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Tarehe Sita: How the First Battle for Kabamba was Planned

posted onFebruary 6, 2022

By Dennis Katungi

We can clearly say that the final plot to start the bush war commenced in earnest as soon as the elections of December 10th 1980 ended. 

Yoweri Museveni had made it clear that if the 1980 elections were rigged, he would start a war. He repeated this many times during the campaign period. 

Unfortunately, UPC/UNLA never heeded the warning. The FRONASA elements within UNLA, under the command of Yoweri Museveni had discussed and agreed on the method (strategy) of fighting. They opted for a ‘peoples protracted war’, starting small and growing.

Museveni discusses this in his 1981 tract: “when the balance of forces has shifted to our favour, we shall launch conventional warfare” Some, especially civilian leaders in the Museveni camp like Bidandi Ssali, did not believe in armed resistance. 

They were clinging on the single seat that UPM had won in Kasese to go to Parliament and continue with what they termed “political struggle”. Museveni argued that there was no basis for that, given what had happened in the just-concluded sham elections. He also pointed at the UPC addiction to extra judicial killings. 

Indeed, a number of army officers, including one second Lt Karenzi, had been killed by the Obote groups in the chaotic 1980 campaign period. At least 48 dead bodies had been discovered at Busaabala. A soldier went and took the pictures of the dead bodies, brought them to Yoweri Museveni who then showed them to Paulo Muwanga, then Chairman of the Military Commission and shared all the details. Muwanga took no action.  Museveni concluded that the UPC government, on top of other issues, had a penchant for extra judicial killings or tolerated them. He ruled out the possibility for peaceful political engagement. How could he engage politically with a leadership whose supporters and its army - UNLA could kill civilians at any time they chose to? This was in addition to the illegal arrests, beatings and confiscation of property. The indiscipline and ideological limitations of UPC could not permit peaceful politics.

In order to wage a people’s war, one needs four elements: A population that has lost hope in peaceful ways of resolving problems. The UPC, as shown above had done this by being brutal and so arrogant. People were so angry, so frustrated, so humiliated that they all turned to FRONASA.

While they had voted DP, they now turned to FRONASA because DP had failed to give them a solution. The issue of popular support for the armed resistance was guaranteed.

The 2nd element was volunteers who were ready to fight and FRONASA was ready to fight. In fact, they were no longer just volunteers, they were now combatants and cadres.

The 3rd element was the question of protracted people's war. There was a need for element no 4 - guns and this was a bottleneck for FRONASA.

While the above three elements were in place, it was the 4th, weapons that became the Achilles’ heel. FRONASA had handed back its 9,000 rifles which it held by the 11th April 1979 at the ouster of Amin. They had integrated into the UNLA.

It was on the 5th February 1981 that the Kabamba attackers assembled at Mathew Rukikaire’s house in Makindye. They set off in the evening towards their target. Yoweri Museveni followed their Lorry a few hours later in Sam Magara’s pick-up driven by Rutarago, now a Brigadier General in UPDF. At Katigondo, the pick-up got a puncture and it happened that there was no spare wheel in the vehicle.  Yoweri Museveni walked with his escort to Nyendo, got a taxi to Masaka and visited a long-time friend, Nathan Ruyondo, then Town Clerk of Masaka. He narrated how his vehicle had broken down as he headed to a relative’s wedding in Sembabule and asked to borrow Mr Ruyondo’s car. 

The good Town Clerk obliged and gave out his Peugeot 304 to Yoweri Museveni to proceed. This was to cost Ruyondo his freedom as he was detained for 3 years in Luzira without trial for aiding guerrillas. Around 4 am, Yoweri Museveni caught up with the lorry parked at Rumegyere junction. The plan was to attack at 8 am when the 1,400 trainees had left the barracks for training in the field. 

At 8 am sharp, the guerrilla's vehicle parked at the quarterguard.  By that time, Museveni had switched to the back of the Lorry for concealment. 

Being well known, he could not afford to be identified. The small borrowed car zoomed past the Lorry and in quick succession, Elly Tumwine fired a bullet at the sentry who had become suspicious of the small vehicle that had passed without stopping. Tumwine’s bullet alerted the soldiers guarding the armoury. The Lorry with its occupants now moved near the armoury and disgorged its passengers who now surrounded it, armed with 25 of the 27 guns. The other two, were Museveni’s and Kasasira’s bodyguards. Firing went on for some time at the Armoury. In no time, a soldier run up to Museveni and informed him that it was impossible to enter the armoury as the entrance had been blocked using an LMG. Apparently, a sharp shooter had entered the concrete underground armoury and became a dangerous menace to the guerrillas. 

The Museveni group now entered the houses of soldiers and picked a few guns that were lying about. The group that had been waiting at Kabamba now joined the attackers and they quickly took off towards Mubende road. At Kasambya they headed to Nabingoola and on to Kyenjojo. After Kagadi they headed to Karunguuza but quickly relieved Police officers of their guns at Isuunga Police station. They wound their way up to Nkooko and on to Ntweetwe, Masode and entered Kiboga town at around 2 am in the morning. This was the final destination and the rebels set about establishing themselves in the Luwero Triangle from this springboard. 

They had improved their rifle count to 43, a gain of 16 guns.  Here, Yoweri Museveni created 4 sections out of his men.  Section one, headed by Sam Magara, section two, Elly Tumwine, section three, Hannington Mugabi and Section four Jack Mucunguzi.  Hence the resistance war commenced in earnest from this nucleus, growing from strength to strength till they captured Kampala in January 1986.

Sources:  Sowing the Mustard Seed – by Yoweri Kaguta Museveni Battles of the Ugandan Resistance by Muhoozi Kainerugaba The Writer is Head of Communications & Media Relations at Uganda Media Centre. 

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