NRA government’s purge of UFM and Fedemu soldiers

Museveni (L) and UPDA’s Lt. Col. Angelo Okello (in black jacket 2ndL) listen to speeches before the signing of a peace accord in Gulu in 1988. The NRA upon seizing power tried to reconcile with the fighting groups.

What you need to know:

Not again. When the NRA/M came to power 26 years ago, it was well aware that other parties were interested in power and, therefore, looked for ways of including them in government or defeating them.

As narrated yesterday, the NRA’s capture of power in January 1986 had been greeted with relief and optimism in central and western Uganda.
At first, the NRA and its main rival, the UFM, appeared to get on well. The leader of UFM, Dr Andrew Kayiira, was given the position of Minister of Energy in the new NRM government.

Nearly all the UFM and Fedemu officers and men were deployed in army barracks and military installations far from Kampala, most of them ending up in Gulu, Lira and Tororo in the north and east of Uganda.
The 35th Battalion of the NRA in Lira was composed almost entirely of UFM and Fedemu officers and men.

In mid September 1986, there was a sudden series of arrests of senior UFM and Fedemu officers and men in several parts of the country.

Capt. Godfrey Nsereko, a former chief bodyguard to Capt. George Nkwanga, the commander of the FDA/Fedemu, was arrested in Fort Portal and brought to Luzira prison in Kampala. Capt. Kamya Nkima of the UFM was arrested on the streets of Kampala, tied with ropes in the infamous “kandoya” style of the NRA, and also detained.

Major Aloysius Ndibowa of the FDA went into hiding after three of his FDA bodyguards were arrested and sent to Luzira.

Major Fred (“Mpiso”) Kiberu, who was the commanding officer of the Fedemu forces based in Tororo, was arrested as well.

Capt. Paul Kavuma, Major Nsubuga, and Lt. Nansera Lubega, were former UFM commanders, who were absorbed in the NRA’s 19th Battalion.

According to the NRA’s head of the Directorate of Military Intelligence, Gregory Mugisha Muntu, an attempted coup of some sort had been uncovered in September 1986 and was being spearheaded by the UFM and Fedemu.

There was, according to the army, an attempted coup against the NRM government by Baganda Army officers and politicians, most of them either from the UFM or Fedemu.

On October 3, 1986, the army broke up a meeting at Colline Hotel in Mukono Town being held by six former UFM and Fedemu officers.

The former vice-president in the second UPC government, Paulo Muwanga, was arrested at his home in Entebbe. Also on October 3, Kayiira was arrested at Tank Hill in Muyenga, a Kampala suburb.

The following day, October 4, the chairman of Fedemu and Minister of Environment in the broad-based NRM government, Dr David Lwanga, was also arrested.

On October 5, 1986, Evaristo Nyanzi, a Democratic Party member and Minister of Commerce in the NRM government, was arrested at Entebbe International Airport as he was about to board a flight to Yugoslavia.

On top of these prominent ministers and Fedemu and UFM officials, a large number of other Baganda politicians and media figures were also arrested.

They included the editor of the Citizen newspaper, Anthony Ssekweyama, the vice-chairman of the UFM and Democratic Party lawyer, Mr Francis Bwengye, Dr Charles Lwanga, an obstetrician at Rubaga Hospital in Kampala, Joseph Musaka-Mubiru, a businessman in Kampala, and Joseph Ssozi-Ntambi, an assistant District Commissioner at

A soldier called Moses (“Drago”) Nyanzi of the NRA based at Republic House (Bulange), Sabiiti-Matovu, a medicine man based at Nalukolongo on the western outskirts of Kampala, John Sserunkuma, a vehicle mechanic at Ndeeba near Kampala and Warrant Officer II Dennis Ssebugwawo, an ex-FDA/Fedemu officer, were also held in the

But that was not all. An intelligence officer in the NRA based at Entebbe called Commander Muchwa, Sergeant Mohammed Kanyike of the
27th NRA Battalion in Moyo Town in northern Uganda; Joseph Kyabaggu of the UFM, and Sergeant Rajab Kasozi of the 27th Battalion in Moyo, did not escape the arrests.
It was an astonishing development.
The NRM government was generally regarded as dominated by southern Bantu tribes, who had formed an alliance in 1981 to fight what was viewed as nearly 20 years of rule by northerners and hated northern-dominated armies.

Yet, barely a year in power, the NRM was already reporting a major coup plot.

It is difficult to know what to believe. On the one hand, Kayiira’s UFM, in that abortive attack on the Lubiri Barracks in February 1982, had demonstrated a mindset and ability to stage daring attacks on a heavily guarded military installation in Kampala.

The UFM, not the NRA, had been the first fighting group to establish contact with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi for arms and it was well-known in military circles that it had far better weapons than the NRA, at least up to 1982.

A coup by the UFM could not be ruled out.

Kabaka returns
And yet, it would have been unlikely that the UFM and Fedemu could plan and stage a coup in September 1986 for one main reason: In August 1986, the Crown Prince of Buganda, Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II, had returned to Uganda from the United Kingdom where he had lived in exile for most of the 1970s and 1980s.

Mutebi’s arrival, by road from Nairobi, was greeted with an outpouring of emotion by Baganda. On top of their gratitude (as they understood it) over Museveni’s delivering Buganda and Uganda from the northern army, the UNLA, now Museveni had made it possible for their beloved Crown Prince (Ssabataka) to return home.

However, the daring and ambitious Kayiira and his UFM and their Fedemu allies might have been, given this excitement about Mutebi’s return and the added political capital this was giving the NRM, it would have made little sense to attempt a military coup so soon, as the country was just recovering from the January takeover of power by
the NRM and so soon after the return of Buganda’s Crown Prince from exile.

A police detective, Gideon Bairensi, had searched the house at Nalukolongo of traditional medicine man, Sabiiti Matovu, and reportedly recovered 15 guns and eight empty magazines, plus several barrels of diesel (which barrels later went missing).

This, according to the NRA, was part of the evidence of the coup plot. Considering the large amount of weaponry that the UFM had at its disposal, it is questionable that a pathetic 15 rifles and eight empty magazines would constitute the UFM’s idea of weaponry for a coup.

It would seem, then, that the NRA moved on the UFM and Fedemu as part of a purge of its main rivals, perhaps aware now that with Prince Mutebi in Uganda, there was a security threat in the revival of Buganda fervor and nationalism, and with that nationalism for the first time since the days of Kabaka Mwanga in the late 19th Century backed by solid military power.

Whatever the truth, many of these arrested UFM and Fedemu men were jailed, tortured and have never been seen again. The UFM has effectively been written out of contemporary Ugandan history, as if it never existed.

Continues on Monday