On February 6, Uganda celebrated Tarehe Sita day, the day when in 1981, Mr Yoweri Museveni led 41 other Popular Resistance Army (PRA) rebel fighters and launched a war against the Uganda government led by president Milton Obote.
In June 1981, PRA became the National Resistance Army (NRA), which captured power in January 1986. Since then, Mr Museveni has been the President of Uganda.
Museveni’s house attacked
When Museveni declared war against the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) government on February 6, 1981, he was named public enemy number one.
That night, there was a military operation conducted by the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) soldiers.
During the operation in Makindye, a Kampala suburb, an infuriated soldier, Lt Peter Mugasha, who was said to be the operation commander, shelled the house of the former minister of Defence-turned-rebel leader using a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG).
According to media reports, three RPGs were used to bomb the house in which the Musevenis had stayed since mid-December 1981.
On the night of February 6, 1981, several homes of people suspected of being accomplices of Museveni were attacked by the UNLA.
The defunct Weekly Topic of Friday, February 13, 1981, owned by politicians Jaberi Bidandi Ssali, Kintu Musoke and Kirunda Kivejinja, reported on the attacks.
The paper wrote: “On the same night, soldiers besieged the residence of former vice chairman of the Military Commission, Yoweri Museveni. Reports said three bazookas were fired at the house from different corners, causing extensive damage. The Musevenis were not in the house that night and two domestic servants who were there escaped unhurt. Also no attempt was made to enter the house.”
Under the headline “Terror strikes Kampala”, Weekly Topic reported that a family were the victim of mistaken identity, and for that they paid heavily.
“Sandwiched in these events was the tragedy that befell the Kyobe family at Lungujja. It is understood that the family were the victims of ‘mistaken identity’. Their house was attacked by mistake by soldiers who had been detailed to locate another house that had been reported to contain arms. The house was besieged at night and a bazooka was fired into one the walls, but no attempt was made to storm it,” the newspaper reported.
“In the morning, an impromptu firing squad executed two of Kyobe’s sons and a grandchild and seriously injured Kyobe and two other sons who were taken to hospital in a critical condition. It was later discovered that the wrong house had been attacked.”
Sunday Monitor established that in mid July 1985, Lt Mugasha was among the UNLA soldiers that were released from the Luzira Maximum Security Prison by president Obote to fight mutinying soldiers opposed to him. But we could not establish why he was arrested in the first place.
Mugumya Magulumali, now a retired Major, was at Luzira prison from 1981 to January 1986 and he remembers Lt Mugasha.
“He was a short man in physical appearance. He was brought to Luzira prison after we had been there for some time – although I cannot remember which year it was,” Magulumali said on phone from his Wankulukuku home near Kampala city.
“I heard rumours that it was Lt Mugasha who bombed Museveni’s house in Makindye when Museveni went to the bush in 1981.”
Although, it was reported in the media that the house was owned by Museveni, the truth was that it was owned by John Katafiire, a relative of First Lady Janet Museveni.
In the book My Life’s Journey, Ms Museveni narrates how they returned from Mbarara after the December 10, 1980 general election and found that their official home in Kololo had been allocated to someone else in the ministry of Defence.
“We had to quickly find another place to stay. Our only option was John’s house in Makindye. It had been badly vandalised by Amin’s thugs, but we had no other choice. I quickly organised to paint the floor and moved our belongings into those quarters. We only occupied the top floor and left the ground closed,” she writes on page 104 of her book.
Another interesting event of February 6, 1981, worth mentioning was the first PRA casualty.
On the first day of the war at Kabamba Military Barracks, Chihandae was shot in the leg. When PRA reorganised after the battle that lasted about 30 minutes, Chihandae was found seriously injured.
He was dumped near the gate of a dispensary as the rebels continued to their hideout in Luweero. Luckily, he was treated and re-joined the rebels after some weeks.
Bidandi Ssali arrested
When Museveni, the former Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM) presidential candidate, went to the bush, several of his party members were arrested or killed by security agencies. Among those arrested was former UPM secretary general Bidandi Ssali.
“UPM secretary general Bidandi-Ssali, a former minister of Local Administration was arrested at Ntinda on Tuesday night. So far, there has been no official statement on his arrest, the reason for which still remains a mystery,” the Weekly Topic of Friday, February, 13, 1981 reported.
“Bidandi was last seen in public at a football match in Nakivubo stadium. Men in military uniform accompanied by somebody in plain clothes went to his home at about 10pm and told him they were taking him to ‘our mukubwa’. They gained entrance into his fence compound without using the gate and surrounded the house. As Bidandi was led away, members of his household were ordered to remain seated and silent.”
The newspaper also reported that Bidandi was in the custody of the Tanzania People’s Defence Forces at Entebbe, but some eyewitness said he had been seen being led in and out of the CID Headquarters at Impala building in Kampala.
Before President Museveni and his colleagues attacked Kabamba Barracks in Mubende District on February 6, 1981, they had spent the three previous nights assembling and cleaning their guns at the home of Mr Mathew Rukikaire, a retired politician.
Mr Rukikaire, now 80, told Sunday Monitor in an interview in February that a few fighters among the 43 who had 27 guns knew the plan of the attack.
“These people, who were here as they gathered more and more numbers, did not know what was going to happen. I am sure that with only a few exceptions, the majority of them did not know where they were going to attack until they got into the truck. I believe on their way, they were told they were going to attack Kabamba,” he said.
The other fighters spent a night in the garage, which is now Mr Rukikaire’s reading room, where they also prepared meals in those three days.
Gen Elly Tumwine, the Security minister, and late Sam Magara, who were the two most senior fighters after their training in Tanzania, were given a room on the first floor of the house.
The late Magara was later killed by government soldiers when he sneaked from the bush to Kampala in early days of the rebellion.
A few days before the attack, Rukikaire evacuated his children to Nairobi and his wife later followed them. After the attack, he also joined his family in Nairobi.
“I had to take cover. Museveni later sent me a message that I should go to Nairobi and help to organise external support, which I did not do immediately. I stuck around but I was not visible. I was not moving around openly until I quietly organised my departure,” he said.