Family , friends accounts that add up to Uganda history

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  • Book review. Untold story-The Luweero war between 1981-1986, is a page turner, partly because of the ordinariness of the stories of men and women whose lives were moving along to the natural rhythm of life until the rebels chose to settle in their area. The history of the country is well-documented.

Untold story-The Luweero war between 1981-1986 is a patchwork tale woven from the accounts of family and friends of the late Zakayo Kalibbala, a key, if initially reluctant, collaborator in the five-year bush war waged in the Luweero Triangle. In spite of all the stories told about this war in the past 36 years, this 144-page text published by Fountain Publishers is a page turner, partly because of the ordinariness of the stories of men and women whose lives were moving along to the natural rhythm of life until the rebels chose to settle in their area. Up until that point, the history of the country is well documented, the ousting of former President Idi Amin and subsequent short-lived governments that culminated in the disputed 1980 general elections, the spark that lit the five year insurgency in Luweero.

From that point, the author, Jacob Kato Kalibbala, son of the patriarch around whom the book revolves, takes us on a walk along the village paths in Kawumu and introduces us to his family, prominent traders and rebel contacts. We live the war, largely through the eyes and minds of the people caught up in the fighting and their efforts to support the struggle or to survive, depending on the circumstances.

Like a colourful quilt, the author weaves together the tales of villagers, traders, collaborators and fighters. Every now and then the stories of different individuals meet and the reader makes the connection either between relations or is able to corroborate accounts of the same attack. What one leaves out, another includes.

The book places the many individuals honoured with medals of bravery in the context of the war. One begins to understand their role and where they fit in the action. The book title ‘Untold Story’ is appropriate, as one gets the sense that some of the stories therein would remain largely untold, if the book had not been written by one of their own. Many years have passed but the author makes it clear he would have written sooner, were his valuable notes and records not stolen.


The writing is simple and straightforward as were the lives documented here before the war complicated everything. It leaves one wondering what would have been, if children had not had to abandon school, if the thriving coffee trade had not been disrupted. The reader sinks in beyond the words floating off the pages, to reflect and wonder at the fickleness of life and futility of dreams.

The wanton killing, destruction of property and how lives were altered by the way, stays with you. Although not described in graphic detail, the writer somehow manages to portray the hardship of internally displaced people fleeing home for the wilderness, losing life and limb in the process.

Although we generally know the toll that comes with war, scenes such as the exhumation of remains of the dead for re-burial in the middle of the night, brings home the extent of suffering that did not stop when one lost their loved ones. The emotional toll was so great that the author reveals many people were reluctant to retell their stories for this book. This feeds into this reviewers’ feeling that even though the book tells a great deal, much more remains untold.

Many of the people featured in the book, including the late Joseph Luttamaguzi who famously sheltered President Museveni, do not live to see the liberation  day in January 1986. You will, however, recognise the faces of some survivors as you may have seen them receiving medals or they may just be related to someone you know.

It is a simple, relatable story. A good read for anyone, politician or sociologist  who is keen to review the war from the lens of everyday people who lived it.


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