There are only two ways to end the war. The first and most preferred is a decisive win in the battle field. The other is through peace talks.
Prior to the failed Nairobi Peace Talks of December 17, 1985, between the Junta government of Lt Gen Tito Okello Lutwa and the National Resistance Army/Movement (NRA/M) rebels led by Yoweri Museveni; there had been efforts to have peace talks between the NRA rebels and Obote’s government before the July 27, 1985 coup.
Perhaps, the loudest drum sounded for peace talks was recorded on the floor of the Parliament of Uganda by Wilberforce Kisamba Mugerwa, MP, Luweero South-West constituency.
It had been four years of unfulfilled promises to Ugandans that the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) would militarily defeat the NRA rebels. Thus, on July 4, 1985, MP Kisamba from the floor of Parliament challenged the UPC government to organise a referendum so that Ugandans decide if they supported the peace talks option or not.
In search of peace
He said since the government had failed to defeat the rebel groups, a peaceful settlement should be thought. As his motion was defeated, vice president Paulo Muwanga lambasted him, saying the UPC government could not talk to Museveni, the enemy of peace and development.
On July 27, the UPC government was toppled once again by the army. The first time was on January 25, 1971.
Soon after capturing power, Lt Gen Okello Lutwa became a four-star General and president of Uganda. At the swearing-in on July 29, in Kampala, the semi-literate president (His English only as good as a famous ex-Mayor of Kampala city) announced that his interim government would last 12 months only pending general elections that would re-establish parliamentary democracy in Uganda.
At the same function, Lutwa also mentioned that the Federal Democratic Movement (FEDEMU), Former Uganda National Army (FUNA), Uganda Freedom Movement (UFM) Uganda National Rescue Front (UNRF) and the NRA; all rebel groups previously fighting UPC government, had agreed to a ceasefire and were prepared for peace talks with the government scheduled on August 12, at Uganda International Conference Centre (Serena Hotel) in Kampala.
However, on July 30, from Nairobi, NRM External Affairs secretary Mathew Rukikaire issued a press statement denying any ceasefire or peace talks engagement with the Military Council.
Gen Lutwa told the crowd that the NRA/M Head, Museveni had asked for 50-50 share of the posts in the military government, but that he [Museveni] didn’t mention the post he wanted.
When this reporter contacted Ms Gertrude Njuba, one of Museveni’s aides during the war and a participant in the failed Nairobi talks, she refuted Lutwa’s utterances.
She said: “No, I don’t remember a 50-50 deal with Lutwa government? That could not be true. Because there were other rebel groups that wanted to join in. How could we take 50 per cent of the posts in the government?” She pondered.
Ms Njuba hastened to add that the NRA/M was not interested in joining the Junta government. “Lutwa’s government was killing Ugandans which was against our ideology,” she affirmed.
While Ms Njuba denies that, it would seem that president Lutwa was speaking from a pre-coup discussion Museveni had had with the UPC-UNLA leadership. Museveni had clandestinely met with vice president Muwanga in Germany and planned the ousting of Obote.
On page 165 in his book: Sowing the Mustard Seed, Museveni wrote: “I told him [Muwanga] that the NRM might look favourably at redeeming his past if he would co-operate in the expeditious removal of Obote…” And added: “He [Muwanga] told me that he was working closely with Tito and Bazilio Okello but I emphasised that, because of their past behaviour, we could not accept a situation where their group played the principal role in reshaping politics of Uganda”.
From that position, it is obvious that greed and mistrust on both sides later foiled the-would-be peaceful political settlement between the UNLA-NRA/M in the post- Obote administration.
On page 166, Museveni said: “Unfortunately, as soon as Bazilio Okello and his group made statements on Radio Uganda in Kampala announcing that Obote’s regime had been overthrown, they abandoned the contacts they had made with us and teamed with all sorts of opportunists to try to isolate the NRA.” Museveni further wrote: “… at the same time, I contacted Bazilio and Tito Okello and Paulo Muwanga, but in spite of my appeals, they went ahead and formed an administration”.
Worth to note is that at the time of the coup the NRA/M head, Museveni, was in Europe enjoying media coverage from a free world which prompted Lutwa to issue a stern warning to local media.
On August 14, Lutwa vowed to jail journalists who reported Museveni utterances about the government. In every interview, press statement, from August to December 1985, Museveni charged Lutwa’s government with gross violation of human rights, abuse of power, extra judicial killing, nepotism, corruption and incompetence.
Though Museveni was right and majority Ugandans and international community supported him, the Ugandan press had been muzzled from reporting the truth he spoke. To those in power, truth and free speech in the media means opposition to the government.
In the next issue, we bring you why the Nairobi Peace Talks flopped
Museveni rejects Dar es salaam
When Museveni arrived in Nairobi from Sweden, contacts with the Junta government were re-established; but the NRA/M remained opposed to the Kampala venue claiming it was not neutral.
The Uganda government suggested Dar es Salaam, but the NRA/M objected and instead preferred Nairobi Kenya. Was the NRA/M afraid of the famous epigram? ‘If you cannot defeat them in the battlefield, win them at the negotiation table’.
There was worry that Obote would use his contacts in Kampala and Dar es Salaam to influence the peace talks. Mrs. Njuba agrees with that school of thought. ‘We knew Obote still had support in Dar es salaam and was friend to President Julius Nyerere which he would use to influence talks if held in Dar es Salaam. Besides, our people were based in Nairobi – and we had no money to transport our delegation to Dar es Salaam’. She asserted.
Would that explain why the Uganda team on August 12, travelled to Dar es Salaam and waited for the NRA/M delegation in vain? Before the Nairobi venue was agreed upon, the NRA/M had accepted to meet the Uganda government delegation in Dar es Salaam and President Nyerere would steer the negations.
Why the NRA/M did not attend the first meeting
According to the press release issued by Uganda on August 14 1985, in Kampala, the reason for the NRA/M not attending the meeting was that they lacked transport to Dar es Salaam.
But Ms Njuba said the major reason was about their safety. She said: “We had proposed that we travel in the same plane. We suggested that on the way to Tanzania they pass via Nairobi and we join them on the plane but they refused. They said that there was no space on the plane; and suggested to send us a plane from Tanzania to pick us. It would have been risky for us to travel in such circumstances. We were very cautious”.
Ms Njuba added: “How could the entire leadership of the NRA/M travel in a single plane?”
Finally, with all hiccups ironed out, the Nairobi venue was accepted by both parties and on August 26, negotiations started and were concluded on December 17, 1985 but by Christmas Day, the rift between the two warring groups had widened beyond any remedy.
The NRA nevertheless, had an upper hand. For, they had since July 27, been fighting the UNLA and conquering more territory from the government especially between the Masaka, Mubende and Kampala stretch.
On January 26, 1986, the NRA captured power as Lutwa became Uganda’s fourth president to run into exile. Luckily, he was allowed to return home later.
The commonest characteristic with all Ugandan presidents is exile. They have before becoming president lived in exile or have run into exile thereafter.
chronology of events
August 12, 1985, Museveni and his delegation fail to show up in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Keeps Uganda delegation and Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere waiting.
August 20, while in Nairobi, Museveni issues a press statement extolling NRA for defeating UNLA at the battles of Matugga, Kiboga, Busunjju and Bombo.
August 26, peace talks starts in Nairobi Kenya chaired by President arap Moi.
September 4, Jack Bugingo a diplomat at Uganda’s High Commission to Kenya told journalists that Museveni had met Col. Toko and others in Toko’s hotel room at Hotel Intercontinental.
September 10, Museveni’s principal private secretary Ludislaus Serwanga Lwanga travelling to Nairobi under nom de guerre Samuel Kayanja Serwanga is arrested by Uganda security agencies at Busia frontier with Kenya.
September 25, neither Museveni nor his delegation shows up at the negotiations. Emmanuel Cardinal Nsubuga while in Nairobi warns and predicts peace talks to flop if mistrust and dishonesty are not ironed out.
October 24, President Lutwa issues a press statement warning the NRA to stop fighting UNLA and accept peace talks. President Nyerere meets President Moi in Nairobi over the failing peace talks.
October 28, the military government gives Museveni the post of Vice-chairman and the NRA seven military posts.
November 4, at a press conference in Nairobi, Museveni says he has formed an interim government under the NRA/M control.
November 8, Col. Toko returns home after President Moi has come under pressure from the NRA/M and Nyerere to have him relieved of his duty as the government chief negotiator and is replaced by Ssemogere.
November 10, NRA hijacks a Uganda airline with 44 passengers on board from Entebbe airport and forces it to land at Kasese airfield which was later used a bargaining chip for the release of their fighter Serwanga Lwanga. With Serwanga freed, the plane released on December 1, in Nairobi.
November 18, Lt. Col James Tibamuleka dies during the battle between the NRA and UNLA at Masaka barracks.
Later NRA allows the Red Cross to pick his body and handle it to the UNLA for burial in Iganga district. NRA/M accepts the drafted peace accord as Dr. Sam Kisekka issues a press statement to that effect.
December 1, having taken some NRA Prisoners of War (POW) government issues a press statement that NRA had received arms from Libya and that Fred Rwigyema, a Rwandese national, was one of the senior commanders involved in the many assaults against the UNLA.
During a press conference at Hilton Hotel Nairobi, Museveni issues an ultimatum that the Lutwa’s government had only week to implement what had been agreed in pact or face the wrath of the NRA.
He says previous week, UNLA had attacked the NRA positions at Katonga and Kinyara in Bunyoro.
December 11, three NRA/M members: Captain Charles Namundayi, Henry Wakisaale and Musaani Wadada are abducted from Bungoma Kenya later taken to the infamous Nile Mansions in Kampala.
December 22, Dr Kisekka issues a press statement in Nairobi condemning the kidnapping of the NRA/M members and warns of repercussions if they not released henceforth.
December 27, Museveni and President Moi issue a press statement in Nairobi lambasted the UNLA for killing innocent civilians.
December 31, Presidents Moi and Ali Mwinyi of Tanzania and Museveni fail to show up at the scheduled conference in Kampala to observe the implementation of the peace accord.