Difficult times brought Lokech and I together

A photo montage of Maj Gen Kayanja Muhanga, the Commander of the Mountain Division and the Late Maj Gen Paul Lokech. 

What you need to know:

  • About Gen Lokech. ‘‘Outside the army, Gen Lokech was a diplomat, a gentleman, and one who loved his family, especially his daughters. If you met him at a civilian function, you would not see that he is the tough commander, because he was always laughing and smiling. Whenever, I visited him at his home in Pader, I would see the way he was treating his children so well. When we got problems, Lokech would rush to attend to them.’’Maj Gen Kayanja Muhanga, the Commander of the Mountain Division. 
  • ‘‘On the battlefield, he would help our female soldiers. You know they have their own disadvantages in such situations. He would really put in effort to see them well treated and given the other necessary special things that we men don’t need. I think you understand as a lady.’’

The uniqueness of military friendships cannot be denied. While other people will bicker about money and property, when you have stood shoulder to shoulder with someone in a death situation, a strong bond develops.

 That is what defines the friendship and existed between Maj Gen Paul Lokech, the late deputy Inspector General of Police, and Maj Gen Kayanja Muhanga, the Commander of the Mountain Division. 

Although they are in the same age group – late 50s – Muhanga says in the 31 years they knew each other, he never asked Lokech his age.

 “We met at Basiima House, in 1990. I was a Second Lieutenant who had just completed my Cadet training at the School of Infantry in Jinja, and he was already a Lieutenant. I think he joined the army around 1986 or 1987. We began working in Military Intelligence under Commander Fred Tolit. We then worked together in Gulu District where he was the Division Intellegence Officer and I was the Brigade Intellegence Officer,” Muhanga says.

Then in 1998, they fought against the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda, where Muhanga was the Brigade Operations and Training Officer in 401 Brigade. Lokech was the Brigade Commander of 501 in Pader.  They later worked together in Karamoja. 

“Our comradeship and friendship was strengthened in 2011/2012 Somalia where he was a Contingent Commander and I was a Battle Group Commander. We had a very difficult battle in Mogadishu City which being a built up area, it was a very stressing situation. We were having close combat with al-Shabab so we were getting many casualties. We were stressed, especially in the battle of the Red Mosque,” Muhanga reminisces. 

When the UPDF started operating in Mogadishu, their mandate was defensive. When the mandate changed, they had to take the war to the enemy. Those were heady days; days when, the nostalgia of the fog of war  brings a smile to Maj Gen Kayanja Muhanga’s face.

“Those difficulties and stress we went through brought us together because we got to understand each other more. Gen Lokech as a commander was very tough, he always wanted to achieve, and was very resolute. Even if there were a 20 ft wall in front of him, he would jump it to achieve what he wanted. He was very aggressive but also intelligent. He was one of the very best commanders I have ever worked with,” Muhanga says.

Gen Muhanga says, in the army, luck goes to the strong and the bold when it comes to decision making and that in the heat of battle, Lokech was the man who had your back.

“He could take very quick decisions on the battle field. And in the army, that is important. You may quarrel with him during the heat of battle; but after you have quarrelled and spoken bad words and the battle is over, he was loving, forgiving and he would reward his subordinates for a good performance.”

Other battles

One of the more important battles that the UPDF fought in Mogadishu was the Battle of Bakara Market, which lasted a week. While the UPDF was not allowed to use bombs on the market, the al-Shabaab had lined up snipers on top of building, and these were wreaking havoc on the Ugandan soldiers.

“We used some RPGs to take out these guys and some 82 millimeter bombs. Pressure was coming from behind the battle line. It was coming from Kampala. Some people in the market were calling Kampala to report. 

By then, Gen Katumba Wamala was the Commander of the Land Forces, so Kampala was communicating to say we should not use bombs on Bakara and yet we were under intensive sniper fire. Lokech came and said, ‘Muhanga, you are using bombs near Bakara Market, you are going to get a problem! We are going to court martial you!’ 

We exchanged hot words there because I was also under duress. But when we captured Bakara and Mogadishu Stadium, we forgot all that. We were all laughing and reminded ourselves of the stress.”   Lokech was never a man to hold a grudge with a subordinate. Muhanga says he had the grace to forgive slights committed in battle.

“If you made a mistake in operations, he would be very tough and punish you. But, at the same time, he had the heart of a parent, he could forgive, he could give his subordinates time to correct their mistakes. He was not the kind who will report you to ‘above’ to say, ‘Muhanga did this and this.’ Unless if it is a very serious offence.”

 Lokech was also a very bold man who could speak truth to power. 

When the late Gen Aronda Nyakairima, the then Army Commander, visited Somalia in 2012, shortly after those battles, he advised him to make Muhanga the deputy Contingent Commander. 

At the time, Muhanga was a Lieutenant Colonel. Aronda immediately made him an acting Colonel and Lokech’s deputy. 

But when their tour of duty was ending and Lokech asked that Muhanga succeeds him, that wish was not granted. 

 In 2020, after a course at the National Defence College in South Africa, Muhanga returned to Uganda to find Lokech had been appointed the deputy Inspector General of Police. 

Gen  Muhanga was appointed Commander of the Mountain Division. 

“With the elections coming in, Gen Lokech was among those who proposed my name to head election security in Kampala. This is when we again worked very closely. I remember him telling me, ‘Muhanga, the security of Kampala treat it like we are in Mogadishu again.’ You remember the tough riots we had. We didn’t only use force but we talked to the people in Kampala, we sat with the riot leaders and told them to abide by what we told them or we would take them on.”

 A few weeks before his death, Lokech seems to have cracked an organised terror cell, when the police arrested suspects in the General Katumba Wamala attempted murder case. 

To celebrate this milestone, Lokech organised a barbecue at his home in Kira Municipality in Wakiso District, which Muhanga attended.

 “You know, we had a lot of hope in Gen Lokech because he was energetic and determined. We knew Lokech would change the Police. But, it is very unfortunate that he stayed for a very short time. But, there are other officers and generals within the UPDF who can really replace Gen Lokech because he was not working alone,” Muhanga says. 

 When he fell off a chair at his home in Pader District, Muhanga was the first person his aides called.

 “He was trying to pick something which was on top of the wardrobe and he stood on a plastic chair. The chair broke and he fell and fractured his leg. His boys called me. I was in Fort Portal. I am not a doctor, but I think the POP that they put on him accelerated the development of the blood clot. I was monitoring the situation and talking to the ADC every day.”

 Last week Thursday, two days before his death, Lokech called Muhanga to thank him for the present of a bodyguard that the latter had given him. Lokech was in the process of changing his escorts, and Muhanga had sent him a soldier.

 “He sent me a bottle of Gold Reserve Whisky in appreciation. He called to find out if I had received it, but I was in a meeting with the CDF. After the meeting I called Lokech and we were laughing. He asked, ‘Has it come?’ I said, ‘Yes, yes, it has come and I am going to deal with it.’ I didn’t know that he would get such a problem.”

 Muhanga says  he has not really slept since he got the news of Lokech’s passing. He says in the few minutes that he manages to get sleep, he dreams about Lokech. 

And in one of the dream’s, all vehicles had traveled to Pader for the burial, leaving him behind. He had to find his way and jump onto a lorry heading to northern Uganda. But alas! It was just a dream.