Sunday February 14 2016

Life at Kadogo school was harder than days as fighter

Frank Kiconco (2ndL) and colleagues at

Frank Kiconco (2ndL) and colleagues at Mbarara Kadogo School. PHOTO COURTESY OF HENRY LUBEGA 

By Henry Lubega

All of a sudden they flashed a message from the CHC [Chief of High Command] to the NPC [National Political Commissar, now Col (Rtd) Amanya Mushega] to go and collect present-day Kabaka of Buganda [Ronald Muwenda Mutebi] from Katuna border post.

The message asked the NPC to organise security and transport for Mutebi. As his chief bodyguard, I was given the task. I got four other soldiers.

We had a Land Rover 110 and one of our supporters gave us an Isuzu Trooper when we got to Katuna.

The prince had come with two other people; the one person I recall well on that team was John Nagenda [senior media adviser to President Museveni]. There was another man called Mawanda.

While there, we were told Mutebi wanted to visit the boys at the frontline, but we could not risk taking him there. We instead took him around Kasese. I was driven in the same car with Mutebi and his team.

The NPC sat at the front while the others and I sat behind the Land Rover 110.

In Kasese, he stayed at Hotel Magharita and met some commanders. He stayed there for close to a month as they cleared the road to Mbarara.
From Kasese, the prince came up to Masaka but did not address rallies. He met a few of our supporters and members of the High Command.

It was the NPC who told him what was happening. Mutebi came up to Nabbingo where the final plans for Kampala were made before going back. We escorted him up to Masaka, left him in a hotel and came back to Nabbingo.

Uganda Airlines plane hijacked
Before he came to Masaka, news came in that Col Serwanga Lwanga [RIP] who had gone with a team to Kampala on a spying mission had been captured in Nateete.

We were in Kasese when the message was flashed to the NPC.

The High Command hatched a rescue plan. I never got to know the details but two days later, around midday, we were at Kasese Airfield with the NPC when I was told there was a plane coming.

I was told to prepare a force to be deployed at the airfield. The plane had been hijacked by our forces and it was to land at the airfield.

At about 2pm, a Uganda Airlines plane landed with 200 passengers on board. One of the personnel who hijacked it was Bisango, now a retired major.

He stepped out first with his pistol raised in the air. I did not identify the other person he was with.

The NPC had already mobilised buses from Kasese Town to take the passengers [hostages]. They were all checked as they boarded the buses to be taken to Hotel Magharita.

At the hotel, security was tight in order for them not to escape. After a few days, a journalist came following that plane; it was Wafula Oguttu, now the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament.
He was referred to me by the other soldiers on guard. I told him, ‘You will not interview anybody, not even the NPC. He is not ready to meet you and you have no permission to be here.’
He had come to cover the war and capture the image of that plane.

Among those in the plane were relatives of Gen Tito Okello. This was a good push for the peace talks in Nairobi as the junta wanted to rescue his relatives on the plane. Meanwhile for the rebels, it was used as bait for the release of our arrested people, including Serwanga Lwanga.
That plane was the catalyst for the peace talks. During the peace talks, we had a ceasefire. After the talks, the plane was flown to Nairobi and Serwanga Lwanga was also released.

Push for Kampala
The final plans to take Kampala were done at Nabbingo. The 11th Battalion, commanded by Chef Ali, was to go through Busega, Masanafu, Kasubi and take Kololo Summit View.

The 5th Battalion was to go through Nalukolongo, cut off Entebbe Road and advance to Entebbe. The 1st Battalion was to go through Rubaga, take Radio Uganda and go to Bugolobi. This was to be reinforced by the 7th Battalion, which was under Stanly Muhangi.

I was under the 11th Battalion of Chef Ali, though I was the head of the NPC’s security.

Having returned from Masaka, I briefly left NPC’s security and joined the team advancing to Kampala.

We went through Masanafu, but as we entered Kololo, we met some resistance. There was a lot of fire coming from Kololo Summit View, which was our target. We had not anticipated it.
My company and platoon were called back to reinforce the battalion that was to take Radio Uganda.

Their APC [Armoured Personnel Carrier] had been hit and we had to use our carrier to help them capture the radio station.
It took us almost three hours to take Radio Uganda; the enemies had put up a big gun which we had not been prepared for.
At the Radio Uganda battle, we had been overpowered materially, but we used the advantage of numbers. We came from all directions; their only mistake was not rotating the machine stationed at the main entrance.
That was how we managed to overpower them. My group came from behind and took over their heavy weapons which had curtailed our capture of the radio station.

With the radio captured, my platoon was later taken back to Summit View where fighting was still fierce. We captured Summit View at night and in the morning the NPC came to Kololo Summit View to talk to us.

He pointed me out to re-join his security detail. I was with him at Parliament when the President was sworn in.

After the fall of Kampala, I took the eastern route to Soroti. The biggest battle was at Kachumbala. It was while there that the NPC found me and picked me again. He said ‘you I want you back’. I came back to Kampala.

When he became State minister for Defence, I remained his body guard. His office was at the Republic House (Now Bulange) with those of the Defence minister.

One day when the big man [Museveni] came, I was outside along the corridor guarding my boss. The big man’s escorts were chasing people around, but they did not notice me as I was too tinny.

It was their boss who noticed me in a chair along the corridor and took me to his office. He asked me what I want and I said a soda. He called his secretary and told her to give me a soda.

First salary
My first salary as a soldier was Shs270,000 in 1987. This was a lot of money. I spent it on pancakes and yellow bananas. But it took the State minister to convince me to take the money.
When the money was brought to Republic House, I did not know what to do. When told to go for it from the cash office, I asked what for. I was told as a soldier I was supposed to get a salary.

Two things stopped from going for it; one, I had to sign and I did not know how to handle a pen, leave alone what signing was.

The other problem was I did not know what to do with the money. I had feared that they were bribing me for something. In the bush, the CHC had cautioned us against bribery and corruption.
I refused the money and went back to the office and told the secretary to the minister what was happening and she told me soldiers are supposed to get salary.

But I kept asking ‘salary for what?’ The secretary told the minister, who called me and explained to me that I have to be paid as a soldier. He convinced me that I’m supposed to get salary and sent the secretary to go and sign for it on my behalf.

When I got the money, I was almost 12 years. I went out to Mengo trading centre and bought pancakes for myself and my friends at Republic House, and those who were interested in eating.

This went on for some days, buying pancakes and yellow bananas. But the money was not getting finished.

With the State minister, I travelled a lot to war zones checking on the troops in the field. In 1987, a message came through that all under-aged personnel should go back to school.
They were taken to Mbuya first. I, however, did not join immediately. I joined them in June 1987 after I personally told the minister that I wanted to study. The next day, he personally drove me to Mbarara Kadogo School.

Seeing my parents again
I was not allowed to go back to see my family as they feared that I and other Kadogo’s would be violent and kill people if allowed to go home.
But in 1987, my parents came looking for me. Like many other parents looking for their children, they went to different army units.

While at Republic House in1987, I saw some people but paid no attention to them. The minister told me to go and greet the guests in the visitor’s room. I went and greeted them, as you would greet strangers, then all of a sudden I saw the old woman crying as she mentioned my name.

My heart sunk and I knew they were my parents. My boss came in and asked me if I want to go with them. I said yes.

He gave me a vehicle and driver to take us to the village, but I was to return immediately.
The next day, they again came back.

This time I also cried because I thought they had died and I was living a very miserable, lonely life that had started affecting my adult life.

If I had not become a Kadogo, I think I would be living a much better life. Growing with your parents and relatives adds more value to your life than growing alone.

The events of life in the bush are still very fresh in my mind. There is a lot that happened to me as a child while in the bush. My childhood was taken away from me; I would never wish my child to see the things I saw as I grew up.
People who have never seen war, mostly the youth, should be careful of what they are asking for, war does not discriminate, whether you are poor or rich it will treat you alike. Being in a war situation is the worst in one’s life.

Life at Kadogo school
I started in Primary One. We were in thousands and life was hard.
I went with my gun, but was told to surrender it. I was 11-years-old at the time and I was at the rank of a sergeant.
We were told our ranks were confined, and it was only when we reached Senior Four that our ranks would be returned.

Some of us did not like this and we asked whether we are prisoners, ‘Why are we giving up our ranks up yet we are in the military?’
We were told some of the teachers going to teach us were below our ranks and that ranks would make us stubborn and not study.

As a result, from 1987 up to 2004 I had no promotion, I remained a sergeant. My second promotion was in 2006 when I was promoted from a sergeant to Warrant Officer I.

The hardships at school and challenges to our promotions made some of my colleagues leave school and return to their units. By the time I finished school, those who had ran away from school had been promoted through the years. Some were colonels and majors. We felt cheated.
Life was so hard for me in school. Sleeping and feeding was bad compared to life as a bodyguard to the State minister.

‘Ran away from school’
We were not allowed to visit, even during holidays. We were bullied by the big boys. Many times we would miss food and nobody would come to our rescue. In P2, it became too much that I ran away from school back to the minister. I used the bus warrant; it worked with the UPTC buses.

I got sympathisers who gave me transport back to the minister’s home in Kololo. When he saw me, he asked why I had gone back. I told him life at school was hard.

The next day, he put me in the vehicle and drove me back to school. He talked to the commandant of the school and there after addressed the students. Many top commanders came in and intervened and life improved.

After primary, I went to Mbarara High School where I completed my O-Level then went to Ruyonza Secondary School in Bushenyi.

From there, I went to Jinja for an advanced diploma in accounts, which I completed in 2001. I was then deployed to the 5th Division in 2002 as OC [officer in charge] bills until 2005.
In 2006, I was sent to 1st Division, moving in different places until 2008 when I was taken to motorised headquarters in Nakasongola where I am up to date as a logistics officer.”

Continues next Sunday

lubegah@ug.nationmedia.com

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