GEN. CALEB AKANDWANAHO-SALIM SALEH
February 13, 2003
A HOLIDAY TRIP THAT TURNED INTO A REVOLUTIONARY STRUGGLE
I had just completed the second term in senior one at Kako Secondary School. I was 16 years of age in the year 1976. My sister Violet Kajubiri, then a teaching assistant at Makerere, insisted that I go to Kampala for holidays.
Upon reaching Makerere, I was pleasantly surprised by violet who had organized a trip for me to visit my brother (now President Yoweri Museveni) in Moshi, Tanzania. She brought a ticket to Nairobi and I boarded the Akamba bus for my first visit outside the boarders of Uganda. Little did I know that this trip would be the beginning of my participation in the struggle that would liberate Uganda.
In Nairobi, I was received by a private contact, a gentleman called Kajungu, who facilitated my trip to Tanzania. When I arrived in Tanzania, Mzee (President Yoweri Museveni) encouraged me to join a group that he had sent to Mozambique for training. I think Mzee had agreed with Violet and they had mooted a plan without consulting my parents. He was concerned about my security in Uganda and contended that the circumstances were not conducive for me to study, that is was better for me to struggle against the regime than to pursue a bleak future. After all, the dictatorship of the day was aware that he was organizing and mobilizing to fight it
Whereas I was a aware of the suffering Amin’s regime had unleashed upon Ugandans, I did not appreciate military and political struggles. In fact at 16, my appreciation of economic struggles was also dismal. As such, my most cherished dream at that age was to be the first man to shoot at Amin, the man I knew to be Uganda’s major problem. Moreover I didn’t find the studies I had been compelled to undertake very appealing. I was delighted to have been availed the opportunity to abandon seemingly fruitless pursuits of education for more exciting roles. Destroy led me to Mozambique, where, together with other combatants, we were trained in revolutionary warfare.
Therefore, the foundation of my views on several issues bears root in the experience in Mozambique and it influences and informs my opinion and decisions to-date. We studied Walter Rodney, ‘How Europe Under developed Africa’, ‘Dogs of War’, and several other inspiring ones. Mzee had formed the Front for National Salvation (FRONASA), one of the fighting groups based in Tanzania to overthrow the dictatorship. As the momentum against the Idi Amin dictatorship mounted, I became actively involved in combat alongside the Tanzanian Army although Mzee preferred to keep me away from direct fighting on account of my tender age.
I was assigned Liaison Officer for FRONASA and eventually Battalion Commander of the Red Army. Amin had provoked the Tanzanians by invading Kagera River Basin, an opportunity Mzee took advantage of to fight on. Amin eventually lost power in 1979.
At this point in time, I was still not well informed about politics and other socio-economic matters. The overthrow of Idi Amin was very fulfilling for me. I believed that the major problem was now solved and that it was up to the politicians and the professionals to clear up the political and socio-economic mess created by Idi Amin. But alas, this expectation did not materialize, for some countrymen were still interested in maintaining the status quo for selfish and parochial ends. The Obotes were later to hijack the revolution. I therefore realized that my earlier dream of eliminating Amin was indeed a dream, an oversimplification of a much broader political problem. The Amins and Obotes were a creation of the ignorance that our society was embedded in and the colonial set-up that had provided a fertile ground upon which such rulers emerged and thrived. It was therefore our duty to re-direct the cause and break the ground that enabled such a monstrous system to exist.
After the overthrow of Amin’s dictatorship the Red Army was disbanded and I was deployed to Mubende as a Recruit Instructor. Although I was bitter about the demotion from Commander of a Battalion to instructor, I took the opportunity to regularize my position in the Ugandan Army (the UNLA). I was selected to undergo a senior Non-commissioned Officers’ course (NCO’s) in Jinja, upon completion of which I was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant in 1980 by the former President, H.E Godfrey Lukongwa Binaisa. However, Oyite Ojok, then serving as chief of staff of UNLA, deployed me to Moroto in Karamoja as a tactic to scatter FRONASA forces into disarray. FRONASA had been identified as a patriotic force and a potential threat to the regime. Therefore, the plan was to post us very far away from Kampala.
JOINING THE NATIONAL RESISTANCE STRUGGLE
After the 1980 elections were rigged, Mzee decided to wage war against the regime. He formed the Popular Resistance Army (PRA) that was later named the National Resistance Army (NRA) to struggle for a fundamental change that would guarantee the freedom of Ugandans.
On February 6, 1981, Tarehe Sita now marked yearly as a public holiday in Uganda, the Popular Resistance Army led by Mzee, composed twenty-seven lightly armed men and a number of others without arms attacked Kabamba school of Infantry. I , however, learnt of the attack on Kabamba by the twenty-seven comrades from BBC Focus on Africa radio program at Kidepo National Park in North Eastern Uganda, where I had been posted.
Before I left to Kidepo, I saw many unexplained movements of vehicles in Moroto. The late Lt. Fred Rubereza was in charge and all pointers indicated that they were organizing. Whenever I asked him what was taking place and even offered my services to escort anything from Kenya to Uganda, he declined and said, “they would not trust me with the work”. The organization was very cautious and I think it was decided that it was risky to tell me about the move to the bush, on grounds that I was considered careless and adventurous. When l eventually got to know from BBC, I was dumb-founded to learn from the late Rubereza that he, all along had known what was happening!
In the same year, Oyite Ojok arrested me on trumped up charges of stealing a sweater for which I was sent to Moroto Prison. I was later given bail by a sympathetic magistrate called Otim but at the instigation and facilitation of Dora (Mrs. Pecos Kutesa) who is now a captain, Lt. Wamala Katumba (now Major General) and other little girl, a sister of Lt. Dampa. We boarded a truck to Kampala and hid in a house in Bugolobi that was later destroyed by the UNLA. Lt. Wamala Katumba guided my escape to Matugga from where I joined the National Resistance struggle for freedom.
The revolutionary conviction and the comradeship experienced during the struggle of NRA were exceptional. The sacrifices we endured during the period were very soulful, as was the demise of both combatants and civilians. We faced what seemed an impossible mission, with an onerous and daunting task of capturing state power.
The patriotic spirit we had imbibed in Mozambique, the conviction our cause was right and achievable and the popular support of the masses illuminated in us the consciousness that the sacrifices we were undergoing were justified. Indeed in 1986 we were able to capture state power. I commanded the first mobile division that captured Kampala. In the same year, I was appointed Chief of Combat Operations of the NRA up to 1989 when at the age of 29, I was appointed Army Commander.
Destiny had determined my career as a revolutionary freedom fighter in 1976 and I had taken part in several victories registered in landmark battles. The population accorded me respect arising from this contribution they considered heroic. Even when I was at the pinnacle of power and had all material benefits a person could have, I remained very concerned about the poverty and the suffering many Ugandans were going through. Each passing day, I received many people seeking financial assistance, several of them with genuine cases.
I have a strong sense of feeling for others and always hoped for the day I would actively contribute to the improvement of the standards of living of fellow citizens.
Today, I am glad that after my patriotic struggles for a fundamental change that has guaranteed the freedom of Ugandans, I am now in the lead of transforming our society by improving their household incomes through Operation Wealth Creation. I appeal to fellow countrymen to support this noble cause for the good of all Ugandans. With the guaranteed peace and security across the country, improvement of the standards of living of fellow citizens will have answered my life time dream.
For God and My Country.
GEN. CALEB AKANDWANAHO-SALIM SALEH