As the 27 armed men attacked Kabamba on February 6, 1981, I was in vacation having completed Primary Leaving Exams at the end of 1980. Those were heady days. You may well refer to me as one of the NRA Kadogo-activists who remained behind the enemy lines. As a pupil, I considered myself well informed not only in current affairs, but on the political goings on around me. As a young UPM supporter, I had participated in the campaigns leading up to the botched elections of December 1980, albeit as a child cheerleader. I had also heard the threats of the UPM president, a contender for Mbarara North, as my constituency - Kazo was known. Yoweri Museveni had warned he would fight if the election was rigged.
In the event, Kazo turned out to be one of NRA’s foremost recruitment grounds, despite the fact DP had won the constituency. Robert Kabura, one of the 27 who attacked Kabamba had been my classmate, though older before joining UNLA. Frank Kamuninga, also among the 27, was a close family friend. Many of our young mates and close relatives ended up in the NRA armed struggle that culminated in capturing power in 1986.
In 1982, my family was involved in clandestine work, channelling more boys to NRA Luweero war theatre. The group of 20 or so that left with my cousin George Rwaibanda and Capt Kamuntu had a roll-call at our house in Kazo at mid-night. Rwaibanda, an NCO in UNLA, had defected from his unit and hid at home for a few weeks. It was Brig Stephen Kashaka who came all the way from the jungles of Luweero to collect them. This was the first of several groups to be dispatched to the bush.
You have to give it to Milton Obote’s National Security Agency (NASA) led by Chris Rwakasisi (now presidential adviser). They had good intelligence. The following day, operatives came to our house with the local chief to inquire about a large group of people who left our property next to the Diary Milk Cooling plant in Kazo. We thought the operation was clandestine but NASA rumbled us and some people got arrested. Kazo Secondary School bursar then known as Catherine had kept a group of 10 young men in her house for a whole day as they had to wait for Brig Kashaka who had gone by bicycle to Nyabushozi to fetch more boys. It took two days from the time Kashaka arrived on mission, to when all the 20 or more boys gathered at our house to embark on the midnight trek. A good number of the 20 were UNLA deserting to NRA.
A game of cat and mouse unravelled with our parents going into hiding as a result of harbouring ‘guerrillas’. My father, together with Mzee Lazaro Kyabihende - father of Brig Taban - hid in our farm. I remember Hebert Kyabihende, now Lt Col in UPDF, and myself ferrying food and information to those in hiding. Other elders - Mzee James Rwetega, Mzee, Georgee Ruzara and Mzee Bwamunyoga also went into hiding.
When I left Kazo to study in Jinja, my classmates joined NRA en-mass. I remember feeling left out when I heard that Hebert Kyabihende aka Lt Col Makanga, Col Kanyesigye who heads military police, Lt Col David Kamukama , Maj Stephen Mugarura currently legal officer SFC and many others had enlisted. The next time I saw them after storming Kampala, they were seasoned soldiers and me, a senior five student.
Most of the officers mentioned above had been part of our juniors social club, which we named Makanga boys. This is where Lt Col Hebert Kyabihende derives the pet name Makanga. It was our social cum debating Club in Kazo in mid 80s. This club emptied into the bush, save for yours faithfully. As we celebrate this Liberation Day, I pay tribute to the men and women from all over the country who made the ultimate sacrifice.
I fondly remember those from Kazo. Some had joined Fronasa - then UNLA and ended up as commanders in the NRA bush war.
A few are alive, but many died. Elly Tumwine (now General), the late Hannington Mugabi, a munduli cadet, Patrice Lumumba, Geoffrey Mwijukye (aka Brig Taban), Burundi Nyamunywanisa (Brigadier), Col Frank Kamuninga Kifuba, Joram Mugume ( General), Maj George Rwaibanda, Rutembana, Dora Kuteesa (wife to Maj Gen Pecos Kutesa), Tom Mihirane, Fred Kashoma, Kakwezi, Muhanguzi Kimosho, Lauben Ikondere, Robert Kabura, the Katuuku, Akanga Byaruhanga, Kagumire, Sam Karogo (now Major), Geoffrey Katumbuza, Kodi Nunguri, Kusasira Butimbire, Koozi, e Muharabu and Kamwerere. This is not a comprehensive list of Kazo fighters, but those I remember because I knew them personally. They and others were brave men and women. They fought a good war until Uganda was free.
We will eternally be grateful to these combatants. When they eventually captured government, the surviving fighters looked for us and gave us generous treats. Gen Elly Tumwine was the army commander as Kampala fell. Col Lumumba was the fearless commander of the 3rd Battalion. Gen Joram Mugume became the first chief of logistics and engineering. For limited space, I cannot enthral you with the bush war heroic exploits of Kazo boys. Suffice to know that many fell before they tasted the fruits of liberation. Kakwezi (Kacamu), Hannington Mugabi, Rutembana, Muharabu and many other fighters are buried at the Luweero Triangle. May God remember them and all the others who made the ultimate sacrifice. Happy 30th anniversary.
Mr Katungi works with Uganda Media Centre.