I escaped ADF attack on Kicwamba dormitory

Prosper Mbabazi was a first year student of Kichwamba Technical Institute when the ADF rebels attacked the institution in Kabarole District. Photo by Henry Lubega

Wednesday this week was exactly 18 years since the ADF rebels attacked Kichwamba Technical Institute in Kabarole District killing 80 students, abducting 100 others and leaving scores injured. Prosper Mbabazi was a first year student doing a diploma in Mechanical engineering.

Now a network and security engineer with a telecom company, he recounts the events that changed his life from mechanical to a computer engineer.
Before I joined Kichwamba Technical Institute, I visited it and was impressed with the security.

There were four UPDF soldiers at each entrance to provide security. However, in the first year, there were two failed attempted attacks on the college by the rebels. The captured rebels were paraded to the students and this created a feeling that ADF was weak.

The soldiers advised us that in case of attack we lock ourselves in the dormitories, not to be caught in the exchange with the rebels.

Signs of impending doom
A day before the attack, some villagers reported having seen five people in the mountains nearby but three of them disappeared when they saw the villagers. The commander sent soldiers to find out; they came back saying all was safe.

On the night of the attack, one of the boys came back in the dead of night drunk, and told us he has seen the rebels and there could be an attack. But no one believed him thinking it was the alcohol in him talking.
I used to read from my bed, at around 5:30am, a friend came running from outside saying “webase naye obusajja buzze” loosely translated as ‘you are sleeping but the men have come’. I didn’t connect immediately to which men he was referring to, but I got out of bed only to see commotion outside.
Those inside were looking for a hiding place as others were running inside. The last boy to enter told us ‘the rebels are here’. Our dormitory Kahaya had a glass door, and we used a chain and a padlock to lock it. The last boy to enter locked and went to find a hiding place.

In the hands of the rebels
Outside, rebels were herding students into a group, that’s where I met my friend Fred Ntungwa, he was badly burnt pleading to be killed to stop the pain.

The rebels saw him and said in Luganda: ‘Banno be banyankole betunonya’ (these are the Banyakore we are looking for). Having heard them speak in Luganda I responded in the same language asking them to take us with them instead of killing us. They were surprised to hear someone speak Luganda.

They ordered the injured and burnt to move on one side. It seemed their plan was to kill us and take the uninjured.

Through my pain, I told them, in Luganda, Kyemukoze kimala wakili mututwale’ (what you have done is enough, at least take us with you).

One of them replied: “I will leave you for the government to see what we have done”, and they walked away. We saw another group coming with captured students from another dormitory, my friend Fred Ntungwa and I ran away.

Looking for help
We ran towards the teachers’ quarters, they were running away instead of helping us. We ran out of the school towards Fort Portal Town. The first villagers we met were in hiding as well, we asked them for water but they refused, saying water will kill us. As they prepared to take us to the hospital, we heard bullets and they took off leaving us behind.

As we struggled, the smell of our burnt flesh attracted stray dogs which wanted to attack us. We spent another almost 15 minutes, fighting them off. It was while there that some villagers with a motorcycle found us and offered to take us to the hospital.

We reached the hospital in Fort Portal at about 9am, the theatre was still locked. The nurses put us to sleep, because of the pain; I woke up in the evening when some of my relatives had arrived.

For the four days I was in Fort Portal, the only treatment I got was warm water with salt on the wounds. Vice president Specioza Kazibwe then came to visit us, and on the fourth day seven of us were airlifted in a presidential chopper to Kololo by the late Col Peter Nyakairu. From Kololo we were taken to Mulago hospital.

Fred and I were to be taken to the Intensive Care Unit and at the ICU entrance I saw a doctor I knew. When I called him by the name he realised my senses were alert, I was instead taken to ward 6A and Fred to the ICU. Unfortunately, two days later he died. I stayed in Mulago for six and ahalf months.

In the first two weeks government through Dr Tim Lwanga flew in a burns expert from Netherlands, Dr Broom, who operated on me eight times in a space of four years.
In 2000 after sitting home for a year, I joined Kyambogo University for a diploma in computer science. Then in 2003 I got a scholarship to India to do a bachelor’s degree in computer applications. I went back in 2009 for a Masters in Computer Application majoring in networking and security which I completed in 2012.