I was link between Fronasa fighters in Uganda, Tanzania

Apollo Mabaati, a former Fronasa fighter. Photo by Alfred Tumushabe

What you need to know:

War hero. In Witness this week, we talk to Apollo Mabaati who started as a link between Fronasa fighters in Tanzania and Uganda. And when Uganda invaded Tanzania in October 1978, Mabaati was officially recruited into the Fronasa ranks. He talked to Faustin Mugabe

Circumstances mold a man and shape his destiny. Apollo Mabaati, a retired staff sergeant UD: 1109 in the former Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA), as a child dreamed of becoming a lawyer.

He wanted to be a lawyer so that he could defend mankind from social injustices he witnessed as a teenager in Mbarara District.
But that was not to be. Owing to the prevailing circumstances, Mabati ended up joining the Front for National Salvation (Fronasa), a rebel military movement established in Tanzania in 1971 led by Yoweri Museveni to fight Idi Amin’s regime.

In 1975, Mabati dropped out of school after Senior Four exams which he sat at Kololo Secondary School in Kampala.
“I was in Senior Four vacation in 1975 trying to join A-Level when my first cousin Lt Mutera with whom I was staying was killed. After his death, life was so hard for me to continue with my studies,” Mabaati says.

After the death of Mutera in 1975, Mabaati went to Mbarara Town to look for a job.

He got one as a switchboard operator at Mbarara hospital having received good training from Kizito Nakumussana, the in-charge switchboard operator.

At the hospital, he lived with his paternal aunt Eve Kyinyamatama, a senior nursing officer.
But soon, he left when he got a better job as a field veterinary officer at Ruhengeri Field Station in Mbarara.

Mabaati joins Fronasa
“I started to trade in cattle from Uganda to Karagwe in Tanzania where there was a good cattle market. Then one day in 1977 while in Tanzania, I met an old friend Shaban Kashanku. I had known him during our school days. He was at Kitante High School when I was at Kololo Secondary School. He told me that I should join them in the fight against Amin.”

The late Kashanku bought Mabaati a new Raleigh bicycle to ease his business of acaricides from Uganda to Tanzania and soon, Mabaati became a link between Fronasa fighters in Tanzania and Uganda.
“I remember later when I met Chefe Ali (RIP) in Karagwe, he instructed me to mark all the bridges in the Ankole area including Sembabule which I did,” Mabaati says.

Mabaati goes for military training

NRA soldiers in their last offensive to take over Kampala. Mabaati reunited with his war comrades in 1982. File Photo.

When Uganda invaded Tanzania in October 1978, Mabaati was officially recruited into the Fronasa ranks and he did a crash-military programme.

“In October 1978, I was among the first Fronasa in-take at Nyamiyaga, Karagwe in Tanzania”. Mabaati says.
“When we crossed into Uganda, I was one of the first Fronasa recruiting officers together with now retired Rev Patrick Kamugisha of Kitagagi Church of Uganda in Kiruhura District. We were using nom de camp. Kamugisha adapted Sokomoko and I adapted Hussein Mubarak. We did this to conceal our identity from the enemy.

Why adopted Arabic names
The reason Fronasa fighters adapted Arabic names was a psychological tactic. They did not want a scenario were Amin would use counter-propaganda to claim that the Christians were fighting Muslims.

Thus, by adapting Arabic names, the tactic worked against Amin’s government since those who did not know the truth thought that Fronasa had Muslim fighters therefore this attracted some sympathy and moral support from some Muslims both local and internationally. As a result, Museveni adapted several names including Mzee Kassim or Musa this he mentions in his book “Sowing the Mustard Seed”.

Mabaati told Witness that Caleb Ankwanaho, Museveni’s younger brother took Salim Saleh. Fred Rwigyema took Chefe Gisa, Mwine Kajungu became Chefe Ali (RIP) Kangaho became Chefe Makosa.
For years, Mabaati had never seen Museveni, until around March 1979 when he came with Lt Col Tito Okello Lutwa, Tanzanian Defence minister Rashid Kawawa to visit Fronasa Basic Military Training Camp at Kakoba, Mbarara.

After the war, the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) was established with the amalgamation of Fronasa and Kikoosi Maalum and Mabati became a soldier in UNLA.
But when Museveni went to the bush in February 1981 after the December 1980 disputed elections, former Fronasa were labelled wanted.

Mabaati then went underground and hid in Kyempene, Rubare in Ntungamo District.

Mabaati had lost contact with his comrades until after the 1982 expulsion of the Banyarwanda and other Ugandans to Rwanda by the UPC government when he clandestinely re-established contact with the NRA/M rebels at a contact in the areas around Mbarara, Lyantonde and Sembabule districts.

Mabati brief biography
Mabati was born on March 23, 1955 to Tomas Mabaati and Joy Mabati, in Kyempene, Rushenyi, Ntungamo District. In 1988 he immigrated to Kiruhura District.
Mabaati is married to Jovanice Mpumwire with whom he has seven children – four boys and three girls.
Today, he is the Kiruhura District Veterans League national chairman of Fronasa Veterans and also the in-charge Fronasa Desk Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) in the Office of the President.