During the 1981 to 1985 Bush War, National Resistance ArmyMovement (NRAM) rebel leader Yoweri Museveni travelled from Luweero Triangle and went abroad, sailing through Lake Victoria twice. This he wrote in his book Sowing the Mustard Seed.
On one occasion, the Uganda government got intelligence about the presence of Museveni around the shores of Lake Victoria, in Nkumba near Entebbe. But it was too late and the elusive rebel leader slipped through the security traps laid between Entebbe and Luweero to capture him dead or alive.
The story that Museveni was once seen around Nkumba, dressed in faded jeans and canvas shoes during the Bush War is still vivid to some – especially those who had the government announcements made on Radio Uganda for his immediate arrest by whoever comes across him or to inform the authorities.
President Museveni and now Maj Gen Pecos Kutesa mention the journey to and from Nairobi via Lake Victoria in their books: “Sowing the Mustard Seed” and “Uganda’s Revolution 1979-1986: How I Saw It”, respectively. However, the two wrote that the first trip from Luweero to abroad via Lake Victoria was in June 1981. And they returned in December of the same year.
Museveni also mentions that his second trip on Lake Victoria from Uganda was in 1985 but that he returned through Tanzania after the coup that toppled Obote had occurred. Also worth to note, Museveni, Kutesa and Nnalongo (full names withheld on request) tell the tale of how they were scared when the flood lights from the radar at Entebbe airport beamed onto their boat.
The daughter of the late famous fisherman from Ssese Islands who once received Museveni from Nsandzi Island on his way to Luweero, however, remembers the period being in early 1984. For the first time, this lady who sneaked Museveni from Nsandzi Island in Lake Victoria to Nkumba village near Entebbe Town en-route to Luweero recounts to Sunday Monitor how it happened. She preferred to remain anonymous.
Nnalongo’s first contact with NRA
Nnalongo, as she is popularly known in Wakiso, her home district, narrates: “In 1984, I was a news editor of [a Kampala daily English newspaper]. And during that time the guerrilla war was at its peak. So I used to assign my sharp reporters to get any hint about the war.
And one of my reporters, Nelson Okuku, got a link in Kampala of somebody who was connected to the guerrillas. Henceforth, he used to get passwords (daily passwords) for going to Luweero passing the different road blocks and reaching these people and interviewing them. And at times as a news editor I was curious, I was wandering whether he was giving me fake stories or not,” Nnalongo narrates.
“But one day, I confirmed that when we had come out with a story referring to these guerrillas as rebels. They [rebels] made a call to office asking for Okuku. We didn’t have mobile phones at that time but they called our land line and they wanted to speak to him. He said he never wrote anything like rebels but he wrote guerrillas.
And those people asked to talk to the editor although they never gave us their names – and I was handed the phone. The caller told me that they never wanted to be called rebels,” Nnalongo remembers with a smile.
“They said they were guerrillas fighting to liberate Uganda – and that if I didn’t want to call them guerrillas I would call them liberators. And from that time onwards, the newsroom was made to understand that they had to be called guerrillas. They also never wanted us to reveal the kind of weapons they had,” she added.
“It so happened that I started trusting Okuku’s stories more and more. My bosses [owners] did not know and I never told anybody about this secret in the newspaper but, they trusted that whatever I was putting out in the papers was worth peoples’ reading and – trusted that I ensured that it was a true story,” Nnalongo reveals how the NRAM rebels penetrated and used the media for their propaganda.
“It so happened that one day, Okuku went for such a mission [assignment] but never returned. Instead he sent a note with somebody who never told me his name but made sure that he delivered the note to me – which he [Okuku] had written to me and his wife saying he had taken a decision to join the guerrilla war and he was not coming back.
And he ended the note saying in order to ensure that the struggle continues, I also must continue helping to give publicity to these people, and I must ensure that his family is taken care of and that his salary for that month should be handed over to his wife which I did and kept in touch with his wife.”
“Where is Okuku,” I asked.
“After the war, Mzee [Museveni] sent him to America for further studies – but he decided to stay there. I used to communicate with him when he had just arrived in America,” said the retired journalist and civil servant.
“The man who brought me the note [from Okuku] and never gave me his names continued coming to meet me. And that was the beginning of my involvement in the liberation war. I started getting communications, allegedly from Museveni. At that time I didn’t know his hand writing, I had never talked to the man.”
“I would get others written in different hand writings but instructing me to organise transport on the water [Lake Victoria]. And I would move to my home island because by then, we had developed a relationship where these people [rebels] knew that I came from Nsandzi Island and that my ancestors, my father lived on Nsandzi Island. That is where my paternal grandparents came from. My maternal grandparents came from Bugala Island. So we are true islanders.”
A message from Ruhakana Rugunda
“One of the very memorable journeys I will never forget because it was a very dangerous, one which I never thought Museveni would survive, was somewhere in 1984. I believe it was early 1984 because my twin daughter – who was born in July 1983 – was still suckling.
I was asked to arrange a boat from Nsandzi Island to sail to anywhere near NkumbaKasenyi Landing Site near Entebbe Town. So I left my husband having told him that my dad was very sick and I needed to go to the island. He asked me why I was telling the house help to prepare the baby, I replied that my father might be admitted or it might take long.
He said, ‘But you said you are hiring a boat. Can’t you put him in the boat and bring him to the hospital [in Entebbe]?’
I said, ‘No. I am going with the baby. But it is because I didn’t know how the mission would be.’ So I took the maid and child to my relative’s home in Entebbe and set off for Nsandzi Island in the evening. I had received communication from Ruhakana Rugunda and Kaheru [Zak, former minister of Health appointed in 1989. He died in 2001]. So I knew when the boat would be arriving.”
“How did Rugunda and Zak communicate to you?” I asked.
“They sent a note,”
“Who delivered the note?”
“I don’t remember, but it was one of their contact people.”
“So, if that person had accidentally dropped that note, anyone would have read it and known you as a rebel collaborator?”
“No, the message was written in ciphers and codes. It would be very difficult for anyone to interpret.
In fact, at the peak of the Teso insurgence, Maj Kakooza Mutale brought me a note our intelligence had received from those people [rebels] in a meeting in Nairobi but it was very difficult to decipher because it was written in ciphers and codes,” she adds.
She continues: “And I remember my father preparing us cassava which was steamed with salt and he made sure they had a lot of milk boiled.”
Nnalongo travelled with three boatmen to receive Museveni. “So when the boat [from Kisumu, Kenya] arrived, only one person got out and we never saw the other people who were in the boat,” she said.
“But Ruhakana Rugunda told me much later after the war was over that he actually drove Mzee in a Range Rover up to Kisumu, and put him on the boat with the people whom they had arranged with to bring him up to our site. And Mzee says when he reached Nsandzi Island that was the roughest journey on water he had ever faced. Because the boat had holes and the waves were so high. The boat sucked water and they were few to empty it.
They almost sunk around Koome Island as the waves were so high reaching Nsandzi was a miracle,” Nnalongo recounts Museveni’s tale.
“On Nsandzi Island, I had organised a boat that set sail around midnight. And again we had a lot of scaring moments. I was born near the airport [Entebbe] but I didn’t know – because I had never been out at night so many times – about this high tower [control tower] which had rotating light that beamed into the lake. So whenever the light hit our boat, we thought there was an enemy watching us and we were praying that the enemy doesn’t reach us before we reach the landing site.”
But Museveni writes of the engine of their boat having died out while in Ssese Islands and Andrew Lutaaya (now Rtd Brigadier) set off in a canoe to Kampala to buy fuel.
On page 144, he says: “I stayed with the boat boys and Kutesa [Pecos] on the island until night fall, still with no sign of Lutaaya. At around 10pm, we decided to hire a canoe. Using oars we took the precaution of landing about 200 metres to the north of the actual landing site [Kasenyi] where our boat boys knew a certain family nearby. We paid the boat boys, walked to the shack belonging to that family and spent the night there.”
On how he left Nkumba for Luweero, he wrote: “Sam Male came with a car to collect us” Nowhere does he mention Moses Kigongo.
But Pecos Kutesa on page 109 wrote: “We heaved a collective sigh of relief when al-Hajj Moses Kigongo, now vice-chairman of the NRM and the same Male [Sam] who had brought the Libyan delegates to the bush showed up In the front car were Andrew Lutaaya, Male as the driver, and myself. In the following car was Museveni, Suicide [Marios Katungi] and Kasasira with al-Hajj Kigongo driving.”
According to Museveni, from Entebbe to 14 miles on Bombo Road from Kampala, they travelled in one car driven by Male. Also worth noting is that both Museveni and Kutesa wrote about security having intelligence about their presence around Entebbe.
Museveni tips fishermen
Nnalongo continues her narration: “So when we landed, we had hired three fishermen (boatmen). And mark you it was not an outboard engine because the engine would attract people at night.
They [boatmen] were using oars. And when we landed not far from the official Kasenyi Landing Site, Mzee (Museveni) gave them Kshs100 (now Shs3,200) each. That was a lot of money during that time. And when he gave that money, the two men [Seremba and colleague] decided to go back immediately. One man refused to go back. (She can’t remember his name). He walked with us up to Kagezi’s home at Nkumba Mugwafu. (She cannot remember Kagezi’s other name). Kagezi had been a contact for some time. And when we reached Kagezi’s home, the man [fisherman] later went back.” she recalls.
“I handed Mzee to Kagezi and his wife.”
“What time was it?” I asked.
“That was between 2 and 3am,” she answered. “I don’t know how brave I was because, I can’t imagine that today. I walked all the way to my father’s house where I had left the baby and maid.”
“What was the distance between Kagezi’s home and your home?” I inquired.
“About five miles and this was around 3am. When I reached home, I had slept just under two hours before the cocks crowed,” she replied.
“The following morning, I went back home to my husband and the two other kids. The following day, while in office at around midday, there was an announcement [by the government] on radio of a man wearing faded jeans with a bald head who was wanted, and that he had entered the country through the water [Lake Victoria] and had been spotted in Nkumba and several places.
The announcement was asking the public to give information about that man or anyone who is connected to that person. And the way they described everything was actually the way Mzee was dressed – faded jeans and everything, bald head and slender.”
Bbaale Francis, the veteran TV and radio journalist who worked with Radio Uganda for more than 40 years and passed on mid this week, told the Sunday Monitor that he remembers that radio announcement – although he could not vividly recall exactly when or who read it.
“I panicked and wondered, could it have been the two men who went back that reported? I was afraid for my life. I started shaking. You know, as a news editor, I always listened to the news bulletin. But here I was shaking [in the newsroom]. I didn’t know what to do,” Nnalongo recounts.
“Then eventually, two days later, I get people coming from the island [Nsandzi] and they tell me that one of the men who had travelled with me said I had hired a boat. They didn’t have much information. But they told me that Night Kulabako [a UPC diehard] had come with a man badly beaten. That the man had transported a rebelguerrilla through Lake Victoria and the man had brought them [soldiers] to Nsandzi Island to show them where they dropped their passenger [rebel].”
“They [soldiers] did not know which other people were in the boat. But they knew that Museveni was in the boat, and Museveni had a woman, which woman this man [fisherman] didn’t know. The only man who knew me was Seremba Francis – he had been on the island for a long time. Fortunately, for Seremba and his friend, when Kulabako arrived with the soldiers on Nsandzi Island with this man badly beaten, they knew there was danger and they fled and hid in the bush.”
“They [soldiers] searched for them for the whole day and failed. They destroyed all the boats, nets, huts and everything. They (Seremba) hid for a whole week. But somehow, information leaked to my father (name withheld) that actually, one of the men I was with was badly beaten and might be dead. And he never survived because we never saw him again. And nobody could go and claim him or his body for fear of being connected to the rebels.”
“I was very worried. But what cooled me down was the fact that the man was not arrested with Museveni. Apparently, the man [fisherman] got drunk the following night – and not the night we left Museveni there.”
Nnalongo reminisces: “The following day, the fishermen goes and exchanges the Kshs100. Then around 10 [o’clock], he is very drunk and starts shouting ‘Mwenna babawe, ndaba twalese Museveni ali wali ewa Kagezi.” Loosely translated as, “All of you have a drink, after all we brought Museveni he is at Kagezi’s home.”
When the fisherman with lots of money and in a drunken stupor bragged about Museveni’s presence at Kagezi’s home in Nkumba, the people around the landing site informed Kulabako, who was also a resident of Entebbe and soon she arrived with soldiers who arrested the man and tortured him in order to extract information from him. Under duress, he took the soldiers and Kulabako to Kagezi’s home.
“He was asked to describe everything about Museveni. And he described him. I understand he described me as well,” Nnalongo says.
“Kagezi thought the man had returned to the island. So Kagezi gets arrested and is beaten. From either of the kids, they [soldiers] confirmed that a strange man had slept in Kagezi’s house the previous night. They got information that two men and woman had come in that night.”
“What happened to Kagezi?” I asked.
“When Kagezi couldn’t reveal the whereabouts of Museveni, he was arrested, tortured and taken away and never to be seen again to this day,” Nnalongo said.
It is also not clear whether the wife or children of Kagezi received any national heroes awards for their father’s contribution during the Bush War. The Sunday Monitor was not able to locate any of Kagezi’s children or relatives for a comment.
Museveni eludes capture
After a night and a day of resting at Kagezi’s home, at around 7 or 8pm, either by natural instinct or miracle, Museveni decided to start off on foot and walked up to Rubaga in Kampala. Later that night, security personnel arrived at the Kagezi’s, long after Museveni was gone.
He was walking towards Kajjansi and when he heard the announcements on the radio, from his pocket radio set, he diverted from the main road. He walked through the Nakigalala Tea Plantation to Nalukolongo via Nalumunye to Rubaga.
From the Kagezi’s, the next destination was to have a rest at Tom Kayongo’s home [former MP Rubaga North] in Rubaga, a suburb of Kampala.
When he arrived at the Kayongo’s, he was asked if he knew that the government was aware of his presence around Entebbe, and that announcements had been made on radio (Uganda) for whoever comes across him to arrest him or inform the authorities. Museveni said no.
While he wanted to rest for about three to four days, Museveni spent that night and the following day, because of fear of information leaking about his presence in Rubaga. Later in the evening, he set off again on foot and re-joined his forces at Buwambo. But when Sunday Monitor contacted Kayongo on phone for a comment, the former MP claimed no knowledge of the incident.
Continues next sunday
Museveni meets Kagezi’s widow
“At the end of the war, I had several opportunities to have meetings with him [Museveni]. Normally, Hope Kivenjere would com [at Nnalongo’s home] to pick me up and take me to State House. So at one time I brought up the name of Francis Seremba, Kagezi and his wife. One thing I love about Museveni, he never forgets. He is this man who never forgets these small people who were with him [during the war].
It is just that he probably doesn’t have time. But the go-betweens also never ensure that the money reaches them. But when I mentioned Seremba and Kagezi, Mzee remembered these people. So he asked me which person I was ready to take first. I said I would manage to take Seremba, because he was still on Nsandzi Island,” Nnalongo said.
Kagezi’s widow, Seremba are compensated
“But for the widow of Kagezi, I had to go to Masaka to look for her, because things became difficult in Nkumba with the death of her husband and so many children to look after. She went back to Kagezi’s ancestral home in Masaka.
State House funded me and I traced her because we had kept in touch. The day I brought her, the President was meeting people at the then Nile Mansions, that’s where I took her,” Nnalongo said.
“I was shocked when the President looked at her and said, ‘Aren’t you the woman who brought food for me in a dark room with a tadooba [locally made metallic candle]’. And the woman cried. She was so happy she couldn’t believe that the President could remember a simple woman like her. But Mzee said, ‘You are Kagezi’s wife. You endured keeping me in that dark room. Thank you so much’.
“So the woman was asked what she wanted. She said she wanted to deal in transportation business transporting fish for people, and she also wanted to do fishing. So she was given a Dyna (pick-up) and the President called in Amelia Kyambadde and recorded all this.
And everything was bought and given to the lady (including boats, fishing nets and some capital). She had a girl who was at Namagunga [St Mary’s College] at that time, but she had missed reports for two terms. We cleared all the tuition and the girl continued with her education.”
“When I took Seremba, the President remembered everything very well and he put in everything he wanted. He was bought the boats, engines, nets and everything. And even some extra capital to start with. And then he left Nsandzi Island. I think I heard from him for two years, but it has been a long time since we talked.”
Nnalongo is contemplating writing her memoirs which will recount her life as a fisherman’s daughter, a journalist, a single mother an NRA rebel secret collaborator, civil servant, and an NRM cadre among others.
Museveni nearly shot in rebel camp
SOURCE: Daily Monitor