WHO FOUGHT: Kagame helped Museveni crush internal NRA revolt
- Written by Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda
In our continuing series, “Who Fought?” in which we revisit the contribution of individual fighters in the five-year bush war that brought President Museveni to power in 1986, SSEMUJJU IBRAHIM NGANDA looks at GEN. PAUL KAGAME’s roleA Tanzanian-trained spy, Paul Kagame, now President of Rwanda – was the counter-intelligence chief of rebel NRA leader Yoweri Museveni.
Most of the Luwero bush-war veterans The Observer spoke to are unanimous in their verdict that Kagame was never one of the celebrated NRA fighters, but was quite meticulous in his role as a spy.
His contribution in intelligence gathering and analysis helped Museveni regain control of a mutinous guerrilla force. Sam Magara (RIP) reportedly plotted a coup against Museveni during the early days of the struggle.
In the line of duty, Kagame reported directly to the Chairman of the High Command (CHC), Yoweri Museveni.
He was one of the 27 rebels that launched the war with the attack on Kabamba on Feb. 6, 1981, but his military number was a distant RO 0161.
Kagame who trained in intelligence gathering in Tanzania in 1979 – went on to become rebel leader Yoweri Museveni’s most trusted spy. Specialising in counter intelligence, Kagame spied on colleagues to establish mainly who was undermining the struggle from within or undermining the authority of the rebel leader.
Conspiracy appears to have crept into the NRA guerrilla movement at the very launch of the rebellion and this prompted the rebel leader to engage some fighters to spy on others.
Kagame’s work was therefore cutout right from the start when the only Yugoslav-made RPG that the rebels planned to use to storm the armoury of Kabamba barracks went missing.
Only 33 people, including Kagame, who attended the meeting at Mathew Rukikaire’s residence on February 3 that planned the first attack, knew about this weapon that would help the rebels gain access to the armoury and get more guns. At that time the rebels had only 27 guns and needed more.
The RPG mysteriously disappeared a day before the February 6, 1981 attack on Kabamba. Although the rebels went ahead with the planned attack, their mission to break open the underground armoury failed.
According to Museveni’s autobiography, Sowing the Mustard Seed, the rebels failed to access the armoury because one of their own, Elly Tumwine went against instructions and shot a soldier at the quarter guard instead of wrestling him down. This alerted a Tanzanian guard near the armoury.
War veterans say that while Tumwine’s mistake indeed necessitated a quick withdrawal, the absence of the main support weapon was the other factor.
Museveni, our sources say, was deeply troubled by the disappearance of the RPG. He suspected that his 33-member rebel force had been infiltrated at the start.
He immediately assigned Kagame to find out who the internal saboteurs were; how many they were and which danger they posed to the struggle.
None of the bush war veterans we spoke to is aware of Kagame’s findings.
Even when David Tinyefuza, currently the Coordinator of Intelligence, became the overall Director of Military Intelligence of the rebel force, Kagame still operated independently and continued to report directly to CHC.
He had his own bicycle, Uzi gun and operational fund. He moved freely from unit to unit spying on his colleagues.
It was therefore not surprising that when Sam Magara, one of the few Monduli-trained officers in the group reportedly hatched a plan to oust Museveni, the CHC moved faster than them—thanks to Kagame’s information.
Veterans say that Museveni trusted Kagame more than Tinyefuza who, like Sam Magara, is from the Muhinda clan of the Bahima. Museveni is a Musita.
In his book, The Agony of the Bush War, Brig. Matayo Kyalgonza writes about the emergence of cliques during the bush war and how the CHC ordered that “ethnicity should cease”.
At the height of ethnic polarization in the bush, Museveni appeared to trust fighters of Rwandan origin, such as Kagame, more. That is why, some say, the late Maj. Gen. Fred Rwigyema remained the head of Museveni’s protection unit for a long time.
Although the alleged coup against Museveni had been planned to take place when he was away from the bush (between June -December 1981), the rebel leader got to know about it and was able to suppress it. Veterans tell us, it is Kagame and others who let Museveni in on the secret.
High ranking bush-war generals remember how Kagame tortured a fellow NRA fighter, Jack Muchunguzi, to extract a confession following the murder of another colleague, Hannington Mugabi.
Brig. Pecos Kutesa describes Mugabi’s death as caused by a pistol accident. But Col. Kizza Besigye, the only officer who witnessed the killing, wondered in a past media interview why he was never asked to give evidence.
Muchunguzi was allegedly killed in order to quash a plot to oust Museveni which had been hatched by Sam Magara. Apparently, Muchunguzi knew about the plot.
It is claimed that Magara wanted to break the NRA force and lead some fighters to another rebel force based in the Rwenzori Mountain. The Rwenzori group was reportedly linked to the Gang of Four; Prof. Edward Rugumayo, Prof. Dan Nabudere, Prof. Yash Tandon and late Omwony Ojwok. It also operated in areas of Nyabushozi.
The plot to destroy the NRA, it is claimed was hatched by Muchunguzi, Magara and Mugabi. Hannington Mugabi was reportedly uncomfortable with the plot especially after the chief planner had been killed in Kampala under unclear circumstances.
Muchunguzi it is claimed eliminated Mugabi to destroy evidence.
We have been told that Kagame drilled safety pins in Muchunguzi’s fingers, squeezed his testicles and burnt him with cigarette butts to force him to confess.
Museveni also dispatched Kagame alongside other fighters to verify the authenticity of another rebel force that reportedly wanted to join the NRA. This was the rebel group of Maj. Roland Kakooza Mutale. Kagame and company found the group genuine and Mutale’s fighters were integrated into the NRA.
Initially, only the few trained soldiers among the rebel force participated in fighting and they were predominantly FRONASA fighters who trained in Monduli, Tanzania.
Kagame was one of the few who knew how to pull the trigger. That is why he participated in the February 6, 1981 first attack on Kabamba.
He also took part in the April 4, 1981 attack on Kakiri Barracks—probably the second major operation of the new rebel group.
After failing to get guns from Kabamba, the rebels attacked some police posts but Kakiri was the next major operation. Museveni himself commanded this operation. According to Pecos Kutesa, Museveni even filmed the operation and took some photographs.
The NRA force of 53 fighters according to Kutesa’s book, was divided into five sections commanded by Sam Magara, Pecos Kutesa, Jack Muchunguzi, Hannington Mugabi and Fred Rwigyema.
Paul Kagame was one of the 10 soldiers in Pecos Kutesa’s section. Kutesa remembers that Kagame shot and killed a UNLA soldier called Mapengo. The soldier had fired his anti tank grenade in the air and fled upon realizing that his barracks had been attacked by the rebels.
Brig. Matayo Kyaligonza writes in his book that the NRA was able to kill as many UNLA soldiers as they were able to target during the attack.
Apart from these, there are no other known operations in which Kagame participated as a fighter or as a commander.
We are also told that Kagame was deployed in the NRA General Court Martial which was chaired by Col. Julius Chihandae at one time. Because of the uncompromising character, the two came to be known as Pilato (the Biblical Pontius Pilate).
Kagame remained an intelligence officer during and after the fall of Kampala to the NRA. While in the bush, he had worked with people like Tinyefuza and Maj. Gen. Gregory Mugisha Muntu.
He is known as a person of very strict discipline something that made him feared but also hated by some NRA fighters. In the bush he would always report or reprimand officers who sneaked out of the camp to “Bivulia” (camps for displaced people.)
After the capture of power, he was appointed deputy director of Military Intelligence in charge of counter intelligence. The substantive Intelligence boss was Maj. Gen. Mugisha Muntu. When Muntu was appointed army commander, Kagame became the acting intelligence boss.
When formal ranks were introduced, he was appointed a major.
We are told that when rebel Alice Lakwena hit the new NRA government and marched towards Magamaga, some ministers panicked and wanted to flee. Kagame is said to have suggested during an intelligence meeting that those who try to flee the country should be arrested at the airport. He went ahead and rang some ministers telling them the consequences of attempting to run away.
Kagame remained close to Museveni and he used this relationship together with late Maj. Gen. Fred Rwigyema to recruit Rwandese and train them as UPDF soldiers. These are the fighters that were later mobilized to wage war against the government of President Juvenal Habyarima.
Kagame came to Uganda as a refugee in 1960. He was recruited into FRONASA by the late Fred Rwigyema.
It was originally wrongly said that Kagame was a blood relative of Rwigyema. Interestingly, Rwigyema was excluded from the national army after the overthrow of Amin but Kagame who had studied intelligence in Tanzania was allowed free entry. Rwigyema was excluded on account of being a foreigner.
The UNLF had accused Id Amin of filling the army with foreigners that’s why they wanted to exclude them (foreigners). Rwigyema, although not fully integrated into the UNLA, remained part of the Museveni guards.
It is not surprising that when Rwigyema joined the NRA rebellion, Kagame followed suit. It is claimed that the two were inseparable even in the bush.
It is claimed that neither Rwigyema nor Kagame participated directly in the planning of the bush war but they both turned up at the final meeting at Mathew Rukikaire’s home before the group set off to attack Kabamba.
In the jungles of Luwero Triangle, Kagame’s friends were Rwigyema, to some extent Mugisha Muntu, and Namara Katabarwa. He was such a quiet man according to veterans.
Next Thursday we look at the contribution of Maj. Herbert Kikomeko Itongwa and other great Baganda fighters.