By Milly B. Babalanda
We have just marked the 39th anniversary of the day in 1981 when 40 combatants took to the Luweero bushes through Kabamba which they attacked on February 6, launching an epic five-year struggle. The result was liberation, which we celebrated just over a fortnight ago on January 26.
Led by former minister and by then a legendary liberator despite his age, now President Yoweri Museveni, the 40, armed with only 27 guns had only their resolve to count on for their survival and the price of freedom for Ugandans. Young people should read more and also interact with those who were there to know why it means a lot. It is one thing to look at the present and imagine that all has always been rosy whereas not. The French revolution and others such events happened centuries ago, but they are still celebrated and researchers continue to peer beyond what is publically known; these things cannot be replicated and must, therefore, be held on to obtain the greatest moral lesson.
Tarehe Sita was an act of incomparable valour and a turning point in the history of Uganda since it had never happened before and will never happen again because necessity elapsed. That feat was achieved once and for all. It was the seed sowed to prevent outright bloodshed, of the magnitude of what happened in Rwanda in 1994 because Uganda was headed for that scenario when the National Resistance Army (NRA), at first called Popular Resistance Army (PRA) took up position to shield Ugandans. There were elements in the system of the time who wanted to unleash revenge attacks on the community of Idi Amin who had murdered their own mostly in the North, East and West even though every part of the country lost citizens to Amin’s bloodhounds.
According to Mzee Henry Kyemba, who served as Health Minister during Amin’s time before fleeing for dear life, approximately 150, 000 people were murdered by the then President’s henchmen, with Amin himself at times personally slaying high profile citizens. He killed or ordered the killing of high profile personalities including Shaban Nkutu, his minister who was also his brother-in-law, having married his sister, Mariam. He wanted to kill another brother-in-law, Wanume Kibedi, who was also his Foreign Minister. Kibedi fled and only returned to Uganda in 1986 after the NRM takeover. He served as ambassador and chairman of the Immigration and Citizenship Board.
Amin killed Archbishop Janani Luwum. Luwum’s day of martyrdom has since become a public holiday. Amin ordered the killing of uncountable freedom fighters; if such are not collectively celebrated in the rise of the true struggle to free Ugandans, then history has not been well told and written.
To think of it closely, it doesn’t make sense not to honour the day when the struggle that brought such needless slaughter to an end with a public holiday. A public holiday enables citizens to find free time to reflect deeply on the acts and people being commemorated. Accompanying activities help enlighten the ideals and aspirations that worked in the mind of the combatants. These were the perfect heroes and martyrs. Without them, anybody can guess what would have happened? We wouldn’t be here to tell any story. They offered themselves as a sacrifice at a time when nobody knew whether they would emerge victorious or they would perish in the jungles due to the assassin’s bullet, disease, wild animals or hunger. There was no pay for what they were going into but the hope of a future departed from the terrible past and frightening emerging trends kept them going. Even when they saw their first casualties, they didn’t cower; even when they lacked basics for survival and had no guns, they counted on the soaring spirit of nationalism to make it through.
January 26 (1986) is important and it is a public holiday, but by the time of the takeover, risks for fighters had diminished and they were better equipped and could enjoy some leisure. It was an easy job at that time compared to when Kabamba was hit. That is why I believe that the pioneers of the war are the real heroes much as we appreciate the contribution of late entrants. The victory of 1986 would not have been won without the struggle being launched and sustained through continuous ideological reorientation and rallying the wananchi to own it as a just cause. The people were convinced because they saw the example of the fighters and their resoluteness, hence liberating Uganda for good.
NRA was a true freedom fighter’s force unlike, for example, Joseph Kony and his LRA who were just power hungry, with no action plan, and thought that Ugandans were just warlike to have supported NRA, which was not the case. Yet NRM is so fair that killers like Dominic Ongwen are at ICC for a fair and just trial. Under Amin, he would be dead meat. If Tarehe Sita is not more seriously celebrated, there is a risk of being stuck in the old mindset. Anybody who doesn’t know that history cannot lead!
Writer is a senior presidential adviser and a political & personal assistant of the NRM national chairman