The armed groups of 1980s

NRA guerilla fighters lay an ambush in Luweero in the 1980s. COURTESY PHOTO

What you need to know:

Organisation. Following the return of the UPC party to power in 1980, some citizens and politicians, disillusioned by the prevailing political climate, took up arms. Allan Chekwech runs you through an edited version of Prof. A. B. K. Kasozi’s analysis of the armed groups in his book The Social Origins of Violence In Uganda.

The National Resistance Movement
After the December 1980 General Election, Yoweri Museveni, who had taken part in the exercise under the Uganda Patriotic Movement party ticket, declared he would take up arms over the rigged poll. He would fight through his group, the National Resistance Army.
At the beginning of the struggle, a political arm of the movement, which comprised members like Eriya Kategeya, Kirunda Kivejinja, Bakulu-Mpagi Wamala, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, and Hajj Moses Kigongo, among others, started to mobilise the masses in the fight for democracy.

They founded the People’s Resistance Council, which consisted of several resistance fighters and civilians. The military wing was named the People’s Resistance Army. In 1981, several fighting groups conceived an idea to form a union.

The PRA, Uganda Freedom Fighters (UFF) - led by Yusuf Lule- and the Uganda National Rescue Front (UNRF) failed to merge, but the PRA and UFF combined to form the National Resistance Movement.

To lay a more organised struggle, the National Resistance Movement was structured into the National Resistance Council and the National Resistance Army.

The council operated in various departments: The Finance and Supplies took care of the military and civilian materials in the war zones, the Political and Diplomatic Committee politicised the masses and informed the international world about the situation in Uganda; while the Publicity and Propaganda group performed the public relations role both here and abroad.

The External Committee, which was based outside the country, mobilised all Ugandans abroad and raised contributions for the movement.

The army group, meanwhile, was to organise and win the war, politicise the army, educate the public and defend the population.

The Uganda Freedom Movement
When Yusuf Kironde Lule was ousted in June 1979, his cabinet members, who had advised him to resist the National Consultative Council, Andrew Kayiira, Sam Sebagereka, Arnold Bisase, and others left him.
One year later, some educated Ugandans met with the former Lule colleagues and shared an idea that a Middle East country was willing to help overthrow the dictatorial regime in Kampala.

By August and October 1980, discussions between the Ugandans and some truck owners matured and UFM was born. It was led by Kayiira.

By December, the fighter group had already stockpiled arms in Uganda and its soldiers included colonial government officers, ex-Amin soldiers and also of UNLA.

The group is said to have believed in a coup d’tat and not an armed struggle. And on February 9, 1981, they attempted to overthrow the Obote II regime but the attack fell flat. Obote’s soldiers fled the city for more than 12 hours.

Again, in April the same year, the second coup attempt aborted. It is in this attack that Obote ran to Soroti where he sternly warned that the Baganda must “accept his authority or face his wrath”.

UFM’s failure is blamed on weak recruitment policies; its bases were not well structured and so was the management. The members, such as Charles Bwengye and others accused Kayiira of maginalisation, which wasted their valuable time.

The movement heavily depended on foreigners and was bound to collapse by February 1982 when all its arms were seized in the Lubiri Barracks attack. Kayiira also abandoned the group in September 1982 and the group was smashed by government forces and some captives paraded before the media. The UFM would never recover from the incidents.

The Uganda National Rescue Front
The Uganda National Rescue Front consisted of Ugandans from West Nile who had fled to Sudan after Amin’s regime fell in 1979.
The chairman of the group, Brig. Ali Moses, who had served as Finance Minister under Amin, is said to have been a “guest of powerful elements in the Sudan government”.

The UNRF, which was largely comprised of former Amin soldiers, had sworn to overthrow Obote’s regime for having returned to power through a fraudulent election.

Brig. Moses Ali is said to have also fallen apart with Amin over widespread killings of civilians and soldiers.
The group over-ran West Nile in 1980 and up to 1982 took control of the area.

However, they faced a setback when Obote troops piled pressure on them, coupled with division within the fighting group itself.

A group led by Col. Elly Hassan is reported to have infiltrated West Nile claiming to be Amin soldiers and divided UNRF. To Col. Hassan’s advantage, Brig. Moses Ali had moved to Pakistan. He had the luxury to preach his war gospel to the masses.

To pile more disarray in the group, some elements suggested that Gen. Moses Ali be replaced with E. Mondo, who is said to have shrugged off the offer. The members had wanted to elect a civilian political leader for the group and be more unified.

And by December 1982, Obote’s troops launched the ‘Christmas offensive’ which pushed the UNRF to the Sudanese border. Owing to this chaos, most West Nile residents left the area by January 1983.
The UNRF put their candle in the wind when they forcefully asked for taxes, which residents objected.

The UNLF Anti-Dictatorship (UNLF-AD)
This group was a political organisation of officials of the Uganda National Liberation Front that lost power in May 1980. These included Edward Rugumayo, Dan Wadada Nabudere, Omwony Ojok, Yash Tandon, Paul Wangoola, and Luutu-Mukasa.

They believed that Uganda’s problems – democracy - would be solved by sitting at round table just like they had done at the Moshi Conference of 1979. The UNLF-AD took a different format to ending dictatorship in Uganda. They published hundreds of papers and booklets that exposed the Obote regime.

The Federal Democratic Movement of Uganda
The organisation was formed after the disintegration of the Uganda Freedom Movement military wing. When the group was hit in September 1982, the remnants regrouped and formed the Federal Democratic Movement of Uganda (FEDEMU).

Lawrence Ssemakulu, who according to Prof. Kasozi, had crossed from the NRM to UFM, was made the leader.

He later lost the post when he was abducted from Nairobi and died in government custody in Uganda. Nkwanga, the UFM commander, who had been nicknamed “Mupakasi”, became the head of the fighters. He was also later killed by Tito Okello regime on allegations of working with the NRM. This group, unlike the UFM, based on an internally administered leadership. Continues on Monday