I was born in Rwanda but went to Uganda when I was one year old. My parents first settled in Mpororo before relocating to a refugee resettlement in Nakivale and later moved to another camp called Rwandurwera in Kanyanya in Nyabushozi.
From there, we moved to Masaka at Kasijagirwa, from where we relocated to give way for the construction of a military barracks. From there, my father bought land in Kyazanga.
The 1981 war found me in Kasese. During the 1980 general election, Mr Yoweri Museveni’s party UPM got only one seat from Kasese. With that victory, UPC supporters started victimising people they believed to be Rwandans for having voted for Museveni, leading to several arrests.
When he went to the bush, people who looked like Rwandans in Kasese were branded bayekela (Rebels). By then, I didn’t know what bayekela meant. Government carried out an operation in which my sister and I, and many others, were arrested and beaten badly.
During the one-week detention at the Kasese Police Station, we were given 80 strokes of the cane every day on the orders of the UPC district chairman. After that week, I was transferred by the special forces to Mbarara where I met a one Kagurusi Rwabwona. He had been arrested from Ntungamo and transferred to Mbarara.
On the way to Mbarara, I was found with a UPM card. The officer who saw it said I am a silly woman who was going to die. After a week in Mbarara, I was suddenly released. Instead of going back to Kasese, I went to Kampala to my uncle’s place in Nakasero.
One day, the UPC youth wingers came home in Nakasero at night and asked me where Museveni was. I said I didn’t know who Museveni was. One of the attackers showed me a grenade and asked what it is I said I don’t know.
I decided to run away. He hurled it at me, but it missed me by a whisker and hit a nursery school. I climbed a tree where I spent the night. Back at the house, they killed my uncles Sentaama, Shaidi Gregoria and his wife. After the burial, I decided to stay with my grandparents in Kyazanga.
Even there, the local UPC chairman called Kanyonyi said there was a rebel in the area and they came looking for me. I ran and spent a night under a rock. During the search, two of my brothers were arrested and one was killed.
In 1982, I ran back to Kampala and went to stay with my brother in Nabugabo road flats.
Little did I know that they were following me, though I had no contact with rebels then. I was arrested by a man named Okidi and taken to Mbuya. I was destined for death. But at Mbuya, they took me to Mwebe’s home, fortunately, his wife was my niece. When the children saw me, they were excited to see their auntie, to the dismay of my captors.
When I left Mbuya, I went to Kawempe to the home of Gatera, a Rwandan, with the intention of hiding there. There, I found a girl called Prosy Kamashaka. We stayed together there for a while. Then one day Ms Oliver Zizinga picked us to take us to the bush.
Journey to the bush
The journey was very risky because of the notorious roadblock at Matuga. She advised that I tie a bark cloth around myself and say I was going to bury my mother. At the roadblock, I wailed like one who had lost a loved one. The soldiers did not bother that much with us and we continued to Kakoge were we spent the first night.
We left Kakoge the next morning. But soon after leaving, government troops raided the village and killed many people in the guise of looking for the rebels who had spent a night there. From Kakoge, we went to Kiwoko where we stayed for some time. Mrs Zizinga did a real good job in inducting me into rebel ranks and I was sent on clandestine missions.
On one such mission, I was sent to Nakasongola Barracks to see someone called Komwoleko, a daughter to one of the rebel supporters but married to a soldier. I went with Kamashaka, having to stay for a number of days in the barracks gathering information.
When soldiers saw me, they started calling me Fred’s (Rwigyema) sister. When they started that, on the second day we had to run back to Kikandwa before I was arrested. In the barracks, there were people collaborating with us. When Obote expelled Rwandans in 1982, many of them came and joined the rebellion, increasing our numbers.
Becoming a rebel
It was not easy to become a soldier, leave alone a rebel. Life in all aspects was not easy. Food, clothing and other personal effects, especially for us women, were non-existent. It’s after a battle that we got clothes by discharging the dead.
Lumumba was our commander in Kikandwa, but after completing the training, I was moved to another unit in Ngoma, where [David] Oyite-Ojok and his men cornered us. Shortly before his men advanced on us, he was killed and plans were made for us to move to Rwenzori. By then I had been made a sergeant.
During the trek to the Rwenzori, I was in the 15th Battalion commanded by Mande Mandevu. It took us about a month walking on foot with enemies behind us, with causalities to carry. We first camped in Semliki before climbing the mountain, from where we came to fight at Rubona on our way to Kasese.
During the Rubona battle, I fell sick and our battalion made a withdrawal to Buhweju. When I recovered, I joined the newly created training wing as a trainer. After sometime as a trainer, I went to Bihanga, joining the frontline at Katonga in preparation for the Kampala attack.
Unfortunately, I was not involved in the Kampala battle as I was in a group that was to go through Masindi. When Kampala fell, I was sent to State Lodge Entebbe for political training. Afterwards, I was sent to Lira as the political commissar for the 65th Brigade of Stanley Muhangi. I was appointed platoon commander in 1986.
At the brigade, I was deployed to the 47th Battalion as the PC [political commissar] headed by a one Mulindwa. We stayed in Lira, then Patongo, before going to Mucwini, then Namukora in 1987 when the [Alice] Lakwena war started. That was when the kadogos were recalled to go to school.
During the Lakwena war, I fell ill for a long time without knowing what was ailing me. I was transferred to Mucwini to recover. While there, she attacked and Maj Byansi and I were captured for two days.
On the second day, I just decided to run away instead of staying in captivity where I knew chances of being killed were high. Fortunately, I managed to get to a brigade in Lira. In Lira, my situation worsened and I was brought to Mbuya Military Hospital.
Starting the Kadogo School
When I recovered, I was transferred to Bombo where the kadogo’s had already assembled for school. I went with them to Mbarara as their welfare officer.
The kadogos were not easy to deal with; they were battle-hardened and hard to manage. The school was under the office of the chief political commissar, then Amanya Mushega. Among those in charge of education in his office included Kale Kayihura.
School life for Kadogos was hard because they were used to military life. It required a person who they knew was a soldier like them to manage them. That’s when afande [George William] Katimbo was brought and sanity prevailed. Unfortunately, they were not ready to take orders from officers who had been integrated from the previous government.
One day, a kadogo was killed in Mbarara Town and the rest went to attack the town. I ran and intercept them before reaching town and asked what was happening. They explained that their colleague had been killed and they complained that they had been brought to Mbarara to be killed because they had been disarmed. I convinced them to go back to the barracks as we investigate what caused the death of their colleague. I was like a mother to them, they listened and we went back.
The few girls in the school felt prey to both older men and some mature kadogos. Sometimes I had to leave my house to go and sleep in the girls’ dormitory to protect men from coming in at night. It was so bad that many of the older men hated me because I was failing their sexual escapades.
It became so bad that a Unit Disciplinary Committee [UDC] sat and passed an announcement saying no kadogo would be allowed to stay in the staff quarters. Some used to seek refuge at my place. In the same vain, the information officer, Nyamugasira, issued another circular saying no staff was allowed to sleep in the dormitories.
I went and reported to the school commandant, afande Katimbo. He told me to be careful since we both knew the reason why those circulars were being issued.
In the UDC, I was accused of sleeping in the kadogo’s dormitories and sometimes taking them to my house. The administrator, Mutungi, ordered for me to be put under house arrest. After that, I was sent to a course in Jinja.
After the training in Jinja, I returned to Mbarara where I stayed until the Rwanda invasion. We left on September 30 , it was a Sunday evening. I was involved in the preparations, though most people didn’t know I was a Munyaranda.
At one point, afande Katimbo called and told me that Rwandans were planning to go back to their country. I said I didn’t know anything.
He told me: “Be very careful, they should not steal our guns.” At the time he was telling me this, some of the soldiers had already started leaving.
I coordinated the kadogos and some other Rwandan soldiers who were in the training wing in Mbarara Barracks because I had attended the planning meetings for the departure. I left with about 80 kadogos. The day before, I had told them that afande Fred (Rwigyema) wanted to talk to them outside the school.
By 8pm, it was an open secret that Rwandans were going back home. The vice commandant of the barracks, Kahinda (RIP) and another admin in the training school were Rwandans and the Rwandans in the kadogo school left without anything, only our uniforms and the guns.
We had deployed along the way for our protection. From town, we met other people who had come earlier on from as far as Moroto. We reorganised in Ntungamo and then proceeded to attack Kagitumba. The vehicles from the kadogo school brought some people and supplies to Ntungamo.
Some of the Kadogos we came with stayed for a short time because the fire from Habyarimana’s forces was too much. Many, if not all the kadogos, had not come under jet fighter fire. Habyarimana had very sophisticated weapons.
I have never been discharged from UPDF as I had just signed a 40-year contract with the army. I left just one month after signing the contract. I gave my army number to someone in the UPDF to follow up my pension and the person found that up until 1997, someone was receiving my salary. I know they cannot arrest me for desertion if I went to claim for my pension.”
About the RPF
On October 1, 1990, the RPF invaded Rwanda, starting the Rwandan civil war. Despite commander Fred Rwigema being killed on October 2, the RPF incursion was initially successful. However, the Rwandan Army received help from Belgium, France and Zaire and within a month had regained the initiative, forcing the RPF back into Uganda.
Paul Kagame was asked to return from his military studies in the United States to take over the RPF. Thereafter, the RPF resorted to guerrilla attacks, focussing on the Byumba and Ruhengeri areas, gaining control of much of the north of the country in 1992.
Eventually, negotiations between the RPF and the Rwandan government led to the signing of the Arusha Accords in 1993, resulting in RPF personnel and other refugees being allowed to return to the country.
The cease-fire ended on April 6, 1994, when president Juvénal Habyarimana’s plane was shot down near Kigali airport, killing him and Cyprien Ntaryamira, the president of Burundi. It is still unknown who launched the attack; the RPF blamed Hutu extremists in the Rwandan government, while the government claimed that the RPF was responsible for the attack.
The shooting down of the plane served as the catalyst for the Rwandan genocide, which began within a few hours. Over the course of approximately 100 days, about one million Tutsi were killed on the orders of the interim government. The Tutsi RPF restarted their offensive, and took control of the country methodically by cutting off government supply routes and taking advantage of the deteriorating social order.
The RPF victory was complete when Kigali was captured on July 4 and the rest of the country on July 18. The RPF’s Pasteur Bizimungu was installed as president of Rwanda, with Kagame appointed vice president. The RPF was split into a political division which retained the RPF name, and a military one, called the Rwandan Patriotic Army (now the Rwandan Defence Forces).
In February 1998, Kagame was elected president of the RPF, and became national president in March 2000. Following a constitutional referendum in 2003, Kagame was elected president with 95 per cent of the vote. The RPF formed a coalition with several smaller parties, which received 74 per cent of the vote in the 2003 parliamentary elections, winning 40 of the 53 elected seats in the Chamber of Deputies.
The coalition won 42 seats in the 2008 parliamentary elections, and Kagame was re-elected as president in 2010 with 93 per cent of the vote. The 2013 parliamentary elections saw the RPF-led coalition win 41 seats.