It is 35 years since the historic attack on Kabamba and the launch of the National Resistance Army/Movement. We also recently marked 30 years of NRA/NRM in power, which has changed the course of history with discernible shortcomings.
There is a lot to celebrate, but it is also a moment in time to take stock of the events in the last three decades. Uganda is a better country, no qualms about it. There have been lost opportunities due to devious politics, self-interests, and dishonesty that undermined the ideals of the struggle.
Memories evoke the triumph and patriotic songs of the heroic NRA. There was ecstasy and immense optimism. We remember the ten-point programme being preached by Col Amanya Mushega, then minister of education and national political commissar and now in FDC, and Lt Col Henry N Masiko, now head of patriotic clubs. I reminisce on the strength of resident commissioners, the SDAs, barter trade, Kaunda suits, chaka mu chaka, the simplicity of leaders of the revolution.
This was a culmination from the politics of the past. Uganda, having been characterized by turmoil, had organized elections in 1980 which UPC ‘won’. Yoweri Museveni, the leader of UPM, and few of his compatriots, kept their warning that they would go to the bush and fight the government if the election was rigged.
After the election, a number of young graduates joined the struggle that started with 40 men, 27 of them armed, on February 6, 1981. This lot was daring! Many perished and never saw the fruits of the struggle but were content that Uganda would be a better country. Some are in unmarked graves, and others in mass graves scattered in Luweero triangle. Others have disagreed with the system and are in opposition or abeyance.
It was a costly war, over a half a million perished in Luweero, Kayunga Nyanja (Tooro), Rubona, Rwenzori mountains, Lwamata (Kiboga), mainly peasants who supported the war. It also provoked the war in northern Uganda immediately after the capture of power that caused untold suffering – 20 years of insurgency, displacements, over 300,000 lives lost, and a generation of destitute. The depressing effects are still manifest.
Promising young men such as Raiti Omongin and Sam Magara died fighting for liberty, freedoms, and sanity that we take pleasure in today. There are also many nameless freedom fighters not captured in history books that paid the ultimate price.
I derive this from an account in my cousin’s diary – Phillip Hatanga – of 1982 in Nairobi, Kenya, before joining the bush struggle; it echoes the sentiments of his comrades who never lived to enjoy the fruits. He wrote: “When all is lost, the future remains.’’ His remains are interned in a bushy hill in Busanza, Kisoro. It is painful that the ideals of the revolution which promised a fundamental change have since been reneged.
There has been extensive debate by political scientists, historians, and former combatants such as Gen David Sejusa, Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu, Col Kizza Besigye, Col Amanya Mushega, Maj Gen Benon Biraaro lamenting that the ideals of the revolution have been shortchanged. The debate will continue into the future.
What is more unfortunate is that many heroes are never recognized; history is edited to suit the actors with personal interests. The men and women of valor who did mighty exploits and sacrificed immensely to the liberation of their motherland are never acknowledged.
The first commanders of NRA/ NRM such as Ahmed Seguya, Sam Magara, Joy Mirembe, Fred Gisa Rwigema, Elly Tumwine, Julius Chihandae appear in a sentence or paragraph in the Mustard Seed by Gen Yoweri Museveni. Who will tell the story of unsung heroes, their abilities, drive, motivation, abilities, contribution, aspirations and fears?
Let us pay tribute to the unsung heroes/heroines of the NRA revolution.
The author is the chief executive officer of Global Divine Ventures (GDV).