NRA handcuffed, held my father in underground cells for 13 months

Hussein Kashillingi during the interview. PHOTO BY RACHEL MABALA

What you need to know:

On January 26, 2013, the National Resistance Movement (NRM/A) government will mark 28 years in power. In a countdown to this day, The Daily Monitor is running a series dubbed CHILDREN OF REVOLUTIONARIES, where we interview children of those who fought or facilitated the 1981-86 Bush War. In the eighth part of the series, Risdel Kasasira interviewed Hussein Kashillingi, the son of Col Ahmed Kashillingi RO040, one OF the 15 most senior officers after NRA captured power.

I was told I was born in Bugolobi flats, Block 23 D4 on April 1 1976, but some time last year, I discovered I was born in Luzira Prisons. Just before you enter the Prisons on the left side, there is a staff clinic and that is where I was born. My mother was heading the women Prisons section and my father was in Marine section at Port Bell.

We stayed in Bugolobi until 1979 when the war broke out. But before the war, the Amin government had suspected my father of collaborating with Museveni’s agents who were in Tanzania preparing to attack Uganda. He was arrested and taken to Luzira. We fled to Fort Portal with my mother and continued to Kilembe Mines, Kasese, where my maternal grandparents lived.

My father escaped from prison and we are told that he used a table knife to dig a hole and escaped but I have never confirmed that. After escaping he joined the UNLA.
We stayed there shortly and moved to Rukungiri around 1982. By that time, Museveni and his group had launched the war and my father had joined them. We did not have enough land in Rukungiri so we would walk long distance with my mother to get land for digging and after the harvest, we would share with the owner of the land.

But because my mother had fled and did not formally leave the Prisons, she was constantly harassed and arrested by UPC Rukungiri District administrators. She would be taken and imprisoned for months at Kebisoni Sub-county.

When the harassment became too much towards the end of 1984, my mother disappeared. We thought she was again in that prison. But we later learnt she wasn’t there. I think she had joined my father in the bush.

Meeting with dad
One day, I had just come from a garden, seated near the road and I saw a convoy of about 12 cars driving at a terrific speed towards our home. I ran to the nearby bush. The convoy drove past where I was seated and parked by an old woman’s place.

Soldiers got off the trucks and took firing positions in the bushes. One of the cars opened and I saw a man with long a beard with bullets tied around his body. He looked smart but dirty. He had tacked in his uniform properly but was not in good state. When he got out, I saw that old woman coming towards him. He called out her name. I thought these were government soldiers coming to ransack our home again.

He hugged the old woman. But I kept in my strategic position looking at them. I saw other people who had also run away, emerging from the bushes. As I came near the convoy and when I looked inside the Mercedes Benz he was driving in, I saw my mother. I could recognise her. She had been away for more than a year. She came out of the car and hugged me. I asked her who that man was. She told me: He was my father. This was towards the end of 1985. It was my first time to see him since I was three. I was now nine. People in the village converged and it was like a mini-rally of sorts. As he was greeting people, he kept on extending where I was and he grabbed me, held me close by his left arm as he continued greeting people.

He took me to the back seat of the car and we drove home after greeting people. He invited them to our home. It was a big party. What was exciting was his signaler who would throw a wire in the tree to get radio communication signals because the technology at that time was rudimentary.

People donated cows and I saw soldiers slaughtering them with bayonets. But I later I understood that NRA had not actually captured power. I heard there was a disagreement and he decided to go home. I don’t know what it was. He was commanding the 5th Battalion. He stayed for four days. But the signaler was always on the radio communicating and briefing my father. But I didn’t know what was going on.

Dad leaves home
After the four days, they drove away while we slept. We just woke up and there was nobody. But my mother remained. After a few weeks, he came back and took all of us to Kampala. We were staying at Acacia Avenue, near Officers Mess. Gen David Sejusa was our neighbour on the right and on the left was Col Julius Chihandae. I think those people had problems they came with from the bush. And even after capturing power, they continued having those problems. They were always caucusing. There was a group which was allied to Gen Salim Saleh and those were like commander and there were those I think who were allied to Gen Elly Tumwine and they were very few. He was unpopular. I don’t know why!

Gen Saleh and other officers like Col Amanya Mushega, Gen Ivan Koreta, Col Chihandae, Gen Matayo Kyaligonza and others would visit us. But on weekends, there were always some kind of shootout in Kololo, with these soldiers fighting among themselves.

The group of Gen Tumwine would come to attack those allied to Gen Saleh. I have never understood it. People would not die but you would hear bullets at night. Power would go off and you hear people exchanging gunshots.

Probably, the President would prevail over these officers in the bush but now he was the President and politics kept him busy. I have a feeling that those contradictions were not taken care of and they continued to grow.

Attacks among NRA
And as a result, in 1989, the President decided to deploy most of these people to civil service and my father was also supposed to do interviews and join civil service. But, I remember one particular incident, some two soldiers came to our home in the wee hours of the moning. They shot our guard in the stomach and one of the soldiers entered. After entering, he pretended to be drunk. We woke up and we were peeping through the window. This soldier was disarmed by my father’s guards. Col Chihandae’s guards also came and reinforced our guards. I think that gentleman had come to kill my father. My father came out of the house and they interrogated him.

In the morning, my father got his AK-47 assault rifle, dressed in tracksuit, put that soldier in the car and drove him away. We were told that the soldier had come from one top General’s home. My father took the soldier to the General’s home and warned the General. I have never understood why they always had those contradictions.

But as a result, when the President visited Djibouti, our house was surrounded. I think there was a plan to arrest my father, torture him or kill him. But he was advised by his close friend, who I don’t want to mention, to run away a bit and wait for the President to come back and see how to resolve the differences. It was clear that it was only the President who could protect him because Gen Saleh who was his friend was no longer in command. Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu was the army commander.

At that time, there was Chief of Combat and Operations (CCM) and this was Brig Joram Mugume, who later became the deputy army commander. If there was to be any operation, it had to be sanctioned by the CCM. So, my father called Gen Muntu and told him that about 40 soldiers armed to the teeth, had surrounded his home. It was 8pm. My father tried to make a few frantic calls to Gen Muntu. But Gen Muntu said he was not aware of any operation. He referred my father to Brig Mugume but Brig Mugume said he was also not aware of any operation to arrest my father. But my father insisted that Brig Mugume orders the soldiers to leave his home. But the soldiers were not withdrawn.

My father rang Gen Muntu again and Muntu said: “You mean they are still there?” My father said: “yes, they are still here”. He was becoming desperate. He then called a very close friend of his – the one I said I will not mention - who told him that those soldiers were going to kill him and he advised him to run away. He also told him he was not safe anywhere in the country until the President comes back.

My father called all of us to the sitting room. He told us to remain seated. He put on his uniform, walked in the corridor and we couldn’t hear his footsteps any more. He came back carrying A light machine gun, looked at us again, and again told us: “Stay here, don’t move. Whatever happens, remain here. Don’t move”. They had already disarmed all his escorts outside. He was defenceless. He walked away until we couldn’t hear his footsteps anymore.

The soldiers became impatient and started knocking on the door. They were shouting “funguwa mulango, funguwa mulango” (open the door, open the door). They shot the door lock and entered the house. They poured in the house like bees. Our house was big. It had like 10 bedrooms. They entered every room.

The officer, who was commanding the operation, entered the house and asked me: “Where is your father’s chair? I showed him. He sat in it. He was holding a pistol in his hands. These soldiers entered the ceiling and they were all over the house. An officer at the rank of Lieutenant came and saluted the commander of the operation and said: Afande amepoteya (He has run away). The commander asked him: “What do you mean amepoteya? You go and look for him. Search everywhere.”

Father escapes attack
They stayed there until morning. Apparently my father had run away. He is a commando trained in Iraq. I don’t know what happened to him. That was 1989. I saw him again in 1992 in prison. But after realising that he had escaped, the soldiers looted everything in the house. It was like they wanted to write off the man. There was a message sent by state minister for defence, saying: “Col Kashillingi has escaped. Do not arrest, shoot on sight.

Three days later, we saw a truck carrying things and we were pushed out of the house. Brig Sam Nanyumba who had been appointed Chief of Staff took over the house. That was the message.
My father went and settled in DR Congo and the President was aware. The President gave on order that we be taken to Entebbe and he started looking after us. We were getting posho and beans from the army. That’s why I’m convinced that he was not part of this. He used to send Brig Sam Kavuma to check on us.

Life later became difficult. After my primary, I was supposed to go to King’s College Budo, but I couldn’t because there was no money. Before he left, he had separated with my mother and I had a step mother. Life became hard for me. It was during that time that I became a Christian. I thought Islam was not giving me any spiritual comfort and I became a Christian in 1992. I started going to Gospel Church in Entebbe.

Charged with treason
At the time of my secondary school, my father was being held incommunicado in Makindye Military police barracks. Whereas we knew he was back, we were not allowed access to him between 1991 and 1992. But people used to come home and tell us he was fine.

A few months later, he was charged with treason and the story was that he had been caught in the Rwenzori Mountains fighting to overthrow the government and that he was the commander of the National Army for Liberation of Uganda (NALU). I keep reading these stories and I don’t know what to say. Every time I hear that so and so wants to overthrow the government, I wonder whether it’s the same story like my father’s. Some of those people who were accusing my father of fighting to overthrow the government, have run away and they are ones being accused of overthrowing the government.

Arrested underground
He was put in an underground cell for 13 months in handcuffs and had started losing his sight. The handcuffs were eating away the bone. There was no single day they had removed those.
Someone smuggled that information to the President. The President had been hoodwinked that he was being detained in a house whereas he was in an underground prison. The President then ordered that he should be taken out of that place but the army leadership said they had evidence against him. He said if you have evidence against him, take him to court.

The president ordered a marathon trial. The army brought over 50 soldiers to testify against my father. They claimed they were fighters under his command when he was captured. My father has never recovered and doesn’t want to talk about it.

Eventually the judge found many contradictions and dismissed the case on March 17, 1995. He was acquitted and came home in Entebbe. I was in Senior Four vacation. That’s when I got an inspiration to become a lawyer.

It was worthwhile cause for my father to go to the bush. But for today, I don’t understand NRM. I fully understand the Movement which was broad based. This NRM, I don’t understand it. I’m a Musevenist but I don’t like what NRM is doing. I don’t know where it is, I don’t know where to find it, I don’t know. I support the President because he is my guardian, which is selfish. Secondly, he is the reason why my father still lives.

I think it’s because of those contradictions that some people have been rewarded and others have not been rewarded. My father started this revolution with them. But he is one of those senior commanders as of 1986 who never received any recognition and I keep asking, why?
I don’t even know his status. I don’t know whether he is retired or still active. That medal will not bring a meal in his house. But you are recongising that someone made a sacrifice.

Why do you give a particular group and you don’t give other. It’s a very big contradiction. Unless they sort it out, we will continue having these problems. I have raised this with Gen Tumwine. Some people have become too drunk with power because they can determine who should get the medal and who shouldn’t get it. And what right does any have to sit in a committee and say so and so shouldn’t get a medal? It’s the betrayal of the highest order. It’s morally wrong and I’m very angry about it.

Who is col kashillingi?

He is a technical advisor in the Ministry of Security. Col. Kashillingi joined the army in 1960s and was under the Marine Unit in Luzira before he joined the NRA in 1981. He is a trained commando from Iraq. In the bush, he fought many and fierce battles. He defended Yoweri Museveni in 1984 when the entire NRA was aware to attack Masindi and UNLA forces attacked the camp where the rebel leader was. With two platoons he managed to put up a formidable resistance and the Chairman High Command, High Command headquarters and the Sick bay. He commanded the troops that captured of Entebbe Airport.

Col Kashillingi later fled the country and went to DR Congo was later arrested on allegations and charged with treason but the case was dismissed. Before he fled, he had been accused of burning Republic House, where NRA records were kept.