I have been sidelined - Kashillingi

Lt Col (rtd) Ahmed Kashillingi. PHOTO/Dominic Bukenya

What you need to know:

Life story. Lt Col (rtd) Ahmed Kashillingi was a key NRA commander during the five-year NRA Bush War. He commanded the 5th battalion which captured the strategic Katonga Bridge on Masaka-Mbarara Road. His battalion also blocked Entebbe Road during the final onslaught on Kampala in 1986. But he was later arrested and charged with treason in 1992. Risdel Kasasira talked to him about his life.

“I currently work in the ministry of security as principal technical officer. I joined the army on October 21, 1967. By the time Amin took over, I was a sergeant.

I trained as a commando in Iraq and did many other courses. But I was later arrested by Amin’s soldiers and jailed in Luzira Prison. I was accused of collaborating with exiled Ugandans in Tanzania to overthrow Idi Amin’s government. I later escaped and walked for three days from Luzira to Kebisoni in Rukungiri District.

After joining the bush in 1981, I was at the frontline for five years and I never got a break. Two years after the capture of power, I got the rank of lieutenant colonel. A year later, some of us were retired and were supposed to join Public Service.

But before that happened, there was a problem of corruption in the army. Those days, we didn’t have proper records and it happens that I was appointed director of records. It was because I had done military courses in conditions of service and regulations before joining NRA.

I didn’t like it but someone advised that I was competent to do the job. I had been the commander of 5th battalion and we were continuing with the war. I would have been happy to continue fighting. The commanders at the frontline were inflating the payroll in order to make money.
When Gen Salim Saleh was appointed army commander, he wanted to rectify that problem. He wanted a proper payroll and the only way to do it was to request the directorate of records to furnish him with information about the details of our strength.

I sent names of each unit for verification. Those field commanders who were used to getting free money had no more chances of getting that money.
They had to arrange for sabotage to make sure that all files were burnt. The Republic House, where the files were kept was burnt at night. I was home at Acacia Avenue on Plot 14 in Kampala. Early morning on the following day, as I was preparing to go for work, one of the officers told me the Republic House had been burnt.

But because of that sabotage, people said Kashillingi had burnt the records. I heard that people, such as Maj Gen (rtd) Jim Muhwezi (by the director general of the Internal Security Organisation) took the ash for forensic investigations but no report has been produced.
It was a hoax. They were playing their cards. I had no case. It was a move to cover up something else. It must be those who were swindling the money who burnt the Republic House.

Some commanders would be having 500 soldiers on ground and say they had 800. I don’t want to go into details of how it was burnt. The office was later shifted to Mbuya barracks later in 1989 when we were retired. Gen Saleh was sent to the Reserve Force and Col Julius Chihande was sent to Public Service.
Tom Lubale, who was minister of Public Service, informed us that we were going to do interviews on Monday but on the weekend, my house was surrounded. I telephoned several people but everybody expressed ignorance about soldiers surrounding my house.

Having telephoned and expressed fear, and nothing was done, I thought maybe, what used to happen during Amin’s time had cropped up. These people were coming to kill me. But I decided not to die like a chicken. I escaped.
On my way, I telephoned State House and they told me the President was away. I tried to hide in Kampala and wait for His Excellency but someone told me from where I had been hiding for two days that I was going to be killed. He said “Kashillingi wagwa’ha”(Kashillingi you are going to die). I decided not to wait for the third day. I got my passport, money and took off. I passed through Ishasha border with Zaire, now DR Congo. I reported to Zairian (Congolese authorities).

The good thing is that the Congolese embassy was opposite my residence and they saw soldiers surrounding my house. I was taken to Goma, where I spent a few months and I was later flown to Kinshasa.
I was handed over to UNHCR and I became a refugee. But because Kinshasa was far and I wanted to keep communicating with my family, I went to Beni, which is closer to the Ugandan border.

While in Beni, I wrote a letter to the President through a minister I don’t want to mention and it was delivered but I never got a response.
I remained in Beni selling diesel on the streets until I was kidnapped by Congolese commandos, blindfolded and brought to Mpondwe, where I found Ugandan authorities waiting. I was imprisoned in Makindye barracks for 13 months with my hands cuffed. I had feaces all over my trousers because I could not clean myself for 13 months.

I was later rescued and taken to court and remanded to Luzira prison. I spent four years on remand. I was later charged with treason and misprision of treason until I won the case in the High Court.
You can imagine the life I went through, I have never been promoted. I’m not a robber, I have never committed murder, but I have never been promoted or given a medal. I have a lot of pain. I wonder why other retired officers have been promoted and the dead have been posthumously recognised but Kashillingi has been ignored.

The other day, in Nakasekke District, I was called officially by the army to go and receive the medal. I didn’t have money but I borrowed some and fuelled my car and drove to Butalango. I joined other officers to get the tags for the function. I picked my card but as the President was about to arrive at the venue, a certain girl came and asked: who is Kashillingi? She told me to handover my card.

I thought there was something wrong with my card. When the process of awarding medals started, I asked why my card had been taken. She told me my name had been removed from the list at the last minute. When I asked why, she said her boss had given the orders.

I told her that my name was there and wondered why it had been removed. As other officers were standing up to greet the President, I remained alone in the seats. But people were asking why I had remained seated. They were saying: Kashillingi genda obuzeko President (go and greet the President).
But I didn’t want to get close and be accused of attempting to assassinate the President. I sneaked out as if I was going to ease myself and drove away.
There are times when I think my name should be removed from the list of those who fought in Luweero. But people will always ask; who commanded the 5th battalion? Who captured Katonga Bridge? Who blocked Entebbe Road during the capture of Kampala?

All street women are carrying medals whose significance they don’t even know. These medals have lost value because they are being abused. I will not fight for those mikebe (tins).
A man like Gen Elly Tumwine, whenever he is reading names of those to get the medals, his chest if full of medals more than Amin owned. You wonder who gave him those medals. He no longer has space on his chest in case he was to get another medal.

Those who have denied me promotion know better. But there is a saying in Runyankore that; Obwire tuburyabundi, okubwira tikwobushesha (time is a variable in life and there is no permanent situation) and he who laughs last laughs best.

We fought the NRA war because it was worthwhile, because there was a problem. We needed peace and there was dictatorship. We now have peace. We are a democratic country.
We should also sit down and define who is a hero. We celebrate Heroes Day but I sometimes see those we used to call enemies in the bush being awarded medals and recognised as heroes.”