Today 40 years ago, President Yoweri Museveni and a dozen of other fervent freedom fighters survived death by firing squad orchestrated by the brute President Idi Amin. On Saturday, February 10, 1973, 11 suspected Front for National Salvation (FRONASA) rebels and one robber, Badru Semakula, were executed by firing squad in public in the four regions of the country.
The suspected guerrillas fighting Amin’s government had been tracked and captured since December 1972 across the country before they were court marshalled in Kampala and sentenced to death by firing squad. The military tribunal chaired by Lt. Col. Ozzo found the 11 guilty of treason by involving in rebel activities against the sitting government.
The tribunal, which sat Makindye Barracks in Kampala, decided that the 11 rebels and one robber be shot dead in public in their home villages in front of their parents, relatives, friends and colleagues.
This was done to deter any rebel activities as well as Kondoism or thuggery in the country. FRONASA, a military group, was established in 1971 by Ugandan exiles in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to fight Amin – and was led by Yoweri Museveni.
In his book, Sowing the Mustard Seed, page 57, President Museveni wrote: “We began infiltrating arms into Uganda around May 1972, some to Kabale, some to Atiak and some to Kampala. Those in Kabale were kept by James Karambuzi and Joseph Bitwaari, who were publicly executed by Amin in 1973. The ones in Kampala were kept by Haruna Kibuye, and those in Atiak by Akena p’Ojok. We also developed cells in Tooro, Mbarara, Mbale and Jinja.”
The February firing squad.
Although the suave Museveni survived the February 10 firing squad that was not the first time he had smelt death, nose-by-nose, especially at the hands of Uganda Army soldiers. Earlier on, Museveni had managed to escape from his captors.
About 15 military policemen had cornered and arrested him and his two fellow freedom fighters; Martin Mwesiga and Wukwu ‘Kazimoto’ Mpima from Maluku Housing Estate in Mbale as they waited for their comrade Maumbe Makhwana at his home. As they were being taken to the Mbale military barracks, Museveni slipped his captors.
On page 79, he wrote: “Taking them by surprise, I jumped over the hedge, hoping that my colleagues would follow my example and scatter in different directions. At the time, I did not realise that they had not done so.” Whether by luck or his knack, Museveni managed to escape from his would-be executioners.
Meanwhile the State Research Bureau, a notorious military intelligence agency, intensified the search for Mubebeni/Musebeni (sic Museveni), a Chinese trained urban guerrilla commander according to the agency’s records seen by this journalist.
While writing on how his colleagues were captured, Museveni wrote in his book that it was a one Latigo, a former General Service functionary who he had in 1971 shared a room at Rex Hotel in Dar es Salaam that tracked Kangire a FRONASA fighter and handed him to Amin’s agents. Once arrested, Kangire revealed all the contacts and mentioned James Karuhanga’s house at Kyambogo College in Kampala.
Before Karuhanga was arrested, his colleague, Valeriano Rwaheru, tossed a stick grenade which killed several soldiers. Rwaheru was killed by another grenade he was about to toss. “It exploded before he could throw it,” Museveni wrote. In 2010, while celebrating his silver wedding jubilee in Kanungu, Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi told the congregation that he decided to marry in 1973, after his friend was killed by Amin.
The Sunday Monitor was unable to establish of the three FRONASA fighters executed at Kabale Stadium who was Amama’s friend. Efforts to reach Mr Mbabazi for a comment were futile as he was reportedly in Egypt for an official visit.
Meanwhile when this journalist contacted Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) stalwart Edward Rurangaranga for a comment, he said: “Why do you want me to cry again over Karuhanga’s death?”
He added: “It is true Karuhanga was my younger brother. Very intelligent and was quit a promising character. He was only 24 years old. Although he was not yet married, he had had a child – which until recently we did not know. In fact, his daughter lately came to visit us. She is married with children in Kyazanga, Masaka.”
From the press reports, Karuhanga was the only one haunted and tormented by the public before he was executed. As he was being tied to the tree, the public reportedly yelled at him in Runyankole “Leka bakwite, tuturikwenda bahekyera” translated as “Be killed. We don’t want guerrillas.” The public also questioned why a brilliant and intelligent young man like him would join a rebellion against the government. All this was reported by the Munno and Voice of Uganda newspapers on February 12 and 13, 1973.
Famous Fronasa who survived firing squad
Although the 11 suspected Fronasa guerrillas were executed, the search for their accomplices went on. Fortunately for the Fronasa guerrillas, no one was captured – and today, they are in control of the wheels-of-power at the helm. Worth noting is that on top of the wanted list - dead or alive - by Amin was the Fronasa leader, Yoweri Museveni.
Other famous rebels revealed by the Fronasa captives were: Amama Mbabazi, Eriya Kategaya, Ruhakana Rugunda, Ikuya Magode, Maumbe Makhwana, Abbas Kibazo, Haruna Kibuye, Haruna Bakari and Akena p’Ojok. These and a dozen of other Fronasa activists survived the February 10, public execution, 40 years ago. Last month, while addressing the NRM MPs during a retreat at Kyankwanzi, President Museveni said that he has been in the political struggle for 50 years.