28 Years of NRM, Reflections of a Cadre

By Dennis Katungi

January 26th, popularly known as NRM day in Uganda is a remarkable day- in the sense that it is unlike any other day on Uganda’s historical calendar.  This is the day Uganda was liberated by an organised armed rebellion NRA, under the leadership of President Yoweri Museveni.  In his swearing in statement, he declared: “This is not a mere change of guard, it is a fundamental change”.  For the impressionable young people, this was music to our ears.  We were teenagers in the despotic Amin times, young students in the chaotic Obote/Okello regimes and badly needed qualitative change.

 In 1986, I was in Senior Five in Jinja and had been unable to go back to Kiruhura District due to the war.  Katonga had been cut off and NRM/A was in charge of the whole region stretching from Masaka to our borders with Rwanda & Congo.  The UNLA junta controlled Central, East and Northern Uganda.  I was in the ‘unliberated territory’, unable to see my family during Holidays.

I was aggrieved being stuck in the wrong zone for other reasons as well.  Tales were filtering through of life under NRM/A.  Long lost relatives who had been fighting the bush war for 5 years had come home to their families and I missed out on re-unions.  We had some Commanders in the family. Col. Patrick Lumumba ‘Musolini’ the fearless Commander of NRA’s 3rd Battalion was in Masaka so was home boy Geoffrey Taban now Brigadier.
In the top NRA ranks, my home county Kazo had Gen EllyTumwine, Gen. JoramMugume, Brig. Burundi, Chef Ali, and their juniorsLaubenIkondere, Maj. Kagumire, Katuuku, MuhanguziKimosho, Frank Kifuba, George Rwaibanda, Geoffrey Katumbuza, Robert Kabuura, Kamwerere (most of these gallant soldiers now deceased).
My former classmates in Primary - Robert Kabuura and TumusiimeKoozi were chief body guards of the Commander in chief.  Meanwhile my O level classmates had abandoned studies in Western Uganda to join NRA en’mass.Hebert Kyabihende now Lt. Col, Stephen Mugarura now Captain, Kanyesigye now Brigadier, KamukamaRupapira now Lt Col and many others including the late Brig. Mayombo, James Mugira now Brig. all had enlisted and stories were finding me isolated in Busoga.

It was upsetting for me to be on the wrong side of the action, or so I felt, nevertheless I was excited about future prospects.  There were uncertainties -   would we survive the hordes of UNLA troops who wrecked harvoc as they retreated?  In Jinja, we began to see friendly fire. My cousin Moses, a Manager at Associated Paper industries lived on Kutch Road, surrounded by UNLA officer’s residences. UNLA neighbours Lt. Karim and Captain Muhoozi told us that UNLA was now in attrition, they had started killing each other on tribal grounds.  We watched live fire fights in our street.  We saw Langi/Acholi soldiers ambushing and killing other tribes and vice versa in our neighbourhood well before NRA troops got there.

 Finally the boys came.  They had stormed Kampala and matched on to Jinja.  I remember the first Commanders to arrive. The Lates Chef Ali, Stanley Muhangi, Mwenemuzeyi,Kahangwa, Aziz Bey, and a raft of other ranks. Maj. Gen. Pecos Kutesaarrived a few days later, onlyto get injured near Gadaffi barracks.A bullet scrapped his scalp exiting safely.  I was among the first young people to visit him in Jinja hospital. He was having trouble with Doctors refusing to refrain from smokingwhile receiving care for a life threatening injury.  

 I was taken aback seeing armed fighters in civilian clothes.  NRA troops had elements in Uniform but others were dressed in casual civilian and some Kadogos were really in tattered clothes! I wondered whether these were the feared guerrillas who had just vanquished the UNLA.  We shared our clothes with some of the younger soldiers of our age, like the late Robert Kavuma and aka-Ben!

I was allowed by my age mates to hold their gun and even upholster the Pistol on my hip for a little while in their presence! It was Cool.  This was an exciting time with continuous celebrations driving around inMadowadowas andSantanas with Afandes!  Within a week I was invited to Kampala to meet my cousin Col. Lumumba and it was a joyous re-union.  For the first time I saw AfandeRufu (Gen. Salim Saleh) and other top honchos in NRA. Senior Officers always hung-out together, if you were in the Company of one, you would be able to meet many of theircolleagues.  My late uncle Maj. Barihona who was best man at my father’s wedding found me at Grand Imperial where some of the officers were staying, he was the overall Commander of the Artillery Battery of NRA stationed near the American Club in Makindye.  In this re-union, I saw nearly all the Commanders I knew who had been in the bush for 5 years.  It was a great jubilation.
Fast forward to my NRM Diaspora engagements.
I arrived in UK early in 1990, three years after NRA take over.  Having spent two years at the Coffee Marketing Board after my A levels. I quickly grasped that I needed a Degree to get a decent job, otherwise I would struggle to raise from Clerical work.

I was shocked by what I found in UK.  Uganda had a very bad image.  It was known only for the negative things.  Idi Amin, AIDS, later on Kony and IDPs.  The predominant political voices on the London scene (NyekorachMasanga, Col. Ogole, Peter Otayi, etc) were scathingly anti NRM.  They were spitting fire on what they termed ‘ongoing human rights abuses, dictatorship, and all sorts of evils.  They held regular open meetings to abuse and talk ill of the NRM leadership.  It was quite disheartening.

Our cohort of young students in UK at the time included Richard Mwesiga, Kenneth Kitariko, Anthony Byanyima, Winston Mwine, Kenneth Kirenga, Stella Banga, David Baingana, Patience Kanyamunyu, PeaceRubarenzya, Joseph Kananura, Mable Birungi, the Beigumamu brothers and a few others.  We tended to meet socially but we were not overtly political.  Eventually many returned but a few including yours faithfully remained in UK to what we saw as greener pastures.
I started putting feelers out for like-minded Ugandans in UK - to coalesce and do something about Uganda’s poor image.  I met Charles Rukwengye, Fred Opolot,Dr. Maxwell Adea, Patrick Asiimwe, Anthony Latinga, GumaKomwiswa, Barbara Atukunda, Fred Kamugwina, StellaKukunda and a few more.  These were to form the first Executive of NRM UK.  

After years of working on Uganda’s image in isolation, we became a viable team.  NRM UK was launched officially in May 2005. We had been working behind the scenes on many events and conferences geared towards re-positioning Uganda positively and this culminated in the Launch at Uganda High Commission.

Our immediate task was to explain the war in the north as Kony was still a menace then.  OlaraOtunu was alleging that NRM had a deliberate genocide policy - intent on exterminating northerners!  We refuted this and brought out the background of the insurgency and the fact that Kony was an indicted war criminal.  We shifted the responsibility to LRA and Kony.

We started holding regular Uganda themed events and hosting our leaders including President Museveni.  Uganda week, Tourism Expo, Uganda investment Forum, NRM Day, Independence Gigsetc, these were purposely designed to highlight the positive things about Uganda and the achievements of the NRM government.  We promoted the ‘Gifted by Nature’ and ‘Pearl of Africa’ brands and provided a platform for leaders to address Diaspora on pertinent issues.

We projected positive statistics in Uganda’s economic development journey.  Facts and figures on UPE/USEenrolment before NRM and after, eradication of Infant/child killerdiseases thru mass immunisation, GDP growth figures, real estate and infrastructure development including enhancing power generation capacity, we highlighted the political progress, the fact that Uganda has regular elections in a multi-party dispensation.  We pointed at the growth figures in the Tourism Industry. Whatever was good and positive about Uganda we projected it.  

We acknowledged prevalent issues such as corruption, but pointed out it was the NRM government that put in place the Graft fighting quangos such as IGG, Anti-Corruption Court, Ministry for Ethics etc, a sign that the political will to fight corruption was there.  We basically pulled the carpet off the feet of our opponents in opposition who had had a free ride.  As I write, NRM has full-fledged chapters on a number of continents and they continue to represent the interests of our great Movement the NRM.  It has not been a mere change of guard indeed but rather a monumental shift.

The writer is Communications & Media Relations Manager, Uganda Media Centre.