2021 Presidential aspirant and former NRA Commander, Gen Henry Tumukunde revealed that the National Resistance Army had 7,000 guns which they used to dislodge 69,000 government troops from Kampala.
The retired General who was appearing on the Capital Gang, a Saturday radio talk-show that transpires on Capital FM was trying to suggest that it’s possible for a relatively despised force to dislodge a well-equipped army from power – which is entirely true.
While Gen Tumukunde was making a very strong statement to motivate the current forces that seek to remove Museveni from power notwithstanding the disadvantages they face, we thought it’s also fair that we make a fair assessment on what happened on the run up to the NRA takeover in 1986.
I am not in any way trying to contradict or disagree with Gen Tumukunde but trying to build on what he was trying to say in regard to how the NRA managed to snatch power from a well-resourced military government.
Some of us are not soldiers and don’t actually wish to be involved in anything military, but we are very big military enthusiasts and big time students of world history. We therefore claim some degree of knowledge on what caused regime change in most of the countries around the world.
So many military enthusiasts, especially the ambitious politicians have used the NRA victory as a benchmark for forces that start humble without looking into the circumstances under which, the NRA secured victory. And I must state here, with all due respect to the NRA commanders and its leader, that theirs was more of miracle than anything else.
When you look at how they kicked off the war, how they managed to elude government forces and how they eventually managed to take power, you will reach the same conclusion that it wasn’t necessarily a well-planned military venture but a fortunate undertaking. Yes, you need luck in most of what we do, and the NRA had plenty of it.
But most important of all is the fact that the disorganization from within the UPC government contributed over 80% to the NRA victory than the strategic military knowledge of Museveni and his commanders.
The history in perspective
President Museveni had been part of the post Amin government and served as minister of defense. There are claims that he had recruited over 9,000 troops in FRONASA. This in effect means that he had over 9,000 weapons at his disposal.
How come he attacked Kabamba with just 27b guns?
This simply means that he had not expected to go to the bush in the first place but was forced by forces beyond his expectations. Alternatively, if indeed he had plans for waging war, as it is being postulated, then we can say that he was not a military strategist of any measure. Going to war with only 27 guns was not only suicidal but a very lunatic undertaking. But using just 27 guns to wage a war simply implies that Museveni was largely treading on very slippery grounds only that a few factors worked in his favor.
The one fundamental factor that played in his favor was that the Obote government had not built enough administrative capacity to fight an insurgency. When Amin was overthrown in April 1979, Uganda was largely in the hands of the Tanzanians until close to 1982. The Ugandan army had been dismantled by the Tanzanians. By the time the Obote’s took power in December 1980, they were beginning to recruit a National Army.
Before they could even build that army, the Museveni’s and Kayiira’s were already running to the bush to wage war in February 1981, just two months after UPC had taken power! As an occupation force, the Tanzanians couldn’t engage into the hullabaloo of chasing around a few armed men like Museveni and Kayiira, whom they knew very well to be of not much military threat anyway.
The same two gentlemen had tried to fight Amin but failed to even hold a very small village as territory for their guerilla activity. For them to claim waging war, was therefore one of the biggest jokes of the time. So Obote and his men had nothing to worry about them waging war because they had failed together in the fight against Amin. Obote knew, more than anybody else, how difficult it was to start a war against a sitting government.
You also need to weigh the risks undertaken before the war. While Kayiira attacked Lubiri barracks with his UFM rebel outfit, Museveni ran over a 100 miles from Kampala to attack Kabamba. I must however state here that both military attacks on Lubiri and Kabamba failed miserably. But credit goes to Kayiira’s UFM, as statement of intent, because they attacked a fully-fledged military garrison in the Capital City
Museveni’s option of attacking Kabamba was cowardly. Why? Because Kabamba was a military training school and not necessarily a fully-fledged military installation. Now when you go to the events of how he captured power, you also need to look at some vital factors that played out.
When Gen Tito Okello Lutwa removed Obote from power on 27th July 1985, they called all rebel groups to join them in forming a government. This more than else created space for the NRA to grow as formidable force from the miserable force it had been. In fact the NRA took advantage of Gen Tito Okello’s peace overtures to overrun 14 government positions in one day!
The military junta couldn’t defend positions because they thought they were due to form government with NRA. By the time the Okello’s woke up, the NRA had taken over the whole of western Uganda. The NRA took total advantage and recruited in western Uganda but still only managed to get 7,900 troops which Gen. Tumukunde talked about on the Capital Gang which they pitied against Okello’s junta that had over 69, 000 troops. In military terms, the NRA was outnumbered by an astronomical military ratio of ten to one soldiers.
Without aerial power in terms of jet fighters, or strong artillery such a small force couldn’t dream of victory against such a big force unless it was backed up by advanced technological weapons in form of an air force or superior artillery weaponry – which the NRA never possessed. But a few factors played in their favor.
The Julius Nyerere influence
One factor was that influence of Tanzanian President, Julius Nyerere who dissuaded Gen Okello Tito from defending Kampala. Okello had made the fatal mistake of recalling former Amin soldiers. President Julius Nyerere picked the phone and blasted Gen Tito for being stupid enough to recall back evil forces they had chased away just less than five years ago.
As a consequence, Nyerere gave Museveni more support weapons and military cars which beefed up his onslaught on Kampala. Gen Tito was left with no choice but to flee and leave Kampala without putting up a dignified fight. Meanwhile there is another untold story to explain the mass withdraw of the UNLA from Kampala.
The second reason was because Museveni struck a deal with some elements in the junta like Gen Moses Ali whose deal was to withdraw rather than putting up a fight for Kampala, which they did. This explains why the NRA literary marched through the undefended Kampala and only faced individual troop resistance. Had the forces decided to defend Kampala, Museveni was not going to get beyond Busega.
Therefore Gen Tumukunde’s assertion that the NRA used 7.900 soldiers to overrun a government that had 69,000 troops must be understood contextually because there are other factors that helped the NRA to achieve victory. In other words, it’s largely misleading to judge the NRA victory by basing purely on military terms. The truth of the matter is that there were other factors which are not military in nature.
This obvious weak state of the NRA largely explains why Museveni was humble in the beginning and managed to embrace people of divergent views in the broad based government. Yet today he sounds very arrogant because he has built genuine military power base that doesn’t require luck to sustain itself in power. That’s why he openly tells the world that ‘nobody can disturb Uganda’.
The truth is that Museveni takeover was more of a miracle of the highest proportions than a measure of military might. Although Museveni must be credited for taking the risk of waging a war under very difficult circumstances, a lot of outside factors played 80% in his favor. This therefore means that forces seeking change must exploit all the available opportunities to dislodge Museveni from power. The military option will work itself automatically.
- Fred Daka Kamwada is a seasoned journalist, blogger and political analyst for over a decade in Uganda
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