It was a moment to savor as a number of National Resistance Army fighters relived their bush war memories that turned them into heroes following a five year protracted war that ended with the overthrow of the Milton Obote government.
This was during the launch of a book titled, “70 Year a witness” written by former minister Mathew Rukikaire at Serena Hotel in Kampala on Thursday evening.
It was at Rukikaire’s home in Makindye that the NRA fighters gathered before leaving to carry out their first attack at Kabamba barracks on February 6, 1981, which launched the war.
One by one, the 1986 bush war heroes narrated their touching stories mostly rotating around Rukikaire whom they interchangeably referred to as “Mathew” or “Uncle Mathew”.
“When I went to Nairobi, I had no money with me but I knew Mathew whom I called as soon as I arrived. I later went to his home but I was fed, given accommodation and he bought me cigarettes,” former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi said of his relationship with Rukikaire.
The former premier also narrated circumstances under which he went to Nairobi and dispelled claims that he was exiled, saying it was for different reasons.
Mbabazi said that while still a minister, Museveni had reached an agreement with the Kenyan government under Moi that they would not allow Tanzania to impose Obote onto Uganda to rule as President for a second time and that in case this happened, government’s arms would be seized at Mombasa Port so that they don’t reach Obote.
“When Obote returned as President, we sent Sam Katabarwa to Kenya to ensure the agreement is enforced. I later received a message from Katabarwa asking me to help him. I, therefore, went to Nairobi to help Katabarwa out,” Mbabazi narrated.
He also told the gathering at Serena that meetings that culminated into the formation of the National Resistance Movement where they joined other groups including UFM led by Andrew Kayiira, another one led by Moses Ali and others were held at the home of Rukikaire.
Current Security Minister, Gen.Elly Tumwine said there were a few people who knew about their plans to launch a guerilla war, noting that only the trusted ones were confided and Rukikaire was among the chosen few.
He narrated that though he was full of enthusiasm as they went into the bush, he was worried about the people who were staying back and how they could manage the situation.
“I was very high in morale but on the day we left Rukikaire’s home (in Makindye) as we counted our guns and boarded the vehicle, my worry was about the people we were leaving back and where they would go. In fact, I didn’t say goodbye to Mathew but I left everything to God to take charge,” Tumwine told the gathering on Thursday evening.
Meets Rukikaire again
Tumwine told the gathering that after the war had broken out, he got injured and had to leave the bush to go to Nairobi for treatment and it was at Rukikaire’s home that he stayed.
“He hosted and managed many people in Nairobi but I found him consistent, humble and simple. With people like Mathew, history was not only made but has also been lived.”
Rukikaire was the chairperson of NRA external wing with headquarters in Nairobi and therefore hosted a number of fighters and well-wishers of the liberation struggle.
Lt. Gen. Henry Tumukunde also reminisced about the days he went to Nairobi for treatment after being injured and was hosted at Rukikaire’s house for a number of months.
“We did so much in his house but my full story will come out when I finally write my book,” Tumukunde said.
Prime Minister, Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda too was not left behind in reliving his memories of the bush war.
He emphasized that Rukikaire’s home in Nairobi was an assembly point for all activities, meeting place but above all a sickbay for NRA fighters.
“At no time did I see him looking strange because there were many people at his home. We appreciate the great work you have done,”Rugunda said.
He said that the country ought to learn lessons from Rukikaire’s life so as to ensure integration within the country and region at large.
Former Forum for Democratic Change leader Dr.Kizza Besigye praised Rukikaire for contributing greatly to the country’s liberation but didn’t miss out on taking a swipe at the current government over unfulfilled promises.
“Regrettably, what we fought for has been vulgarized. The very things that we went to fight against in the bush are still here but the struggle continues,”Besigye said.
In his speech, Mathew Rukikaire said the book is influenced by Uganda’s political evolution over the last 70 years but noted there is need for Ugandans to come together and avoid divisions.
“We have a major task of seeing Uganda and East Africa integrate politically but we must build strong institutions to ensure this is achieved,”Rukikaire said.
The book launch was also attended by many other dignitaries who contributed to the five year 1981- 86 bush war that ushered in the NRM government into power.