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 Dennis Katungi

Seeds of the NRA Revolution

By 1976, Yoweri Museveni had come to the realization that only a body of dedicated revolutionaries could spark the fires of resistance in Uganda. This vanguard plus others eventually became crucial in prosecuting the resistance war in the Luwero jungles from 1981 to 1986.
posted onJune 9, 2022

By Dennis Katungi

In the Theory of War, Clausewitz avers that ‘no one starts a war or rather no one in their right senses ought to do so – without first being clear in their minds what they intend to achieve by that war and how they intend to conduct it’.

We see the seeds of NRA/UPDF in Gen Yoweri Museveni’s recruitment of a nucleus in 1976.

This is when he recruited 28 young men and took them to Montepuez in Mozambique to train as revolutionary militants.

By 1976, Yoweri Museveni had come to the realization that only a body of dedicated revolutionaries could spark the fires of resistance in Uganda. This vanguard plus others eventually became crucial in prosecuting the resistance war in the Luwero jungles from 1981 to 1986.

After the disasters of 1972 and 1973, it seems Museveni had come to the same realization as had another exponent of violent revolution 74 years before him. In 1902, the Russian revolutionary Vladimir Illych Ulyanov (Lenin) wrote: ‘What is to be done’? In this thesis, he made a number of important observations about the condition of the proletarian revolution at the time and its prospects for success.

For example, he concluded that the proletariat on its own was incapable of attending to the revolutionary consciousness necessary for a complete overthrow of the bourgeois state. He asserted that the history of all countries bears out the fact that through their own powers alone, the working class can only struggle through trade unions.

He said that what was required for a revolution was a body of committed militant activists. Like Yoweri Museveni did later, he sought out ‘Professional’ revolutionaries who would dedicate themselves wholly to educating the masses and preparing them for the revolution. Lenin called his body of committed revolutionaries ‘the vanguard party’ and Museveni named his, ‘the front for national salvation (Fronasa). Both Lenin and Museveni naturally argued that this revolutionary vanguard must utilize clandestine methods in order to survive.

Fronasa’s vanguard and later on NRA’s recruits would undergo military training in various places and Museveni started crafting the ideology of the Ugandan resistance. These ideological tenets included a rejection of tribalism, a refusal of adventurism (of both the political and military kind), the embracing of pan-Africanism, and a strong, even severe emphasis on martial discipline. From amongst the Montepuez Cohort emerged two of the foremost commanders of the resistance war, i.e. General Salim Saleh Rufu (real name Caleb Akandwanaho) and Major General Fred Rwigyema (RIP).

Other important figures from the Montepuez group include Gen. Ivan Koreta (retired former Deputy CDF) and the late Brigadier Chefe Ali. Notwithstanding the ideological intimacy between the nascent Ugandan resistance movement in the late 1970’s and liberation movements like FRELIMO and Tanzania’s Chama Cha Mapinduzi (Revolutionary Party), which were both socialist inclined, Museveni made it clear from the start that he and his associates were not communists.

‘Our leader used to tell us from the beginning that we will not fall into the trap of being labeled pro-East or pro-West,” General Elly Tumwine recalls, ‘we were always pro-ourselves, pro-Uganda’. An intense nationalism is at the core of the ideology of the Uganda resistance.

These elements were at the root of NRA’s successes as a guerrilla army, one was this rigorous ideological preparation of cadres and the second aspect was an almost religious adherence to the idea that ‘the people are supreme’. If any action appeared to threaten NRA’s relationship with ‘wanainchi’ (the people), it was immediately torpedoed.

In every engagement, every skirmish, every operation, due consideration was given to this principle and those who fell afoul of it were instantaneously and very publicly disciplined. These tenets were at the heart of the NRA’s strength from its inception until about the time of the third attack on Kabamba in early 1985. After the third (and successful) battle of Kabamba, it became increasingly clear that the NRA’s strength was becoming irresistible, and recruits started flocking to what seemed to be the winning side of a very brutal civil war.

However, in the beginning, not even the most fervent supporter could have given the tiny rebel army much of a chance. The odds were stacked against Museveni and his comrades to say the least.

At the time in Uganda, outside of Museveni and his small coterie of revolutionaries no one had an inkling of what a ‘people’s war’ actually meant or what it entailed. Museveni’s anti-Amin activities during the 1970s and his prominent role in the Tanzanian-led war to topple the dictator had bestowed a certain reputation to the young revolutionary leader.

When the Popular resistance army started in February 1981 (as Museveni had promised it would) in the event of a rigged general election, people were not necessarily surprised. After all, this was the kind of audacious action that Museveni was famous for, but whether it would work or not, was a different question. The overwhelming majority; including those in his home district of Kiruhura were inclined to think the latter. To be able to harness people’s convictions is the pinnacle of leadership and of organizational skill.

Just like the early Christians, who, driven by the gospel of Jesus Christ were ready to die facing all hardships, Museveni and his vanguard knew that the power of human convictions can overcome mountains. The essential pre-condition in these circumstances is effective and inspirational leadership that is able to articulate and demonstrate that victory is possible, even inevitable.

In the early days of the NRA, all military operations were fashioned to amplify one idea- we can win! And indeed they did.

(Edited extracts from the Battles of Ugandan Resistance, by Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba.) The Writer is head of Communications & Media Relations, Uganda Media Centre. Twitter: @Dennis_Katungi

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