Saturday January 25 2014

As NRM makes 28, please hear the small tale of a former cadre

By Asuman Bisiika

I joined the rebel National Resistance Army in late 1985. In fact, I was recruited by Maj Gen Kahinda Otafire ...

It was a Sunday; the date January 26, 1986. The National Resistance Army marched onto Kampala City and took over state power from the rump government of the Military Junta.

The day has been marked annually as a national holiday designated as NRM Victory Day (I am not sure about official name of the day though). And tomorrow, for the 28th time, it will be celebrated at Mayuge in Mayuge District.

Daily Monitor has been running the experiences of sons and daughters of people who fought in the war. And here, in a small way, I bring you the testimony of a young man from Kasese who shared his story with me.

I joined the rebel National Resistance Army in late 1985. In fact, I was recruited by Maj Gen Kahinda Otafiire in the deeper recesses of the Rwenzori Mountains at Kyarumba.
Otafiire had come to address a rally at Kyarumba. It must have been after the starting of the Nairobi peace talks; because I remember asking (I was the only one who asked) Kahinda Otafiire about the war and the peace talks. Burning with high school naiveté, I asked: Mr Otafiire Sir, isn’t it a contradiction that you are fighting while participating in the peace talks in Nairobi?

For my size (and please note that Bakonzo are always short and slight of body), Otafire seemed to have been taken aback. He called me to the podium, actually one of the stones in Kyalhumba Market. “You, why shouldn’t you join us?” he said.
“But I am in school.” I replied. He laughed and said, “We shall take you back to school after taking power.”

As he was engaging me, and people were leaving one by one fearing he may kill me thinking my question annoyed him, an epileptic young man had a seizure and fell down causing a stampede. Needless to say, the people, Otafiire’s audience, scampered hither and thither. What impressed me with Otafiire was that he never even showed any fear. He, however, clutched my hands; more like stopping me from running away from him. His escorts too were steady; never even batting an eyelid.

Otafiire left me a note written on a cigarette packet foil paper saying that I was an NRM Cadre. And thus, unconsciously I became an NRM cadre.

No, but this story should be told with some candour. My cousin Hamza Abbas, had ran from the law in Muhokya; he was suspected (actually he had killed) to have killed a UNLA (so-called Obote soldier) who had messed with his girlfriend (actually date in a night club). A sought man, Hamza escaped to Kirembo Village (home) and hid there. My father, for being a DP activist, had run across the border to the DR Congo after the DP candidate Dr Henry Bwambale was disqualified for being late.

Hamza, well-trained in tekwondo, was always called a commando and had been trained in gun use by a rogue Italian engineer working with Stirling Astalidi, the company that constructed the Nakasongola Airbase.

The moment the Obote government fell, Hamza disappeared from home only to appear later in a tattered and ill-fitting military battle fatigues. He was on an assignment of taking the school lorry of a local secondary school. Armed with my cigarette packet paper foil Identity Card, I joined him. And that was my first physical contribution to the NRM effort to usher in the peace.

We grabbed the lorry and took it… This is the very lorry that carried coffee from the co-op union.

Knowing nothing about guns, I was asked to go for training in Rubona. I just couldn’t handle the training and I still liked to be my cousin Hamza’s kijini (tonnes boy).
Later, I was mainstreamed in the 75th Battalion commanded by Captain Biganja. Hamza, who seemed not to be under one’s command, taught me how to use a gun in the national park.

Mr Bisiika is the executive editor of East Africa Flagpost.