Friday, May 22, 2015

NRA Takes Kampala

Museveni's guerilla army, the National Resistance Army took Kampala in January 1986. At the time I was still banished from my childhood home following my father's displeasure over my pregancy. My son was 10 months old and Dad showed no signs of forgiving and forgetting.
My seventeen-year old brother Andrew, was a boarding student at Ntare School in western Uganda when the NRA rebels attacked from the Rwenzori mountains. He left school to join the rebels as did many of his school mates. The war had led to the closing of schools in the region and my friends at Makerere University who went to western Uganda towns for vacation in mid-1985 did not return until the war ended and a number of them joined rebel ranks. By and by we learnt that the road to the west had been cut off as rebels advanced towards Kampala from the Western Axis. Lionel's father Charles, had not returned home from a business trip to the region he was cut off. His buses no longer plied the route from the west to Kampala and one or two had been taken over by the rebels. I was stranded in Kampala without money coming in from the transport business so I turned to my mother for help.

The shop on Luwum Street was flourishing and father traveled to the UK with Emmanuel that month to shop for supplies. My mother was generous and I went home with enough supplies to see us through another week as I waited for Charles to return. He crossed to neighboring Rwanda in the south-west, took a plane to Nairobi where he planned to cross into Uganda from the East and return to Kampala. But before he could make it back to Uganda, the NRA abandoned peace talks in Nairobi and surged forward to take Kampala. Kampala was awash with rumors of an impending attack and gunfire rocked the city at night. 'Panda gari' operations had become a daily occurrence. A truck would appear and round up people suspected of being rebels and take them to unknown detention centers. Shops were looted in broad day light by gun wielding soldiers in army uniform.

Then one day while I was at Makerere attending classes, word reached us that crowds of people were running, pouring out of the city centre. I tried to make my way across town to reach Entebbe Road where I lived with my son but could not get through the heavy traffic. Taxis were racing frantically, everyone was looking for a way out of the city center. Thousands of people who were not lucky to board a taxi, truck or bus were running on foot in different directions. I drove up and down different streets trying to find a route home and when I failed, I retreated and drove to Nakasero where I found my mother crouched in her bedroom with my younger siblings trembling with fear. We thought the battle would subside and I would drive back to my child whom I left in the care of a very young nanny, but instead the battle was getting closer.

I was distraught, hysterical fearing for my son’s life but the battle for Kampala raged outside and my mother forbade me to leave the house. Instead she begged an Uncle who had joined us to hide from the madness on the streets to walk the ten miles to Najjanankumbi and bring back my baby and the nanny. He left his car behind and walked to Najjanankumbi but after hours of waiting I did not believe he was coming back so I got up and left in spite of my mother’s pleas. I joined the stream of people who were hurrying along Bombo Road towards town. There were no soldiers in sight and the gunfire sounded distant. Rumor had it that the rebels were heading to Entebbe to shut down the airport. There was no time to be afraid, I had to reach my son before nightfall and we would somehow make our way back to Nakasero the next day.

Luckily before I reached Kampala Road in the center of town, I met my Uncle carrying my baby on his shoulders and dragging the young nanny behind him. They had packed a few things which the nanny was carrying in a small bundle. I turned round and hurried back with them to stay with my mother and siblings as we prepared for the coming onslaught.
We did not sleep the night of 24 January 1986; as guns blazed and Museveni's National Resistance Army overrun government strongholds in Kampala City.

At 50 I now laugh at myself for running to my parent’s home in Nakasero which was down the road from the residence of General Tito Okello, then President of Uganda. State House was an obvious target for the approaching rebels.

feeling shocked

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