Lt. Col. Fred Mwesigye is the managing director of the National Enterprise Corporation, a parastatal under the Ministry of Defence. In Part 2 of the Bush War Memories series to mark Heroes Day, Mwesigye, one of the armed 27 who stormed Kabamba on Feb. 6, 1981, recounts his story to Bernard Tabaire: -
I had finished secondary school at Makobore High School in 1972 and had worked for about one or two years in Kampala in the treasury department. Contacts were being made [by people we knew].
When we were in school, we used to have frequent visits by people like Ruhakana Rugunda, Amama Mbabazi, Yoweri Museveni himself, Tumusiime Mutebile. These people used to inspire us politically and we used to admire them.
[Then] Amin started killing en masse. There was discontent. I personally got disgusted with the system. At one time I was coming out of Sheraton and just at the entrance somebody boxed me. I didn’t know what I had done. This was in the ’70s. I think he was in State Research. A very tall man, black. The man just boxed me. I said for heavens’ sake, what have I committed?
In 1977, I sneaked to Kenya and stayed there with Sam Magara, Umoja Araali, and interacted with Dr Crispus Kiyonga. I got a teaching job with a secondary school. About ’78 we managed to go [to Tanzania] and started preparing – especially after Amin had attacked Kagera. We did a bit of training and joined the Western Axis – the Fronasa group – and fought alongside the Tanzanians.
When Kampala [fell] some of us had thought there was going to be peace. But there were killings. I thought we had fought to bring unity, love among Ugandans but it hadn’t worked. Some of us were not integrated into the [UNLA] army; we didn’t go for training in Munduli [in Tanzania].
But we also organised other [ways] of training. For example, for me and some other colleagues went to Cuba for training for one year in 1980. We were over 170. We trained in military skills, intelligence, counter-intelligence, VIP protection. But even our coming back was a difficulty. We were looked at as Binaisa’s people because at that time the Military Commission had taken over.
We had to make arrangements to talk to Museveni, Kategeya, Otema Allimadi to give assurances that we were going to be accepted in society and integrated into the army.
On arrival some of us were [again] not actually integrated into the army. But those who belonged to the UPC faction were immediately integrated. So some of us who were in Fronasa joined the security network of Museveni. We covered our leaders and we kept together.
We also started some meetings, and reccing some areas like Masindi, Kiboga, among other things we were doing. We said, look, there is no alternative but if elections are rigged we shall go to the bush and fight. We used to consult people like Bidandi Ssali. So we had that encouragement from our leaders.
Of course, elections were rigged. We organised, got [together] a few comrades who were in town. I was staying with about 10 people in my small house in Bugolobi – in the Silver Springs Flats. I was staying with people like Julius Aine, David Ndayondi, Shaban Kashanku, Ngoboka. They had been chased away from Kotido, from the army.
They didn’t know what to do. I said let’s stay together you never know. We continued meeting Museveni at his house in Kololo until the D-Day.
About February 4, 1981 we started meeting in Makindye in John Wycliffe Kazzora’s house. Then we went to Matthew Rukikaire’s house [also] in Makindye and slept there.
On the evening of February 5, about 6 O’clock, we boarded the famous Andrew Lutaya’s lorry – the first part of a trailer. We set off in that lorry closed [with a tarpaulin] as it was. We didn’t know actually which direction we were taking.
Some of us who had known that area realised around 3 a.m. we were in a place called Makoore, near Kabamba. We had to wait there for Museveni to come and join us. We waited very desperately because we didn’t know what had happened. He had had problems with his car, something we didn’t know [about]. We didn’t have any communication.
Fortunately enough he joined us as it was getting to 4 a.m. As we approached Kabamba we stopped and made a plan. We said the first people go in the car. Sam Magara, Julius Chihandae, Mule Muwanga, myself, Suicide Katungi, Ndayondi, Paul Kagina. We were seven. We got into the small car, a saloon.
Our mission was to attack the armoury. We were supposed to bypass the lorry as it is negotiating with quarter guard man. When the lorry was there we came and actually passed it. As we passed, I think [Elly] Tumwine maybe got a misunderstanding with the quarter guard fellow and he fired – the first bullet. When he fired, the corporal who was guarding the armoury – we were actually seeing him outside – ran into the armoury and started firing.
Then we started firing with our small arms. We had an RPG. We fired it there. It didn’t help us. When we started firing, of course, people were fleeing. Our contacts [inside Kabamba barracks] reorganised, they came, like [Sgt. Patrick] Kato and brought the vehicles – Land Rovers. We had expected to load some guns but the man became very stubborn at the armoury. We reorganised and fought but we couldn’t [dislodge him] because he was strategically positioned inside the armoury. Until our leader said, ‘let’s leave this mission.’
But we had managed to collect about 43 guns and some ration, some vehicles, and we destroyed the communication system. We went raiding police stations on our way until we got to Kiboga. We stayed in Mzee Kagulire’s place – on a hill overlooking Kiboga. The following day we attacked Kiboga Police Station and got guns. There was no resistance. We were now about 43. From there, we went to another place and formed sections.
My section with Kashanku, Ngoboka, Aine, Hannington Mugabi – who was in charge of the section – was tasked to go and ambush vehicles on Hoima Road and blow up Kafu bridge. But we didn’t have the weapons to blow up the bridge. We tried and failed but we managed to cause some traffic confusion on that Hoima Road. We blocked some vehicles between Kiboga and Hoima. This was about three days after attacking Kiboga.
We reorganised in Lwamata hills. Some people had actually got desperate. But our leader, Museveni, said those who were a bit unsure of what was taking place, those who would like to go back have the freedom to do so. He said, ‘those who would like to go back, line up here. Those who want to stay, line up here.’ So we lined up. Those who wanted to go were given money and they went. They got problems on the way. They were arrested in Ngoma and put in Luzira, where we found some of them. Others came back. That’s how we started operations.
Recruits flood in
About April we got some other recruits. We became bigger and formed companies. There was Nkrumah company where I was put in charge. We were about 100. Some intellectuals like Sserwanga-Lwanga, Sande Mukuru, had actually come by that time. I went with 43 intellectuals in my group into the Singo area and started training. We made a network stretching from Bombo Road to Hoima Road.
My unit was specifically tasked with training because it was in the rear. It was not involved in fighting unless we were attacked. My main duty was to receive recruits and train them. Once in a while we would carry out raids to get more weapons. We benefited a lot from ambushes.
Then I was joined by Emmy Ekyaruhanga, Peter Kerim. These were trained soldiers. We recruited [Kerim] and he helped in training. Rubereza Rukuranga joined me [and later] took over the command of that unit with Tadeo Kanyankole. I went to Mondlane and joined Jim Muhwezi in Mugogo in Kapeeka areas as second-in-command. Then I went to Matugga and worked there for some time.
At that time we were expanding and more units were being created. So we needed a lot of political work: fighting, mobilising, fighting. But we fought only selected battles.
Then we planned to attack Kabamba again [in May 1983]. I went with one group to divert the attention of the enemy. We went to areas of Bugerere, Nakasongola, Bamugolode. We took the sick, the recruits, the wananchi – so that the mobile force that was supposed to attack Kabamba was light. Unfortunately that attack aborted somehow.
So we planned another attack, [which took place on New year’s Day 1985]. By that time we had grown. We had vehicles. We now formed departments. At one time I was a deputy director of intelligence to Jim Muhwezi.
We then planned to go to Rwenzori to open the western axis. So we separated. We left the fighting group under Saleh. Myself, David Tinyefuza, Kahinda Otafiire, Fred Rwigyema, Muhwezi, we led the western axis and travelled for 30 days [starting on March 30] from Matugga to the Rwenzori Mountains The enemy was following us with a plane.
As we were crossing the Fort Portal-Kasese road at a place called Kasunganyanja, the enemy heavily attacked us. We were very tired, hungry but also very angry. We had a very formidable force. We were over 1,000. We captured very many weapons: anti-aircraft, RPGs, machineguns, katyushas. Most of them were mounted on UEB Land Rovers. Some of the guns we didn’t even know how to use. So we pulled them up to the mountains and reorganised ourselves. We had a lot of support in that area – Fort Portal. We made contact with UNLA forces and some of them came and joined us.
Eventually, the force that was in Fort Portal surrendered. This was organised by Bishop Magambo of Fort Portal and other senior citizens in Fort Portal. When that force joined us, then our next target was Masaka. We attacked Bundibugyo and captured weapons, we attacked Rubona and captured weapons and eliminated the enemy from there.
We then moved to Mbarara, Masaka and Kabale. We now formed battalions. I was put under Chihandae as 2IC. We headed the 7th Battalion. After clearing Kasese we went to Kabale. Other forces went to Masaka. Others surrounded Mbarara. Our force was in Kabale because at that time there was a threat – [Rwandan President Juvenal] Habyarimana had agreed with Lutwa to give him space to attack us from the rear. We were supposed to guard that area.
I think that was the period when we got some weapons from Tanzania. We started mobilising now to assault Masaka. Masaka was a bit difficult, so we decided to use encirclement for about three months without attacking until they gave up. They joined us. That’s when I met a friend of mine – Brig. Julius Oketta now. We had trained together in Cuba.
When Kampala was falling I was in Mpigi. I was receiving surrendering forces because they were too many. I politicised them.
The first thing I’ll never forget was the first attack of Kabamba. Here we were very few people, dispersing [more than 1,500]. The second was when Rubereza Rukuranga came and took over the command of Nkrumah when I was moving to Mondlane. We had captured some weapons including anti-tanks from the enemy in Lwamata. When Rubereza was inspecting it, it was hissing. You know, to fire an anti-tank you remove a safety pin. Little did we know that the safety pin was not in.
So as we were inspecting it, this tank blasted Rubereza. I was seated next to him, on his left hand. It killed him. It killed about four other people. I survived. I would have died in that incident. Other people were injured. I was injured on the leg and the arm. I went to Mondlane as a casualty. This was in 1982. I was treated for about a month or two. Tadeo Kanyankole then took over [Nkrumah].
The Rubona battle was a tough battle. I remember very well. We assaulted an encamped enemy. It wasn’t easy. The battle took almost half of the morning but we defeated them. I am very proud of my army number, RO 027. I had one of the 27 guns.
Date of Birth: September 9, 1950
Place of Birth: Kashaari
Father’s Name: Erinesti Katatondwa
Mother’s Name: Frida Kyacwiteme
Family Position: First born. Has 2 sisters
Schools Attended: Kigezi High School (1967-
71. Expelled together with Jim Muhwezi after
leading a strike); Makobore High School;
Graduated from Makerere Business School
in 2003 with BBA; Now pursuing a computer
course at Makerere University
Wife’s Name: Enid Mwesigye
Children: 6 daughters, 1 son
Favourite Dish: Kalo and eshabwe
Pastime: Exercising, reading