Indiscipline reigns in NRA army

Christopher Lubega, one of the child soldiers, who fought up to Kampala during the NRA struggle. The army at the time was accused of committing various atrocities.

What you need to know:

A balanced view. Since history is often rendered as the story of the victors, this series on Ugandan history from 1985 to 2012 is attempting to give Ugandans a clear and balanced understanding of their country from the point of view of both the victors (the NRM) and the vanquished (the UNLA, the UFM, FEDEMU, the UPC government and the Acholi and Teso rebels).

As was discussed last Friday, barely had the NRM honeymoon begun than a major purge of Baganda UFM and FEDEMU political leaders and military officers and men got underway in September 1986.
Many Baganda were troubled by this sudden turn of events. In January they had given the victorious NRA guerrillas an emotional welcome into Kampala.

Many, looking back to the tragic events of May 1966 in which the Kabaka had been exiled to Britain after an attack on his palace and others recalling the eight years of Idi Amin and recently, the six months of Tito Okello, had become convinced that there was something about the tribes from northern Uganda that made them inherently violent and brutal.

Because the NRA was dominated by Banyankore, Banyarwanda Tutsi, Bakiga, Batoro, Banyoro and Baganda, most of whom spoke some Luganda, to the broad majority of Baganda an era of peace and civilization had at last dawned.

Folk songs (more commonly known as “Kadongo Kamu”) by such singers as Christopher Ssebadduka and Matia Kakumirizi in 1986 captured this tribal interpretation of Ugandan history.

A view of northerners
In one of his songs, Kakumirizi dramatizes the capture of Kampala by the NRA in a conversation with a character he calls Mzee Zede. Mzee Kede narrates how Masaka town fell to the NRA, referring to the “Anyanya”, a term that in late 1985 had come to be used for the Southern Sudan and West Nile Uganda National Rescue Front (UNRF) fighters who flooded Kampala after the fall of Obote’s government.
But by the end of 1985, “Anyanya” was now broadly used to refer to northerners in general, who were viewed in the southern half of Uganda as barbaric and primitive.
Buganda was caught in a dilemma. Clearly, this large-scale purge of Baganda soldiers and politicians from the rival anti-Obote guerrilla groups was a shock. At the same time, Baganda saw in the return of the Crown Prince Ronald Mutebi, facilitated by the NRM government, a hope that a future restoration of their kingdom just might be possible.

So they reluctantly and in deep pain went into denial and accepted the bloody purge of FEDEMU and UFM and tried to focus on the bright side which was that even with these early signs of brutality by the NRA, it still was not as murderous as the “Anyanya” armies of Amin and Obote.

However, all through 1986, evidence continued to point to a disturbing pattern of outright banditry and indiscipline by the NRA, and as explained in the December 6 part of this series, the New Vision newspaper, Radio Uganda and Uganda Television simply did not report on these disturbing incidents.

Atrocities by men in uniform
The Citizen newspaper reported on June 10, 1986 that “Acts of lawlessness have continued to disturb residents in parts of Gulu. Armed robbery, killings have become very common especially in the suburbs of Gulu town. Many of these robberies are committed by men in army uniforms where NRA soldiers are stationed. Last Sunday June 7, 1986, armed thugs invaded several homes at Laibi trading centre 2 klms on Gulu/Kla road, and robbed a number of residents and businessmen of their properties and money.”

The significance of this incident reported in the Citizen, a smaller Kampala newspaper, went largely unnoticed at the time. It was one of the earliest reports of what the NRA army was doing in northern Uganda away from the eyes of the international media in Kampala and foreign diplomats and human rights groups.

A few human rights groups started to pick up on these reports but the mood in Kampala, the rest of Buganda and western Uganda simply was not ready to heed them.

On August 17, 1986, the same paper reported that “Gross indiscipline which has spread among the rank and file of the NRA has resulted in numerous acts of violation of human rights by officers and men of the National Resistance Army. Several high ranking military officers have been implicated in misconduct ranging from corruption, poaching and bribery to outright confiscation of people’s property. And several junior officers and privates have reportedly been involved in violent robberies.”

Armed robbery
In a typical such incident in 1986, one day an attempted robbery took place at a shop along Jinja Road in Kampala opposite the National Water and Sewerage Corporation offices.

At the sight of the armed robbers, all people in the vicinity fled. The police arrived at the crime scene but they too remained outside the shop, too scared to go in.

At that point, one of the top NRA commanders called Fred Rwigyema, who happened to be driving by, stopped and asked what was going on. He then told the police to fire at the shop. When the robbers fired back Rwigyema determined the kinds of guns they were using.
Then using his own gun, made his way into the shop and shot dead all the robbers. He came out dusting himself and told the police to go and mop up the “maiti” (Kiswahili for dead bodies).

Celebratory shots
When the Kampala football club SC Villa won the Uganda national football league title in 1989, Rwigyema, an ardent Villa fan, fired shots into the air from the stands at Nakivubo Stadium, with his bodyguards also joining him in this impromptu but alarming celebration.
This incident, like most involving senior NRA commanders, did not make it into the newspapers but it nevertheless spread like wild fire all over Kampala.

A rowdy officer called Jet Mwebaze was the NRA’s commander in charge of security for Kampala in 1986.
Like Rwigyema, Mwebaze was an ardent bar and nightclub regular and the life of the party. Mwebaze was often involved in bar brawls which became widely known in Kampala but never made it into the print media.

However, these incidents in Kampala and Entebbe in which army officers took the law in their own hands or where involved in outright robbery and car jacking, pale into insignificance when compared with what the NRA was doing in northern and northeastern Uganda.

In Acholi and Teso, a reign of terror and destruction unprecedented in Ugandan history was taking place.
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Continues tomorrow