ADF survivor recounts the day the rebels attacked Kichwamba Technical College

Joab Kaganda Jr, 35, is an ADF survivor

On Monday, June 8, 1998, rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), raided Uganda Technical College Kichwamba in Kabarole District and burnt 80 student alive in three dormitories and abducted 100 others.

Joab Kaganda Jr, 35, is currently an engineer based in Fort Portal. He lives in Gweri village, Kabarole District. He was a student at Uganda Technical College Kichwamba in 1998 pursuing a building and construction certificate. He went back in 2000 for an advanced building and construction course.
Uganda Technical College Kichwamba is located in Kabarole District. It is close to the Kabarole-Ntoroko district border at a sharp corner overlooking Mount Rwenzori.
The narration
A year before, ADF had a failed attempt to attack Kicwamba but they had poor intelligence and found students had already gone for holidays. Instead, they attacked a nearby trading centre called Kihondwa at night and looted food and some goats from the locals.
The first week of June 1998, we received information that ADF rebels had camped at the top of Mount Rwenzori in a forest.
We told a UPDF officer in charge of security at Uganda Technical College Kichwamba. By that time there was a UPDF detach at the college. He told us that they had enough security and we should not get scared, that they would repulse them if they came.
On Sunday evening (June 7, 1998), I had gone for an evening walk together with my friends Joseph and Frank along Bundibugyo Road down the hills. We met there a group of five men who we suspected to be rebels; it was around 7:30pm. They convinced us to continue walking up to Karugutu, we refused and returned to the college, and jokingly I told my colleagues in the dormitory what had transpired. I told them that these were rebels and were coming to attack the college at night.
But I picked up my books and went for prep together with my friend James Muyomba who also died in the attack. We returned after midnight to the dormitory. I was residing in Rukidi and for him he was in Balya that was attacked and torched on in the wee hours of June 8, 1998.
In the wee hours, my friend Ivan, who was a cubical mate, woke me up to go for prep. I told him that I was tired and wanted to sleep. He accepted. In an hour’s time, we heard gun shots along Bundibugyo Road, the rebels were chanting songs and sounded like it was a big number. One colleague called Mulokore told us to run but I told him no, the army would come to our rescue, so we remained inside. The UPDF resisted for about 10 minutes but were overpowered.
The first thing the rebels did when they reached our campus was to burn the school lorry. I saw them myself, they shot at the generator and at the transformer and power went off. I was peeping through the window as it was approaching 6.30am and the darkness was clearing.
The rebels first camped between Kahaya and Rukidi dormitories before they headed to Balya dormitory. They were speaking English, Luganda, Rutooro and Swahili asking the students to come out of the dormitories. We could hear a lady commander giving orders. They told students to come out because they had come to liberate us but students refused.
They started shooting indiscriminately. They started burning three dormitories, targeting Balya and Kahaya South. Students of Kahaya central and Kahaya were abducted.
They also burnt Rukidi dormitory from the north wing as they were retreating. Some students escaped from Rukidi north to Rukidi central through the ceiling. A big number of students were abducted from Rukidi north.
Another group of rebels moved to the girls’ dormitory called Straker but the woman commander called them back and surrounded the burning dormitories as others took the abducted students. The number of rebels was many, and they were dressed in green army uniforms.
They were standing on the doors guarding the dormitories as they burned. Some rebels from the burning Rukidi North dormitory invaded us in Rukidi central and we were almost suffocating, when we peeped outside. The rebel, who was guarding our dormitory, had also been put off by the soot which was enveloping the area, we opened and escaped through Kahaya South route to the school farm.
We were many students fleeing and when the rebels saw us they shot at us and one student was killed. The few students who had not escaped could not leave the dormitory including my friend Joseph Bigirwa but finally escaped through the window and hid in the showers. The operation took about one hour.
We could now only view the burning dormitories and our abducted colleagues being taken uphill on the opposite mountain as it was getting to 7:30am.
We waited, hiding in the farm up to 8am until we saw the locals converging at the college, and we joined them.
The Principal, then Engineer John Mbabazi, called a roll call and established the missing numbers, the dead and abducted.
He asked about our other friends who escaped with us. By 8.30am, UPDF and Police had come to the scene, and then we all moved around the college to ascertain the damage. It is then that we got to know our friends who had died.
Thereafter, the college management told us to go home. Burial of the dead students was arranged later and the students were buried in a mass grave at the school.
As the attack came close to end of the 2nd semester, we had not sat for final exams and some of us sat them from different institutions like Kyambogo and St Joseph’s Technical College in Fort Portal.
Among those who were abducted, there was my friend called James Birolerro who escaped back from captivity after four months. He told me that there was a pastor (among the abducted students) who was allowed by the rebels to always lead others in prayers in the bush every morning.
Another student, Isingoma Dez, who also was abducted and later fled when they reached at the top of the mountain, told me that the day they were abducted, the rebels had roasted meat and cooked food which was an indication that they had camped there for days before the attack.
He said some of the abducted students were shot on the way up because they had failed to carry the heavy load of the looted food from Kichwamba area. School reopened after a year and I came back for another course but the enrollment was very low as students feared to stay at the college. The numbers later started growing after a lot of campaigns were done by the college and security restored in the area.
Another attack
In 2000 when I was still at this college, the ADF rebels attacked Katojo government prison in Fort Portal and reportedly took off with some prisoners. At Kichwamba we could hear the fire at Katojo and I hid in toilet with a colleague called Peter. That night I regretted why I had come back to Kichwamba when my parents and friends had discouraged me never to go back to this college.

ADF Series
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