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Ugandan Resistance War - Concept Explained

posted onFebruary 5, 2021

By Dennis Katungi

The origins of the National Resistance.

Many have asked this question before and some still do pose the same question now; what triggered the National Resistance war in 1981? Was there a spark; was it a series of events; was the vanguard group led by Yoweri Museveni well prepared?What were the stakes that led young men, some with University degrees like General Elly Tumwine then a graduate teacher, Sam Magara, a lawyer and others with decent prospects for employment to embark on the perilous journey to the jungles of Luwero?

You will note as you read on that the element of resistance were formed and nurtured much earlier. You will also find that trust and faith in the leader (Gen Yoweri Museveni) and the clarity of the mission and task as he outlined it to the vanguard played a critical role in the success of the resistance war.

In Gen. Elly Tumwine’s words: “At the core of the NRA’s brilliant military strategy, was the amount of time the leadership took in mentally preparing and educating us” For Gen. Tumwine, mental preparation of the individual, in terms of sharpening his/her convictions and demonstrating that victory was possible (notwithstanding the hardships of the struggle) was much more critical than the amount of arms they had access to initially. It is people who win wars, weaponry is secondary.This position is strikingly similar to Mao Zedong’s assertion that: “weapons are an important factor in war, but not the decisive factor; it is people, not things that are decisive”.

The contest of strength is not only a contest of military and economic power, but also a contest of human power and morale. It is also the current ethos of the United States Army that ‘people are the army’s most important asset says Gen. John Keane, former Vice Chief of Staff of the US Army.For Gen. Tumwine, the siasa sessions started in 1979 during the Tanzanian led anti-Amin war. He joined the struggle out of a desire to do anything to get rid of the dictator. “I couldn’t have minded the capacity in which I served, whether as a cook or soldier when I joined the Fronasa forces. Most important of all, I had trust in the leader, Yoweri Museveni who I knew from an earlier interaction”.

Museveni was his teacher in Primary six when the future President was in senior six vacation - prior to joining the University of Dar es Salaam.It appears that Gen Yoweri Museveni’s core team that stormed Kabamba on the 6th February 1981 were keen students of Von Clausewitz’s theory of war. The Prussian General averred that ‘no one starts a war without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it’ Practitioners of violent revolution have offered a number of explanations for what factors motivate individuals to resort to violent struggle.

Che Guevara famously posited that there were ‘objective and subjective’ conditions that were responsible for this transformation in people’s attitudes. Subjective conditions had to do with human factors e.g. the realization that violent revolution was ‘the only’ available option to change the status quo - which means that Yoweri Museveni and his vanguard group had reached that level of ‘revolutionary consciousness’.

The group dynamism that Gen Elly Tumwine expounds, the eloquence of NRA’s leadership, the clarity of mission all point to a thorough analysis of the objective and subjective conditions that Che Guevara extols in his writings. For the reader who may be unfamiliar with Ernesto Che Guevara – he was a Marxist revolutionary, guerrilla leader military theorist, a counter cultural symbol of global rebellion, indeed a major figure of the Cuban revolution.

Gen Elly Tumwine was recruited at Ngarama in Isingiro district in early 1979 and he says it quickly became clear that he had joined a serious bunch of people. The recruits went through intense political indoctrination (Siasa in Kiswahili). By his own admission, he had never thought of a ‘revolution’ up to that point in time, nevertheless, very soon, he was immersed in it.

‘We would study the history of Uganda’s Armies from the colonial Kings African Rifles (KAR) to Amin’s - which we were in the process of dismantling” They would study at length - the anti-colonial liberation movements of Africa. “We used to say to ourselves…good Lord what a colossal task we have in saving our country”. These teachings served two purposes: to show the recruits the immensity of the task that lay ahead, the second was to rally and energize them. “We felt that we could rescue our homeland”.

This preparation of dedicated cadres had began earlier, in 1976, when Yoweri Museveni recruited 28 young men to act as the nucleus of the Uganda revolutionary movement – then based in Tanzania. After the disasters and false starts of 1972 and 1973, it seems Museveni had come to the same realization as had another revolutionary Vladimir Lenin who wrote ‘What is to be Done’? as he analysed the condition and prospects for success of the proletarian revolution at that time in Russia.In a similar vein, Museveni had come to the realization by 1976 that only a body of dedicated revolutionaries could spark the embers of resistance in Uganda. This vanguard would undergo military training in Montepuez in Mozambique.

Museveni started organizing the underpinnings of the ideology of Ugandan resistance. These ideological tenets included a rejection of tribalism, a refusal of adventurism (both political and military), the embracing of pan-africanism and a strong martial discipline. The Montepuez cadreship included two of the most important commanders of the resistance war i.e. Gen Salim Sahel Rufu (Caleb Akandwanaho) and Maj Gen Fred Rwigema (RIP) . Other important figures in the Montepuez cadreship include Gen Ivan Koreta and the late Brig Shef Ali.‘The core or nucleus is the strength of an organization, Gen Tumwine remarked - our core (comprised of the Montepuez group, the Monduli trained officers and the Cuban trained intelligence operatives) a very strong group under the ideological guidance of our leader Yoweri Museveni.

By the 6th February 1981, we all knew and had been prepared for a long people’s war. In the African context, a revolutionary or freedom fighter must be a pan-Africanist, the two go together’ This was the concept of the resistance war that eventually liberated Uganda in 1986.

Edited from Battles of the Ugandan Resistance by Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba.

Dennis Katungi – Communications & Media Relations Manager, Uganda Media Centre.

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