Even in death, Lieutenant Colonel John Charles Ogole’s battle with Museveni’s regime is not about to end. From the Luweero Bush War, to running to exile and now in the casket, the wish of Ogole was never to deal, in whatever way, with Museveni. And that is why his family decided to hold his funeral service in London yesterday and keep his body there until further notice despite earlier reports that the body would be flown into the country on May 17 and buried on May 19.
“John’s body will be kept in London until the appropriate time comes when he can be buried at his home in Loro Atidi in conditions that fulfill his dying wish,” the statement issued by Ms Margaret Apio, Col Ogole’s younger sister, read in part.
On April 30, 2014, Colonel Ogole died in a London hospital. He succumbed to prostate cancer which he had battled for some time, according to his relatives. Ogole, who first fled to Tanzania when the Obote II regime fell to a military coup on July 27, 1985, had been living in London.
Although little is known about his rise through rank and file in the national army of the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) which was formed in 1979 after the fall of the brute president Idi Amin, what is well documented and known is that Ogole commanded an operation designed to rout out the National Resistance Army (NRA) rebels led by Yoweri Museveni operating in the Luweero Triangle in central Uganda.
On February 6, 1981, Museveni launched a war against Obote’s government on the pretext that the December 10, 1980 general election had been rigged in favour of Obote.
From as early as March 1981, every effort was made to defeat Museveni and his ‘bandits’ as Obote often called the rebels; but to no avail. Instead, the rebels were attracting more and more converts into their ranks; as the war theatre also expanded in territory almost every month.
In September in 1983, Major General David Oyite-Ojok launched an operation to defeat rebels in Luweero. The orders were to capture or kill rebel leader Museveni.
On the evening of December 2, 1983, the operation commander and Chief-of-Staff Major-General David Oyite-Ojok died in a helicopter crash in Luweero. His death not only demoralised the soldiers, but also precipitated the tribal rift in army that partly engineered the 1985 coup.
With the death of Oyite-Ojok, Obote, like most African leaders then, wanted a ‘home pillar’ to lean on militarily. Ogole, then a captain, a fellow Langi, suited the slot because he also had the desire to annihilate the rebels from Luweero since a win over the NRA rebels would guarantee a long life of the UPC regime. Ogole, an American trained soldier, was thus assigned to start from where Oyite had stopped.
In the military you don’t credit your enemy neither do you accept his account of events especially the death toll. Ogole, unlike retired Brigadier Bernard Rwehururu did in his book Cross to gun, in which he revealed how he commanded soldiers of the Uganda Army (UA) during the 1979 war that killed hundreds of thousands of the invading Tanzanian forces around the Sembabule sector, the world shall never know how deadly he was during the many battles he commanded against the NRA rebels because he never published a book to reveal his side of the story in Luweero.
Nevertheless, it is remembered that because of continuous attacks from the Special Forces commanded by Ogole, the NRA was forced to withdraw first from Bulemezi to Ssingo and later from Bulemezi in Luweero to Rwenzori Mountains far in western Uganda.
In the Uganda People’s Defence Forces magazine Tarehe Sita of March 1998, Major (now Brigadier) Proscovia Nalweyiso revealed of the war situation in 1984 which forced them to withdraw to Rwenzori Mountains from Bulemezi in Luweero during a trek that lasted a full month.
They started the journey on March 24, 1984 and reached Fort Portal on April 24, 1984 to evacuate the sick, women and elderly to the Rwenzori.
She said: “Hari erikuwa mbaya’ translated as ‘the situation was dire”. Nalweyiso added: “Others were allowed to go back to Luweero with the help of the Red Cross”. This was after the rebels had come under continuous shelling by the enemy forces commanded by Ogole. Beside, Ogole had used the scorched-earth policy to deny rebels as well as the locals, food. The locals were the source of cattle and food stuffs that the rebels depended on.
If Ogole had published his encounter with the rebels in Luweero, his book would have been a good comparison with President Museveni’s Sowing the Mustard Seed book. On page 160, President Museveni wrote of the NRA encounter with Ogole.
He said: “On our way back from Hoima, we learned that Obote had launched another offensive in the areas of Matugga and Singo. This Obote’s third major offensive was led by John Ogole using 5,000 soldiers… The enemy flooded the area with several units dug in.
Well defended units like these were dangerous to attack and in any case, they would yield us no spare guns, so wherever possible, we ignored them, preferring to bypass their positions and attack the areas behind them”.
It is clear from the Sowing the Mustard seed that after the death of Oyite-Ojok, it was Ogole and his special brigade that gave NRA headache.
Since the Hoima attack, Ogole’s special brigade had continuously fought the rebels. On page 162, President Museveni wrote: “Meanwhile, the UNLA force led by Ogole was desperately chasing us, trying to make us jettison our equipment and on January 8, when we were about to start moving, he [Ogole] attacked us at Birembo with artillery and Katyusha rockets. We managed to repulse him, but we lost five of our boys in the process… The following day, 10 January, as we crossed the Hoima-Bukwiri road, we were again attacked by Ogole’s soldiers”.
Ogole was a gallant soldier determined to rout out the rebels though unsung because he lost the war. Even President Museveni mentions it although he does not praise him.
On page 163 he said: “Although we were now back in our own Nkrumah zone, Ogole would not give up chasing us. He went into Bulemezi to try to trap us there. When we got to Kikandwa, he was there ready to attack us but we repulsed him… As we were moving out at night in a very long column, we were detected and shelled with Katyushas and 120 mm mortars. I was very worried that the boys would drop our weapons. Ogole’s people were at Kirema School and also at Namirembe as we were just emerging from Kikandwa forest and they started shelling us. It was a very close shave indeed…”
He adds: “Ogole, however, persisted and tried to follow us. We fought with him on several occasions, once at Mataba swamp near Karege where a battle took place. His column was finally beaten back by our Third Battalion, commanded by Patrick Lumumba’. Judging from this narration, it is clear that Lieutenant Colonel Ogole came closer to accomplish the mission to capture or kill Museveni as instructed by his Commander-In-Chief and President Obote.
That is the account that Museveni has of the former combatant Ogole. However, his brother, and who is praised for the pivotal role he played in the NRA war, Gen Salim Saleh, holds quite a different view of Ogole.
“The only memory I have of him (John Ogole) is the battle at Kembogo which took place 29 years ago last month (April 1985)...” Gen Saleh says.
He adds: “His mobile force was destroyed by the mobile force under my command and that was the end of UNLA as a fighting force. One month later, elements of this defeated force overthrew their own government and the rest is well known to you.”
In his May 1 condolence message upon the demise of Lt Col Ogole, Uganda Peoples Congress party president Olara Otunnu described Ogole as “a major national leader and a patriot”.
Such is the illustrious career of a man whom his family said had wished to be buried without the involvement of the Kampala establishment.
“As far as the family is concerned, at the moment when we send his body home, his wishes that he does not want the Government of Uganda to be involved in his burial arrangement will not be met.”
The family made the statement even as they appealed to the people of Lango and the elders of the Lango Community in London and in Uganda to respect and honour the wishes of the late Lt Col Ogole.
Government involvement in the funeral arrangement was attracted last week when Dokolo MP Felix Okot Ogong appealed to President Museveni to assist the family in bringing the body home.
May his soul rest in peace.