OP-ED

Celebrating NRA’s 38th Anniversary: How was the liberation struggle?

By Masuumi Juma

The National Resistance Movement (NRM) Liberation Day is a National holiday in Uganda observed on January 26th each year and the 38th NRA/M National Celebrations for this year will be held at St John’s Wakitaka SS Play Grounds, Northern Division in Jinja City, Busoga Region. Where RO/0001 C-I-C Gen. (Rtd) Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, the President of the Republic of Uganda is expected to be the Chief celebrant.

This day also marks the overthrow of the previous government by the National Resistance Movement on this day in 1986.

Uganda became a British Protectorate in 1894 and gained its independence in October 1962. It became a republic a year later, which unfortunately heralded a turbulent period in the nation’s history including the infamous eight-year regime of the dictator Idi Amin.

When Amin was replaced by President Obote in 1981, a former Military Commission member, Yoweri Museveni, formed the National Resistance Army (NRA) to topple the government.

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The Journey of liberating Uganda was championed by the H.E President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, born on 15 September 1944 in Rukungiri, to parents Mzee Amos Kaguta (1916-2013), a cattle herder, and EsteriKokundekaNganzi (1918-2001), of the Bahororo ethnicity. Museveni gets his middle name from his father, Mzee Amos Kaguta.

Kaguta is also the father of Museveni’s brother Caleb Akandwanaho, popularly known in Uganda as Salim Saleh, and their sister Violet Kajubiri. Museveni attended Kyamate Elementary School, Mbarara High School, and Ntare School. In 1967, he went to the University of Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania.

The National Resistance Army (NRA), the military wing of the National Resistance Movement (NRM), was a group of guerrilla war fighters, commonly referred to as the Ugandan Bush War or Luwero War, against the government of Milton Obote, and later that of Tito Okellosupported by Muammar Gaddafi the then President of Libya.

NRA was formed in 1981 when Yoweri Museveni’s Popular Resistance Army (PRA) merged with ex-president Yusuf Lule’s group, the Uganda Freedom Fighters (UFF). Museveni, then leader of the Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM) party, alleged electoral fraud and declared an armed rebellion, following the victory of the Uganda Peoples Congress in the bitterly disputed 1980 general election.

Museveni, who had guerrilla war experience in Montepuez for FRELIMO a Portuguese pronunciation: [fɾɛˈlimu]; from Portuguese: Frente de Libertação de Moçambique, meaning ‘Liberation Front of Mozambique’) -held territory in Portuguese-controlled Mozambiquewith the Mozambican Liberation Front (FRELIMO) in Mozambique, and his Front for National Salvation (FRONASA) formed in Tanzania to fight Idi Amin, led the NRA to victory against Ugandan government troops (UNLA) in 1986.

1972-1980: Front for National Salvation (FRONASA) and the toppling of Amin

The exile forces opposed to Amininvaded Uganda from Tanzania in September 1972 and were repelled, suffering heavy losses. In October 1972, Tanzania and Uganda signed the Mogadishu Agreement that denied the rebels the use of Tanzanian soil for aggression against Uganda. Museveni broke away from the mainstream opposition and formed the Front for National Salvation in 1973.

In October 1978 Ugandan troops invaded the Kagera Salient in northern Tanzania, initiating the Uganda-Tanzania War. Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere ordered the Tanzania People’s Defence Force (TPDF) to counterattack and mobilise Ugandan dissidents to fight Amin’s regime. Museveni was pleased by this development. In December 1978 Nyerere attached Museveni and his forces to Tanzanian units under Brigadier Silas Mayunga.

1979-1986: Ugandan Bush War

Obotell and the Front for National Salvation (FRONASA)With the overthrow of Amin in 1979 and the contested election that returned Obote to power in 1980, Museveni returned to Uganda with his supporters to gather strength in their rural strongholds in the Bantu-dominated south and south-west to form the PopularResistance Army (PRA).

They then planned a rebellion against the second Obote regime (Obote I) and its armed forces, the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA). The insurgency began with an attack on an army installation in the central Mubende district on 6 February 1981. The PRA later merged with former president YusufuLule’s fighting group, the Uganda FreedomFighters, to create the National Resistance Army (NRA) with its political wing, the National Resistance Movement (NRM).

Two other rebel groups, the Uganda National Rescue Front (UNRF) and the Former Uganda National Army (FUNA), engaged Obote’sforces. The FUNA was formed in the West Nile sub-region from the remnants of Amin’s supporters.

The NRA/NRM developed a “Ten-point Programme” for an eventual government, covering: democracy; security; consolidation of national unity: defending national independence; building an independent, integrated, and self-sustaining economy; improvement of social services; elimination of corruption and misuse of power; redressing inequality; cooperation with other African countries: and a mixed economy.

The Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook estimates that the Obote regime was responsible for more than 100,000 civilian deaths across Uganda.

1985 Nairobi Agreement

On 27 July 1985, sub-factionalism within the Uganda People’s Congress government led to a successful military coup against both by his former army commander, Lieutenant-General Tito Okello, an Acholi.
Museveni and the NRA/NRM were angry that the revolution for which they had fought for four years had been “hijacked” by the UNLA, which they viewed as having been discredited by gross human rights violations during OboteIl.

Despite these reservations, however, the NRA/NRM eventually agreed to peace talks presided over by a Kenyan delegation headed by President Daniel ArapMoi. The talks, which lasted from 26 August to December 1985, were notoriously acrimonious and the resultant ceasefire broke down almost immediately.

While in peace negotiations, Museveni was courting General Mobutu Sese-Seko of DR Congo the then Zaire to forestall the involvement of the Zairean/DR Congo’s forces in support of Tito Okello’sMilitary Junta. The final agreement, signed in Nairobi, called for a ceasefire and demilitarization of Kampala, integration of the NRA and Government forces, and absorption of the NRA leadership into the Military Council. These conditions were never met and led to the push for Kampala named Battle of Kampala.

The Battle of Kampala was a battle of the Ugandan Bush War that took place from 17 to 26 January 1986 in which forces of the National Resistance Army (NRA) attacked and captured the Ugandan capital, Kampala, from the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA)the then government forces. As a result, the Ugandan government was deposed and replaced by a new one under NRA leader Yoweri Museveni.

On 17 January 1986, the NRA began advancing on Kampala. The NRA’s 1st, 3rd, 5th and 11th Battalions moved along the main axis of attack from Masaka, while the 7th Battalion travelled down Hoima Road towards the city.UNLA troops were sent to intercept them southwest of the city, but they withdrew and ignored their officers’ orders for them to return.

On 20 January the UNLA’s battery began shelling western Kampala. The bombardment targeted the Rubaga Cathedral, which the UNLA suspected had been infiltrated by the NRA. By 22 January the NRA’s 7th Battalion had occupied Nansana, while the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 11th Battalions had taken up position on Mutundwe, another hill overlooking Kampala. UNLA and FUNA troops blocked their advance by placing artillery including anti-aircraft guns at the Busega roundabout, where the Masaka and Fort Portal roads entered the capital.

The commander of the NRA’s 1st Battalion, Pecos Kutesa, in a fit of anxiety, claimed he was ill; Museveni ordered him to remain at the local NRA headquarters while his second-in-command, Fred Mugisha took charge of the unit on the front lines.

On 24 January the UNLA withdrew from the Busega roundabout. A band of NRA soldiers led by KasiryeGwanga reconnoitred the area, and, discovering that it had been abandoned, radioed a message to their headquarters. Gen. Saleh and Museveni subsequently ordered their forces to attack. The 1st Battalion and 3rd Battalion were given the responsibility of conducting the main thrust into Kampala and equipped with most of the NRA’s support weapons. The former pressed forward with the latter in support, and by nightfall had secured Rubaga.

The 11th Battalion moved in behind them, while the 7th Battalion seized Ndeeba. Upon hearing that his troops had entered Kampala, Museveni relocated his headquarters from Mpigi to Trinity College Nabbingo. Meanwhile, three young NRA guerrillas reconnoitred UNLA defences on Kololo under the guise of playing football. For the most part, the UNLA and FUNA soldiers defending the city were demotivated and poorly led; many deserted or outright defected to the NRA.

On 25 January the NRA’s 7th Battalion attacked the UNLA barracks at Makindye and the 3rd Battalion assaulted the Lubiri barracks, while the 1st Battalion acted as a reserve. NRA artillery positioned on Mutundwe traded fire with the UNLA battery at Summit View. Fighting at Lubiri was severe; the UNLA garrison successfully blunted an attempt by NRA troops to scale the barracks wall, so the latter resorted to besieging the installation with grenades and machine guns. All foreign missions in the city closed their facilities.

The governments of the United States and the United Kingdom advised their nationals in the capital to seek shelter indoors. Radio Uganda broadcast a request from Okello to the NRA for a ceasefire and the implementation of the Nairobi Peace Agreement. In the afternoon NRA artillery struck an armoury near the UNLA’s headquarters, Republic House, causing a large series of explosions. Republic House was captured early in the evening by the 1st and 3rd Battalions.

At about 21:00 a platoon of the 3rd Battalion managed to successfully climb over the wall at the Lubiri barracks, finding the location to have been abandoned by UNLA forces. Saleh moved to join his troops at the front line and encamped at Natete.

On 26 January Museveni went to Republic House, moving his command post to its canteen. He was greeted by Saleh, who briefed him on the status of the battle. The NRA’s 1st Battalion was subsequently ordered to secure the city centre. Along Parliament Avenue, an NRA BTR-60 Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) was struck by a UNLA rocket-propelled grenade (RPG).

The APC attempted to reverse to evade further fire but collided with a lorry which was hauling a 37 mm anti-aircraft gun. UNLA troops subsequently set both vehicles ablaze, and Radio Uganda—which had been broadcasting UNLA propaganda throughout the battle—declared that an NRA tank had been destroyed. Soldiers of the 1st Battalion and 3rd Battalion led by Mugisha and Patrick Lumumba employed RPGs to eliminate UNLA anti-armour defences around Radio Uganda.

By 15:00 the NRA had secured the Radio Uganda station, killing a UNLA officer and capturing three soldiers. Meanwhile, the 11th Battalion under Chefe Ali captured Nakulabye, Makerere, and Kamwokya. The unit then rushed the UNLA position at Summit View, forcing the troops manning the artillery to surrender and forcing others—including their commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Eric Odwar—to retreat. Telecommunications running out of the country were severed.

By the afternoon, UNLA troops still held out at the Nile Mansions and the Parliament building.
While the 7th Battalion continued to battle the Makindye garrison, a UNLA force of about 1,000 men penetrated the NRA’s 5th Battalion’s roadblock along the Entebbe road, causing Museveni deep consternation. As the 1st Battalion was engaged near the Jinja road and the 11th Battalion was mopping up the UNLA presence on Kololo hill, he deployed his reserve—two companies of the 3rd Battalion—to stop the advance from Entebbe.

Salim Saleh ordered the NRA’s 500-strong Special Force under Jet Mwebaze to redeploy from a roadblock on the Jinja road to assist Ivan Koreta’s 13th Battalion in the city’s northern section near the Gulu road. After some fighting, the battalion reached and secured Kawempe. With the removal of the roadblock on the Jinja road, UNLA forces began retreating from Kampala, taking their families with them. Salim Saleh accompanied the 3rd Battalion companies to NamasubaValley where they linked up with a company of the 5th Battalion and took up positions along the Entebbe road.

Early in the evening, the 7th Battalion captured the Makindye barracks, and Museveni sent them to the Kisubi roundabout to act as a reserve for the forces guarding the Entebbe route. As dusk fell, the 1,000 UNLA troops entered the Namasuba valley and were ambushed. They retreated, and the NRA forces advanced and occupied ZanaHill. Another NRA company stationed at Kisubi began moving towards the UNLA force’s rear. Fearing that they were about to be subject to a pincer attack, the UNLA men dispatched an emissary to Zana to offer their surrender. Saleh accepted and at around 22:00 radioed news of the capitulation to Museveni.

By the end of the day, the NRA had secured Kampala. Saleh went to Radio Uganda to link up with the 1st Battalion and sleep. Three high-ranking UNLA commanders surrendered when the city fell to the NRA; namely chief of staff Lieutenant General ZeddyMaruru, Brigadier Fred Okecho, and Colonel Samuel Nanyumba. Okello fled via helicopter to Sudan with several members of his staff. FUNA commander Isaac Lumago went into exile in Zaire/DR Congo.

On 29 January 1986, Museveni was sworn in as President of Uganda. The UNLA attempted to regroup in northern Uganda but collapsed in the following months after being subject to further NRA attacks.

Consolidating of the power that had been acquired:

Political and Economic Regeneration Uganda began participating in an IMF Economic Recovery Program in 1987. Its objectives included the restoration of incentives to encourage growth, investment, employment and exports; the promotion and diversification of trade with particular emphasis on export promotion; the removal of bureaucratic constraints and divestment from ailing public enterprises to enhance sustainable economic growth and development through the private sector; and the liberalisation of trade at all levels Human Rights and Internal Security.

The NRM came to power promising to restore security and respect for human rights. Indeed, this was part of the NRM’s ten-point programme, as Museveni noted in his swearing-in speech: The second point on our programme is the security of persons and property. Every person in Uganda must [have absolute] security to live wherever he wants. Any individual or any group who threatens the security of our people must be smashed without mercy. The people of Uganda should die only from natural causes which are beyond our control, but not from fellow human beings who continue to walk the length and breadth of our land.

Although Museveni now headed up a new government in Kampala, the NRM could not project its influence fully across Ugandan territory, fighting several insurgencies. From the beginning of Museveni’sPresidency, he drew strong support from the Bantu-speaking south and southwest, where Museveni had his base. Museveni managed to get the Karamojong, a group of semi-nomads in the sparsely populated northeast that never had a significant political voice, to align with him by offering them a stake in the new Government.

The northern region along the Sudanese border, however, proved more troublesome.
In the West Nile sub-region, inhabited by Kakwa and Lugbara (who had previously supported Amin), the Uganda National Rescue Front (UNRF)and the Former Uganda National Army (FUNA) rebel groups fought for years until a combination of military offensives and diplomacy pacified the region.

The then-leader of the UNRF, Moses Ali, gave up his struggle to become second deputy prime minister. People from the northern parts of the country viewed the rise of a government led by a person from the south with great trepidation. Rebel groups sprang up among the Lango, Acholi, and Teso people, though they were overwhelmed by the strength of the NRA except in the far north where the Sudanese border provided a haven.

The Acholi rebel Uganda People’s Democratic Army (UPDA) failed to dislodge the NRA occupation of Acholiland, leading to the Holy Spirit Movement’s (HSM) desperate chiliasm. The defeat of both the UPDA and HSM left the rebellion to a group that eventually became known as the Lord’s Resistance Army, which would turn upon the Acholi themselves.

The NRA subsequently earned a reputation for respecting the rights of civilians, although Museveni later received criticism for using child soldiers. Undisciplined elements within the NRA soon tarnished a hard-won reputation for fairness. “When Museveni’smen first came they acted very well -we welcomed them,” said one villager, “but then they started to arrest people and kill them!

In March 1989, Amnesty International published a human rights report on Uganda, entitled Uganda, the Human Rights Record1986-1989. It documented gross human rights violations committed by NRA troops. In one of the most intense phases of the war, between October and December 1988, the NRA forcibly cleared approximately 100,000 people from their homes in and around Gulu town. Soldiers committed hundreds of extrajudicial executions as they forcibly moved people, burning down homes and granaries.
In its conclusion, however, the report offered some hope.

First Election

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The first elections under Museveni’s government were held on 9 May 1996. Museveni defeated Paul Ssemogerere of the Democratic Party, who contested the election as a candidate for the “Inter-party forces coalition”, and the upstart candidate KibirigeMayanja.

Museveni won with 75.5 per cent of the vote from a turnout of 72.6 per cent of eligible voters. Although international and domestic observers described the vote as valid, both the losing candidates rejected the results. Museveni was sworn in as president for the second time on 12 May 1996.

In 1997 he introduced free primary education and other services to Ugandans that have helped in the development of the Country and its Citizens.

It is also NRA/M’s Struggle that champions the ideology of Pan-Africanism which it came with as No. 9 of the Ten Point Programme (cooperation with other African countries in defending the human and democratic rights of our brothers in other parts of Africa) which we have seen being done.
Long Live War Fighters!, Long live RO/0001!

For God and My Country!

The author is an NRM Cadre and Media Analyst
Contact: 0756523763



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