Starting January 3 to January 10, President Museveni led veterans, politicians, well-wishers and patriots into a symbolic 195km trek through Luweero Triangle to Birembo in Kibaale District.
The trek codenamed Afrika Kwetu was symbolic to the 1986 liberation struggle as it sought to retrace the routes which the NRA guerilla traversed as they engaged the sitting government in artillery exchange, in the end delivering the NRM to power.
Much has been talked about the trek already, but there are titbits that remain unknown. Nile Post reviews a few of the things that cameras could have missed.
Museveni nicknames people
Museveni was in light mood all through the walk, and many times he would throw around a few names to the people who either walked close or were in his sight.
On one specific trail while climbing Butologo hills in Mubende District, Museveni started joking with journalists, as they panted to keep pace with him. “Laba ono mulyabiwedde, mulyabisiike, mulya byengedde.”
At the resting place towards the end of the trail, he summoned Daily Monitor’s Abubaker Lubowa for a photograph because he was sweating too much:
“Laba ono mulyabyengedde bwatuyana, mumukube ekifaananyi (This one is sweating so much, take a picture of him), he said as he summoned Lubowa to stand with him.
Many times the president had light moments with those around or those he met, giving them a nickname or two or simply cracking a few jokes with them.
Museveni returns ‘home’
Throughout the trek, President Museveni would meet old people and a number of times they would call him by his name Museveni and not caring to include the ‘president’ title.
“Ye ggwe alabiseeko! Ng’obaddde otubuzeeko! Tusanyuse okkulaba.(Are you the one? It has been long since we last saw you. We are happy to see you),” a number of those he met told Museveni.
Most of them were known to Museveni as he always asked them about other colleagues who fought along with him in the bush war.
Many children of former fighters also welcomed him throughout the various villages he passed and on mentioning the names of their parents, Museveni would quickly ask what happened to them.
He on many occasions gave envelopes to families for support but promised to return.
Tents were the only means of accommodation for every participant, including Museveni.
There were army green tents provided by the UPDF and everyone had to get one and a small mattress.
The president stayed a few meters from others, specifically for security reasons but the trek turned into a camp of all sorts, filled with campfires, music, dancing, and storytelling especially at night.
Army code of ethics
It was the UPDF code of ethics that governed all participants during the six days of the trek and this was announced on the reporting day at Galamba primary school by Brig.David Kasura, the National Leadership Institute, Kyankwanzi Director who was the commandant of the camp.
“If we get you engaged in any indiscipline, the army code of conduct will work on you. We can even arrange for the court-martial to sit here and you are tried,”Brig.Kasura said.
He cited the UPDF Act 2005 as one that provides for the same.
Section 119 (e) of the UPDF Act 2005 stipulates that every person not otherwise subject to military law, who voluntarily accompanies any unit or other element of the defence forces which is on a service in any place is subject to military law.
All the participants were put under various groups named coys and it was from these groups that each participant was given what to use.
Each participant was at the start of trek given a green jerrican, piece of soap, sachet of glucose and bucket to help them in bathing and washing.
Trek during the day, party at night
During the day, the trek was for suffering with the sun and dust while moving through the bushes and routes was during day.
As soon as night fell, the several artistes present performed all their songs in front of the trekkers.
Artistes like Ragga Dee, Sophie Gombya, Jamie Culture, Nduga, Big Eye, Catherine Kusasira,Hassan Ndugga and a legion of other known and unknown artistes would create a concert of sorts and a party would be upon the trekkers.
One required really good discipline to walk away to their tent and while there, you required to be deaf to be able to catch some sleep. The party would be on until 5:00am when it was time for breakfast.
To show it was a real military camp, in morning, as early as 5:00am, a whistle would be blown and everyone had to wake up and prepare for the day.
It was not compulsory for one to wake up early but circumstances had to force participants to adhere to this rule or else they had to miss breakfast that they would take before embarking on the day’s trek.
One had to prepare his luggage early enough because during the trek, participants slept at six different points and this meant, one had to move with their luggage every day.
Condoms for the willing and unwilling
Oh yeah, the trek gathered men, women, and Bazukulu from all over the country. Indeed, these stayed together for over 6 days which meant anything was possible.
So whenever night fell, medical officers moved around tent by tent, person by person distributing condoms.
While giving out the pink government procured condoms they would say: “Please you never know. Have fan but be safe.” And yes, for those who woke up early enough, there was evidence on the ground that people took the advice very seriously.
For so many people to be in the same place at one time, you would expect theft to be on the high, you would expect many to lose phones, valuables, money or anything petty.
For the 6 days, there was only one case of a stolen or misplaced phone (not a smartphone).
Other items that were stolen were of course tents. One would find their tent carried away after pitching, but still these were minimal.
There was enough security, the president was around, you would walk around the camp and even go to the next villages unharmed. The security even spread to the surrounding villages, and there was no single threat.
The newly appointed ‘President Advisor’ on Kampala issues was first in line when the trek commenced, and she took position near the president.
However, before the walk could go into its second kilometer, the nkola ya taxi singer was panting and in need of large quantities of water.
She would later be carried in a car and she took the rest of the trek watching from her passenger seat.
This was the story for many other participants.
Man asks Shs600m from Museveni
Towards the end of the second phase of the trek, after Kateera hills, a man whom Museveni identified as Kigongo asked him for Shs600m for hiding the NRA kadogos during the bush war.
Kigongo claimed his role was so important that the war would not have been won if he did contribute.
As a result, he billed Museveni for that sacrifice.
The President would later publicly label Kigongo’s demand ridiculous because so many people had participated in the war and all had played important roles.
The government chief whip, Ruth Nankabirwa had soldiered on into the second and third days of the trail and as trekkers went up the hill in Kateera, she was there making her mark.
However time came for slopping on the other end and she let out a loud yell, “Okulinya kwangu, naye okukirira nga nfa (it was easy to climb, but now I am dying).
Ofwono Opondo shown Kampala
There was a joke in camp, that one time after the trek, government spokesperson, Ofwono Opondo had gone to take a shower, only to return to an empty space as his tent had been ‘stolen’.
OO , as is commonly referred to looked in awe as his tent had been taken by someone else as his bag and other valuables had been dumped outside where he found them.
The joke was all over the camp and would crack whoever cared to listen to the story but elements of truth it in could not be confirmed by anyone.
New Minister Ogwang’s stamina
The newly-appointed State Minister for ICT, Peter Ogwang showed stamina that he together with NRM Deputy Secretary-General Richard Todwong, Ofwono Opondo and UBC journalist Ssemakula Gyagenda were always the first to complete each section of the trek.
On two incidents, these walked past the point where the walk had to stop and by the time the other trekkers arrived at the camp, the quartet had finished showering and were relaxing.
PPU drone crashes
The Presidential Press Unit that was capturing footage of the trek had an unlucky day when it crashed a few meters from the president. The drone came down fast during a stopover in Kabale trading centre, crashing badly about 10 meters from where the President was standing.
However, what prompted the crash is not yet clear.
Museveni’s mood for photos
Throughout the trek, President Museveni was in the mood for photos that he accepted everyone who wished to pose with him for the same to join in.
Before the start of every journey, he would spend over 10 minutes taking photos with participants who included ministers, army officers, locals and the Bazzukulu who also included singers.
Towards the end of the trail as he climbed Butologo hill, the mood for photos increased that throughout the journey uphill, Museveni stopped for over 15 times to pose for photos with participants.
At one moment as he moved towards conquering the hill, Museveni first posed for a photo with journalists, his own Presidential Press Unit members, senior army officers, junior army officers, ministers, State House staff and Special Forces Command personnel who were guarding him throughout the trek.
It was a special moment for a number of them, especially the Special Forces Command personnel as the principle in a rare occasion accepted to pose for a photo with them regardless of their ranks.
They all left excited.
In one moment during the photo moment, a UPDF officer raised his legs just like those village photo poses as the photo with the commander in chief was being taken and it took the intervention of a senior officer who asked him to “behave well”.
Trek gets hard
For a number of participants, the trek was one of the hardest things they have ever experienced.
Many of them who started with enthusiasm went on losing the momentum as days passed by and these had to remain behind so they could join those who were already seated in the vehicles.
For many of them who completed the first journey never did the same exercise on the second day of the trek because their legs were aching and a number of them boarded vehicles to return to Kampala only to rejoin the trek towards the end.
A journalist sweats as he climbs Kateera hill during the trek
There was a conundrum for many who started off the journey walking but in the middle wanted to jump onto their vehicles since they were tired.
Those who were in the vehicles had to take not less than two hours before arriving at the stopovers or the finishing points after the first group of trekkers led by the president had arrived and this was because the lines were so long and it took a lot of time for everyone to reach the point.
On many occasions, those in the vehicles on top of suffering with dust and heat had to go hungry because the tea, water, soda and biscuits at the stopovers had already been finished by those on foot.
They had to wait for dinner which was always served at around 8pm. It was therefore a conundrum and they had to choose from either walking and persevering through pain in their legs, or jump onto the vehicles that would take over two hours after others had arrived but also miss refreshments.
There was also a certain group that resorted to using boda bodas in some parts of the journey so as to beat the speed of those in front but also to avoid the pain that came with walking in the first days of the trek.
Fighters reminisce about bush war memories
The trek was another moment for the bush war fighters to reminisce the memories during the war.
Every morning, before the start of the trek, the fighters would start narrating the different stories of events as they unfolded during the bush war.
Many of them were able to get to know a number of things they had never known how they had happened whereas others apologized to colleagues for hurting each other.
While going up Kateera hill, Lt Gen Pecos Kutesa, those who cared to listen to him, including journalists through their paces as he showed them what they went through during the bush war.
Kakooza Mutale shines
The “brutal” Kakooza Mutale turned eyes and was the man to watch most of the times as Museveni surged ahead.
First, he slept in seclusion, with a tiny tent surrounded by his huge cars, one with kitchen gas to cook his meals .
Mutale would sit outside his tent and summon his visitors who gathered around his chair and he would tell Bush war stories in his own version.
His yellow overalls were also a trademark that made him stand out.