People & Power
Nyerere invites Museveni to join war against Amin
Posted Sunday, May 11 2014 at 01:00
Series. In the sixth part of our series, Kagera War, we bring you the account of Col Steven Isaac Mtemihonda, a retired Tanzania People’s Defence Forces soldier, who not only commanded the 14th battalion of 203 Brigade during the 1979 liberation war but also helped train the new national army UNLA after the fall of Amin. He told Sunday Monitor’s Henry Lubega how Museveni built his army and joined the struggle, among others.
When the 1971 coup occurred, many of the soldiers loyal to Milton Obote were killed and the few survivors fled to the north, while others fled to Tanzania. Majority of those who came to Tanzania were civilians, the few soldiers who came included Tito Okello. He had been the commander of Masaka barracks, but by the time of the coup he was in Kampala.
However, on his way back to his base, Tito Okello was advised otherwise because the killing of Acholi and the Langi in the army had started. He decided to go to Tanzania via Mutukula.
Those who fled to the north got sanctuary in Sudan for some time, but after an agreement between president (Jafaar) Nimery of Sudan and the Anyanya, Nimery became friendly with Amin, making it hard for Obote’s forces to proceed to Sudan.
The Obote forces who had fled to Sudan after the 1971 coup were transferred to a camp in Handeni in Tanga, Tanzania. The group, which was less than 200, is part of the group that tried to take Entebbe during the 1972 attack (111 of them drowned on the lake on their way to Entebbe)
After the failure of the 1972 invasion, the two countries - Uganda and Tanzania - signed the Mogadishu Agreement to end hostilities between them. One of the clauses was that Tanzania should close all training camps of Ugandan exiles. The other required Tanzania to pull its army at least 16km away from the border with Uganda.
After the agreement, the camps were closed and these soldiers became farmers growing tobacco, some started burning charcoal and some became fishermen. From 1972 until 1978 when Amin invaded Uganda, they were not involved in any military drill. It was only Museveni’s Fronasa that kept in military activity.
The militaristic Museveni
Museveni became militaristic while at the University of Dar es Salaam after visiting the Mozambican liberated areas. On the second or third day after Amin’s take-over, Museveni returned to Tanzania and his ideas of forming a force to fight Amin began. At the beginning he was working with UPC and Obote but along the way they fell apart and he formed his own group, Fronasa.
Museveni started recruiting fighters who were trained by different groups within Tanzania and Mozambique. Their first training was in Mozambique liberated areas before the country got independence in 1975, and even after independence more got training there. Among the group to go to Mozanbique include people like Salim Saleh and Ivan Koreta. Museveni’s other recruits were trained in Kaboya, Bukoba in Tanzania, and in Nachingwea.
From 1972 to 1978, Museveni’s group was small but active. For him he was training commanders and leaders, being trained in weapons handling, fighting and everything to do with sabotage. He even had his group trained in convention warfare.
How Museveni joined the war
When war broke out in 1978, it was natural for Mwalimu Julius Nyerere to call Museveni to join the war. In December 1978 Mwalimu called Museveni and gave him a slot, telling him: “You are going to join the war on the western front under Brigadier Sailas Mayunga”.
Much as Museveni’s group was small, it was ready for war. His troops were attached to Brigade 206. While at the border waiting for orders to cross into Uganda, Museveni kept on recruiting soldiers from the Ugandan side until when TPDF crossed into Uganda. By the time Mbarara was captured, he had more than 1,000 troops.
When camps were closed, Mwalimu kept a close eye on Museveni, and with the signing of the Mogadishu Agreement, he sent the late Edward Sokoine to meet Samora Machel in Mozambique and asked him to train the Fronasa group at a place called Mutepwezi, with Frelimo instructors, and another group was trained in Nachingwea by both Tanzanians and a Chinese instructor. In Kaboya, they had Tanzanian and Fronasa instructors.
However, for the Obote’s group, after 1972, they were doing nothing besides growing tobacco, burning charcoal and fishing. When things started heating up, they started collecting them one by one and they had to first undergo some training. This group joined the war after the fall of Mbarara and Masaka.
The Obote group
After the Moshi Conference, UNLF formed a fighting group called UNLA, which was commanded by Oyite-Ojok with Tito Okello as the overall commander. They joined the war after the fall of Masaka and their first battle was in Lukaya on the March 8.
When Oyite-Ojok and Tito Okello joined the war, it was disastrous. They were in the frontline and when they came under fire from the Ugandan army, they took off. Museveni and his Fronasa worked on the Western axis from Mbarara through Fort Portal, Kyenjojo, Hoima and then crossed to west Nile, while the Oyite-Ojok group was on the main axis which went through Kampala, Jinja, Mbale up to Lira.
In 1972, Obote had convinced Mwalimu Nyerere that he could fight back and get rid of Idi Amin. The government of Tanzania bought the idea, though the army was not involved because the Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) at the time did not like the idea.
Somehow, someone convinced Mwalimu that national service which was another force could help the exiles and refugees to make an invasion. That’s why during the 1972 attack, the biggest number was from Obote’s group. They were about 3,000 troops coming from Handeni camp and others from the camp in Tabora. During this invasion, Museveni had 32 people from Kaboya. When the invasion occurred, it was a disaster, they never reached Masaka or Mbarara, and the group to go to Entebbe perished in Lake Victoria.
That was the first group to drown, the other drowned in the 1978 war. This time these were about 40 outboard boats. They had set off from Musoma, their mission was to capture Soroti, going across to the east of Kisumu close to the Uganda-Kenya border.
A Tanzanian navy boat was detailed to monitor their movement. On the first day all went well but on the second night they disappeared. The Tanzanian boat monitoring them searched the lake but did not locate them, not even a body was found. It looked like all the 40 boats capsized. They were men belonging to the SUM groups, (Save Uganda Movement) of Eteker Ejalu and his friends.
Working with Ugandans
As a field commander, I never worked with many politicians apart from Muwanga (Paulo) and Rugumayo (Edward).
After July 25, 1979, when Tanzanian troops started returning home, three battalions stayed behind for the purposes of training and security.
At that time, what was happening in the government did not bother us because we were in Uganda to protect Ugandans. Whatever was happening was high level politics that we soldiers were not involved in.
However, in the 1980 elections, I was in Masindi as a commandant of the UNLA recruitment school and my job was to make sure the campaign was peaceful.
UPC people came to me saying they wanted me to provide them with protection. DP never came to me, they just reported their campaign dates. I had been told from our headquarters in Entebbe that Obote and his group were coming to Masindi and he was brought there by a TPDF plane to campaign. So I had to offer security. The elections went on peacefully.
1981 rebel attack
I stayed in Uganda, even after the elections which UPC won, until late February 1981. When the NRA rebels attacked Kabamba military training school, I was still commandant of the UNLA recruit training school.
But before the attack on Kabamba, UNLA had received its first batch of about 36 officers trained in Munduli in Arusha. These included [Elly] Tumwine, [Ivan] Koreta, [David] Tinyefunza, Rusoke, [Pecos] Kuteesa and others. I was given 19 of these young officers as instructors.
What puzzled me was that they started disappearing one by one from my command. The first one to disappear was Tumwine followed by Kuteesa.
I went to Kampala and told Oyite-Ojok: “Sir, there is something I want to report, you gave me 19 2nd lieutenant officers as instructors but they are disappearing one by one. They say they are coming to army headquarters at the Republic House and they don’t comeback what’s happening?” Oyite-Ojok said: “Ahhh forget about them don’t bother.” When Kabamba was attacked I heard those who had disappeared were among the attackers.
Following the Kabamba attack, I was ordered to strengthen the defence of the unit, but I was soon recalled home to prepare for a new posting as the defence attaché to Russia. I handed over to Major General Louis (now deceased) who was commandant of the unit when Salim Saleh attacked it.