Lt Gen Bazilio: The 1985 coup top dog

Sunday August 4 2013

Bazilio Okello

Bazilio Okello 

By Otim Lucima

The euphoria of liberation of Uganda on April 11, 1979, from the stranglehold of brutal military dictator Idi Amin soon melted away. Interim President Yusufu Kironde Lule held Uganda together for only 68 days while the umbrella presidency of Godfrey Lukongwa Binaisa was shattered after only 11 months and Dr Milton Obote had his second chance at the presidency shot down prematurely after four and half years.

At the centre of the quick coup d’états were the gun muzzles of Paulo Muwanga, Gen Yoweri Museveni, and Gen Tito Okello Lutwa and Lt Gen Bazilio Olara-Okello, who both also held power between them for only six months before Museveni toppled them. We focus on Lt Gen Bazilio Olara-Okello, who proved the weakest link in the Milton Obote II regime and led the mutiny against the UPC II regime on July 27, 1985.

About Bazilio
Little has been written about the military career Lt Gen Bazilio Olara-Okello. Born in Poyamo clan of Madi-Opei, Lamwo district (then Kitgum district) in 1928, Bazilio Olara-Okello was the son of Rwot (Chief) Langoya Rwonomoi.
In 1949, at 21, Bazilio joined the Kings African Rifles (KAR), the regional British colonial army at the time, about 10 years after Tito Okello and Idi Amin. Bazilio trained at the KAR East African training wing in Nakuru, Kenya. The main language used for instructions was Swahili which he soon adapted to quickly.

At beginning of 1952, Bazilio on successfully completing training at Nakuru was posted for an instructor’s course at the 4th Division at Nanyuki Airfield Camp. In 1954 Bazilio was deployed to Kenya to fight the Mau-Mau uprising – a Kenyan movement that was fighting for independence. In Kenya, Bazilio briefly served as a sports officer before being posted to Jinja, the only Ugandan battalion by then, as an instructor to the “A” Company – Infantry. Bazilio thus returned at the dawn of Uganda’s independence from Nairobi on October 4, 1962, as a Sergeant.

At independence, the Ugandan contingent of the KAR evolved into the Uganda Rifles, later renamed Uganda Army (UA). In 1963 Uganda Rifles officially became Uganda Army, and Bazilio was posted to Moroto as part of a contingent that established the 2nd Battalion under the command of Lt Shaban Opolot.

In 1965, as a result of the Congo crisis, Bazilio’s “B” Company was shifted to Arua from Moroto. In Arua, Bazilio was promoted to WO11 and posted to “C” Company as Company Sergeant Major (CSM). In 1967, under the command of Capt. Ebito, Bazilio was promoted to full Lieutenant and appointed platoon commander of “C” Company. Following the promotion, Bazilio together with other previously Senior Non-commissioned Officers (NCOs) were enrolled for another course in Kampala. The course was conducted by training officer, Capt. Barnabas Kili.

Bazilio then returned to Moroto as Commanding Officer (CO). In May 1968, Bazilio together with eight other officers, including Onzo, Jabuloni Okee, Laban Okello and Gereson Okello, were promoted to the rank of Captain and Bazilio was appointed Camp Commandant of ”B” Company under Battalion Commander Lt Col Adiryano Ojok. Bazilio remained in Moroto until the 1971 coup d’état by Idi Amin that deposed the Milton Obote I UPC regime.

Capt. Bazilio (then) outmaneuvered Amin’s slip noose and narrowly survived being captured by Amin’s henchmen and killed as were other Acholi and Langi officers and men. His elder brother, Capt Luigi Obwoya Oblicks, was not as lucky, he was killed by Amin’s men in Jinja and his remains have never been discovered. Bazilio sneaked back to Madi-Opei, his country home, and then onto Agoro and finally to Owiny-kibul in South Sudan.

At Owiny-kibul he was appointed a Camp Commandant of the Ugandan exiles training camp. But following the peace agreement between the South Sudan Anyanya liberation movement and the Jaffar al-Numeri government in 1972, Khartoum asked that the Ugandan exiles camp at Owiny-kibul be disbanded and the guerrillas relocated.

The exiles were then quickly shipped from Port Sudan and onto Dar–es-Saalam in Tanzania, close to the date of the 1972 invasion by Ugandan exiles in Tanzania. Bazilio and the Owiny-kibul troops were hurriedly rushed to the frontline in a poorly planned invasion by Dr. Obote and Ugandan exiles already stationed in Tanzania. An estimated 800 men fell to Idi Amin’s fierce fighters during the failed Mutukula Invasion.

Following failed 1972 invasion, Bazilio was appointed Camp Commandant of Kigwa Refugee Camp, in which former Uganda Army exiles and rural youths were resettled by the Tanzanian government of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere.
Milton Obote, Tito Okello, David Oyite-Ojok and Yoweri Museveni never lived in Kigwa Camp but in Dar-es-Salaam. With the exception of Tito Okello, the rest never, in the nine years of exile, visited “their soldiers” in the camp in Kigwa. Any assistance given under the United Nations Refugee High Commission never reached the refugees of Kigwa, but ended up in Dar-es-Salaam.

The suffering in Kigwa was immense, as the former UA servicemen and exiles had to set up a livelihood from scratch. But Bazilio cheerfully supervised the more than 1,000 former UA soldiers and rural youths, mostly Acholi, who had fled the Amin onslaught. And soon they settled in quite well and tilled the land and made tobacco their cash cow as they sold it to the Wanyamwezi, a local community, and others who traveled to the camp from Tabora and surrounding towns.
By the time they left in 1979, Kigwa had developed almost to the size of Tabora town and the Tanzanians admired the kind of community the Acholi had set up. But this peaceful farm life was soon disrupted as Amin invaded Tanzania’s Kagera’s region in November 1978.

Bazilio was called into action and quickly organized his nearly 1,000 men in Kigwa, whilst other commanders organised those in Tabora, Dodoma, Mwanza and Dar-es-Salaam; into Kikosi Maalum – the special liberation force of Ugandan exiles that finally overthrew Idi Amin in 1979.
Disaster strikes
But disaster soon struck during the advance by the Kikosi Maalum into Uganda. All the more than 300 men under arms from Kigwa and Tabora, mostly Acholi, sunk and died in overloaded ships in Lake Victoria.
Bazilio remained very bitter about this unresolved ship disaster and death of more than 300 Acholi sons. He felt personally responsible for them as the men had been under his direct command in Kigwa Camp.

Nonetheless, the Kikosi Maalum under overall commanded of Col Tito Okello Lutwa and his lieutenants Lt Col David Oyite-Ojok, Capt Bazilio Olara-Okello, Zed Maruru, Opon Acak and others re-entered Uganda through the Mutukula border, fought and liberated Masaka and moved on to capture Kampala, marking the final fall of Idi Amin’s regime on April 11, 1979.
After the Liberation War, Capt Bazilo was decorated Lieutenant Colonel and appointed commanding officer of 15th Battalion, with his headquarters in Makindye, Kampala.

But Bazilio remained concerned about lack of accountability to the families of his troops who had died but he was instead labelled a rebel sympathizer. To date, no special mention or honour has been accorded the more than 300 victims of Amin’s war. This and other longstanding complaints by Bazilio underpinned the grievances which later spiralled into a mutiny by a section of UNLA military top brass and overthrow of the Milton Obote II UPC regime on July 27, 1985.