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Museveni - The Resistance War

True to his word Yoweri Museveni and 27 other patriots launched the armed struggle against the Obote regime on the 6th of February 1981. The opening act of this titanic struggle was the attack on Kabamba Training School. Through adroit military planning and effective execution by able field commanders, that small band of 27 armed men was able to grow into a rebel army of thousands in the ensuing four years.

The NRA/M guerrilla leader Yoweri Museveni addresses rebel fighters in the bush in the Luweero Triangle during the early days of the Resistance War. The war was launched on 6th February, 1981 when 27 armed men led by Museveni launched a raid of the Kabamba Military Barracks, Mubende District.

By early 1985, Museveni and some of his senior commanders had built one of the most effective guerrilla forces in the history of the world. This rebel army was called the National Resistance Army (NRA) and by June 1985 (after the famous Battle of Kembogo) it had precipitated a mutiny within the UNLA (the government military force) which led to the downfall of the second Obote regime. The NRA was poised to take control of the entire country and win the war.

On 27 July 1985, factionalism within the UNLA led to a successful military coup against Milton Obote by his former army commander, Lieutenant-General Tito Okello and the commander of the Gulu based Northern Brigade, Bazilio Olara Okello. The Okello/ Bazilio military junta attempted to lure the NRA out of the bush by promises of big government jobs and the creation of a new national army in which the NRA would be well represented.

Museveni and the NRA (along with the political arm of the resistance war the National Resistance Movement) were suspicious of all these promises and determined to pursue their goal of total liberation of the country from these anti-people forces. They also viewed the UNLA as lacking in credibility because of the gross human rights violations they had committed in the Luwero Triangle. Despite these reservations, however, the NRM/A eventually agreed to peace talks presided over by the Kenyan government under President Daniel Arap Moi.

The talks, which lasted from 26 August to 17 December 1985, were notoriously acrimonious and the resultant ceasefire broke down almost immediately. The final agreement, signed in Nairobi, called for a ceasefire, the de-militarization of Kampala, integration of the NRA and UNLA, and absorption of the NRA leadership into the Military Council that was governing the country. These conditions were never met.

The prospects of a lasting agreement were limited by several factors, including lack of an in-depth knowledge of the situation in Uganda at the time by some of the hosts and the exclusion of relevant Ugandan and other international actors from the talks, inter alia. In the end, Museveni and his allies refused to share power with the UNLA which they knew was responsible for the widespread suffering of Ugandans, not least while the NRA had the capacity to achieve an outright military victory, and usher in, what would later to be known as the “fundamental change.”

As the talks in Nairobi progressed, Museveni sought to obtain the non-involvement of Marshal Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire in any attempt to support the Okello/Bazilio military junta. On 20th of January 1986, however, several hundred troops loyal to former dictator Idi Amin were accompanied into Ugandan territory by the Zairian military. The forces intervened in the civil conflict following secret training in Zaire and an appeal from Okello ten days previously.

However, despite the last-ditch support from the Zairian military for the Ocelot junta, by 22 January, government troops in Kampala had begun to abandon their posts en masse as the rebels gained ground from the south-west, west and north. On the evening of the 25th of January, the NRA finally overran the capital. Elements of the UNLA started a mass retreat from the capital on that day and the Okello/Bazilio military junta was overthrown. The NRA declared victory the next day, January 26th 1986.

Museveni was sworn in as president on 29th January 1986. “This is not a mere change of guards, this is a fundamental change,” said Museveni, after a ceremony conducted by British-born chief justice Peter Allen. Speaking to a crowd of thousands outside the Ugandan parliament, the new president promised a return to democracy: “The people of Africa, the people of Uganda, are entitled to a democratic government. It is not a favour from any regime. The sovereign people must be the public, not the government,” said Gen. Yoweri Museveni.

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Page last modified: 04-06-2015 21:05:13 ZULU