NRA Bush War and why Uganda wasn’t ripe for revolution

Sunday July 7 2019

Yoga Adhola

Yoga Adhola  

By Yoga Adhola

On Tuesday, August 28, 2018, The EastAfrican published an article, ‘If Museveni of today met Yoweri Museveni the revolutionary, they would shoot each other’ by Jenerali Ulimwengu. In the article, Ulimwengu reflected: “Many of those who knew Yoweri as a revolutionary student leader at the University of Dar es Salaam look at the man he has become and wonder what would happen if the two Yoweris were ever to meet.

“They would shoot each other,” quipped an acquaintance from the 1960s and 70s. The flip-flops of politicians that we are witnessing today are nothing compared with the greatest flip-flop of all times in our region.

I need to point out that Ulimwengu and Museveni were at the University of Dar es salaam at the same time. Both were on the left-wing of student politics. Ulimwengu was active in TANU Youth League and Museveni was leading USURF.

The point which seems to escape Ulimwengu is that the so-called revolutionary ideology they embraced at the time, was infantile and could not accurately reflect the situation and correctly guide.
I have confidence to state this because I arrived in Dar es Salaam from the University of Nairobi in 1971. Ulimwengu and Museveni had graduated the year before. At the time the University of Dar es salaam was teeming with left-wing thinking. The University of Nairobi, where I had been, was very right wing.

In that context, when I got to Dar es Salaam, I couldn’t follow the left-wing ideas of my contemporaries. I quickly realised my shortcomings and embarked on a programme of self-education. It did not take long for me to catch up with the Musevenis.

And that is when I joined Fronasa. In those days Fronasa was aiming at bringing about a Cuban-type of revolution in Uganda. The problem was the situation in Uganda was not ripe for that revolution.


This is how Lenin defined a situation that is ripe for revolution: “To the Marxist it is indisputable that a revolution is impossible without a revolutionary situation; furthermore, it is not every revolutionary situation that leads to revolution. What, generally speaking, are the symptoms of a revolutionary situation?

We shall certainly not be mistaken if we indicate the following three major symptoms: (1) when it is impossible for the ruling classes to maintain their rule without any change; when there is a crisis, in one form or another, among the ‘upper classes’, a crisis in the policy of the ruling class, leading to a fissure through which the discontent and indignation of the oppressed classes bursts forth.

For a revolution to take place, it is usually insufficient for ‘the lower classes not to want’ to live in the old way; it is also necessary that ‘the upper classes should be unable’ to live in the old way; (2) when the suffering and want of the oppressed classes have grown more acute than usual; (3) when as a consequence of the above causes, there is a considerable increase in the activity of the masses, who uncomplainingly allow themselves to be robbed in ‘peace time’, but, in turbulent times, are drawn both by the circumstances of the crisis and by the upper classes themselves into independent political action.”

The strange thing is, in his essay, Fanon’s theory of violence and its verification in Mozambique, Museveni revised this definition so that it could appear the situation was ripe. This was totally self-serving. The situation remained far from being ripe.

Against this background, Museveni went on to launch what he viewed as a revolutionary war to bring about a revolution. This is the Luweero Bush War. In this war of his, he adapted the methodology advocated by Regis Debray, unknown to Museveni, by the time he was first reading Regis Debray, Debray’s writings had already been discredited and so had his so-called revolutionary strategy.
Museveni went ahead with his so-called war of liberation.

Initially, the NRA, as the Museveni outfit was known, was a nuisance to the government. However, when a special brigade to fight the insurgency came into being, things gradually changed. By the time of the 1985 coup, Museveni had been defeated and had even returned to Sweden. A coup that brought into power an inept junta took place in July 1985. Museveni regrouped and was able to flush out the junta in six short months.

This victory turned out to be a poisoned chalice. Because the situation was not ripe for revolution, things turned up to be what Fredrick Engels described in his essay, The Peasant War in Germany. This is what he wrote:

“The worst thing that can befall a leader of an extreme party is to be compelled to take over a government in an epoch when the movement is not yet ripe for the domination of the class which he represents and for the realisation of the measures which that domination would imply.

“What he can do depends not upon his will but upon the sharpness of the clash of interests between the various classes, and upon the degree of development of the material means of existence, the relations of production and means of communication upon which the clash of interests of the classes is based every time...

“Thus he necessarily finds himself in a dilemma. What he can do is in contrast to all his actions as hitherto practised, to all his principles and to the present interests of his party; what he ought to do cannot be achieved. In a word, he is compelled to represent not his party or his class, but the class for whom conditions are ripe for domination.”

The writer is a leading ideologue of the UPC