New series. In a four-part series, we revisit origins of the shadowy Force Obote Back Again rebel outfit that struck Busia in middle of January 1987. We look at the mysteries surrounding its leadership and how they were eventually kicked out of Busia.
In mid-January 1987, rebels of a new outfit, Force Obote Back Again (FOBA) struck the first blow, marking the beginning of more than two years of fighting in Busia and parts of Bukedi region.
The rebels invaded the home of Mr Alex Avon Mayende of Masinya Sub-county and shot him dead. Mayende had been a mobiliser of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) in Busia and also doubled as the secretary for defence on the ad hoc Resistance Council (RCIII) of his sub-county.
Mr Semeo Makokha, who was the RCIII chairman of Masafu Sub-county and who was one of those who warmed up to the arrival of the NRM in Busia and quickly got involved in its mobilisation activities, says Mayende’s killing was quickly followed by killings in other parts of the district.
“There were killings in Nandyoli village in Buhehe and in Sidubuumi. By the close of April that year, more than 10 members of the Resistance Committees (RCs) that had been elected in the middle of 1986 had been killed, each in different circumstances,” Makokha recalls.
Before the rebels struck, word had for quite some time been doing the rounds indicating that a former soldier, Charles Wafula from Kubo West, was recruiting and training men for a new rebel outfit. The bulk of the force was said to have been former Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) and Special Forces servicemen.
The group was also believed to have heavily recruited from among the many Youth Wingers of the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) in both Busia and Busoga and crossed over to Kenya for training. The rebels had by that night in May dropped leaflets in Busia, notifying the residents of their intention to attack the area.
Their targets were members of the Resistance Council (RC) committees that had been formed, trained NRM cadres and known supporters of the NRM in what had been predominantly a UPC-leaning area.
Busia was at the time a sub-district under Tororo. UPC had during the controversial 1980 general election swept all the seven seats in the area.
Boaz Bakobereki had taken Tororo North, Japheth Kigenyi Madhunga had taken Tororo North Central, Gershom Samson Byakika had taken Tororo North East, Ikodo Okwakol had taken Tororo North West, Wongor Osinde had taken Tororo South Central, Andrew Okware had taken Tororo South East While Wilson Okwenje had taken Tororo South.
Under Tororo South and Obote had appointed the MP, Mr Wilson Okwenje, as his minister for Public Service. So strong was UPC’s support in Busia that it had earned itself the moniker “little Apac” in reference to the home district of president Milton Obote.
Capt Job Were, formerly of the Uganda Army, who was to later play a pivotal role in the recruitment and training of Local Defence Unit (LDU) personnel to fight the rebel forces, says the National Resistance Army (NRA) forces under the command of Benon Biraaro were so thin on the ground.
“The NRA was a very small force by the time the insurgency broke out. It could not contain that insurgency. There was no way government could have secured the whole country with that NRA,” Capt Were says.
The NRA had by then not given ranks to its commissioned officers. They were only referred to as ‘commander’. So Gen (rtd) Benon Biraaro was at the time the commander of the 29th Battalion.
Matters were not helped by the fact that the same force was already faced with an uprising in northern Uganda where they were battling forces of another rebel outfit, the Uganda People’s Democratic Army (UPDA), the armed wing of the Uganda Peoples Democratic Movement (UPDM) whose initial leader was Gen Bazilio Okello.
Government, in anticipation of rebel forays into Busoga and parts of Bukedi, had recruited some LDUs and taken them for training in Serere, but the training camp was overrun by forces loyal to Alice Lakwena’s Holy Spirit Movement before the training was complete. The LDUs who were meant to form the first line of defence were, therefore, unequal to the task.
At the same time, government was either reluctant to arm its cadres or simply did not have enough arms to pass around.
“Those UPC stalwarts were very strong. They were armed. They had guns, but we had none. The only person who had a gun was the political commissar, Anselm Zarore,” he says.
Mystery of apex leadership
The apex leadership of FOBA has always been shrouded in mystery. Dr Apollo Milton Obote, who would have been the biggest beneficiary if the rebel outfit had succeeded, always distanced himself from it.
Louise Pirouet of the Minority Rights Group had early in 1987 claimed that FOBA had been formed by Obote’s minister for Internal Affairs, Dr John Magoola Luwuriza Kirunda, who had etched his name into the hall of notoriety by signing off hundreds of detention orders in the name of containing the insurgency that raged on in the country between 1981 and July 1985 when Obote was deposed.
“By July  this [harassment of the NRA] had become a menace. Two identifiable groups had emerged: the Uganda People’s Democratic Movement (UPDM) operated from base in Sudan and was led by Bazilio Okello, and a pro-Obote grouping was led by former Internal Affairs minister John Luwuliza-Kirunda and former minister of Defence Peter Otai and operated in Busoga and Teso,” Pirouet wrote.
In April 1990 after the FOBA rebellion had ended, Dr Obote penned an article titled Notes on Concealment of Genocide in Uganda in which he dismissed what Dr Pirouet had written.
“The origin of what the Museveni regime calls rebellion in the north and east had nothing to do with the UPDM, John Kirunda, Peter Otai or any other politician or politicians,” he wrote.
Dr Obote suggested that FOBA had been created by the NRM.
“John Luwuliza-Kirunda never formed any ‘grouping’ as far as I know; Busoga killings were launched by the NRA in February 1986 against members of the UPC under cover of searching for members of FOBA, an organisation which the NRA invented but never existed,” he further wrote.
Obote’s insistence that he had nothing to do with FOBA was to be lent credence by his cousin Lt Col Tony Otoa, who had fled into exile and briefly stayed with him in Kenya and Zambia before returning to Uganda.
In an interview that was published in Daily Monitor on February 13, 2017, Lt Col Otoa gave a peak into a conversation that he had had with President Museveni shortly after his return from exile in April 1987.
Lt Col Otoa revealed that he had first heard of the name FOBA upon his return to Uganda.
A new twist was added to the mystery that FOBA has turned out to be when Rwandan president Paul Kagame’s former bodyguard, Mr Nobel Marara, who fled Rwanda and went into exile in the United States, authored the book Behind the Presidential Curtain in which he claimed that FOBA had been created by Mr Kagame during his time as the director of Uganda’s Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), which was headquartered in Basiima House in Kampala.
“Maj Kagame in his Basima House office formed a non-existing rebel group and called it a silly name (FOBA) Force Obote Back Again. The name itself was very silly, reason being that any sober minded rebel group could not say that it was forcing the ousted president back again,” Mr Marara wrote.
Marara said Mr Kagame had hidden behind the smokescreen of FOBA to suppress those that he was suspicious of.
“He used the guise of this group to kill not only the supporters of the top political parties such as UPC and DP but also people that had fought Obote on different fronts such as FEDEMU [Freedom Democratic Movement] and UFM [Uganda Freedom Movement] …After forming FOBA he ordered the arrests of these innocent individuals, took them to Basima House just behind Lubiri Barracks where they were tortured and killed. They were all questioned about FOBA activities which they never knew about while he himself knew exactly what he was doing,” Marara further wrote.
The circumstances under which former Samia Bugwe North MP Aggrey Awori came to be associated with this rebel outfit that was believed to have been created by people with whom he was sharply opposed to remain unclear, but many of those who survived the rebel outfit’s incursions into Busia and other parts of Bukedi region named him as the rebel outfit’s leader.
It was not possible to talk to Mr Awori for this article, but in February 2002 during a public dialogue that had been organised by the Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC) to discuss the Political Parties and Organisations’ Bill, he admitted to having had a hand in the killing of LCs in the Busia area during the years of insurgency.
“Museveni killed people and I killed some of Museveni’s people. For two years there were no LCs in my area because I did not believe in their system,” he said while speaking at Hotel Africana in Kampala.
That was the closest that the country came to having an idea about the apex leadership of the shadowy outfit.
However, there was never any mystery about the leadership of rebels who ran riot in Samia Bugwe. The rebels divided their theatre of operation into three. There was the north, south and central.
Richard Wilson Adula, whose bush alias was Omwero (the light skinned one) was the overall commander in Busia North. Four former officers of the UNLA, 2nd Lieutenant Franco Mangeni alias Nabutono (the small bodied one), Charles Ojambo alias Korokoto, David Wabwire alias Masingo (cow dung), Vincent Oguttu and Thomas Mangeni were the commanders in Busia South.
Charles Wafula, Humphrey Nyongesa, former Special Forces officer Muga Adulo, former UNLA non commissioned officer (NCO) John Ogayo, Paul Ogalo, a former operative in Presidential Protection Unit (PPU), Francis Bwire and John Mangeni were commanders in Busia Central.
Next week, read about how
President Museveni reacted to the emergence of the new rebel outfit