NRM BUSH WAR MEMORIES: Maj. Jacob Asiimwe noted Luwero atrocities

Monday February 9 2004

When hunted by government soldiers while headmaster at Masuulita SS, Maj. Jacob Asiimwe (RO 105) decided to join the bush war, taking all of his 40 boarding students along. As a former teacher, he kept his pen and book throughout the bush war serving as the rebel movement’s administrative secretary. Now a Special Assistant to President Museveni, Asiimwe, who was Isingiro North MP from 1996-2001, recounts to William Tayeebwa how he recorded the UNLA atrocities in the Luwero Triangle war theatre: -

During the 1979 liberation war, I was the headmaster at Nsangi SS in then Mpigi district when a platoon of Kikoosi Maalum commanded by Oyite Ojok camped at our school. They told us to leave the place and camped there for a week with their artillery.

When they were leaving, they looted all our property. I came back to find my house looking like a dancing hall. Although this group had come to us as liberators, they ended up as our tormentors. It is from that time that I developed hatred for Milton Obote’s group.

So, in the 1980 presidential and parliamentary campaigns, I joined Yoweri Museveni’s Uganda Patriotic Movement. Although my family initially belonged to the Uganda Peoples Congress, I had developed hatred for the party because of what I experienced in 1979. During the December 1980 elections, I was part of Dr [Samson] Kisekka’s campaign team for the Mpigi North parliamentary seat. I was also on the UPM’s national campaign team.

After the rigged elections, Museveni’s group went to the bush in February 1981. When they left, those of us who did not go were being hunted. I was by then headmaster of Masuulita SS, but quietly in touch with them.

In mid April 1981, Museveni’s group attacked Kakiri police station where Tanzanian forces and Obote’s Special Forces had camped. The rebels then withdrew towards Masuulita and camped near my school. I was, of course, in touch with them that evening and offered them whichever help. When they left in the morning, [word] went around that I was in touch with this group. The very day they left, a group of about eight Tata lorries and a Jeep came commanded by Gen. Tito Okello himself. They asked a few questions and then left.


About a month later, they came back at night and surrounded the school. I had woken up to take an early bus to the ministry [of Education] in Kampala only to see soldiers around the school fence.

I knew they had come for me. So I went to the girls’ dormitory. The first group came and I told them I was the dormitory master. They asked me whether the headmaster was around and I told them he had intentions of going to Kampala. When they went to my house, my family told them I had gone to Kampala. Their commander ordered them to withdraw. They went back to town where they looted the place that whole morning.

I then sent a boy to the [rebel] camps to alert them about the presence of the UNLA in the area. After looting, the soldiers drove towards rebel camps and they were hit in an ambush. After that incident, I remained in the school until April 1982 when the UNLA made another attack in our area.

The rebels had a force at a bridge on River Mayanja on the Kakiri-Masuulita road. So, this force made an ambush and the UNLA group was badly hit. They camped near Kakiri again and the following day made an advance. They dislodged the rebels who were at River Mayanja and took over Masuulita.

I knew my chance of surviving them this time round was low and decided to join the bush. I took along all the 40 students who were in boarding. Quite a big group were actually Banyarwanda [whose families had been chased by Obote]. Some are still active both here and in Rwanda.

Having come from a soft life of a headmaster, I found the conditions in the bush quite hostile. The feeding and the sleeping were completely different from what I was used to. But because of my commitment to the cause, it did not take me long to adapt to the situation. I was not looking at life outside but rather on how we could accomplish our mission. Not at any single time did I think of failure.

Upon joining, I was immediately attached to what we used to call the political and diplomatic committee under Hon. Eriya Kategaya. We were doing mainly political work such as drafting the political programme, working out the Resistance Council structure and so on.

For the whole of 1982, I was with Kategaya and also doing training in the military field. My title was political leader and I became an ex-officio member of the Joint High Command and the National Resistance Council.

Documenting atrocities

In March 1983, Obote launched a major offensive and we were forced to move from the northern part of Bulemezi towards Kiboga. It was a very big offensive where about three quarters of the UNLA converged onto our area.

When we went to Singo, we reorganised and formed new units. I was now attached to Nkrumah unit under Tadeo Kanyankole. I had until then been at the headquarters.

While in Nkrumah, I was given a new job of documenting enemy crimes. Each time the enemy attacked an area, I would go and document how many people they had killed and the level of destruction of property. Unfortunately, all this information got lost during the course of the war.

At the end of 1983 and beginning of 1984, we started to form battalions. We started another unit in Lukoola to replace Nkrumah. It was the 9th Battalion with Julius Chihandae as commanding officer and Phinehas Katirima as political commissar. In addition to my work of documenting crimes, I was also appointed the battalion intelligence officer.

Throughout 1984, I continued documenting enemy crimes, but also doing reconnaissance work.

Kabamba II

Sometime in mid-1984, I was tasked to look for a route from Kiboga, through Bugangaizi to Kyaka. I stayed in that area for about six months as we prepared for another attack on Kabamba. In November 1984, I made my final brief.

In December, all the units converged to plan for Kabamba II. We then left Singo with about seven battalions led by Mzee [Museveni] himself.
We crossed River Mayanja at night. It was full. It took us long to cross. So, we reached Hoima Road near Kikandwa around 7 in the morning. We walked to the next trading centre during day.

People were surprised to see us with real guns because they were being told that we were strange people who would move rubbing metals and so on.

In the evening, we moved to a place called Kyamusu and camped. Mzee briefed us in the evening and he went back with three battalions. We used to intercept communication of the UNLA and they were confused because they were saying we had been cited going back.

The next evening, our force led by Salim Saleh started moving. An army helicopter cited us around Lake Wamala. We heard them on radio saying, “These people are moving towards Mityana”. They got confused and they were now pursuing the group to Luwero because they were emphasizing on radio that it was the one where Museveni was. So, they left us and that helped us cover a long distance without any battle until Kabamba.

Many people have talked about how we hit Kabamba successfully on January 1, 1985 and captured lots of arms and withdrew successfully. Our success in Kabamba was based on good reconnaissance. We had, for example, established that the soldiers went on parade unarmed. We therefore surprised them and they ran away. It was only the man at the quarter-guard who had a general-purpose machine gun who tried to fight. Otherwise, Kabamba was a walkover for us.

The western front

We had captured so many guns from Kabamba and everybody was now armed. A decision was then taken that we expand to the west. There was another reorganisation of the units. Sometime in April 1994, another unit was created known as the 11th Battalion under Chef Ali. I was appointed to it doubling as intelligence officer and political commissar.

Our battalion was a very big force because it comprised of the sick bay, the prisoners and all non-combatants. As we moved west to the Rwenzoris, we were accompanied through dangerous areas by the 5th Battalion until River Mpanga. Besides this battalion being directly under Chef Ali, we had senior officers whom we moved with notably Fred Rwigyema, David Tinyefuza, Mugisha Muntu and a few others.

When in 1985 we started the campaign of capturing UNLA battalions, the 9th Battalion under Chihandae was sent to reinforce us. I remember going back to collect them from around Kyaka. As we moved west, other forces remained in Luwero and actually expanded towards Kayunga, Nakasongola and up to Nansana.

When the 9th Battalion joined us, I became the brigade political commissar. In September 1985 it was decided that we form an interim government in Fort Portal. In addition to being a brigade political commissar, I was also appointed the administrative secretary of the National Resistance Movement.

From this time, I became an office person. This is the time when we had appointed commissioners equivalent to the current ministers. I was therefore like a permanent secretary to all of them in charge of the day-to-day tasks of securing facilities. I actually remained an administrative secretary for the NRM until after the enactment of the new constitution in 1995.

Memorable moments

All battles were of course dangerous, but the Bukalabi incident in February 1983 was particularly shocking to me. In that incident, a force led by Saleh fell into an ambush. We lost 10 people and had so many casualties including commander Saleh himself who was shot in both arms. By this time, I had just come from civilian life and had not been to a frontline. I was therefore very shocked seeing all these dead colleagues.

Another scaring moment I recall was when I was looking for a route to Kabamba sometime in mid 1984. One night in a place called Kiyuni at the border between Kiboga and Kibale, we met a group of UPC youth wingers wielding pangas. I told them frankly that we were rebels and they had a choice to confront us or go away immediately. They were hesitant only fleeing after we shot in the air. We could have shot them but I gave them options. I thought it was bad politics to kill civilians.

The attack on Masindi in February 1984 was the most gratifying because we captured lots of arms. Every unit was happy. The Kabamba attack in January 1985 was also good because we had prepared very well. And ultimately, the capture of Kampala in January 1986 was the most delightful day.


Date of Birth: April 19, 1954
Place of Birth: Kamuri, Kabingo, Isingiro North, Mbarara district
Father: Mr Nasanairi Kinehiremu
Mother: Ms Peresika Kebishaka
Position in family: 9th out of 12
Schools: Gayaza Primary School; Bishops S.S., Mukono; Wolsey Hall, Oxford, UK; Karnataka University Dharward, India
Hobbies: Reading