WHO FOUGHT? Why does Museveni minimise role played by the Western Axis

Fred Rwigyema in 3D
Fred Rwigyema in 3D

Yoweri Museveni returned six months later after Rwigyema had captured Fort Portal and Kasese. It was the second time the chairman was leaving the frontline for the same period of six months, the first time being in June 1981. While the war raged on for five years, some fighters say their leader was in the bush for only four years. Museveni justifies his long absence by saying that he needed to do diplomatic work, including looking for guns. Some veterans claim that on both occasions, Museveni returned after his brother, Salim Saleh informed him that the fighters had registered tremendous progress. Veterans claim that had Museveni been informed by Saleh that things were bad, probably he would never have returned.

Fred Rwigyema

The overall military commander for the NRA’s Western Axis was Fred Rwigyema. The overall political leader was the NRM Vice Chairman, Moses Kigongo.
Jim Muhwezi was the overall intelligence chief, while Chefe Ali who commanded the NRA 11th Battalion, was the military man together with Col. Samson Mande who at the take over of Kampala was Commanding Officer of the 15th Battalion.

Other military and political leaders in this group were Col. Nuwe Amanya Mushega and Col. Tom Butime.
The 5th Battalion, which Brig. Steven Kashaka commanded with Col. Ahmed Kashilingi, escorted Rwigyema and his forces to take them through what was considered dangerous areas like Bukomero, according to veterans. This is when David Musisi, one of the fearless fighters, was killed while the battalion was returning to Luwero after providing back-up for the Rwenzori-bound group.

The Rwigyema group also took away all non-fighters, including those in the sick bay. President Museveni writes very briefly about this Western Axis in his book and some veterans say it is because neither he nor his brother, Salim Saleh, played a key role. Some veterans claim that the President deliberately excluded this part of the “struggle” from his book because he didn’t want to give credit to other people. The trek to the west was long and difficult. The NRA forces would walk during the night and rest in the jungles during the day until they reached their destination in Fort Portal and Kasese. The journey took a whole month. The commanders told their fighters not to touch people’s food and other items on the way, even if they were dying of hunger.

Apart from fearing to bump into patrolling UNLA soldiers, the Western Axis forces walked at night to hide their poor state. They were very dirty, tired and emaciated. When they reached Hoima, in areas with no forest cover, the rebels spent a night in a cassava plantation, and the order was not to touch people’s food. However, because of biting hunger, some fighters, including one commander, stole the cassava.
The owner of the plantation had apparently warned them that his cassava was protected and whoever eats it would fall sick. The following day, the owner who had allowed the rebels stay in his plantation, complained that some of his cassava had been stolen.A parade was quickly organised to identify the culprits. The culprits were asked to come out, lest they are discovered and killed, but none did so. The following day, some fighters including a commander, developed stomach problems and they reported themselves. The owner was called and he reportedly administered witchcraft rituals to set the culprits free.

Another major incident that happened during the NRA operation in Rwenzori areas was the summary execution of fighters who stole goats and sheep from local people. The fighters had violated the standing order, not to steal from the people. So, when the owners of the animals reported them to their commanders, the political head of the Western Axis, Moses Kigongo, presided over a meeting of senior leaders that constituted itself into a court and sentenced two fighters to death. The execution earned the rebels the support and trust of the Batooro and Bakonzo in the area, but the peasants feared to report other cases after witnessing the execution. The rebel commanders had decreed that anybody who stole people’s items using a gun would be executed and they were serious. Some veterans say the rebels never wasted their bullets on such executions but would use a hoe to hit the head of the accused.

The forces that went to Rwenzori, according to veterans, walked with minimum interference. President Apollo Milton Obote was happy that they were walking away from Luwero. He bragged that the rebels were running in disarray towards Congo. He also bragged that their commander, Yoweri Museveni, had run away to Europe. Obote must have awoken from his slumber when the Rwigyema forces overran Rubona Prison where the UNLA soldiers had camped. Museveni says his rebels killed about four dozens of the government soldiers. When he returned from visiting his family in Sweden, Museveni addressed rallies in Fort Portal.

Those who belonged to the Western Axis think their success shaped the determination with which NRA marched to capture Kampala. Kasese and Fort Portal were the first areas to be liberated and became the headquarters of the NRA/M as the rebels pushed on towards Kampala. Open recruitment of more fighters and training, the rebels captured more areas. About 9,000 rebels were trained in Buhweju and Semliki area.
It was the Western Axis that would later attack Mbarara, although Museveni says that they had failed to capture the town until Salim Saleh re-enforced them. The group later captured other areas, including Kabale.

Now exiled in Europe, Samson Mande commanded the operation in which money was grabbed from the Uganda Commercial Bank branch in Kabale. It has been alleged that some officers used part of the money to buy property. Indeed some veterans have said that the practice of grabbing public resources by some NRM officials manifested itself in this action, but the revolutionary spirit was too strong to be derailed by such reports. After consolidating control of Mbarara and Kabale, the Western Axis began matching towards Masaka. Here, they joined other forces that had moved out of Luwero through Mpigi, Kibibi and Masaka.
Some veterans believe that if the Western Axis had flopped, probably the whole armed struggle would have collapsed, especially as Museveni was away in Europe.

Next week, we look at the contribution the first Commanding Officers (COs) of the NRA battalions; Samson Mande, Steven Kashaka, Pecos Kuteesa, Julius Kihande, Ahmed Kashilingi, Matayo Kyaligonza and Chefe Ali.

Written by Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda


  1. WHO FOUGHT: 10 brave men who faced UNLA’s fire

    Written by Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda

    In the fourth part of our special report on ‘Who Fought’ during the five-year National Resistance Army Luwero war, SSEMUJJU IBRAHIM NGANDA looks at the role played by the 10 top guerilla commanders who dislodged the Tito Okello-led UNLA forces in January 1986. As the NRA planned a final assault on Kampala, 10 men were appointed to command the newly formed equal number of battalions.
    They are; Matayo Kyaligonza, Pecos Kutesa, Chefe Ali (RIP), Steven Kashaka, and Peter Kerim. Others are Samson Mande, Julius Chihandae, Patrick Lumumba, Benon Tumukunde, and Ivan Koreta. Ahmed Kashilingi became one of them because by the time Kampala fell, he had taken command of the 5th battalion from Kashaka.
    Currently a Brigadier, Kutesa was only recognized a bush-war hero on June 9, 2009 (23 years after he helped capture Kampala) but he was, without doubt, one of those who fought fearlessly. Colleagues describe him as one of those fighters who came to be known as Kalampenge (fearless). At the time NRA took over government, Kutesa was commanding the first battalion. His second in command was another Kalampenge, the late Fred Mugisha who died at the rank of Lt. Colonel.

    Bush-war fighters say it was Kutesa’s battalion that fought a three-month protracted battle with UNLA for the control of Katonga Bridge on Kampala-Masaka highway.
    It is the same battalion that captured the headquarters of the UNLA at Bulange, Mengo. At that time it was known as Republic House. Kutesa was heavily involved in other battles, including the attack on Masindi that shaped and energized the NRA war.

    At the time of his death, Lumumba was a Colonel. During the final assault on Kampala, he commanded the 3rd battalion which raided Lubiri Barracks. Another Kalampenge, whose battalion fought alongside Pecos Kutesa’s 1st battalion, confronted the UNLA on Masaka Road all the way to Kampala. It is also Lumumba’s battalion that carried out the siege on Masaka Barracks, whose success was key to the ultimate victory.

    Steven Kashaka, now brigadier, commanded the 5th battalion which was tasked to guard one side of Katonga while Kutesa protected the other. In fact, some NRA veterans say it is both Kutesa and Kashaka’s battalions that inflicted the final damage on the UNLA at Katonga.

    Kashaka, some veterans say, fell sick while others accuse him of excitement when he went away and left the command to his deputy, Kashilingi. It is Kashilingi who eventually lead the 5th battalions when the march to Kampala began. In his book, Uganda’s Revolution 1979-1986 – How I Saw It, Pecos Kutesa reveals that Kashilingi, now a Colonel, is the one who commanded the 5th battalion when it eventually captured Entebbe Airport (See his detailed contribution)

    Although given a hero’s medal just last week on June 9, Kyaligonza, who is now a brigadier, was one of the most ruthless NRA commanders, bush-war veterans say. Now Uganda’s Ambassador to Burundi, Kyaligonza was responsible for urban terrorism and together with Kashilingi, they raided Police posts in Mukono.

    At the time NRA captured power; Kyaligonza was commander of the 7th battalion. His deputy was Stanley Muhangi, another Kalampenge. It is Kyaligonza who captured Makindye Barracks. The 7th brigade was initially responsible for ambushing UNLA soldiers as they moved between Kampala and Katonga. Eventually, Kyaligonza approached Kampala from Hoima Road.

    He was the first fighter to be wounded when the NRA began its war with the attack on Kabamba Barracks in February 1981. At the fall of Kampala, he was the commander of the 9th battalion. Chihandae also commanded the operation that besieged Mbarara Barracks, one of the developments that broke UNLA’s fighting spirit.

    On this and some other missions, he worked with the late Fred Rwigyema who was deputy army commander of NRA and overall military boss for the Western Axis which raided Mbarara.
    Chihandae is now deployed at Uganda’s Embassy in Saudi Arabia. He was one time detained in Makindye Military Police Barracks and seriously tortured after his close friend, Col. Kashilingi, ran away to DR Congo.

    Chefe Ali commanded the 11th battalion which together with Chihandae’s 9th battalion laid siege on Mbarara Barracks. Chefe Ali approached Kampala from the Nakulabye side. He moved through Makerere, Kamwokya to capture Summit View where UNLA soldiers were firing their artillery against NRA positions.

    The NRA, according to Pecos Kutesa’s book, were also shelling Summit View from Mutundwe hill. Chefe Ali died a few years ago at the rank of brigadier. Kasirye Gwanga, now a brigadier, was in charge of the NRA artillery on Mutundwe hill.

    The current Deputy Chief of Defence Forces (D/CDF), Koreta, now Lt. Gen., commanded the 13th battalion. He was deputised by James Sebaggala who is now a brigadier. This battalion operated mainly around Bombo Road and was supposed to stop UNLA soldiers retreating from Kampala from proceeding to northern Uganda, which it failed to do. But the battalion chased the retreating soldiers all the way to Arua.

    Mande was one of the original 27 NRA fighters who were armed at the start of the war. He commanded the 15th battalion, a late creation. He was initially part of the Western Axis and is the one who raided Uganda Commercial Bank, Kabale branch from where the NRA soldiers looted a lot of cash. Mande, who now lives in exile in Sweden, is accused of plotting to overthrow the Government of President Museveni. He is now a Colonel.
    He fled through Rwanda after he had been tortured while in Makindye Barracks on charges of embezzlement.

    Now a brigadier and commander of Reserve Force in West Nile, Kerim commanded the newly created 19th battalion at take over. He had been Pecos Kuteesa’s deputy in the first battalion for most of the late 1983 and early 1984. Pecos Kuteesa describes him as a good fighter who was part of the successful force that overran Masindi Barracks, one of NRA’s major operations.

    He was commander of the 21 battalion. Tumukunde died at the rank of Lt. Col. He was the first NRA Commanding Officer of the Military Police.

  2. WHO FOUGHT? Kashilingi saved Museveni from deadly UNLA attack

    Written by
    Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda

    While almost the entire NRA was away on a mission to attack Masindi, rebel leader Yoweri Museveni was attacked by the UNLA commanded by the feared Lt. Col. John Ogole. With only 70 fighters, Ahmed Kashilingi mounted a formidable resistance that enabled the rebel leader to escape Col. Ahmed Kashilingi, RO 040, joined the NRA bush-war in 1981.

    Alongside Mugisha Muntu, Joram Mugume, Ivan Koreta, Jim Muhwezi, Kahinda Otafiire, Steven Kashaka, Pecos Kuteesa, Julius Chihandae and Peter Kerim; he is listed in the UPDF Act as one of the 15 senior officers as at January 1986. Others are; Fred Mwesigye, Andrew Lutaaya, Gyagenda Kibirango, Samson Mande and Amin Izaruk.
    Kashilingi first worked with Matayo Kyaligonza who operated around Mukono as the latter’s deputy.
    In his book Sowing the Mustard Seed, Museveni says Kyaligonza commanded Mwanga, one of the six zonal units NRA formed about six months into its five-year guerrilla war. Kashilingi joined Kyaligonza’s zonal group around April 1981. The main task of this group was to divert the attention of the government soldiers from the main NRA group of about 50, including Yoweri Museveni, which had moved towards Kiboga after the futile attack on Kabamba barracks in February 1981.

    Kyaligonza and Kashilingi, according to veterans who worked under them, had only two guns at the start, an SMG and a pistol. Theirs was mainly urban terrorism. These are the commanders who, using commando tactics, raided Kisoga Police post which they hit with stones and managed to take off with its rifles.
    Kashilingi, who joined the army in the late 1960s, is reported to have received commando training in Iraq during Idi Amin’s rule. These skills came in handy for the NRA, especially in raiding Police posts. The Kyaligonza/Kashilingi group also used to grab Police uniforms which they would later use in their jungle and urban operations.

    When Salim Saleh, then a junior UNLA soldier, escaped from Moroto where he had been detained after his brother declared war against the government, he was helped by Kyaligonza and Kashilingi to join the main NRA force around Matuga. Towards the end of 1981, the UNLA hit Kyaligonza’s group hard and threw it in disarray. Kyaligonza reportedly took off to Kasangati, leaving his colleagues behind. Kashilingi, who took a different direction, gathered some of the fighters and headed towards the main force in Matuga. This was shortly before Museveni returned from Kenya and Europe where he had gone in June 1981.


    Having joined the army when Museveni was still a student at Dar es Salaam University, Kashilingi was one of the few highly trained soldiers that the NRA had in its ranks. The other was Brig. Tadeo Kanyankore who had also joined the army shortly after independence. Veterans say that if their leadership was picking commanders strictly on merit, these two should have been the top commanders in the early stages of the war. But Museveni appeared to trust FRONASA fighters whose military career began after 1970 more than these ex Amin and Obote government soldiers. Issues of ethnicity are also cited. Kashilingi comes from Rubabo in Rukungiri.

    In fact, he hails from the same sub-county as Col. Samson Mande. Nevertheless, these experienced soldiers were ready to fight. And Kashilingi’s first known major operation happened around 1982. Veterans tell us that the Chairman High Command (CHC), Yoweri Museveni, sent him on a mission to look for medicine and medical personnel shortly after his return from London. Kashilingi then commanded fighters who raided Nakaseke Hospital. At this time he had been separated from Kyaligonza who took command of the Black Bombers and operated in the areas of Matuga. Kyaligonza was assisted by Herbert Kikomeko Itongwa. Kashilingi operated in the areas of Makulubita, Katiti, Kalasa and Bombo.

    In the forest of one Maama Nsobya at a place called Kanyanda is where Museveni dispatched Kashilingi to go and raid Nakaseke. The operation was successful and Kashilingi got medicine and abducted most of the medical personnel of the hospital, including the Medical Superintendant, Dr. Ronald Bata. Ondoga Ori Amaza, who was also working at Nakaseke, was captured during this raid. He died at the rank of major. Because the nurses could not walk for a long distance, Kashilingi got another captive, Kizito Kyamufumba, who died at the rank of major, to drive them in a lorry with their medicines. Kashilingi reported his loot to Museveni at the guerrillas’ headquarters.

    President Museveni does not mention Kashilingi as one of the early battalion commanders, perhaps because by the time Museveni wrote his autobiography, Kashilingi was in jail on charges of treason and misprision of treason. Before yet another re-organization of the forces, Kashilingi commanded NRA’s 3rd battalion and was deputised by Levi Karuhanga who is now a brigadier.

    When the NRA raided Masindi Army Barracks on February 2, 1984, Kashilingi remained behind to protect the CHC, the High Command headquarters, and the sick bay. He was left with only two platoons (70 soldiers) because they didn’t anticipate any UNLA attack. In fact, even the two platoons were for precautionary measures. Unfortunately for the guerillas, the UNLA raided their base where Museveni was before the triumphant Masindi main force of 700 fighters returned. The UNLA group that attacked Museveni and threw the NRA into panic was commanded by Lt. Col. John Ogole.

    Since this was a surprise attack, the NRA needed everybody, especially the highly trained personnel, to repulse the enemy. This is how David Tinyefuza’s detention was brought to an abrupt end to help engage the UNLA. The battle that went on for several hours saw the sick and Museveni flee for dear life. It is in this process that many of Museveni’s guards were killed, including one who was carrying his briefcase.
    Museveni eventually re-organised his fleeing forces and set off to join the force that was returning from Masindi, led by Salim Saleh.

    When the NRA opened the Western Axis in 1985, Kashilingi remained in Luwero Triangle with the main force under Salim Saleh. At this time Museveni had again traveled abroad where he spent six months.
    The 5th battalion which Kashaka and Kashilingi commanded was part of the force that raided Mubende in Museveni’s absence. From Mubende, they captured Mityana and moved through Mpigi towards Masaka.
    They moved through Kalungu, Kifampa, Kituntu and Nkozi. At around Kayabwe on Masaka Road, the 5th battalion got orders to block Katonga Bridge. The intention was to stop the UNLA soldiers from re-enforcing the besieged Masaka and Mbarara barracks. It is at Katonga that Kashaka left his 5th battalion and went to Nyabushozi. Col. Kashilingi took over the command until the capture of Kampala.

    Katonga is described by the NRA veterans as the fiercest of all battles. Kashilingi lost 14 fighters and two of his field commanders around Kayabwe area. Another 16 fighters were injured. Almost a whole platoon (35 soldiers) under Kashilingi was wiped out by UNLA soldiers using an anti aircraft gun. Soldiers who fought alongside Kashilingi say that they were saved by the re-enforcement of 180 fighters who had just been trained by Tadeo Kanyankore in Ibanda. It was only then that Kashilingi managed to overpower the UNLA.


    When the Obote soldiers (UNLA) were defeated at Katonga, they ran up to around Nabusanke. At this time, General Tito Okello Lutwa had successfully staged a coup and declared himself head of state.
    Lutwa called for peace talks, which in effect slowed down the advance of the rebels. The UNLA under Lutwa established their base at a place called Kwaba on Kampala-Masaka Road. Kashilingi’s forces camped on Kamengo Hill, overlooking the UNLA. When the peace talks collapsed, the Kashilingi battalion and that of Pecos Kuteesa were ordered to attack. They chased government troops almost up to Kampala suburbs.
    When the rest of the battalions pounced on Kampala, Kashilingi was ordered to take Entebbe Road and capture the airport.

    It is reported that Lutwa had reached some understanding with Moses Ali to airlift hundreds of his soldiers from his bases in West-Nile to Entebbe to help Lutwa. They were reportedly being airdropped at Entebbe as Kashilingi and his troops advanced towards the airport. In his book, Kuteesa writes that Kashilingi’s forces got encircled and needed re-enforcement. Kashilingi, it is reported, wanted to hit the planes that were dropping Moses Ali’s fighters at Entebbe but he was restrained by Museveni. Eventually, these fighters from West Nile—about 1,000 of them, surrendered and Entebbe fell to the rebels.

    Being one of the few highly trained soldiers, Kashilingi was appointed Director of Records after the fall of Kampala. He joined the army administration at (Republic House) Bulange. Like other senior NRA commanders, he got himself a house in Kololo. His immediate neighbours on Acacia Road were Julius Chihandae and David Tinyefuza. At that time, Elly Tumwine was residing near Metropole Hotel and Gen. Salim Saleh just above the airstrip. It is claimed that these Kololo-based officers used to quarrel and sometimes exchange blows over simple things, like who contributed more during the war, who was benefiting and who was in charge. They would threaten to shoot one another.

    In this conflict, Saleh reportedly sided with Kashilingi and Chihandae. In fact, Chihandae was Saleh’s best man when he married Jovia in the late 1980s. It is around this time that the army headquarters at Republic House was burnt. There was an inquiry, but the findings, like in many military related inquiries, were never released to the top organs like the High Command or the Army Council. It is possible the inquiry produced no results or was stopped midway. Kashilingi’s Directorate of Records was on the top floor where heavy fire was reported. That could be why he was suspected of wrongdoing. Republic House was burnt at a time the young army was grappling with the problem of inflated strength. Fictitious names (ghosts) had as early as 1988 been added to the pay-roll as senior officers swindled public funds.

    Probably because of the burning of the Republic House and the infighting between the Saleh and Tumwine groups, Museveni reshuffled his command for the second time in a brief period. Saleh was dropped as army commander after serving for a few months. He had been suspected of plotting to overthrow his brother. Saleh’s friends; Kashilingi and Chihandae were also fired. In fact, Saleh, Chihandae, Kashilingi and Tumwine were all retired from the army at that point. That is when Col. Mugisha Muntu was promoted to Maj. Gen. and appointed army commander.

    When Kashilingi and his neighbour Chihandae were sacked and forcefully retired, the President posted them to Public Service. Eventually, Col. Tom Butime Rwakaikara met them and told them to prepare for interviews. However, a few days to the interviews, the Army raided Kashilingi’s home in Kololo. The bush was hero and later Army Director of Records had now become a rebel. To execute the mission, the Army sent in at least two pick-up trucks full of heavily armed soldiers.

    The arresting soldiers told Kashilingi that his destination was Lubiri Barracks where Mwesigwa Kamwesigwa commanded a brigade with James Kazini as his deputy. The arrest had been ordered by the Minister of State for Defence, Gen. David Tinyefuza. Kashilingi refused to hand himself in and his house remained besieged until morning. In the morning, senior NRA officers tell us, the Iraq trained commando jumped in his Mercedes Benz and claimed he was driving to Kampala Club to hand himself over to the new army commander, Mugisha Muntu. Instead, it is reported that he parked his Mercedes and jumped over the perimeter wall and escaped to an unknown destination.

    David Tinyefuza then sent a radio message to all units saying, “Whoever sees Kashilingi, shoot on sight, don’t arrest.” Roadblocks were mounted in search of the new rebel—perhaps the first Luwero war hero to be branded a rebel. Kashilingi finally escaped to Zaire. There are conflicting accounts about his forced return. Some sources claim that Amama Mbabazi, who was then in charge of external intelligence, bribed Congolese commandos who raided Kashilingi’s hideout at night and handed him over to Ugandan authorities. Yet Lt. Col. Anthony Kyakabale, who was later to become a rebel too, earlier claimed that it is him who captured Kashilingi from inside Congo in an operation. Other sources say that the man had registered with UNHCR as a refugee but was captured because he lived near the border so as to communicate with his family.

    Eventually, Kashilingi was handed over to James Kazini who taunted him as he drove him to Makindye Barracks where he was detained for about one year and a half. He was handcuffed and dumped in a Makindye Military Police dungeon. Sources say he remained handcuffed for the period he stayed in Makindye. The handcuffs were never removed even when he needed to ease himself or eat. He would squat on a bucket and soil himself and his excreta would naturally dry on his body and clothes.

    He was finally charged with treason and misprision of treason at Mengo Magistrates Court and jailed in Luzira from 1991 to 1995. His trial delayed because most of the time the government claimed that its witnesses were abroad. His lawyers; Remmy Kasule and Edward Muguluma eventually won the case on February 17, 1995. Like in several other cases, the Chairman of the High Command (CHC) began rehabilitating his former fighter who once saved him from the jaws of Lt. Col. John Ongole. Museveni appointed Kashilingi Technical Advisor to the Minister of Security. By the time of his arrest, Kashilingi had a Mercedes Benz car and a Cross Country. But his house was looted bare by soldiers. He now uses boda boda for transport in Kampala.

    Next week we bring you the heroics of Matayo Kyaligonza in Luwero and his life after the capture of Kampala.

  3. WHO FOUGHT?: How Kyaligonza terrorised Kampala

    Written by Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda

    In his book, The Agony of Power, Kyaligonza says he first joined military service during former President Idi Amin’s regime. He worked then in the State Research Bureau, Amin’s dreaded security agency, until 1974. Kyaligonza abandoned his job after his boss, Col. Kakuhikire, was abducted and killed by the regime he served. Fearing for his own life, Kaligonza joined a rebel group called Save Uganda Movement (SUM), one of the groups that fought Amin. After Amin’s fall in 1979, Kyaligonza joined the Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM), a small political party led by Yoweri Museveni that contested for leadership in the 1980 general elections.

    Museveni had warned during the campaigns that if elections were rigged, he would go to the bush—a position that Kyaligonza, then a member of the UPM Hoima District executive committee, supported.
    So on December 13, 1980, Kyaligonza met Museveni and proposed to him the role he wanted to play after the war started. Museveni briefed Kyaligonza on how he planned to start the war against Obote’s government. The official launch would be an attack on Kabamba Barracks. Kyaligonza, together with Capt. Nkwanga, had stolen and hidden about 30 guns which he offered to use during the attack Kabamba.

    Unfortunately, by the time he went to recover the hidden guns, Nkwanga had handed them over to Dr. Andrew Lutakome Kayiira, a leader of another rebel group, UFA, which also fought Obote. Because Kyaligonza had his own guns, and was working with Nkwanga, some veterans have told us that it appears he planned to form his own rebel group. But Kyaligonza writes that he was involved in recruiting fighters for the NRA together with Gen. Elly Tumwine, the late Sam Magara and Brig. Andrew Lutaaya. Some of the fighters he recruited turned out to be great fighters such as Col. Ahmed Kashilingi, Col. Samson Mande, Col. Patrick Lumumba, Lt. Col. Jet Mwebaze (RIP), Col. Geoffrey Taban, and Brig. John Mugume.

    By the time the NRA captured power on January 26, 1986; and for most the years prior to the fall of Kampala, the guerrilla army was run by the High Command, its top policy organ. Matayo Kyaligonza was one of the eight members of the High Command who of course included Yoweri Museveni (Chairman), Eriya Kategaya, David Tinyefuza, Elly Tumwine, Salim Saleh, Gen. Fred Rwigyema and Tadeo Kanyankore. When the NRA introduced formal ranks after capturing power, four of the High Command Members made the rank of major general. These were; Museveni, Saleh, Tumwine and Rwigyema. The other four; Tinyefuza, Kyaligonza, Kanyankore and Kategaya became brigadiers. Two members of this Historical High Command; Kanyankore and Rwigyema have since passed on.

    The six who are still living are, by virtue of this history, members of the UPDF High Command and are listed in the third schedule of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces Act, 2005. With Tinyefuza becoming a general, Kyaligonza became the only member of this Historical High Command that has remained at the same rank of brigadier since the NRA captured power. NRA bush war veterans have told The Observer that Kyaligonza was not happy with the way ranks were awarded around 1989. He didn’t understand why he was not made Major General right from the start, like Saleh and Tumwine. It has been claimed by some of his bush-war fighters that Kyaligonza saw ethnic undertones in these promotions and this left him disgruntled.

    That is why, some say, he once slapped Sam Kutesa’s late wife, Jennifer, during a heated argument and told her to “stop Bahima arrogance.” This was seen as a grave offence on his part and so Kyaligonza offered to resign from the Army. He was instead temporarily stripped of his rank of Brigadier. Even though he later regained his rank, this incident was seen as the beginning of his woes and isolation. In fact, Kaligonza was later linked to a plot to overthrow Museveni’s government and an order for his arrest went out. But Gen. Saleh who was ordered to arrest him did not execute the mission. On June 9, 2009 –23 years after the NRM captured power, his immense contribution to the struggle was finally remembered and he was declared a hero.

    After the famous attack on Kabamba Barracks on February 6 1981, which effectively announced the start of the bush-war, the unsuccessful guerrillas headed to Kiboga to hide.
    This was because their lives were in danger as UNLA troops were now pursuing them. While the rest, including rebel leader, Yoweri Museveni walked to Kiboga, Kyaligonza headed to a different direction—Mukono. His real mission was to stage ambushes immediately as a diversionary tactic. His main task was to divert attention from Museveni’s group which numbered just about 50 men.

    In Mukono, one of his recruits, Col. Kashilingi, became his deputy and together, they planned terror attacks in and around Kampala. Kyaligonza writes in his book that they started with one and a half gun—an SMG and a pistol. Their first successful raid was on May 21, 1981 when they attacked Kisoga Police Post at night using stones. They stole seven guns and Police uniforms. These were added to the four rifles they had gotten earlier, after killing government soldiers on patrol on April 13 of the same year.

    On June 3, they raided Ngogwe Police post in Buikwe, Mukono, and stole 11 guns. But not everything went according to plan. The government soldiers once raided and scattered the Kyaligonza group around Namugongo areas. Fighters who worked with him say that Kyaligonza ran to Kasangati, leaving his ‘troops’ behind. It is his deputy, Col. Kashilingi, who remained behind and gathered some of the scattered fighters.

    From Kasangati, Kyaligonza joined the main NRA force in Matugga. And after regrouping the scattered fighters, Kashilingi also followed Kyaligonza to the bush. This was towards the end of 1981.
    It was around this time that Museveni returned from Libya after a sixth-month break from the bush. The regrouping Kyaligonza fighters came to Museveni’s rescue when UNLA soldiers detected his movements and started pursuing him.

    To divert the pursuers, Museveni asked Kyaligonza to attack an army detach at Mpoma Earth Satellite, which mission he carried out with two of his fearless commanders; Samson Mande and Patrick Lumumba.
    Kyaligonza is also credited with saving Gen. Saleh’s life when Museveni was away. It is alleged by some bush-war veterans that Commander Sam Magara attempted to kill Saleh after a quarrel.
    Kyaligonza writes in his book that tribal wars dogged the NRA leadership at the time Museveni was away, from June 1981 to December 1981.

    The rebel force at this time was under four men; Sam Magara (from Kashari Mbarara), Jack Mucunguzi (from Rukungiri), Elly Tumwine (Ntungamo), Hannington Mugabi (Kiruhura).
    Kyaligonza writes that Magara planned to ambush Saleh when he was sent to Mukono to temporarily work with him. When he learnt of the ambush, Kyaligonza asked Saleh to switch to another route – and this is how he survived. In fact, Kyaligonza notes that an operational message was sent out indicating that Saleh had landed into an enemy ambush.

    Veterans tell us that Museveni sent his brother to work with Kyaligonza after establishing that Magara was trying to take advantage of his absence to harm Saleh. Saleh’s death would probably have culminated in the ouster of Museveni from the rebel group’s leadership.
    Perhaps Saleh was paying back Kyaligonza’s kindness when he protected him against arrest in the early 1990s. This conspiracy theory about a plot to murder Saleh is given some credence when Kyaligonza suggests in his book that commanders used to betray one another. He indeed says that he thought that his own capture, one time by government forces, could have been masterminded by his comrades.

    He also gives credence to the suggestion that some NRM commanders could have betrayed Magara and got him killed when he sneaked into Kampala for medical treatment and other business. The killing of Mugabi by Jack Mucunguzi is also linked to simmering ethnic conflict. After the failed February 6, 1981 attack on Kabamba, the 50 NRA rebels split into four units under Tumwine, Mugabi, Mucunguzi and Magara, with Museveni as their overall commander. The Kyaligonza urban hit squad is not mentioned as one of the units at this stage.

    When NRA grew in numbers to about 200, it was re-organised into six zonal units; Kabalega under Tumwine were in Kapeeka, Lutta under Mugabi operated in Kikandwa, Abdel Nasser commanded by Mucunguzi were on Gulu Road, while Nkurumah under Fred Mwesigye was based in Singo.
    Mondlane under Rwigyema set up base in Kalasa, Makulubita, and Kyaligonza with his Mwanga group were in Mukono.

    It is during this second major re-organisation that Kyaligonza formerly started playing his role as commander.
    In January 1982, the NRA underwent another re-organisation, splitting into more units. Museveni did this after summoning all zonal commanders to the headquarters. Kyaligonza’s Mwanga zonal force was named Task Force or Black Bomber. The late Patrick Lumumba was appointed his deputy. Col. Samson Mande was a platoon commander in this group. By his own admission, Kyaligonza made Kampala unsafe by throwing bombs at Police and army encampments.

    Because Kyaligonza operated in civilian clothes, the UNLA soldiers harassed innocent people whom they suspected of being behind the bombings. Kyaligonza’s Black Bombers that comprised about 50 rebels at the beginning slowed down the economy because people in Kampala were closing shops at 3.00p.m.
    Being the commander of this terror outfit, Kyaligonza says his inner conscience felt condemned to death because he and his men were operating “just a breath away from the enemy stronghold.”

    Indeed at one time UNLA soldiers captured Kyaligonza when he was still operating in Mukono. He was taken to [Maj. Gen.] Bazilio Okello who was based at Colline Hotel. A UNLA sergeant called Tamale is the one who captured him and handed him over to Maj. Isoga. This major was apparently not happy with the way junior soldiers had roughed up Kyaligonza. May be he wanted him handled properly so that he could reveal NRA secrets. The major jumped off his chair and began boxing his junior and in the scuffle that ensued, Kyaligonza fled.

    Kyaligonza was captured again in 1983 while sneaking back into the country from a visit to Liberia where he had gone with Andrew Lutaaya to ask for arms. He thinks one of his colleagues betrayed him.
    He was arrested at the Busia border and briefly detained in Tororo Barracks before he was transferred to the dreaded Nile Mansion in Kampala. Oyite Ojok, the UNLA Chief of Staff, was supposed to interrogate this senior rebel.

    He says he was held in Room 211. Although handcuffed, Kyaligonza in commando style says he tied bed sheets onto the window and used them to climb and jump to the ground. He walked to Muyenga where his wife helped him remove the handcuffs. Then he walked straight back to Luwero to resume fighting.
    Because his main role was to carry out terrorism in urban areas, Kyaligonza says that at one time he wanted to attack foreign missions but was restrained by Museveni. His most memorable operation as commander of the 7th battalion took place in 1985 at Matugga as the bush war drew to a close. The target was an army detach in the area. The reason Kyaligonza remembers this incident and writes about it in his book is because, except for one soldier killed when a truck failed to stop, they managed to disarm the rest without having to harm anybody.

    In the end, the Kyaligonza unit, according to his book, captured 161 guns, 17 pistols, 3,000 SMG bullets, 27 anti-tank shells, 16 RPG shells, 2 Bazooka shells, 1 RPG launcher, etc. Kyaligonza says this was his most daring operation during the 5-year bush war. When the march towards Kampala began, Kyaligonza’s battalion ambushed the UNLA soldiers at Katende on Kampala-Masaka Highway.

    Kyaligonza’s deputies; Samson Mande and Patrick Lumumba had left him and were commanding other battalions. He was now assisted by Stanley Muhangi. Kyaligonza’s battalion fought in the areas of Mpigi and Kibibi before it eventually approached Kampala from Hoima Road. His force attacked and captured Makindye Barracks, among other assignments.

    After the fall of Kampala, Kyaligonza’s 7th, Chefe Ali’s 11th and Pecos Kutesa’s 1st battalions took the fighting to eastern Uganda, capturing Jinja along the way before proceeding to Tororo.
    After another re-organisation occasioned by the growth in numbers, Kyaligonza’s 7th battalion became 151 Brigade. He was deployed in Teso areas to deal with cattle rustling. During one of the Army Council meetings, Kyaligonza said the reason rustling was not ending was because of lack of supplies.

    Museveni had complained about the unending cattle rustling. Having complained about supplies, Museveni appointed Kyaligonza Chief of Logistics and Engineering (CLE), replacing Chefe Ali. Eventually Kyaligonza was dropped. He remained without deployment until he decided to join politics. He was elected CA delegate for Buhaguzi County in Hoima District. After CA, he stood for Parliament and got elected, representing the same constituency in the 6th Parliament. He however lost the seat when he tried to join the 7th Parliament.

    President Museveni then appointed him Ambassador to Kenya before he was transferred to Burundi recently. He is also NRM Vice Chairman for Western Uganda.

    Next Thursday read about Brig. Pecos Kutesa’s role in the bush war and what befell him after capturing power.

  4. WHO FOUGHT? Brig. Kutesa tried to set Kampala on fire

    Written by Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda

    Fearless Brigadier attacked Masindi, captured Lubiri

    Continuing our serialisation of peoples’ contribution to the bush war effort that brought President Museveni to power in 1986, SSEMUJJU IBRAHIM NGANDA gives a critical account of BRIG. PECOS KUTESA’s role.
    His recognition could have come late, on June 9, 2009, some 23 years since the NRA captured Kampala, but Pecos Kutesa is remembered by fellow bush-war fighters as a fearless commander.
    Together with Salim Saleh, he belonged to the group of extremely brave fighters, fondly referred to as Kalampenge.

    This group also included fallen comrades; Fred Mugisha, Stanley Muhangi and Patrick Lumumba.Junior NRA fighters say that the mood of some of their commanders sometimes signaled an impending mission. One such commander with telltale moods was Kutesa. He would be in very high spirits, pacing up and down, if he was part of a group selected to execute a deadly mission.

    If Kutesa, Lumumba or Muhangi were part of a mission, you would be sure that some fighting had to take place even when the enemy force was evidently stronger. In other words, Kutesa would never retreat or call off an operation without a fight.

    It was because of his craving for the war front that Kutesa quit his initial deployment as part of the security team of the Chairman of the High Command, Yoweri Museveni, to go for active combat. Kutesa wrote about this in his book, Uganda’s Revolution 1979-1986: How I Saw It.

    Pecos Kutesa began his military career in 1976 when he joined FRONASA, one of the military groups formed to fight Id Amin Dada. Like other FRONASA recruits, he was trained at Munduli Military Academy in Tanzania. After the fall of Amin, Kutesa was deployed in Nakasongola Military Training School.

    It was from here that he deserted the army in March 1981, aged 25, to join Museveni’s NRA rebels fighting to remove Milton Obote. Kutesa says he joined FRONASA after completing S.6 at Masaka Secondary School.

    After the NRA captured power, he joined Makerere University and graduated with a social sciences degree. He claims he ran away from Nakasongola, where he was a serving UNLA soldier, because an order for his arrest had been issued after his colleagues declared a rebellion and in fact attacked Kabamba Barracks on February 6, 1981.

    Before joining the main group under Museveni in Luwero, Kutesa operated briefly under Brig. Matayo Kyaligonza who was in charge of urban terrorism. In his book, Kutesa recounts how, together with Matayo Kyaligonza and Benjamin Dampa (RIP), they unsuccessfully attempted to set Kampala City ablaze when they hit the Agip fuel depot in the Industrial Area.

    They also planned to set ablaze other neighbouring fuel depots belonging to Shell, Caltex and Total, hoping to trigger a huge fireball that would engulf the entire city. Fortunately, or unfortunately for them, the Agip fuel tanks were empty at the time they struck with an anti-tank gun.

    After the botched operation, they withdrew to Nkrumah Road, opposite Uganda House, which was their base at the time. Their next target was the Kampala water reservoir in Muyenga. Museveni reportedly restrained them before they could launch the attack.

    After a stint in terrorism, Kutesa joined the main rebel group in Luwero on March 30, 1981. He says that at the time of joining the rebellion, fighters under Museveni were less than 50, and some of them were unarmed.


    The UNLF detach at Kakiri was attacked at least twice by the NRA. The April 4, 1981 attack was led by Museveni himself as a platoon commander of 53 people. Veterans tell us this was the second time Museveni was commanding a major operation, the first one being the attack on Kabamba on February 6.

    But even then, as the overall commander, he was in the rear section commanded by Fred Rwigyema. The NRA attacking force had been split into five sections, each with 10 people. Sam Magara (RIP) led section one, Kutesa led section two, Jack Mucunguzi (RIP) led section three, Hannington Mugabi led four and Rwigyema took charge of section five.

    Kutesa is the only surviving section commander of the NRA force that attacked Kakiri. This account also shows how senior he was in the struggle as early as April 1981. In fact, he participated in this attack hardly a week after his arrival in the bush. He was therefore at the level of Rwigyema at the start of the war.

    One of the soldiers Pecos commanded in his section was Paul Kagame, currently President of Rwanda. During that operation, the NRA captured about 50 guns and declared this mission a success. Some veterans tell us that the following night, some NRA fighters sneaked into Bukomero and killed a UPC councilor in Mubende district.

    They took off with his motorcycle which they wanted to use to carry their weapons. The UNLA and Tanzanian soldiers trailed the motorcycle and eventually bumped into the hiding rebels. The UNLA hit the rebels, forcing them to abandon some of the guns they had captured. Some of the guerrilla fighters were also killed. One veteran said the UNLA forced the rebels to abandon their own guns as well as those captured from Kakiri. The rebels dispersed in disarray and re-assembled almost two weeks later.

    With everybody back and more recruitment – the number of fighters rose to about 200. The force was re-organised into six units under; Kyaligonza (Mwanga), Fred Mwesigye (Nkurumah), Elly Tumwine (Kabalega), Hannington Mugabi (Lutta), Jack Mucunguzi (Abdel Nasser), and Fred Rwigyema (Mondlane).

    Kutesa then became Museveni’s ADC. Museveni’s other guards were; Marius Katungi (Suicide), Arthur Kasasura and later Andrew Lutaaya. After the Kakiri attack, the NRA went underground for some months.

    In fact, later in June, Museveni with some of his guards went to Nairobi for six months. Being a Kalampenge, Kutesa asked his boss to be redeployed in active combat. Upon his return, Museveni visited all units, largely to sort out leadership problems that had cropped up in his absence.

    Museveni again re-organised the NRA and this is when Kutesa became Commanding Officer of the C coy. This was one of the units that made up the Mobile Brigade under Salim Saleh. Some veterans say Saleh was commander of the A coy and Joram Mugume B coy.

    It is Pecos Kutesa who received a truck-load of guns that Lt. Col. Ssonko drove to the NRA base after the failed UFM attack on Lubiri in 1982.


    The February 20, 1984 attack on Masindi Barracks was arguably the turning point in the NRA bush-war, veterans say. Not only did the rebels multiply their arms by two, but it also boosted their morale, especially after the failed May 1983 attack on Kabamba.

    Hungry rebels had walked for over 20 days to Kabamba but the operation was called off by Museveni after reports of too much hunger and desertion reached him.
    One senior officer who was part of the mission has told us that while seeing them off, Museveni almost shed tears as he told his brother, Gen. Saleh, the overall commander, to exercise restraint because he (Museveni) feared that a botched mission could result in the wiping out of the entire NRA.

    Saleh went with 700 fighters and about 300 rifles –almost about 75% of the group’s strength. Besides, those who stayed behind with Museveni took refuge in an area surrounded by Luwero Triangle rivers.

    If the UNLA had wiped out the Saleh force, they could well have besieged the Museveni group and the war would be effectively over. The Masindi attack happened after another re-organisation had brought in battalions. Kutesa who was commanding C Coy was now the boss of 1st battalion, Stanley Muhangi commanded the third, Steven Kashaka the fifth, and Kyaligonza’s Black Bomber was renamed 7th battalion.

    Some veterans credit Frank Kaka for the success of the Masindi operation because he spied on the barracks and provided the rebels with all the intelligence that they needed for the operation to succeed. But others think Kutesa played a more significant role.

    Kutesa says his 1st battalion was responsible for leading the attack. They were supposed to attack at day break but they delayed and reached at 7a.m. In fact, Saleh who had been cautioned seriously by his brother, sent him a radio message to inform him that they had arrived late. Museveni advised them to call off the operation.

    Saleh informed Kutesa of the High Command Chairman’s advice, but Kutesa protested saying they were ready to attack. The now cautious Saleh asked him whether he would take full responsibility in case the operation was not successful, and Kutesa consulted his deputies after which he said yes.

    Kutesa’s deputy was Peter Kerim and his operation officer was Fred Mugisha a.k.a ‘Headache’. After consulting other commanders, Saleh gave the attack a go-ahead. In the attack, the NRA overran the Artillery School, captured about 350 rifles, plus other ammunition. They carried their loot and marched back to their base to rescue Museveni who had by then come under UNLA attack.


    Before the fall of Kampala into rebel hands, the NRA had undergone yet another re-organisation after Museveni returned from a six-month diplomatic and arms searching trip. Kutesa retained command of his 1st battalion while his operation officer, Fred Mugisha, became his deputy and his deputy Peter Kerim was appointed to head a new 21st battalion.

    Kutesa operated on one side of Katonga Bridge while Ahmed Kashilingi’s 5th battalion was on the other. At that time, Steven Kashaka who was the substantive commander of the 5th battalion, had withdrawn because of sickness, leaving the command to his deputy.

    In fact, at one time even Kutesa withdrew for other assignments, leaving Fred Mugisha to command the 1st battalion. When the Katonga Bridge fell to the rebels, the 1st battalion led the match towards Kampala along Masaka Road. There were hold-ups, especially during the peace talks in Nairobi, but eventually Kutesa’s battalion led the march towards the capital, capturing Lubiri Barracks while other units attacked different government and military encampments.

    After Kampala, Kutesa went to Jinja together with Kyaligonza. At the fall of Kampala, Kutesa was one of the 15 most senior NRA officers, alongside Ivan Koreta, Mugisha Muntu, Joram Mugume, Kahinda Otafiire, and Jim Muhwezi. Others are Peter Kerim, Andrew Lutaaya, Amin Izaruku, Julius Chihandae, Fred Mwesigye, Gyagenda Kibirango, Ahmed Kashilingi and Samson Mande.

    It is not clear why a man who fought so gallantly and was one time ADC to the Chairman of the High Command remained at the same rank of Colonel since 1986. He was promoted to Brigadier around the 2006 general elections. By the time Kutesa was a Colonel, Aronda Nyakairima, the Chief of Defence Forces, was a captain—two ranks his junior. Now Nyakairima is two ranks above him.

    Some veterans say he could have challenged the CHC, something he was no longer tolerating after capturing power. Others point to a conflict over something they don’t want to mention. Whatever the explanation, like many great fighters, Pecos never got accelerated promotion.

    Indeed he was only recognised as an NRA hero just last month. It is claimed that out of frustration, Kutesa applied to retire from the Army but his request was turned down. After capturing power, Kutesa was made Commanding Officer of 157 Brigade, which used to oversee Kampala up to Jinja. He was later transferred to Gulu to head the 163 brigade, which was battling Alice Lakwena and later the Lord’s Resistance Army.

    It is claimed that while in Acholi, Kutesa spoke negatively about Acholi and Langi which made him unpopular among local political leaders. For unknown reasons, he was withdrawn from Gulu and sent for a course in 1990. Upon his return, he was appointed Chief of Training and Recruitment.

    In 1994, he was elected Constituent Assembly delegate for Kabula. After the promulgation of the Constitution in 1995, he was not deployed. Some say that that was when he found time write his book, which Museveni launched in February 2006.

    Kutesa was one of the senior officers who fought alongside their spouses during the bush war. His wife, Dora, now a Second Secretary at Uganda’s High Commission in India, is also a veteran of the war. In fact, she gave birth to a daughter at a time UNLA was attacking rebel bases.

    Next Thursday don’t miss the contribution of the 15th battalion commander, Col. Samson Mande.

  5. Paul Kagame helped Museveni crush internal NRA revolt

    A Tanzanian-trained spy, Paul Kagame, now President of Rwanda – was the counter-intelligence chief of rebel NRA leader Yoweri Museveni.

    Most of the Luwero bush-war veterans The Observer spoke to are unanimous in their verdict that Kagame was never one of the celebrated NRA fighters, but was quite meticulous in his role as a spy.
    His contribution in intelligence gathering and analysis helped Museveni regain control of a mutinous guerrilla force. Sam Magara (RIP) reportedly plotted a coup against Museveni during the early days of the struggle.

    In the line of duty, Kagame reported directly to the Chairman of the High Command (CHC), Yoweri Museveni.
    He was one of the 27 rebels that launched the war with the attack on Kabamba on Feb. 6, 1981, but his military number was a distant RO 0161.

    Kagame who trained in intelligence gathering in Tanzania in 1979 – went on to become rebel leader Yoweri Museveni’s most trusted spy. Specialising in counter intelligence, Kagame spied on colleagues to establish mainly who was undermining the struggle from within or undermining the authority of the rebel leader.

    Conspiracy appears to have crept into the NRA guerrilla movement at the very launch of the rebellion and this prompted the rebel leader to engage some fighters to spy on others.

    Kagame’s work was therefore cutout right from the start when the only Yugoslav-made RPG that the rebels planned to use to storm the armoury of Kabamba barracks went missing.
    Only 33 people, including Kagame, who attended the meeting at Mathew Rukikaire’s residence on February 3 that planned the first attack, knew about this weapon that would help the rebels gain access to the armoury and get more guns. At that time the rebels had only 27 guns and needed more.
    The RPG mysteriously disappeared a day before the February 6, 1981 attack on Kabamba. Although the rebels went ahead with the planned attack, their mission to break open the underground armoury failed.

    According to Museveni’s autobiography, Sowing the Mustard Seed, the rebels failed to access the armoury because one of their own, Elly Tumwine went against instructions and shot a soldier at the quarter guard instead of wrestling him down. This alerted a Tanzanian guard near the armoury.
    War veterans say that while Tumwine’s mistake indeed necessitated a quick withdrawal, the absence of the main support weapon was the other factor.

    Museveni, our sources say, was deeply troubled by the disappearance of the RPG. He suspected that his 33-member rebel force had been infiltrated at the start.
    He immediately assigned Kagame to find out who the internal saboteurs were; how many they were and which danger they posed to the struggle.

    None of the bush war veterans we spoke to is aware of Kagame’s findings.
    Even when David Tinyefuza, currently the Coordinator of Intelligence, became the overall Director of Military Intelligence of the rebel force, Kagame still operated independently and continued to report directly to CHC.

    He had his own bicycle, Uzi gun and operational fund. He moved freely from unit to unit spying on his colleagues.
    It was therefore not surprising that when Sam Magara, one of the few Monduli-trained officers in the group reportedly hatched a plan to oust Museveni, the CHC moved faster than them—thanks to Kagame’s information.
    Veterans say that Museveni trusted Kagame more than Tinyefuza who, like Sam Magara, is from the Muhinda clan of the Bahima. Museveni is a Musita.

    In his book, The Agony of the Bush War, Brig. Matayo Kyalgonza writes about the emergence of cliques during the bush war and how the CHC ordered that “ethnicity should cease”.

    At the height of ethnic polarization in the bush, Museveni appeared to trust fighters of Rwandan origin, such as Kagame, more. That is why, some say, the late Maj. Gen. Fred Rwigyema remained the head of Museveni’s protection unit for a long time.
    Although the alleged coup against Museveni had been planned to take place when he was away from the bush (between June -December 1981), the rebel leader got to know about it and was able to suppress it. Veterans tell us, it is Kagame and others who let Museveni in on the secret.

    Tough interrogation

    High ranking bush-war generals remember how Kagame tortured a fellow NRA fighter, Jack Muchunguzi, to extract a confession following the murder of another colleague, Hannington Mugabi.
    Brig. Pecos Kutesa describes Mugabi’s death as caused by a pistol accident. But Col. Kizza Besigye, the only officer who witnessed the killing, wondered in a past media interview why he was never asked to give evidence.

    Muchunguzi was allegedly killed in order to quash a plot to oust Museveni which had been hatched by Sam Magara. Apparently, Muchunguzi knew about the plot.
    It is claimed that Magara wanted to break the NRA force and lead some fighters to another rebel force based in the Rwenzori Mountain. The Rwenzori group was reportedly linked to the Gang of Four; Prof. Edward Rugumayo, Prof. Dan Nabudere, Prof. Yash Tandon and late Omwony Ojwok. It also operated in areas of Nyabushozi.

    The plot to destroy the NRA, it is claimed was hatched by Muchunguzi, Magara and Mugabi. Hannington Mugabi was reportedly uncomfortable with the plot especially after the chief planner had been killed in Kampala under unclear circumstances.
    Muchunguzi it is claimed eliminated Mugabi to destroy evidence.

    We have been told that Kagame drilled safety pins in Muchunguzi’s fingers, squeezed his testicles and burnt him with cigarette butts to force him to confess.
    Museveni also dispatched Kagame alongside other fighters to verify the authenticity of another rebel force that reportedly wanted to join the NRA. This was the rebel group of Maj. Roland Kakooza Mutale. Kagame and company found the group genuine and Mutale’s fighters were integrated into the NRA.


    Initially, only the few trained soldiers among the rebel force participated in fighting and they were predominantly FRONASA fighters who trained in Monduli, Tanzania.
    Kagame was one of the few who knew how to pull the trigger. That is why he participated in the February 6, 1981 first attack on Kabamba.
    He also took part in the April 4, 1981 attack on Kakiri Barracks—probably the second major operation of the new rebel group.

    After failing to get guns from Kabamba, the rebels attacked some police posts but Kakiri was the next major operation. Museveni himself commanded this operation. According to Pecos Kutesa, Museveni even filmed the operation and took some photographs.
    The NRA force of 53 fighters according to Kutesa’s book, was divided into five sections commanded by Sam Magara, Pecos Kutesa, Jack Muchunguzi, Hannington Mugabi and Fred Rwigyema.

    Paul Kagame was one of the 10 soldiers in Pecos Kutesa’s section. Kutesa remembers that Kagame shot and killed a UNLA soldier called Mapengo. The soldier had fired his anti tank grenade in the air and fled upon realizing that his barracks had been attacked by the rebels.
    Brig. Matayo Kyaligonza writes in his book that the NRA was able to kill as many UNLA soldiers as they were able to target during the attack.

    Apart from these, there are no other known operations in which Kagame participated as a fighter or as a commander.
    We are also told that Kagame was deployed in the NRA General Court Martial which was chaired by Col. Julius Chihandae at one time. Because of the uncompromising character, the two came to be known as Pilato (the Biblical Pontius Pilate).

    Capturing Kampala

    Kagame remained an intelligence officer during and after the fall of Kampala to the NRA. While in the bush, he had worked with people like Tinyefuza and Maj. Gen. Gregory Mugisha Muntu.
    He is known as a person of very strict discipline something that made him feared but also hated by some NRA fighters. In the bush he would always report or reprimand officers who sneaked out of the camp to “Bivulia” (camps for displaced people.)
    After the capture of power, he was appointed deputy director of Military Intelligence in charge of counter intelligence. The substantive Intelligence boss was Maj. Gen. Mugisha Muntu. When Muntu was appointed army commander, Kagame became the acting intelligence boss.
    When formal ranks were introduced, he was appointed a major.
    We are told that when rebel Alice Lakwena hit the new NRA government and marched towards Magamaga, some ministers panicked and wanted to flee. Kagame is said to have suggested during an intelligence meeting that those who try to flee the country should be arrested at the airport. He went ahead and rang some ministers telling them the consequences of attempting to run away.
    Kagame remained close to Museveni and he used this relationship together with late Maj. Gen. Fred Rwigyema to recruit Rwandese and train them as UPDF soldiers. These are the fighters that were later mobilized to wage war against the government of President Juvenal Habyarima.


    Kagame came to Uganda as a refugee in 1960. He was recruited into FRONASA by the late Fred Rwigyema.
    It was originally wrongly said that Kagame was a blood relative of Rwigyema. Interestingly, Rwigyema was excluded from the national army after the overthrow of Amin but Kagame who had studied intelligence in Tanzania was allowed free entry. Rwigyema was excluded on account of being a foreigner.
    The UNLF had accused Id Amin of filling the army with foreigners that’s why they wanted to exclude them (foreigners). Rwigyema, although not fully integrated into the UNLA, remained part of the Museveni guards.
    It is not surprising that when Rwigyema joined the NRA rebellion, Kagame followed suit. It is claimed that the two were inseparable even in the bush.
    It is claimed that neither Rwigyema nor Kagame participated directly in the planning of the bush war but they both turned up at the final meeting at Mathew Rukikaire’s home before the group set off to attack Kabamba.
    In the jungles of Luwero Triangle, Kagame’s friends were Rwigyema, to some extent Mugisha Muntu, and Namara Katabarwa. He was such a quiet man according to veterans.


  6. WHO FOUGHT? Chihandae supplied 16 of the first 27 NRA guns

    Just as his military number, RO 0024 suggests, Chihandae is one of the founders of the National Resistance Army (NRA), but he later fell out of favour after the takeover of Kampala on January 26,1986.

    Veterans of the Luwero-bush war say Chihandae provided 16 of the 27 guns the NRA used to launch its rebellion in 1981. The guns were stolen from Gulu military barracks where he served as a junior officer in the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA).

    They were delivered to Kampala on a Nissan pick-up truck by Andrew Lutaaya who was his driver. Lutaaya, also a bush-war fighter is now a Brigadier. Chihandae who hails from Mbarara began his military career in 1979—the year he joined Yoweri Museveni’s FRONASA, one of the groups that fought late President Idi Amin’s regime.

    FRONASA guided the Tanzanian People’s Defence Forces (TPDF) on the western axis whose main task was to capture Mbarara where Amin had a big barracks. Brig. Pecos Kutesa is also said to have joined FRONASA around the same time.

    After the fall of Amin’s regime in April 1979, all Ugandan fighting groups were merged to form the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA). Chihandae was one of the UNLA soldiers sent to Monduli in Tanzania for an Officer Cadet training. Upon his return from Tanzania, he was deployed in Nakasongola at the rank of second lieutenant.

    While Chihandae could not be reached to be interviewed for this article, some of his fellow fighters say that Sam Katabarwa, another FRONASA fighter persuaded him to desert the UNLA and join the bush-war.

    Now an attaché in Uganda’s embassy in Saudi Arabia, Chihandae’s first diplomatic posting was to Cairo in May 1996 as minister councilor. His posting to Cairo came as part of a rehabilitation drive after he spent about a year in a dungeon in Lubiri Barracks for allegedly aiding his friend, Col. Ahmed Kashilingi, to flee the country. Kashilingi had then fallen out of favour with the powers that be (see The Observer, June 18-21, 2009).

    Both men were among the 10 commanding officers who headed the NRA’s 10 battalions that launched a final assault on Kampala.

    Shot during first attack

    Chihandae was one of the 33 men led by Yoweri Museveni who attacked Kabamba Barracks on February 6, 1981 in what marked the launch of the NRA bush-war. Of the 33 people, only seven, including Chihandae, were commissioned officers. It is reported that having been a trained soldier, he actually participated in planning the attack.

    Others were; Lt. Rubereza, 2nd Lt. Sam Katabarwa, 2nd Lt. Sam Magara, 2nd Lt. Jackson Mule Muwanga, 2nd Lt. Elly Tumwine and 2nd Lt. Ahmed Sseguya. He is also said to have participated in mobilising the early recruits from places such as Kitgum, Lira and Moroto.

    His role during the attack on Kabamba was to destroy the communication room (signal centre) in the barracks. For that mission, he commanded a squad of seven people.

    [Chihandae (fourth left) was the best man on Saleh’s wedding]

    Chihandae (fourth left) was the best man on Saleh’s wedding
    His mission was successful; he indeed neutralized the signal centre. However, one of his colleagues shot and shattered his knee, making him the first causality of the NRA war. He was evacuated to the quarter guard where some of his colleagues had camped after they failed to gain entry into the fortified underground armory.

    The failure to access the arms was attributed to Gen. Elly Tumwine’s blunder. It is reported that instead of wrestling and subduing the guard on duty at the quarter guard, Tumwine instead shot him and in the process alerted the whole barracks to the presence of the attackers.

    The late Hannington Mugabi bandaged his knee and with the help of colleagues, placed him on the truck and the rebels fled to Kiboga. Andrew Lutaaya took him to Kiboga Hospital and handed him to a nurse called Florence Nakatto who informed Dr. Sserunjogi, the Medical Superintendent.

    But luck was not on the injured man’s side as government soldiers swarmed Kiboga areas looking for rebels, days after his admission to the hospital. So, NRA veterans say that Nakatto smuggled Chihandae out of hospital and kept him in a neighbouring village from where he was picked by relatives and taken to Kampala.

    His rotting knee was treated in Kampala. But he was later smuggled out of the country and taken to Nairobi. In Nairobi he reunited with Sam Katabarwa, the man who persuaded him to join the rebellion.

    A senior UPDF officer told The Observer that Dr. Ben Mbonye who was working at Kabette Hospital in Nairobi supervised Chihandae’s treatment. This injury kept him away from the bush for about a year.

    When he recovered, Chihandae was dispatched to Libya to acquaint himself with the way arms would be dropped to the NRA in the bush. This mission never materialized because of miscommunication, some officers said.

    Return to the bush

    So courageous and determined was Chihandae that even after this experience, he rejoined his colleagues in the Luwero jungles.

    There are conflicting reports on how he returned to the bush. Some veterans said he returned with Yoweri Museveni in December 1981 after the Chairman of the High Command’s trip to Nairobi and Libya, others say that Chihandae returned later with some fighters who had escorted Museveni to Nairobi.

    The escorts were supposed to go to Libya with Chihandae to train on how to receive Libya’s consignments. Veterans tell us that Sam Kalega Njuba, FDC national chairman together with Andrew Lutaaya transported Chihandae up to the point where he was able to walk back to Luwero triangle.

    Upon his return from Nairobi, Chihandae was immediately appointed the Director of National Operations based at the High Command Headquarters. This new deployment was symbolic to fit with his status but with little work to do. He was deputized by Geoffrey Muhetsi (now a Brigadier) who had just been recruited.

    Like all senior officers at the High Command, Chihandae would be called upon to participate in operations, especially where experience was required. For example he deputized late Mutebi when the rebels carried out the Kakinga operation. Commander Mutebi died during the operation and Chihandae took over.

    Chihandae also participated in the attack of UNLA soldiers who had camped at Katiti sub-county headquarters that took place in February 1983. This attack was so important, coming on the back of the UNLA’s February 21, 1983 ambush of NRA mobile forces, that killed 10 fighters and injured Commander Salim Saleh during the battle of Bukalabi.

    Because Saleh had been injured, David Tinyefuza led the Rapid Response Force’s onslaught on UNLA forces that had camped at Katiti sub-county headquarters, a few miles from the rebel base.

    So important was this operation that several senior officers were asked to take part. The senior officers included; Jim Muhwezi, Ahmed Kashilingi and Steven Kashaka and it came almost two days after the Bukalabi incident.

    Chihandae was Tinyefuza’s second in command during this operation. This operation almost turned into a disaster with its overall commander, David Tinyefuza, severely injured by the UNLA fire. His colleagues at first thought he had been killed. They carried him back on shoulders to the High Command base for treatment.

    With Saleh and Tinyefuza injured, Chihandae became the commander of the Mobile Brigade Force during a period some NRA veterans described as a bad for the guerrillas. After surviving the Bukalabi and Katiti battles, the starving and demoralized fighters decided to abandon their bases in Bulemeezi and went to Lukola, in Singo.

    To morale boost the fighters, Museveni sent them to carry out a second attack on Kabamba under Elly Tumwine but called it off after the starving fighters deserted and misbehaved along the more than one week trek. Those who misbehaved were caned 50 strokes each hence the name, ‘Safari 50’ as the aborted journey came to be called.

    The attack had been planned to be executed by three battalions; the 1st Battalion under Pecos Kutesa deputized by Edward Barihona, the 2nd Battalion under Chihandae, deputized by Ahmed Kashilingi and Joram Mugume’s 3rd Battalion.

    Chihandae was also responsible for preventing the UNLA forces based in Bukomero from attacking the main rebel base. During that time, there were daily battles in which the NRA fighters like Kagina and Ngoboka died.

    Chihandae also deputized late Maj. Gen. Fred Rwigyema when an NRA force attacked Kiboga in June 1983. The success of this operation lifted the spirits of the rebels who had been beaten at Bukalabi and Katiti and were being pursued by the UNLA.

    When NRA resolved to attack Masindi barracks around 1984, Chihandae’s second battalion was supposed to be the point unit but it was hit by the UNLA and again an operation under Tumwine was called off. After the cancellation of the Masindi attack, Chihandae became the court martial boss, working with Paul Kagame, now President of Rwanda.

    Some veterans alleged that it appears Saleh didn’t want to work with him. The two men later became great friends and Chihandae was Saleh’s best man when he wed Jovia in 1988. Chihandae with his second battalion was also part of the force commanded by Saleh that successfully carried out the third attack on Kabamba on January 1, 1985.

    At this time, Chihandae was in charge of a section of the NRA called Nkrumah that was renamed 9th Battalion.

    March to Kampala

    The successful attack on Kabamba gave the NRA more guns and rejuvenated the fighting spirit. With more arms, the rebels opened a second front, commonly known as the Western Axis with Rwigyema as the overall commander and Moses Kigongo as overall political head.

    Jim Muhwezi was the intelligence chief and Col. Amanya Mushega the political commissar. The Western Axis comprised the 11th Battalion of Chefe Ali and 15th Battalion commanded by Samson Mande (now a renegade colonel).

    When this Western Axis planned to attack Rubona Prison where UNLA had camped, Chihandae’s 9th Battalion was summoned to re-enforce them. It was Chihandae who captured Kamwenge and Bihanga Prisons and later addressed a rally in Ibanda.

    Eventually the 9th, 11th and 15th battalions simultaneously attacked and overrun Mbarara Barracks. The rebels were however surrounded by the UNLA soldiers who had duped them that they had deserted the barracks and inflicted serious casualities.

    After this surprise attack, Chihandae’s 9th battalion and Chefe Ali’s 11th battalion were ordered to besiege Mbarara Barracks forcing it to surrender in late 1985. Chihandae’s battalion was then divided into two, 400 of his fighters were sent to Katonga to re-enforce Kashilingi and Pecos Kutesa who were advancing towards Kampala.

    The remaining 9th battalion fighters were deployed in Kabale to guard against a possible attack by the UNLA from Rwanda. Chihandae forces in Kabale were the ones that received Prince Ronald Muwenda Mutebi who visited the NRA bases in the company of John Nagenda.


    After the take over, Chihandae was appointed to deputize Brig. Matayo Kyaligonza as Commanding Officer of the 150 Brigade. When the army ranks were introduced around 1988, Chihandae became a colonel together with Pecos Kutesa (now Brigadier) and Joram Mugume (now Maj. General). He has never been promoted since then.

    He worked with Kyaligonza for only a few months before he was appointed the Chief of Personnel and Administration. But because of an internal rift, he was retired together with Salim Saleh and Col. Ahmed Kashilingi in November 1989.

    It is alleged that Elly Tumwine, the first NRA army commander after capturing power, did not like Chihandae to the extent that he would not return his salute. Chihandae’s downfall is attributed to this rivalry which had ethnic undertones. He is a Mwiru while Tuwmine is a Muhima.

    Not only was he retired from the army unceremoniously through a radio announcement but was later to be arrested after his neighbour Col. Kashilingi who had been arrested escaped from his captors and fled to DR Congo.

    Chihandae was arrested and kept in a dungeon in Lubiri Barracks for about a year. His crime was that he had talked to Kashilingi and could have advised him to escape. He was found innocent in the General Court Martial and set free. When he returned home, he found his residence on Acacia Road in Kololo looted by soldiers who had been sent to look for guns he allegedly stashed away with the intention of shooting down Museveni’s helicopter.

    Even after his release, the army closely watched his movements. He was stopped from attending the burial of his son who died shortly after his release. With no income and property, he began selling tomatoes and charcoal. It is after the media published a story of a bush-war hero who was vending charcoal that Museveni appointed him minister councilor at Cairo embassy.

    Veterans wonder why the man who provided 16 of the 27 guns they used to launch the rebellion was not even appointed on the historical high command.

    by Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda

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