GULU- I was a personal assistant to the Director of Military Intelligence and Security, Maj Louis Richard Kizza, after we came out from two years of training in various disciplines. I even accompanied him on his first mission to identify the site for setting up the base for 50 Brigade headquarters, which we identified at Katikamu Sub-county headquarters, near Wobulenzi Town Council in Luweero District.
At Katikamu, I was in-charge of the Military Intelligence room and my daily briefing included, but not limited to, updating operational map, receiving intelligence reports/messages from all UNLA units deployed across Luweero Triangle, processing and writing intelligence briefs for the Director on Intelligence Services, interrogating and writing statements of prisoners.
I would accompany the Brigade Commander whenever he moved out to visit the UNLA units under his command with Maj Kizza by his side, during which visits we sometimes survived NRA ambushes.
On this particular day, Friday, July 26, 1985, the 50 Special Brigade headquarters had already been transferred from Katikamu near Wobulenzi Town to Bombo main barracks. All prisoners, who had been transferred to Bombo when we left Katikamu, had either been released to go home or transferred to Upper Prison, Luzira.
The day was just like any other working day for me, which begins with checking messages, updating map and writing intelligence briefs for my boss. There were two disturbing facts: “All the units sent in “N.T.R” reports, meaning there was nothing to report about”. This was not usual, because almost at all times in the past, there was something to report about NRA movements and activities.
The second disturbing fact was that the mutineers, who had begun marching in a convoy from Gulu in northern Uganda en-route to Kampala to capture power from Milton Obote, had already crushed through Karuma Bridge roadblock and had captured Masindi Military Barracks without any resistance that night.
When Maj Kizza came back from briefing Col Ogole, he deployed three of us, under his commander, to drive in one of our office cars, to the front line of government forces still loyal to Obote at Kafu River Bridge on Kampala-Gulu High way, at the junction to Masindi town.
At about 11am, we were already at Kafu Bridge, chatting with the soldiers at the front line.
“Go and tell Ogole that we UNLA soldiers are not going to fight with fellow UNLA soldiers. For us at the front line here, reconnaissance groups from the two sides meet and even drink kwete (local brew made from maize flour).” One soldier told us. When we returned to Bombo barracks at around 2pm, we filed our report and quoted the soldier verbatim and our director took it to Col Ogole, who was with the Chief-of Staff, Brig Smith Opon-Acak, at the Command Post.
I think there were a series of consultations between Bombo and Kampala after our report, because at around 5pm, we began to see anti-air-craft guns and the soldiers, led by their unit commanders, who were deployed to fight the NRA in Luweero Triangle, coming back from operation against NRA to Bombo barracks.
At around 6pm, Brig Opon addressed the troops, and he ordered them to deploy their guns on Gulu highway to face the new threat coming from Masindi. Their target was to defend Nakasongola barracks at all costs, not to let it fall to the mutineers. “Myero wayeru kwidi ki ii obwol”, he said in Luo, meaning “We must sort out the bad ones (Maggots) from the good ones (mushroom) so that the mushroom could be eaten”.
By 7pm , after the troops had begun to be deployed according to the new order, both Brig Opon and Col Ogole left Bombo barracks together by road to Kampala. They were accompanied by Maj Kizza, my immediate boss. This time, I was left in Bombo- something which was unusual. That was the last time I saw the two senior UNLA officers, but not the last order from Ogole.
Bombo barracks that night was left in the hands of the Administrative Officer (Admin Officer), Maj Mityero (a Mugisu). Under him, was the Regimental Sergeant Major (RM) Okwir a.k.a. Karak. He is the father of a Uganda Peoples Defence Force (UPDF) Senior Officer Paul Lukech. There was no electricity in Bombo that night and a quiet and tense atmosphere prevailed over the barracks with most soldiers eagerly waiting to join hands with the mutineers, who were expected to reach Bombo barracks within the next two days, judging by their speed of movement.
As we sat waiting in the dark with a group of soldiers and discussing the mutiny, I was suddenly called to the Admin’s office by the RSM Okwir. This was about 11pm. In the office, I found Maj Mityero with a bag full of operational fund money of the Brigade which was not yet spent on his desk. It was Shs23 million.
He said I was to accompany him to Nile Mansion in Kampala that very night to take the money to Col Ogole, who, he said, was waiting for the cash at Nile Mansion urgently. I did not hesitate, nor went back to my office to pick up my gun, but I said, “let us go.” I had my pistol on, and was wearing full military uniform and army shoes.
Without suspecting their motive, the group of soldiers with whom we were chatting tried to highjack the money by standing on our way.
Maj Mityero, who was on the steering wheel, panicked when he saw the group of soldiers standing on his way, but I literally ordered him to drive straight into the group because I knew they would not fire a shot because they wouldn’t want to cause commotion in the barracks. The trick worked and we drove straight to Nile Mansion without incident.
Once at the Nile Mansion, we introduced ourselves and the receptionist ushered us into a room from where we would wait for Col Ogole. It was already past mid-night when we arrived at our waiting room. Although Maj Mityero was in constant communication with him through walkie-talkie, Col Ogole, who would always ask us to wait for him patiently, never showed up and by morning, I could not wait any longer.
By 8am the next day, Saturday, July 27, 1985, I requested to travel back to Bombo by public means (taxi) because I wanted the mutineers to find me inside Bombo barracks. Maj Mityero drove me to the Wandegeya-Gayaza roundabout and gave me Shs4,000 for transport back to Bombo. That was the last time I saw him.
A police Land Rover then came and we drove towards Bombo, with the hope that I would reach safely. I was wrong. Just as we turned the corner to the junction to Bombo Town Council road block, we saw the convoy of the mutineers already lining up to march to Kampala. It was too late to turn back and I asked the driver to drive on to the mutineers and park in front of them without fear.
As soon as the driver parked, some of the soldiers recognised me, they began to accuse me of spying for Obote and that I was the one who escaped with money from Bombo to take it to Ogole. There was a commander, identified only as Oola. Others started removing my shirt, wrist watch, pistol, shoes and Shs4,000 I was given for transport.
“Kill him.” One shouted. “No. let us not kill him. It will spill bad omen,” another responded. In Acholi, they call it “laa” (saliva).
It is after this brief but tense moment that they asked me some intelligence questions about the situation in Kampala, where they would likely meet resistance, etc; and after assuring them that I would not expect resistance in Kampala, that was when I escaped being the only casualty of the mutiny. However, I was made to be a lone prisoner and I was tied at the back of the Land Rover that brought me back to Bombo and placed second in line of the convoy moving on to Kampala.
“If they shoot at us, we shall kill you.” Commander Oola told me. And we set off to capture Kampala with pomp. All other soldiers we would meet along the way were just directed to join the convoy without much ado.
As we entered Parliamentary Avenue from Kampala Road at around mid-morning, all eyes were on our convoy, with no excitement or fear. The Land Rover on which I was carried parked at the end of Parliamentary Avenue, just opposite the National Theatre as some of them headed to Radio Uganda. Soldiers jumped off their vehicles and began to deploy on all the streets I could see.
Gunfire in Kampala
All of a sudden, gunfire rocked the air and before long, I could count about six dead bodies around me, when the guns fell silent. I felt scared for the first time since our journey began from Bombo in the morning. I thought that, should any response from UNLA soldiers loyal to Obote come by, I would be killed at the back of the land rover. At this time, soldiers had started to loot shops on Dewinton Road.
I untied myself and jumped off the car. I began to check the back of Parliament building for some police uniforms and shoes abandoned by policemen who fled from the building. I picked a shirt and found a pair of shoes which fitted me. I became a free man and soon mingled freely with the mutineers. The officer, who arrested me, forgot about me and concentrated on looting instead.
I spent that night at the same spot, eating only biscuits and beef. There was no water to drink. The following morning, July 28, 1985, I deployed myself with the group who were sent to mount a road block on Entebbe Road at Najjanankumbi.
After more than a week of waiting to know our fate with the new junta, all our group (Intelligent Staff) were recalled back to serve the junta and I was deployed back to Wobulenzi Town to monitor NRA rebels’ activities. At this time, there were already negotiations going on and there was mutual ceasefire between the former enemy armies.
NRA soldiers would move freely in the town and would even chat with us. This peaceful co-existence lasted until August 27, 1985 when NRA soldiers re-launched offensive by closing Gulu Highway and abducting the UPC chairman in Wobulenzi Town and the District Commissioner of Luweero, Nathan Kalema.
Mr P’Lajur is a former Military Intelligence Staff under Col Ogole’s command in Obote II government.