How Museveni survived shooting in Mbale Town

In his book Sowing the Mustard Seed, Museveni says on seeing him being pursued by soldiers, residents of Maluku Housing Estate in Mbale Town thought he was a thief and tried to intercept him. ILLUSTRATION BY ALEX KWIZERA

What you need to know:

Escape. If Museveni had been captured in Mbale, undoubtedly, he would have been the 12th guerrilla executed on Saturday, February 10, 1973. He would have been executed in his home district Ankole, writes Faustin Mugabe.

On January 30, 1973, for the third time recorded, Yoweri Museveni survived a bullet shot (not in real combat). On that Monday, at around 4pm, Museveni survived death. He and his colleagues had gone to Mbale to clandestinely check on their contacts and bases in and around Bugisu sub-region during the guerrilla war they had waged against president Idi Amin’s repressive regime.

But his two comrades, Martin Mwesiga and Wunku Mpima, aka Kazimoto, did not survive. They were shot dead on the spot by the Uganda Army (UA) soldiers.

Cuthbert Ofundi (not real name), then a student in Mbale Town who was mistaken for a guerrilla and was detained at the Makindye military dungeon by soldiers but released after some months, is on record for relating this story.
(Sunday Monitor is trying to establish his contact and we have since known his village. It is believed he could still be alive).

According to the interview reported in the media, Ofundi said: “I left home (village and district withheld) on January 29, 1973. It was a Sunday and I was returning to my school… after the holidays. The following day, January 30, after the lectures I went to my cousin (names withheld) who was staying at Maluku Housing Estates in Mbale Town.”

Ofundi’s cousin was a teacher and he had left his books with him. This was around 4pm.
“About an hour later, I saw a military Land Rover park outside the house opposite my cousin’s. Three uniformed soldiers and two in plain clothes jumped out while the driver remained in the car,” he said.

Ofundi woke his cousin up, who was resting on the bed, and told him something was going on. On assessing the situation, his cousin told him that he would not be surprised if stolen property was found in the house.

“We all went out to see what was going to happen. The soldiers then surrounded the house and a large crowd gathered. All of a sudden, uniformed soldiers began knocking out the glasses from the window. At that point, a lorry full of reinforcement drove into the estate and the whole place was besieged,” Ofundi revealed.

“Then we heard shootings from inside the house. Kumbe (we were not aware), there were armed people inside the house who were believed to be guerrillas. One of the soldiers was shot in the hand and another was shot in the neck. Two of the people in the house were shot dead. We were all excited.

A third man opened the door of the house and tore through the crowd. The soldiers tried to shoot but they were afraid of hitting the wananchi. So they ran after him,” he narrated.

“Courageously or perhaps foolishly, I helped to chase after him. He was a thief. That’s what I thought at the time. The soldier chasing him was an elderly man wearing heavy army boots and carrying a gun. So he wasn’t really running very fast.

I almost caught the suspect at Bugema Forest; but something told me to stay back. As I stopped running, the guerrilla turned around and aimed his pistol in my direction. He shot but missed both me and the soldier who was behind me. We took cover and he ran away,” Ofundi said.

Museveni’s version of Mbale tragedy

The house in Maluku Housing Estate in Mbale Town from where Museveni survived being killed on January 30, 1973. PHOTO BY FRED WAMBEDE


From his book Sowing the Mustard Seed, Museveni wrote on page 79: “They [soldiers] surrounded the house in a very unprofessional manner, without cocking their guns.

They only asked one question, regarding our identity we said we were students and, straightaway, they told us to get into our vehicle and drive with them to the barracks. That convinced me beyond any shadow of a doubt, that the time to act was then.

I had the car keys and one of the soldiers, poking a rifle into my side, told me to open and enter the car. Taking them by surprise, I jumped over the hedge, hoping that my colleagues would follow my example and scatter in different directions. At that time I realised that they had not done so.”

Museveni further wrote: “I ran towards the eucalyptus forest below the housing estate. The people in the housing estate, seeing me running pursued by soldiers thought I was a thief and tried to intercept me, but I brandished my pistol and scared them away as I ran.”

“Meanwhile, the soldier following me started firing, but it is not easy to hit a moving target, especially for the incapable, badly trained African soldier of Amin’s army. He kept on firing at me and missing.

I reached a big tree, took cover and fired on my pursuers with my pistol. When the soldiers realised that I was armed, they broke off the chase. These were soldiers accustomed to shooting at unarmed members of the public. They were not used to answering fire with fire.” Museveni recounts encountering death and smelling it nostril-to-nostril and seeing it eye to eye.

On page 80, Museveni wrote about the killing of Mwesiga and Kazimoto by the soldiers. Having recovered from the chase, he went back to find out about his colleagues. While walking back towards Maluku Housing Estate, he met a young man who warned him not proceed.

“When I asked him why, he told me that some guerrillas had fought a battle with some soldiers in town. Two of the soldiers and two of the guerrillas had been killed but one of the guerrillas had escaped. It was then that I realised that my two colleagues, Martin Mwesiga and Wunku ‘Kazimoto’ Mpima, had been killed.
They had not managed to get away. The death of Martin Mwesiga and Wunku Mpima were a great loss for the movement and for me personally,” Museveni wrote.

Museveni survives firing squad
If Museveni had been captured in Mbale, undoubtedly, he would have been the 12th guerrilla executed on Saturday, February 10, 1973.

He would have been executed in his home district Ankole, as it was called then. The military tribunal sitting at Makindye Military Barracks in Kampala, which charged and convicted the 11 Front for National Salvation (Fronasa) guerrillas of treason and one thief of aggravated robbery, would have certainly found Museveni, their leader, more culpable.

The tribunal chaired by Lt Col Ozzo ordered that each guerrilla be executed in the presence of his parents in their home district. This was done to instil fear in relatives, friends and other members of the public in order for them to desist from joining the guerrillas fighting to overthrow the government of Amin.

Having survived the Mbale shooting, Museveni went to Kampala before returning to Tanzania through Kenya. In the Sowing the Mustard Seed on page 82, Museveni wrote of how he left Mbale for Kampala.

“As we neared Kampala, I alighted from the taxi at Banda and went to James Karuhanga’s house at Kyambogo where he was teaching. I found Valeriano Rwaheru there and we called Kategaya [Eria]. I briefed them about what had happened to our good friends Martin Mwesiga and Kazimoto.
Then I left the pistol with Rwaheru and in the evening I went to Kampala and caught a bus headed for Kenya,” Museveni wrote.

It can be said that Museveni, like Napoleon Bonaparte of France, must have always had extraordinary luck. Otherwise, had he stayed for about a week and survived the Kyambogo shoot-out, he would have faced the firing squad like Karuhanga. The teacher survived death but was caught and put on firing squad.

First Fronasa rebels arrested

James Karuhanga (R) being prepared for execution. He was executed in Mbarara Town by a six-man firing squad on February 10, 1973. Photo courtesy of FAUSTIN MUGABE


On December 29, 1972, six Fronasa guerrillas were arrested. These were the first Fronasa rebels to be arrested and in January 1973 paraded before the media at former UTV headquarters in Nakasero. The six were en route to Gulu in Acholi District from their training base in Tanzania.

They were: Joseph Rubagumya, 30, from Sheema, Alphonse Osolo, 30, from Bukedi, Francis Habarurema, 32, a Rwandan, Tirwakunda, 28, from Kigezi, Tom Odongo, 20, from Acholi and James Bwoma, 21, also a Rwandan.

The guerrillas were arrested at a security road block on Bombo from Kampala. They were travelling in a Volkswagen van with guns, a pistol, hand grenades, magazines and a lot of other ammunitions. The Voice of Uganda of February 4, 1973, reported that when arrested, the guerrillas said their leader, Mugisha, and the driver of the van, William (a Munyarwanda), escaped while they were being arrested.

They also confessed to having had military training in Tanzania. But they claimed that they were taken from Kampala by people who promised them jobs in Tanzania. However, when they arrived in Mwanza, Tanzania, they were told to train in the military to fight the government of Uganda.

But the question remains, if indeed they were guerrillas, why were they not executed on firing squad like the 11 others? Could they have been summarily executed in cells?

How Rwaheru was killed

Valeriano Rwaheru had been among Museveni’s earliest friends he made while in secondary school in Mbarara. At university, Rwaheru qualified as an engineer and worked with the East African Railway and Harbours Corporation before joining the Fronasa struggle.

He was very instrumental in the struggle against Amin’s dictatorship and was killed at James Karuhanga’s house at Kyambogo, in Kampala.
Writing about his friend’s death in Sowing the Mustard Seed on page 84, Museveni said:
“Meanwhile Rwaheru had locked himself in the bedroom and when the soldiers failed to open the door, they demanded that Karuhanga tell them who was inside…Meanwhile, Rwaheru climbed on to a bed, cut the ventilator netting over the door and lobbed a stick grenade into the midst of the soldiers who were crowded into the collider of the house.”

“The fools had never seen a stick grenade before – they thought it was a hammer. Seeing the grenade, Karuhanga fled into the toilet and locked the door. The grenade exploded, killing all the men in the corridor.

Rwaheru then opened the bedroom and lobbed another grenade into the sitting room, killing more of the enemy. In all, he killed 11 of them. Unfortunately, while he was preparing to throw a third grenade, it exploded in his hands and killed him.”

According to the Voice of Uganda newspaper of February 5, 1973, this is what happened in Kyambogo:

“Repressive actions were used by the security officers to disarm and arrest the guerrillas found hiding at Kyambogo after the guerrillas had hurled a hand grenade at them.

The guerrillas were found with five Chinese- made guns [AK-47], four grenades, including one that killed one guerrilla [Rwaheru], 15 magazines, a pistol and many rounds of ammunitions. James Karuhanga, a 24-year-old mathematics teacher at Kyambogo College School who comes from Sheema County in Ankole District was also arrested. His house was used as a hiding place for the guerrillas.”

“During the incident, when one guerrilla hurled a grenade to security men, one of the security men grabbed the grenade before it exploded and threw it back to the guerrillas, killing one of them and injuring two of the security men who were near him. Two of the guerrillas run away carrying their guns with them.”

“Meanwhile, the Observer newspaper of UK interviewed Museveni in Tanzania in the last week of January and reported that Museveni had accepted that on January 15, 1973, the government forces had found one of the Fronasa camps in eastern Uganda near the Kenyan border.”

Executed by firing squad

February 10, 1973, was a dark Saturday in the history of Uganda. On that day, a common folktale says, by 6pm all living creatures in Uganda, apart from the armed forces personnel, had gone to sleep. The fear for life was too much to bear. No one felt secure

On that day, 11 Fronasa guerrillas and one thief were executed by the firing squad by the Uganda Army. At exactly 2pm, according to the Military Tribunal order, bullets simultaneously started hitting the guerrillas and their accomplices in Kabale, Gulu, Mbale, Tooro and Mbarara.
However Badru Semakula, the thief, was shot at 2:47pm.

Thus, James Karuhanga, from Sheema County was executed in Mbarara Town by a six-man firing squad, John Labeja and Amos Obwona from Atiak and Awere in Acholi District were executed at Gulu Golf Course.

William Nkonko from Busoga was executed at Bugembe stadium in Jinja District, Tom Masaba, a former soldier and captain, and Sebastian Namirundi, a pupil from Bugisu, were shot dead in Mbale Town.

Joseph Bitwari, James Karambuzi and David Tusingwire from Kigezi sub-region were executed at Kabale stadium. Sunday Monitor was not able to establish who between Karambuzi and Tusingwire, was Amama Mbabazi’s closest friend who also confessed that Mbabazi was one of them.
Abwooli Malibo and Phares Kasolo were from Tooro and were executed at Nyakaseke playground by a 15-man firing squad.

Kasolo was a policeman who unknowing accommodated Malibo, a guerrilla. Badru Semakula, a thief, was executed at a place near the Mengo-Kisenyi roundabout and Katwe junction and the Clock Tower in Kampala.

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