Kampala- His first major undertakings for Uganda went largely unnoticed before last Sunday when an operation he commanded left the Rwenzururu kingdom palace in Kasese town in ruins and dozens dead, with king Charles Wesley Mumbere subjected to the ignominy of public arrest before his subjects.
Brig Peter Elwelu, who joined the armed forces in 1987, cut star military teeth by exceeding expectations as commander of the first Ugandan military contingent deployed to rein in lawlessness in Somalia under the African Union banner.
He, alongside Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura and current UPDF 3rd Division commander Dick Olum, had done the reconnaissance preceding deployment of Ugandan troops to Mogadishu, a capital then under control of Al Shabaab.
His assignment was about the refresher training needs and operational readiness that UPDF soldiers would require before taking a leap to fate in Somalia which the American Special Forces abandoned in haste in early 1990s after the humiliating Black Hawk incident.
And President Museveni, as the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, tasked Brig Elwelu to command the first contingent.
He earned respect and the Chief of Defence Forces, Gen Katumba Wamala, continues to praise him for a judgment call to found Amisom base at Hareni instead of the initially Somali government-suggested seaside site.
Those trappings of honour and praise were set alight in the flames of Buhikira palace, outside Kasese town, as Brig Elwelu ordered the indiscriminate bombing of the royal grounds.
By evening, only charred bodies of royal guards and smoldering ashes of torched shrines, which had housed priceless cultural artifacts, remained in the wake of a security lockdown in the western Uganda town.
“We are going to keep in place until no more tension and no more criminals in the region... The operation is still on,” Brig Elwelu said, referring to the dead victims as “terrorists”. That’s a terminology he grew to use while in Somalia and it appeared the vile hangover of the Amisom offensive was at play.
A video clip broadcast by Nile Broadcasting Services (NBS) television captured police holding king Mumbere by the trouser waistline the way common criminals are handled in the country. It was another low and bloody chapter and, with it, a repeat of the 1966 invasion of the Kabaka’s palace by Milton Obote’s government and subsequent abolition of kingdoms.
Uganda is yet to recover, if it ever will, from the political consequences of the 1966 Buganda crisis. It is unclear to precisely to gauge the long-term implications of Sunday’s event, which has residents in the Rwenzori scared to even speak out.
And Brig Elwelu, who collapsed on the parade ground while commanding the Uganda golden jubilee anniversary parade at Kololo, remained unfazed on Sunday and has kept a media charm offensive that has handed narrative of the bloody incursion firmly to security forces.
The army under his command has kept the palace and nearby health facilities off-limits to civilians and journalists and Ms Joy Doreen Biira, a Ugandan journalist working with Kenya Television Network (KTN) was taken into police custody on suspicion that she was documenting witnesses’ testimonies and gory images of the raid.
Police say 62 people were killed in total, and we cannot independently verify the figures due to military and police restrictions.