THE remains of the first NRA commander, Lt Col. Sam Emmanuel Magara and his brother, Martin Mwesiga, who were gunned down by Obote forces, were exhumed last week and given a descent burial in Rutooma, Kajara over the weekend. Joshua Kato writes about their lives.
He loved his country and fought to make it better. But his candle was blown out before he enjoyed the fruits of his risks. Buried like a common criminal in a cemetery at Kololo, but his remains have been exhumed 22 years after for a befitting burial.
In his book Sowing the Mustard Seed, President Museveni says 2nd Lieutenant Sam Magara was one of the few well-trained soldiers that the young National Resistance Army (NRA) had. He was among the many that Museveni recruited in his Front for National Salvation rebel force.
Together, they created a bond and though it did not last for many years, was thick to create a lasting impression in the military history of this country.
Magara became one of Museveniâ€™s military confidants. For example, during the attack on Kabamba, Museveni travelled with him in the same pick-up truck. According to Museveni, it was him and Magara who were in charge of the whole operation.
After the attack on Kabamba, he led one of the first four sections of the then Popular Resistance Army. At the time, his section was operating along Bombo Road.
Because of his seniority, President Museveni used to leave Magara in charge of operations against Uganda National Liberation Army. Museveni recounts one of such incidences. â€œBefore I left for Europe, I left Magara in charge of the forces,â€ he says.
And indeed, Magara performed well. â€œDuring my absence, He carried out several operations and captured more guns, which brought the total number of guns in our arsenal from 60 to 100,â€ Museveni recounts on his return from Europe in 1982.
In August 1983, NRA high command held a meeting in Semuto in Luweero district. After the meeting, Magara and several other comrades decided to come to Kampala. According to retired Captain Tofa Agaba, Magara had a tooth problem, which he wanted treated in Kampala.
â€œHe went and spent the night at Katenta Apuuliâ€™s house in Mengo, while we went at Nakulabye,â€ recounts Agaba.
In the morning, Agaba and another NRA fighter went to check on Magara. â€œWe found him sleeping. But as soon as we settled down, the housegirl came running to the room. She told us that there were so many soldiers outside,â€ Agaba remembers.
â€œWe looked through the window and saw almost a platoon of soldiers outside. We took off through the back door and jumped over the fence. Magara was following us, but then he remembered that he had forgotten his brief case inside the house,â€ Agaba says.
As the NRA army commander at the time, the case is believed to have contained a lot of important documents. Among others, it had photographs of some of the rebel soldiers and sympathisers, many of whom were in Kampala. However, Magara did not make it. He was shot several times in the chest and all over the body.
Agaba came back to the scene after the shooting stopped. â€œI wanted to make sure if it was our commander who had been killed. I then went back to the bush and took the news to mzee (President Museveni).â€ Agaba says this was his worst moment in the bush.
Katenta Apuuli collaborates Agabaâ€™s story. My house on Balintuma Road and my shop at Plot 5 market street in Kampala were transit points for the NRA. I hosted people like Eriya Kategaya, Hannington Mugabi, Mucunguzi and others. We began using that house in march 1981,â€ he says.
He then recounts the invents of the day. â€œWe had an enemy in the house. My brotherâ€™s daughter, Mary had a boyfriend, a policeman at Nakulabye, whom she tipped about Magaraâ€™s presence. The policeman then informed soldiers in Lubiri, who surrounded the house.â€
The news of Magaraâ€™s death hit the combatants in the bush like a huge hammer. Lt. Col. Proscovia Nalweyiso recounts how she felt. â€œIt took sometime for the news to filter through to us, the junior officers, but when it did, it was very bad. We had all along thought that given the kind of training by Mzee, there was no way any of us could be captured. We never expected it,â€ she says.
She remembers Magara as an accomplished commander who never fell back on his orders. â€œHe was always resolute and direct. He never tethered on favouring this or the other person. He was the ultimate commander,â€ she says.
After he was killed, there was jubilation at the Nile Mansions (Nile Hotel) and Lubiri barracks. Radio Uganda announced the death of a rebel commander with gusto. â€œThe rebels are finished,â€ the announcement said.
But according to those who fought on, Magaraâ€™s dreams were achieved when the rebels, he one time led captured power. With a befitting burial, he is finally resting in peace.
Who was Magara?