Book Review: Bananuka memoirs revisits turbulent Obote, Amin eras

What you need to know:

  • Book title: Shadows of Courage: A Story of Resilience & Hope; Lt Col Yefusa Bananuka-Uganda Army (UA) 1963-1979 
  • Author: Albert Gomes Mugumya
  • Price: Shs50,000
  • Where: Aristoc Bookshop.  

Albert Gomes Mugumya’s book, Shadows of Courage: A Story of Resilience & Hope; Lt Col Yefusa Bananuka-Uganda Army (UA) 1963-79, is a remarkable creation designed with a dual purpose.

It serves as both a compilation of the memoirs of Lt Col Bananuka and a continuous analysis of Uganda’s history during the turbulent Obote I and Amin era.

This book not only provides a platform to extract lessons, cross-reference information, and contemplate the implications of the issues discussed in each chapter.

It also presents a profound exploration of the personal recollections, untold stories, and silent struggles of Lt Col Bananuka, who witnessed a tumultuous era.

Lt Col (Rtd) Bananuka, the central figure in the narrative, was the commanding officer of Chui Battalion (Gulu) and later the commanding officer of Gonda Battalion (Moroto) during his prime.

The author, through first-hand accounts and an intimate understanding of the historical backdrop gained from sitting down with Lt Col Bananuka at his country home in Ibanda, unveils the layers of his life.

This revelation exposes the humanity behind the uniform, the sacrifices behind the victories, and the complexities of leadership during times of upheaval.

The experiences recounted in the book offer a poignant glimpse into the human dimensions of conflict and upheaval.

From moments of camaraderie amidst chaos to haunting memories that linger long after, the book sheds light on the profound impact of history on the lives of ordinary individuals caught in its throes.

Against the advice of his parents, but with the encouragement of family friend William Ndahendekire, Bananuka joined the army in 1963.

Vivid memories include training in Kalapata, deployment on the then Uganda-Zaire border, training more than two-thousand foreign-looking soldiers (anyanya) at Bamunanika and Bombo, receiving the Kabaka’s body at Bamunanika palace, organising the funerals of Archbishop Luwum and Lt Col Erinayo Oryema, witnessing the purging of Langi and Acholi soldiers in the barracks, the wanton murder of several close colleagues, forced leave, exile, and imprisonment.

Amidst the gravity of his experiences, there are moments of levity, such as the humorous encounter in 1969 where Bananuka introduces his colleague, the infamous Lt Col “Butabika” to his mother Zelda at her home.

The instant aversion she feels towards the peculiar visitor, attributed to his unusual actions and appearance, adds a touch of human warmth to the narrative.

As the Amin era approached its conclusion, Lt Col Bananuka sought guidance from Maj Akiiki Nyangabyaki, the provincial governor of Karamoja, regarding an escape plan.

However, to his dismay, Nyangabyaki admitted to having no such plan and suggested drowning their sorrows in whiskey (for Bananuka) and tea (for Nyagabyaki). Later, when Bananuka successfully managed to escape, he encountered a surprising twist of fate at Kapenguria—the sight of Nyangabyaki, who expressed regret for not sharing the escape plan earlier, fearing that Bananuka might unintentionally compromise its success.

Upon joining the army, Lt Col Bananuka harboured the vision of a dignified retirement marked by the appropriate military honors. However, his reality diverged starkly from this envisioned conclusion.

There was no final salute, no lowering of the flag, and no issuance of the last set of orders accompanied by the customary gratuity and pension. These poignant moments, which traditionally symbolise the culmination of a military journey, were notably absent from Lt Col Bananuka’s experience. He passed on in 2019 aged 77.