On February 6, 1981, the NRA fired the first shot that marked the start of the five-year Bush War that climaxed with President Museveni ascension to power. Today marks 33 years since the war was launched. In a two-part series, Charles Mwanguhya Mpagi and Risdel Kasasira profile NRA’s top 100 fighters (RO/0001-RO/0100).
RO/0001 Gen (Rtd) Yoweri Kaguta Museveni (Commander-in-Chief)
He is President of Uganda and Commander-in-Chief, a position he has held since the guerrilla movement he founded, took power on January 26, 1986. Gen Museveni retired from activemilitary service in 2003, famously announcing he was ditching the uniform (military fatigue) for the business suit to become a civilian President.
Museveni started efforts to build an army in the early 1970s, getting basic training in the jungles of Mozambique under Frelimo while still a student at the University of Dar es Salam. He recruited most of the people who made the initial ranks of the Fronasa force which was later to transform into the National Resistance Army and its political wing, the National Resistance Movement.
RO/0002 (Honorary) Brig Eriya Tukahirwa Kategeya (Deceased)
Kategaya first met President Museveni at Kyamate Primary School in Ntungamo. Kategaya, a close confidant of Museveni, is probably one of the most frequently mentioned individuals in war preparations of the 1970s as well as the 1980s.
On February 6, 1988 during the second Tarehe Sita celebrations, he was given the honorary rank of Brigadier. Between 1981 and 1986, Kategeya worked closely with the external wing. He was a member of the first cabinet in 1986 and remained in Cabinet until 2003 when he disagreed with Museveni on removing presidential term limits. He became one of the founders of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party but later reconciled with Museveni and returned to cabinet. He was 1st deputy Prime Minister and Minister for East African at the time of his death early last year. He died of natural causes.
RO/0003 Capt. William ‘Black’ Mwesigwa (Deceased)
Black Mwesigwa met Museveni at Mbarara High School where they started a discussion group that was years later to mutate into the revolutionary struggle that eventually formed the core of today’s government and army.
He, however died early in the struggle. On page 16 of Sowing the Mustard Seed, Museveni lists the other members of the “core” as Martin Mwesiga, Valeriano Rwaheru and Eriya Kategaya. On Page 50 Museveni says Black Mwesigwa was one of the people he met days after Amin took over power. Museveni had fled to Tanzania a day after the Idi Amin coup but returned days later to set up an underground Movement.
He describes Mwesigwa as an economist. “We had met at Mbarara High School. Mwesigwa was nicknamed “Black” because he was very dark-skinned, but his real name was William. He was quiet and mild-mannered, he was also from a cattle keeping background and his parents were born-again Christians. He was killed during the failed first attack on Mbarara Barracks around 1973.
RO/0004 Capt. Valeriano Rwaheru (Deceased)
Also a high school colleague of Museveni, Rwaheru is described as “short and stocky from a farming background and a Roman Catholic” who was “quiet but noticeably courageous”. Rwaheru died in the early years of the struggle after a clandestine meeting at Kyambogo in the house of Levi Karuhanga. Rwaheru and James Karuhanga had remained in the house after the meeting when Amin soldiers stormed it. While Karuhanga remained talking to them, Rwaheru is said to have hidden in a bedroom from where he was able to lob two grenades, killing 11 soldiers, but was killed by the third which exploded before he could throw it. Karuhanga was arrested and taken alive and executed later in Mbarara.
RO/0005 Capt. Martin Mwesiga (Deceased)
Martin Mwesiga was a childhood friend of Museveni whom he met at the age of nine. He was killed in Mbale after they were cornered by government soldiers in the house of Maumbe Mukhwana; House No 49 Maluku Housing Estate.
According to the President’s account, disguised as students, they had travelled to Mbale to try and establish a camp on Mount Elgon but also to warn their team there, especially Mukhwana. While Museveni fled by jumping over a hedge, Mwesiga and Mpima did not and were killed.
RO/0006 Lt. Mpima Wukwu “Kazimoto” (Deceased)
He was killed together with Mwesiga after they were cornered at Maumbe Mukhwana’s house in Mbale. He had helped establish a military camp in Bunya forest, Busoga, to fight Amin. The camp – Kazimoto – was named after him. The trainees in the camp were scattered in the early 1970s as they tried to relocate to Mbale.
RO/0007 Lt. Malibo Abwooli (Deceased)
He also belongs to the revolutionary group of the early 1970s. He was a victim of the public executions in March 1973 when government soldiers arrested suspected dissidents and publicly executed them in their home towns. Malibo was arrested in a café in Kampala and executed in Fort Portal. A monument in his honour stands at the New Taxi Park in downtown Fort Portal off a road also named after him.
RO/0008 Lt. James Karuhanga (Deceased)
Karuhanga was a worker at Kyambogo when he was arrested and later publicly executed in March 1973. An account in Sowing the Mustard Seed says it was at Karuhanga’s house that Museveni held a meeting with Kategaya and Valeriano Rwaheru shortly after returning from Mbale where his other two colleagues (Martin Mwesiga and Wukwu Kazimoto) had been killed. One of their recruits, a man named Kangire who had been betrayed by a one Latigo leading to his arrest in Gulu, directed government soldiers to Karuhanga’s house. “A few days after Kangire’s arrest, at around 11am, while Rwaheru was at Kyambogo with Karuhanga, a platoon of Amin soldiers surrounded the house, Karuhanga who was in the sitting room was arrested…in March 1973, Karuhanga was publicly executed in front of his parents in Mbarara.”
RO/0009 Capt. James Birihanze (Deceased)
He was part of the Fronasa group. He was killed in 1972 with Rwaheru.
RO/00010 Capt. Laiti Omongin (Deceased)
Laiti Omongin was one of the young cadres of President Obote by the time of the Amin coup in 1979. He also fled to Tanzania where he met with Museveni. Available information indicates that Omongin, however, developed misunderstandings with Obote on the approach to fighting Amin and therefore grew closer to Museveni. He did not live long enough to see the overthrow of Amin as he died struggling in the early 1970s. Some accounts say he was shot accidentally in a training camp around the time of the botched first attempt of attacking Amin from Tanzania in 1972.
RO/00011 Maj. Ahmed Seguya (Deceased)
He was the first commander of the National Resistance Army and died of stomach ailment at the start of the 1981-86 war. His body was preserved by collaborating doctors at Mulago until 1992, nearly10 years after he died, when he was buried with full honours.
RO/00012 Maj. Fred Nkuranga Rubereza (Deceased)
Maj Rubereza died in 1981, the first year of the bush struggle that led to the overthrow of the Obote government. He apparently died after a grenade explosion in the Kabalega unit of the fighting forces.
RO/00013 Capt Wilson Mwangisi (Deceased)
Little is known about him
RO/00014 Maj. Gen Kahinda Otafiire
He is the Minister for Justice andConstitutional Affairs as well as Member of Parliament representing Ruhinda Constituency. He first made contact with President Museveni in 1976. He was a member of Fronasa. When Amin was overthrown, Otafiire advised Museveni to hide guns in case they were to fight the UNLA government. Museveni refused but regretted why he didn’t heed Otafiire’s advice.
RO/00015 Maj. Gen Gisa Fred Rwigyema (Deceased)
A National Resistance Army fighter of Rwandan origin, Fred Rwigyema was killed on the first day of the Banyarwanda refugees attack on Rwanda in October 1990. He was the first commander of the Rwanda Patriotic Front, mainly comprised of former Rwandan Tutsi refugees in Uganda who pushed for a return to their homeland. In the National Resistance Army, he commanded the Mondlane force which operated in the Kalasa and Makulubita area in the early days of the guerrilla war.
RO/00016 Gen. Caleb Akandwanaho a.k.a Salim Saleh (Retired)
Gen Saleh is the young brother of President Museveni and hailed as one of the most fearless commanders of the bush war. He retired from the military and briefly served as an army MP, a minister and Presidential advisor on military affairs. He is now heading an initiative to fight poverty among war veterans and former soldiers.
RO/00017 Brig. Chef Ali (Deceased)
Brig Chef Ali also traces his involvement in the struggle to the 1970s when he led his own unit in the struggle against Idi Amin which he later merged with Museveni’s NRA. He died of natural causes in 1997. He commanded the 11th Battalion that besieged Mbarara Barracks and later captured Nakulabye and Makerere during the last onslaught on Kampala.
RO/00018 Lt Gen Ivan Koreta
Born in Mbarara in 1964, Koreta trained in the Frelimo camps in Mozambique while still a teenager and participated in the war that removed Idi Amin in 1979. He later joined Museveni in the 1981-86 war that removed the Obote regime. He commanded the 13th Battalion that guarded the Kampala-Gulu Highway. He later served as chairman of the General Court Martial in 2007. In 2013, he was named an ambassador.
RO/00019 Capt. Mulle Muwanga (Deceased)
He belonged to the Baganda units of the resistance struggle that was allied to Yusuf Lule. He died in 1981 but two accounts exist of his death. One account says he died in early 1981 while another says he died late the same year after an attack on Hoima.
RO/00020 Capt. Shaban Kashanku (Deceased)
Kashanku was killed in the early years of the struggle, one of the first fighter commanders to be executed for apparent indiscipline. Kashanku was reportedly killed after he travelled to Kampala from the jungles of Luweero without getting permission of his commanders.
RO/00021 Lt. Col. Sam Katabarwa (Deseased)
Katabarwa, one of the commonest names in revolutionary songs was a brother of Grace Ibingira. In Sowing the Mustard Seed, it is said Katabarwa, who had trained at Monduli, had been working with the external committee in Nairobi when he was contacted by an official in the Obote government, around 1984 proposing peace talks. He was betrayed while following up this contact and was arrested and murdered in November 1984.
RO/00022 Lt. Col. Sam Magara (Deceased)
A brother of Martin Mwesiga (RO/0005), Magara was second army commander of the NRA. He died on August 2, 1982 at Nakulabye at Katenta Apuuli’s house. Apuuli was a key supporter of the rebel army and Magara was hiding at his place after sneaking out of the bush to get medical attention for a toothache. His daughter recently narrated to Daily Monitor how Magara had communicated to his family, then exiled in Nairobi, about his plans to visit them but died shortly after. Apparently, someone had tipped off government on his presence in the area and soldiers surrounded the house, he was shot as he tried to jump over a fence and his body paraded in Bugolobi. Magara drove the pick-up truck with Museveni as they went to attack Kabamba on February 6, the day Kabamba was attacked marking the start of the war.
RO/00023 Gen. Elly Tumwine (Active)
A former teacher of Fine Art, Tumwine is one of the few surviving original 27 armed men who attacked Kabamba. He represents the army in Parliament and heads the medal awards committee. He first joined Museveni in 1978 to fight against Idi Amin. In 1981, he fired the first bullet at the attack on Kabamba. In 1984, he succeeded Sam Magara as army commander until 1987 when he handed over to Salim Saleh (C. Akandwanaho). He suffered grave injuries in the war, leading to loss of an eye.
RO/00024 Brig Julius Chihandae (Retired)
Brig Chihandae is reputed as one of the fiercest fighters of the NRA struggle. He is deployed in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
He joined Museveni in the late 1970s and participated in the final push to overthrow Adi Amin after which he was integrated into the Uganda National Liberation Army. He was later sent to cadet training in Munduli, Tanzania.
He was one of the 27 armed attackers of Kabamba barracks on the day the war was launched with a specific mission to destroy the barracks communication system. He was also the first fighter to be injured in the war. He was commander of the 9th Battalion.
RO/00025 Maj. Hannington Mugabi (Deceased)
Also part of the 1978 group that fought to dislodge Amin, Mugabi was one of the original armed 27 and went on to command different units especially Lutta group (named after the Late Luttamaguzi)in the bush.
His death was one of the most bizarre incidents of the bush struggle. He was shot and killed during a lull in the fighting while playing a game of cards one afternoon by a colleague, Jack Muchunguzi after a disagreement.
However, some sections of fighters believe the killing was an assassination because of the intrigues that existed among the rebel fighters at the time.
RO/00026 Maj. Gen. Pecos Kutesa (Active)
The current head of doctrine in the Uganda People’s Defence Forces, Kutesa is one of a few officers and political actors of the liberation war to document his experiences in the book, “Uganda’s Revolution 1979-1986: How I Saw It .” The others are Yoweri Museveni, Eriya Kategaya, Matayo Kyaligonza and the late Sam Njuba. Kutesa also trained in Munduli with Elly Tumwine, Mugabi and Napoleoon Rutambika, among others.
Kutesa was one of the first bodyguards of President Museveni crossing with him several times on the treacherous Lake Victoria to Kenya. He was later commander of the 1st Battalion. In How I saw It, Kutesa notes the difference in experiences of combatants in the bush and their counterparts on the political wing. He notes how Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi asked him to first wash his car when he asked for money to buy cigarettes during a visit to Nairobi with Museveni.
RO/00027 Col. Fred Mwesigye (Retired)
The MP for Nyabushozi previously headed National Enterprise Corporation, the business arm of the UPDF. He was also one of the original armed 27 to attack Kabamba on February 6, 1981.
RO/00028 Brig Andrew Lutaya (Retired)
Brig Lutaya secured and drove the lorry that took the fighters from a house in Makindye to attack Kabamba on day one. In Sowing the Mustard Seed, Museveni says Lutaya got the lorry from a friend who did not know about the mission it was to be used for. Born on the Islands of Kalangala in Lake Victoria, he was the master of the waters and provided useful surveillance and contacts on the water transport that Museveni heavily used during the war. He was one of the few key commanders from Buganda. He is retired and into farming.
RO/00029 Lt. Joy Mirembe (Deceased)
The only woman combatant among the 100, she died in child birth during the war. Commander Mirembe together with Oliver Zizinga, Gertrude Njuba and Brig. Proscovia Nalweyiso were some of the few and very first women to join the bush war.
RO/00030 Lt. Col. Frank Guma (Deceased)
Guma was director of Finance in post war National Resistance Army. He died in the mid 1990s of natural causes.
RO/00031 Gen David Sejusa (a.k.a Tinyefuza)
He was declared a deserter last year after fleeing the country to self-imposed exile. His troubles started after he authored a memo instructing the Director General Internal Security Organisation to investigate claims of assassination plots against some individuals he alleged were viewed as opposed to asuccession plan that would see President Museveni succeeded by his son Brig Muhoozi Kainerugaba. The lawyer, who, until last year was Coordinator of Intelligence Agencies, courted controversy right from the bush days. A fierce fighter, his first disagreement was over a decision to send women companions of fighters out of the bush, he disagreed when some women were exempted. After capturing power, he disagreed with Museveni over the latter’s refusal to restore the Obugabe of Ankole when other kingdom areas had their kings restored and recognised. He sued the army, seeking to be allowed to retire in a famous case in 1995. He commanded some brutal wars especially in the north after the fall of Kampala.
RO/00032 Maj. Gen Jim Muhwezi (Retired)
Currently MP for Rujumbura in Rukungiri District, Muhwezi was a lawyer and police officer at the start of war. In the bush, Muhwezi was head of civil intelligence and after takeover of government, he headed the Internal Security Organisation. He later served as Minister of Health and has been in Parliament since 1996.
RO/00033 Maj. John Tumukunde (Deceased)
He was shot and killed at the start of the war as he escaped from detention together with Jim Muhwezi. He was the unfortunate one, says ex army commander Elly Tumwine.
RO/00034 Maj. Gen. Matayo Kyaligonza (Rtd)
He is Uganda’s ambassador to Burundi. He has also documented his experiences in a book, Agony of Power. During the bush war, Kyaligonza commanded the urban fighter unit that operated within and around Kampala with a base in Namugongo. One of the most notable experiences of his bush war days was to drive a car with guns past a roadblock of government soldiers and revealing the cargo he was carrying when asked. The soldiers waved him on not knowing he was a rebel.
RO/00035 Maj. Emmy Ekyaruhanga (Deceased)
He joined the struggle early together with Matayo Kyaligonza and Johnson Ndahura.
RO/00036 Brig. Tadeo Kanyankole (Deceased)
He joined the military in the 1960s and later became part of the struggle against Amin and Obote. However, he left the bush and enjoyed the fruits of the struggle for only a brief while before falling out with his superiors. He was promoted to the rank of Brigadier at the formalisation of ranks in 1987. He was arrested shortly after and later dismissed from the army. His family says it has never known why and is still seeking answers up to this day especially after he was given a posthumous medal for his contribution. He died heartbroken and destitute.
RO/00037 Maj. Gen. Joram Mugume (Active)
He heads the UPDF land board. Mugume was trained during the 1970s and joined the struggle that overthrew Obote. He has served as deputy army commander. In the bush, he commanded the 3rd Battalion.
RO/00038 Brig. Stephen Kashaka (Active)
The Military Attache to the Ugandan Embassy in South Africa previously served in the same position in Tanzania. Kashaka was a primary school teacher before joining the armed struggle. Kashaka was charged together with former Army Commander the late James Kazini for creating ghosts on the army payroll. He made news when he reportedly slapped MP Francis Epatait at Entebbe airport.
RO/00039 Col. Stanley Muhangi (deceased)
He was one of the fearless commanders. During the attack on Kampala, he and Gen Kyaligonza commanded 7th Battalion that captured Makindye Barracks. He did effective reconnaissance that led to the attack on Masindi led by Gen Saleh where thousands of guns were captured. He died in 1991.
RO/00040 Lt. Col. Ahmed Kashillingi (Deceased)
Kashillingi is also one of the officers of the UPDF, one of the first armed 27 and whose involvement in the struggle dates back to the 1970s to have fallen out with the system. He was arrested after the takeover of Kampala in the late 1980’s, spent at least three years in jail at Makindye and remained undeployed. He was later retired and lives a quiet life. He was the deputy commander of the 3rd Battalion.
RO/00041 Lt. Col. Edward Barihona (Deceased)
He deputised Pecos Kutesa as commander of the 1st Battalion during the bush war. He died of natural causes after the war.
RO/00042 Lt. Col. Akanga Byaruhanga (Deceased)
He was one of the original 27 heading into the bush in 1981 for the attack on Kabamba. After the war, he served as Commander of the Presidential Guard Brigade. He died in 1995.
RO/0043 Maj. Inyansion Bamwanga (Deceased)
Little is known about him. But he died in the 1990s.
RO/00044 Maj. Julius Aine (Deceased)
He joined NRA in 1981 and was one of thefighters who attacked Kabamba on February 1981. He died in a motor accident in the 1990s.
RO/00045 Lt. Col. Napoleon Rutambika (Deceased)
He trained in Munduli as a cadet in 1979. He was arrested in 1981 as he tried to dessert UNLA and join NRA. He spent five years in Luzira prison until he was rescued from prison by Gen Kutesa in 1986 after NRA captured power. He worked as deputy 2nd division commander in Mbarara before he died in late 1990s.
RO/00046 JOI Patrick Kato (Deceased)
He was an NRA spy at Kabamba barracks before the attack. He and Brig. Kanyankore were the NRA contacts inside the barracks. He died in 1980s.
RO/00047 Col Gyagenda Kibirango (Active)
Col Kibirango is the head of Mubende casualty unit. He joined NRA in 1982 and is a member of the UPDF high command.
RO/00048 Col. Patrick Lumumba (Deceased)
He was one of the key NRA commanders in the bush. He commanded the 3rd Battalion that besieged Masaka barracks and fought fierce battles during the capture of Kampala. He died in 1991.
RO/00049 Maj John Mugisha (Active)
He is under the Air Force. He has been a Major since 1988, raising claims that he was sidelined.
RO/00050 Katabarwa Namara (Deceased)
He commanded one of the four companies that reinforced the 13th Battalion under Lt Gen Koreta during the war to capture Kampala.