By Dennis Patrick Katungi
Monday 6th February 2023 is the 42nd Tarehe sita, the day when Ugandans join the armed forces to celebrate the initial attack on Kabamba - (6th February 1981). This sparked the war of resistance against tyranny.
In its infancy, the fighting force was known as Popular Resistance Army (PRA). After the merger with Prof. Yusuf Lule’s Uganda Freedom Force in the latter part of 1981, NRA was born. It took a record 5 years of fighting a people’s protracted war for NRA to capture state power in January 1986.
Tarehe Sita has since been a permanent fixture on Uganda’s Calendar. I hope I was one of those who triggered the selection process – to pick Kazo District as the launch venue for this year’s Tarehe Sita celebrations.
At the last Tarehe Sita - 6th February 2022, I wrote an article listing well over 100 NRA/UPDF combatants ranging from General Officers down to other ranks who joined the NRA from Kazo. They became a force to reckon with both in combat & diplomacy till the war ended. They have remained instrumental in Statecraft.
That article brought me an avalanche of positive and nostalgic reactions from many soldiers who hail from Kazo and beyond. Some, called me to advise that I had omitted them from the roll of fame. My list has since grown to nearly 200 and I am still updating.The first feedback I got was from our departed senior comrade RO-023 General Elly Tumwine Tuhirirwe. He commended my effort on twitter. For the record, the 1979 Munduli trainee (Intake 17 Long) – was born, raised and educated in Burunga – Kazo in his formative years. Having shot the first bullet at Kabamba on 6th February 1981, he quickly rose to command the National Resistance Army. He became Army Commander after the demise of the late Sam Magara in 1982.
I still remember Gen. Tumwine’s Kabamba attack password – “tumewaleteya chakula”. (We’ve brought you food). Ensconsed in the front seat of the Lorry, donning his 2nd Lt pips, Tumwine alighted as the Truck halted at Kabamba quarter guard, his ‘tumewaleteya chakula’ was a diversion decoy to the UNLA guards - that he was bringing them food ration from the HQs. It was a signal to his troops to engage combatively.
The UNLA guard appeared suspicious and ready for confrontation. Tumwine shot him at point blank range and the war of resistance had commenced. Among the armed 27 who attacked Kabamba, six were from Kazo. Elly Tumwine, Hannington Mugabi, Frank Kifuba, Robert Kabura, Fred Kashoma and Rauben Ikondere.
Among the Commanding officers of the NRA who stormed Kampala in 1986, Kazo had poll-position. The CO of the 3rd Battalion – Col Patrick Lumumba Ruyondo, the CO of the 11th Battalion Brig. Chefe Ali, and other senior Commanders in key formations (departed or alive) Joram Mugume, Burundi Nyamunywanisa, Geoffrey Taban, Tom Tumuhairwe, Grace Agaba many of them now Generals in UPDF- all hail from Kazo.
Senior Commanders of NRA, (many deceased) – Fred Mugisha , Frank Kifuba, Rauben Ikondere, Robert Kabura, Kagumire, Kamuntu, Tumusiime Koozi, Kamwerere, Muhanguzi Kimosho, Katuuku, Tumusiime Skagi, Dorah Kutesa, George Rwaibanda, Kodi Nunguri, Fred Kabigyema, John Kajinja and many others – all from Kazo. In this group, only Dorah Nunguri Kutesa survives.
Kazo combatants who paid the ultimate price and remain buried in the jungles of Luwero include - Hannington Mugabi (Munduli graduate), Kakwezi, Rutembana Rugaramira, Muharabu Butimbire, Mwiruwe Kagangure and many others. They all feature in the NRA song: ‘Fellow Combatants in our Struggle – they fought a bush war, heavy and encouraging, until when their blood was shed for Ugandans’
Some of the key UPDF Generals who hail from Kazo District enlisted in 1985 and afterwards - Maj. Gen Don Nabasa, Brigadiers David Mugisha, Keith Katungi, Dan Kakono, Johnson Namanya, Colonels McDans Kamugira, Hebert Kyabihende, David Kamukama, Napoleon Kyabihende, James Katera, David Kararira, Patrick Kubayo and many others. It is not practical to list them all.
Apart from fearless NRA commanders, Kazo supplied the NRM with pivotal members on the external committee in Nairobi. The longest serving IGG, Justice Jotham Tumwesigye (now a Supreme Court Judge) as well as the longest serving cabinet Minister, recently retired, Hon John Nasasira, MP for Kazo played important diplomatic roles during the bush war.
It’s interesting to note that Kazo has also availed both the two Bishops for North Ankore Diocese, Bishop Muhanguzi and Bishop Namanya.
The District has indeed punched above its weight in the region. It is right and proper therefore, that the UPDF/NRM leadership chose to launch Tarehe Sita 2023 in Kazo. To appreciate Kazo’s contribution to the NRA revolution, you need to check ‘medals per capita’. Our elders, veterans, retirees, new talent have a big percentage of the recognition accolades, some of them posthumous.
As a young student, I personally doubled as an NRA ‘Kadogo’ of sorts. I was involved in clandestine work right from 1981. Our family home in Kazo was a rendezvous for those joining the bush. Many UNLA soldiers hailing from Kazo ran away from their units after the Kabamba attack in February 1981. They could not head strait to Luwero Triangle - it was very risky. They escaped to their home areas and needed a safe haven where to lie-low till they found their way to the bush. We knew the scouts who used to make periodic forays to collect them. We hid them at our farm in Nyakinombe and then relocated them to our Hotel in Kazo Trading Centre at night when ready for the trek.
I remember Stephen Kashaka (now a retired Maj. Gen) and the late Col. Poteri Kivuna were the main NRA scouts prodding the Kazo/Kiruhura sector to pick personnel. Kazo County supplied the bush war with quality recruits – mostly ex UNLA soldiers as well as keen civilians harassed by the UPC regime.
I recall this particular incident in my school holidays mid-1981. I was in Senior one. I was dispatched to go to the farm & summon the hidden troops, about 14 of them. They moved swiftly & stealthily, gathered in the back-room of our hotel in Kazo. They were to embark on the perilous journey to the bush that night. My late cousin, a trained UNLA soldier (George Rwaibanda – later Major) had run away from Mubende barracks and hid at the farm for months. He was joined by Burundi Nyamunywanisa – now a retired Major General, the late Captain James Kamuntu, Tom Mihirane and others whose names I can’t recall.
I was the errand boy, supplying them with snacks, cigarettes and other necessities that I procured from particular shops so as not to arouse suspicion. I sat in at their final briefing by Stephen Kashaka (now a retired Maj. Gen). He was armed with a Pistol. Earlier in the evening, he rode back from Kiruhura on a bicycle – where he had gone to mobilise some more recruits. Each of them arrived individually, all assembled at our place. It became a large group. We were indeed taking risks.
The feeling was that this was our war, we had to contribute in one way or another. My cousin, George Rwaibanda had absconded from UNLA with an SMG. It had been dismantled and tucked away under my bed for months as he waited for an opportunity to join the bush war. This was my first intimate contact with guns. I learnt how to assemble and dismantle an SMG on this one, kept under my bed. I also learnt an NRA intelligence dictum: ‘NEED TO KNOW BASIS’. This meant that you do not share information ‘fwaa’. You were to be very selective (with information) and inform only those who needed to know.
We used to get regular updates from the bush. I remember we mourned our dead combatants. When Hannington Mugabi died, my parents visited Mzee Anania Nkuba and his wife to commiserate. We mourned the late Sam Magara. We got to know that Elly Tumwine had lost an eye in battle – his sister, the late Fridah Kyobutungi travelled from Kazo, was smuggled into a ward in Mulago to visit him. We commiserated with the parents and relatives of John Kamurari Rubahimbya, our former Headmaster, Rutembana Rugaramira, Kakwezi and – Mwiruwe Kagangure, all killed by UNLA in action.
When the late Kaari Nunguri and his cousin Sam Nkunda Kanjabi got abducted & murdered in Kireka, we received the bad news.
Recently, I interviewed then clandestine NRA operative based at Plot 7 Neptune Road, Mbuya in Kampala, Retired Maj. Dorah Nunguri Kutesa - a serving Diplomat. She too hails from Kanoni - Kazo. She brought out all the raw details. Her riveting recollections were captured in last month’s Liberation Day Magazine, a Publication of Office of the President. Dorah in my view is an unsung heroine of the NRA revolution. She turned her cousin’s home into a ‘hide & dispatch’ venue for NRA. Resistance news always filtered through to us.
The NRA’s exploits, successful ambushes, Police raids, and major operations. Dorah Nunguri’s future husband, at that time Lt. Pecos Kutesa (deceased UPDF General) was already dating her before he went to the bush. He wrote a love letter to Dorah while in Nairobi – on escort duties to then rebel leader Yoweri Museveni. He was on his initial voyage outside Uganda mid-1981.
In the letter, Pecos was thanking Dorah for saving Salim Saleh (now a retired General) by arranging his evacuation from Moroto Prison. Saleh was a high risk prisoner in UNLA hands - but he was successfully relayed to Kampala through arrangements by Dorah Nunguri and then Lt. Katumba Wamala now General and Minister of Works. Saleh had been imprisoned for months. Dorah Nunguri (as she was then) had to pay a ransom via an intermediary (UNLA’s Lt. Katumba Wamala) to get him out of jail.
The late Lt. Gen Pecos Kutesa somehow never posted the love letter to his fiancée Dorah. It remained in his suitcase, properly addressed through Norah Kakamba (Dorah’s sister in law), then working at Uganda Blanket Manufacturers Ltd.
This letter was to become an Achilles heel. It revealed vital information to the State intelligence apparatus. On his return from Nairobi, as his troupe re-entered the bush, they were ambushed by UNLA, got hit & scattered. Pecos’s suitcase was among the property ‘charged’ by the enemy. UNLA soldiers read the letter from Pecos to Dorah and as expected, it caused a lot of problems. It was relayed to Rwakasisi’s NASA boys as raw top level intelligence.
That’s how Dorah’s cover (as a key NRA clandestine organiser in Mbuya) was blown. Dorah made it on NASA’s Red list - ‘WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE’. These events led to the murder of her brother Kaari Nunguri and their cousin Sam Nkunda Kanjabi who were abducted and killed in cold blood by (NASA agents), their bodies never recovered. The two victims had totally nothing to do with bush war errands but it was a revenge hit.
In fact, NASA operatives arrested Norah Kakamba and forced her to take them to Kanoni, Kazo to track down Dorah Nunguri from her family home. The guerrilla operative eluded them. They interrogated the late Kaari, the brother who was on leave and temporarily left him for a while, only to pounce on him later, when he returned to Kampala. This signalled the end of Dorah Nunguri’s clandestine operations at plot 7 Neptune Avenue Mbuya, the home of Diplomat John Kakamba.
Kakamba also hailed from Kanoni, Kazo. This had been a major conduit for soldiers & guns headed to the jungles of Luwero. By the time Dorah was rumbled, she could have facilitated an entire Company of UNLA soldiers of D Coy, 15th Battalion to the bush, despite the fact that they were under the command of Brig. Bazilio Olara Okello. Dorah packed up and joined combat operations in the Triangle and the rest is history. Her story is the stuff of a blockbuster movie, yet to be properly recorded.
Congratulations Kazo, the NRA bedrock, chosen for the launch of Tarehe Sita 2023. Kazo District is located in the pastoral rangelands of southwestern Uganda sharing borders with Kamwenge to the northwest, Kyegegwa to the northeast, Sembabule to the east, Kiruhura to the south and Ibanda to the West. It is located in the Victoria Basin forest-savanna eco-region. It consists of low hill and rolling plains - drained by seasonal streams that pour in the Katonga River. It fits the name Kaaro Karungi (the pearl of the region) and officially became a District on 01st July 2019.
The Writer is Head of Communications & Media Relations – Uganda Media Centre and hails from Kazo.
Twitter - @Dennis_Katungi