitter: @Dennis_Katungi

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Tarehe Sita nra/m Yoweri Museveni

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