NRM BUSH WAR MEMORIES: How Museveni’s driver led

Monday February 9 2004

He joined the bush war at its inception and drove dozens of rebel recruits to the Luwero war zone. He had a close shave with death several times and now lives not a particularly glorious life as a veteran having been ‘pushed’ out of the system. Clearly unsatisfied with his low service number, Capt. Tofa Agaba (R0 357) narrated to William Tayeebwa the trials and tribulations of the bush war.

Towards the end of 1978, Amin’s soldiers forcefully took my guardian Mr Aberinego Asiimwe to Kampala thus disrupting my training career in Mechanics.

Then at about the same time, while on my way home from Mbarara, we entered a roadblock at Kaberebere where a soldier forcefully grabbed my watch.
Those two incidents made me hate Idi Amin’s soldiers.

At the time the liberators from Tanzania came to our place, my two uncles John Nsimire (RIP) and Sam Tibigwiisa, the current RDC for Bushenyi, were in touch with Yoweri Museveni.

The day Mbarara was captured, we rode bicycles from my home in Kagarama, Isingiro North and found Museveni’s group camped at Kyera near Nyamitanga. I joined them there and then. After rigorous training, I was posted to the Red Army under Afande Salim Saleh.

Our job was not direct combat but to keep law and order in the towns. We fought Amin’s fleeing soldiers through Kasese, Masindi up to Arua. While in Arua, I fell sick and Afande Saleh allowed me to come home on sick leave.

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Museveni’s driver

After recovery, my uncle Nsimire took me to Kampala where he was going to meet Mzee Museveni. We went to Kololo and my uncle told him I was a good driver. The following morning, he gave me the first assignment to deliver a letter to Afande Saleh in Moroto.

When we came back the following day, Mzee had left for Masindi for the presidential campaigns. The following morning, he was addressing a rally at Kiryandongo when a jeep full of soldiers came and they started firing in the air to disrupt his campaign rally.

One of Mzee’s escorts called Marach Mugabi also started firing and accidentally shot three people. Another ugly incident was on Election Day in December 1980. While at Mzee’s polling station in Nyabushozi, soldiers came and matched through the crowd. Although they did nothing, it was enough to intimidate the voters.

The day after voting, Mzee told us to come back to Kampala. I drove him in a Land Rover, which developed mechanical problems in Mbarara. He boarded a Datsun pickup truck and went back to Kampala.

I took the vehicle to Rwambura garage. When I came back for it, the garage owner said he had instructions from John Nganwa and Meyers Kyawe, staunch UPC leaders, that the owners of that vehicle should first report to Kamakuzi, the district administration headquarters, before taking it.

Sensing danger, I was assisted by a family friend called John Kaganzi and Jesca Tumwebaze to get an air ticket from Nyakisharara airstrip back to Kampala.

I reported to Mzee in Makindye how his vehicle had been confiscated in Mbaarara. The following morning, Mzee sent me to his secretary Ms Amelia Kyambadde working in parliament building for some money. I drove the family Mercedes Benz UXN 296 to parliament and went to claim my salary first. As it was being prepared, I went to Kyambadde’s office. On my way back, the transport officer, one Kikonyogo told me that two men were looking for the driver of the Mercedes Benz.

I left behind Mzee’s money and my salary and drove to report to Mzee in Makindye.

Out of Kampala

With all this harassment, we started holding meetings in Makindye barracks planning how to go to the bush.

In the first week of February 1981, Mzee asked me to drive Mama Janet to Entebbe. There was no flight to Nairobi, so we came back. Meanwhile, the kids had been taken by Mrs Amama Mbabazi by road to Kenya.

The following day, I took her back to the airport and she boarded a Kenya Airways flight to Nairobi. When I came back from the airport, I found a note from Mzee instructing me not to follow him but wait for further instructions.

His family was staying at Wycliffe Kazoora’s house in Makindye. On February 7, 1981, a day after the attack on Kabamba, I went with Joy Mirembe (RIP) and instructed Mzee’s housekeepers to move to the boys’ quarters. That very night, Mzee’s house was shelled. I then took his housekeepers to Mr Sam Rwakakoko’s house in Buganda road flats.

When I met Chris Rwakasisi’s driver at Dewinton road, he advised me to abandon that vehicle. I drove it to a garage in Makerere and left it there. At the time, we were in touch with Eriya Kategaya, Moses Kigongo, Gertrude Njuba and others.

When I went back to check on the vehicle, the owner gave me a chit from one Captain Okot instructing the garage owner that nobody should remove it.
At that time, Mzee sent someone to take us to where he was. I drove Mrs Gertrude Njuba’s Honda Acord and left with Kategaya, Kigongo and Njuba to Kikandwa at the house of Mzee Lutamaguzi. The old man directed to where Museveni was. He then briefed us on how Kabamba was attacked and that the bush war had actually began.

I wanted to stay behind with him but he asked me to come back to Kampala since I would be the one to ferry recruits to the bush.

Nile Mansions escape

Throughout the early part of 1981, I continued ferrying recruits to Museveni in Luwero and to Kyaligonza in Mukono. I survived two major incidents. In the first, I fell into a Tanzanian roadblock at Karege in Bulemezi after dropping some combatants continuing towards Hoima to recruit. The second one was when I fell into a military police roadblock on Gayaza Road when I was ferrying seven guns to Kyaligonza in Mukono. Shs 100 for a cigarette was enough to let the soldier wave me through.

But the best escape was on May 16, 1981, when one fellow called Cyril had led to our capture in Luzira where we had gone to pick some boys and guns.
On our way back from Luzira with the boys and guns, our vehicle, a Peugeot 504, was blocked at the Kiwatule junction.

Together with a colleague called Kalanzi, we were taken back to Luzira prison where we were brutally tortured for hours. Later, a group from Kampala came and interrogated us about Museveni, Kategaya, Kigongo and many others.

We were then transported from Luzira in a heavily guarded convoy to Nile Mansions and kept in a place where I used to pick Mzee’s Tanzanian escorts. I also knew that the room in which we were kept had sliding windows. A fellow called Sadiq whom we found in prison told us that the guards normally fell asleep at around 3.a.m. As we were planning our escape, three Land Rovers drove in and dropped several people brought from Mbarara.

Mrs Jovia Saleh and her sister Mable were among that group. I knew most members in the group and asked Kalanzi whether we should try to rescue them as well. We realized the group was too big and decided to leave them alone. That night, as I made the first move, one of the guards heard me and later escorted me to the toilet. When we came back, Sadiq had already jumped out of the window. The guard did not notice, but I did. As soon as he closed the door, I also jumped out and run towards the Nile Mansions fence facing Crested Towers. I jumped the fence as Kalanzi followed.

Wearing only underpants, I run towards Kitante Road through Katanga and then Makerere. After a shower, I went with a colleague called Edgar to Nalinya’s place in Nakulabye near the current police post. That evening, Kategaya, Kigongo, Joy Mirembe and Gertrude Njuba came and said Mzee wanted us.

We left for Migadi where we found him preparing to leave for Nairobi. I narrated to him my Luzira and Nile Mansions ordeal. He instructed me that after treatment in Mulago hospital, I stop transporting boys to the bush. The following day, he left the country. I came back to Kampala with the Kategayas for treatment.

After recovery, Joy Mirembe (RIP) and Shaban Kashanku (RIP) took me back to the bush. I found our colleagues in a place called Kanyanda. I was later transferred to Kabalega unit under Afande Elly Tumwine.

Tumwine hit in the eye

Sometime in July 1981, we went on an operation in Bukomero to charge the army detach there. It is in that operation that Tumwine was hit in the eye. I was behind him and he fell into my hands.

We pushed him on a bicycle back to our camp. I was actually hit in the leg as well and later brought to Kisekka hospital in Kampala, while Tumwine was transported out of the country.

My ears were oozing blood because of the grenade blast. Drs Namara and Stanley Tumwine treated us. When I went back to Luwero, I found Kyaligonza had been pushed out of the Mukono axis. He insisted that I stay with him in Black Bomber for clandestine activities in Kampala. At the time, we had an Isuzu Germini, which I continued driving to Kampala for clandestine work.

Kyaligonza the genius

During one of the operations with Kyaligonza, we drove to pick some of our hidden arms in Mukono. On our way back, we saw three military jeeps approaching from Kampala driving towards Jinja. Afande Kyaligonza instructed me to place my pistol on the dashboard. I looked at him in shock.

He insisted. When the panicking soldiers approached us, they saw our pistols on the dashboard and saluted. They narrated to us how some rebels had attacked Cooperative Bank in Kampala and fled through this route.

Kyaligonza told them we had not met any vehicle but advised them to drive on in pursuit. To date, I have immense respect for Afande Kyaligonza.

Attacking Kabamba

I have read several colleagues narrating the problems we faced during 1983 due to lack of food. It is that year that I did my first cadet course in a place called Kayukiyuki with Kahinda Otafiire and Lt. Col. Nalweyiso. We were trained by mainly Afande Tadeo Kanyankore (RIP).

By the time we completed our cadet course, plans to attack Masindi had materialized. I was by the time a platoon sergeant in the 15th battalion led by now Col. Peter Kerim in the External Security Organization (ESO). After the successful February 1984 attack of Masindi, I drove the Mercedes Benz lorry carrying the captured arms. We later abandoned and burnt all the vehicles near River Mayanja.

Most shocking incident

As a combatant, I witnessed many ugly incidents. However, the death of our first bush war commander, John Magara, sometime in 1983 was the most shocking. After a high command meeting in Kabalega chaired by Mzee, some of us decided to go to Kampala. Magara had a problem with his teeth and was going for treatment.

While in Kampala, we left Magara at Katenta Apuuli’s house in Mengo and went to sleep at Nalinya’s place in Nakulabye. The following morning, we went to check on Magara and found him in his bedroom. While there, the housemaid came running and said there were many soldiers at the main gate. We looked through the window and saw almost an entire platoon. Luckily, the fence had not been fully surrounded. As we rushed out, Magara went back for his briefcase in which, as army commander, he had vital documents and money.

Dampa [Benjamin Muhanguzi] and I bolted out of the house through the sitting room and through a small fence at the back of the house. After a short distance, we heard bullets. We however continued to Nalinya’s house in Nakulabye. Not seeing Magara, we decided to stroll back. We found the entire village had converged on the body of Magara. He had been shot in the back and fell in a sweet potato garden. I personally came and stood by his body and ascertained that Magara was dead. I am saying this because I have heard some loose talk implicating Mzee in the murder of Magara. That is total nonsense because Magara was killed by Obote’s soldiers in Mengo while Mzee was in Luwero.

I remember that after that incident, I was accompanied by now Captain Olivia Zizinga to report to Mzee. On the way, we borrowed the vehicle of one Mzee Zaruryo who is still alive. We drove to the camp arriving late in the night. Mzee told me to sleep and report the following day. In the morning, he called me to the ‘conference hall’. I then narrated to him how Magara was killed. He was very sad and called a meeting of the High Command and asked me to narrate to them as well.

Narrow escape

After the June 1984 successful attack of Hoima, we reached a place called Butema and Mzee instructed us to rest. Then Saleh asked me to drive back and pick some boys.

Two kilometers on the way, we met one fellow called Rwantare who said he had left some boys behind in need of assistance. A short distance ahead, my headlights shone into someone aiming an antitank at us. I thought it was one of our boys joking with us, but the fellow fired and the missile flew past the vehicle.

I realized that I had driven into an ambush. I drove through a hail of bullets. After some distance, the car was completely deflated and it stopped. We then realized that Rwantare had been shot on the spot and died instantly. Nsamba had been hit in the leg and was bleeding profusely. I am the one who came out of that vehicle without a single scratch. I removed my shirt and tied Nsamba’s wound and carried him through the thicket.

I later left him at a home of some civilian and rushed back to our camp for assistance. As Afande Saleh was organizing to go pick Nsamba, the civilian rode him to the camp.

Worst Battle

Throughout 1985, we pushed west taking over Fort Portal and later Kasese without major incidents. By the time we captured Kasese in July 1985, Milton Obote’s government had been overthrown.

Under the command of Afande Fred Rwigyema, we set off from Kahunge to Bwizibwera and then to Rubaya on our way to attack Mbarara Simba Barracks.
We left all the vehicles at Rubaya and went with one Land Rover. By the time we reached the barracks, information had leaked and we found the soldiers had taken positions in entrenchments.

They started shelling us even before we reached the fence. We had been so confident and had left the car full of bullets in Rubaya. We fought our way into the barracks and discovered that it was not possible to dislodge the fellows guarding the armoury.

As we fought on, enemy forces from Kamukuzi started attacking us from the rear. At that moment, our commander, Rwigyema, sent me for reinforcements in Rubaya. I rode a motorcycle through a hail of bullets and by the time I drove back, our boys were fleeing in disarray. The problem was that it was feared that Afande Rwigyema had been killed.

As he was communicating from a tree, a missile hit it and he was engulfed in smoke. Seeing no sign of him, our boys lost morale and got disorganized. As far as I know, this is one single battle where we lost most combatants, including my own uncle called Bindeeba.

Kampala Falls

By the time Kampala fell in January 1986, I was deployed to 163rd brigade under Afande David Tinyefuza. We had taken the western axis headed for Masindi. We later reunited with the group, which went through Kampala at Kigumba. We then continued to Northern Uganda capturing Gulu, Packwach and Arua. By that time, I was a transport officer under Kyamufumba Kizito (RIP).

Quick Notes NOTES

Date of Birth: 17/9/1959
Place of Birth: Kagarama, Kabingo, Isingiro North
Father: Mr Aloysius Bukumu (RIP)
Mother: Mrs Veronica Mukesiriba
Wife: Mrs Margaret Agaba
Position in Family: Last of eight
Schools: Kagarama and Kishayi Primary, Magamaga Mech. Engineering Sch
Favourite Dish: Matooke, Sweet Potatoes with Beef
Hobbies: Watching Motor Sport

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