Ikondere kept his troops under control with an iron hand but attached great importance to treating them humanely.
By Matthew Ikondere
On November 14, 1999, the late Lt Col Reuben Ikondere, the commander of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) troops in Bunia, eastern Congo, was killed by Mai Mai militiamen.
The courageous Gen. Joram Mugume braved the tragic and emotional storm to break the sad news to the family.
Thursday marked exactly 20 years since he left the world to be with the Lord. Ikondere was one of the 27 armed fighters that attacked Kabamba on February 6, 1981, which marked the beginning of the liberation struggle that saw the overthrow of the dictatorship in Uganda.
In January 1986, Afande Ikondere commanded a company of the 7th Battalion of NRA under Matayo Kyaligonza. His group captured Makindye and Mbuya, before proceeding onto the eastern route. When military ranks were regularised, Ikondere was made a Major and appointed the 39th Battalion boss.
In 1991, he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. William Pike, in his book, Combatants; A Memoir of the Bush War and the Press in Uganda described Ikondere, whom he met as commanding officer of 322 Brigade, as a small man with a lively, humorous face.
Emmy Allio, in his obituary, The Trumpet has stopped blowing, remarked that Ikondere made greater noise than three trumpets at a go. It was tragic that after 20 years of successful battles, Ikondere could die in the hands of a rag-tag militia group, the Mai Mai.
Afande Ikondere believed in Pan- Africanism and was a good cadre. His conviction to serve his country had never wavered since he joined the armed forces in 1979. The life of a great freedom fighter is a life dedicated to others.
Ikondere sacrificed his life so that others can enjoy peace. Ikondere was a social person whom colleagues referred to as fearless. Brig. Gen. Julius Chihandae said they always cautioned him against over-confidence before the battle.
“During the attack on Kabamba in 1981, Ikondere swept through the barracks as if nobody was firing at him. He was advancing slightly ahead of the squad he had been assigned to and swiftly responded to whatever enemy turned up. This act made him more prominent than his junior rank and height at the time,” Chihandae said.
Ikondere, according to his comrades, made sure he fulfilled his responsibilities as much as he never tolerated those who failed in theirs. He was so particular against bureaucratic delays that he could not allow anything that adversely affected troop morale.
According to Sgt Lauben Behangana, who served at the headquarters of the famous 02 Mobile Infantry Division, commanded by Ikondere, remembers him as a resolute effective and efficient commander. “Soldiers under his charge believed in him. He could literally make them do miracles,” he says.
Ikondere was an inspiring figure, who rose through the ranks from NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer), junior officer to a senior officer. He kept his troops under control with an iron hand but attached great importance to treating them humanely. This, coupled with command ability and good leadership, enabled his forces to emerge victorious in most engagements.
Under his command, training was mandatory. This ensured that soldiers’ prompt reaction to commands was instant. According to the late Maj. Ondoga Ori Amaza, if Ikondere had any faults like all human beings do, at least he was an angel in one regard; he was always there when his country needed his great hand.
Ikondere died fighting. With his bodyguards, they killed over 40 Mai Mai, before they were outnumbered and eventually killed. The late Gen. James Kazini, who was the UPDF Chief of Staff at the time, said if he had been a member of the clergy, he would include Ikondere on the list of saints.
Ikondere commanded the NRA’s 39th Battalion and 314 Brigade in Gulu, which crushed the Alice Lakwena rebellion. Ikondere lived half of his lifetime at the frontline. He was always deployed at war fronts to fight insurgents, leaving little time for the family.
Marvin, the first-born, was eight, Morris, six, the writer (Matthew) was four and Melissa was two years old when their dad passed on. Nonetheless, the little time he had with us was special.
He loved and cared for his family. He left behind a wife, who raised us single-handedly. Words shall never be enough to appreciate what she has been to us. Lt Col Ikondere’s affection for all is a legacy and a torch to all those who loved him.
Whenever duty called, Ikondere’s answer was always, “WILCO!” till he fell on duty. Continue to Rest in Peace, our hero, warrior, combatant, and father. Tuna kumbuka Afande. We will continue to stand strong in your name and legacy.