Tarehe Sita Reminds us to Reject Ideological Idiocracy

In the coming few days, the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) will be celebrating the 38th occasion of Tarehe Sita. Tarehe Sita is a Swahilli word to mean the ‘sixth day’, which in this context is the day of 06th February 1981 when the struggle to liberate our motherland Uganda began with an attack on Kabamba military barracks.

This day in 1981 marked the genesis of a five-year long struggle that brought National Resistance Movement (NRM) to power in 1986.

Our military forces have every reason to celebrate Tarehe Sita, looking back on how far we have come as a country towards having a professional army as we have today. To appreciate this, one may need to get a flashback of our military history in regard to how it has shaped the Political, Social and Economic factors of our country.

The military history of Uganda dates from way back when Uganda was first a collection of feudal states, then a colonial state (innocuously called a Protectorate), and later a neo-colonial state. Uganda like many colonial states, inherited a colonial army at Independence. This colonial army, composed largely of Acholi, Langi and Sudanese Nubians, like the colonial armies in Belgian Congo (now DRC), Sudan, etc. Our colonial army was ill-trained and primarily composed of the dredge from society. Idi Amin was a product of the Colonial Kings African Rifles.

Fast forward, shortly after Independence, a political cloud of uncertainty began to manifest in Uganda. In December 1965, the Kabaka of Buganda Frederick Mutesa through the British firm Gaeily and Roberts ordered for a catchment of heavy weapons, something that didn’t please Prime Minister Apollo Milton Obote. The result of this was a 12-hour standoff between Mutesa lieutenants and the Uganda Army under command of Brigadier Idi Amin on June 01st 1966 which culminated into Kabaka Mutesa running to exile and Kingdoms abolished. Amin was glorified by Obote, a pattern dating back to the Gold crisis of 1965.

On January 25th 1971, Idi Amin, by now Chief of Staff of Uganda Army, having run out of favor with Milton Obote captured “power” through a coup. In 1972 there were two coup attempts against Idi Amin’s regime; One was led by Ugandan in exile living across the Mutukula border post with Tanzania. The second was by Captain Charles Nsumba, a product of Sandhurst. He led a group of predominantly Baganda officers in what was supposed to be an easy raid on State house Entebbe. At Abaita Ababiri, they were ambushed by Idi Amin and his soldiers. Nsumba was killed and the rest of his men fled.

On 11th April 1979, Idi Amin and his Uganda Army were deposed and replaced by the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) – composed of FRONASA combatants and Kikosi Malum. Uganda was governed by a Military Commission led by Paulo Muwanga (a confidant to Obote) and Yoweri Museveni (FRONASA Leader). Straight away, Muwanga and Oyite Ojok started plotting to rid UNLA of FRONASA elements.

After the elections held  in 1980, Obote and UPC were declared winners. This election, an aberration on electoral democracy in Uganda was fraught with gross malpractices. Uganda was headed for a repeat of the Amin decade with UPC and Obote as the sponsors of terror thus necessitating a group of FRONASA fighters and likeminded ideologically correct Ugandans to take up arms.

On a somber February 06th 1981, the People’s Resistance Army (PRA) composed of 41 men with 27 guns launched a guerrilla war against Milton Obote with an attack on Kabamba military barracks in Masindi. PRA was the military wing of the Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM) led by Yoweri Museveni. A protracted guerilla war was now in play. Earlier on, in January 1981 to be precise, the Uganda National Rescue Front (UNRF) headed by Brigadier. Moses Ali was formed. It was a rag tag outfit with more generals than a formal army.

In 1982, PRA merged with Prof. Yusuf Lule’s outfit and formed National Resistance Army as a military wing to National Resistance Movement. Prof. Lule was Chairman while Yoweri Museveni was Commander and Vice Chairman of NRA/M.

As the NRA ranks grew in the jungles of Luwero, the external wing also begun incorporating more Ugandans from the diaspora into its ranks. The NRA was unlike any army in Uganda’s history. It demystified the gun and enabled citizens to associate with it. It was a peoples’ army. It was built on correct ideology – it was a servant of the people.

Indiscipline was not tolerated in NRA. At the 02nd Presidential debate in 2016, president Museveni told of a story that went thus; “In 1982 at Mulule, three NRA soldiers got drunk and killed Wanainchi. We tried them and one of the lawyers representing Zaburoni (drunk soldier) Maj. Gen Jim Muhwezi said it wasn’t Zaburoni who killed BUT the beer in him. We rejected this.”

On January 26th 1986, the National Resistance Army overthrew the short-lived military junta of Brigadier Bazillio Okello and General Tito Okello. NRA quickly opened up its ranks to those who willing to join which brought in place a broad-based government. A comprehensive plan of training and ideological orientation towards the Pan African agenda enabled NRA absorb UNRF of Moses Ali. Juma Oris’s West Nile Bank Front was totally defeated by the NRA as indeed was Alice Lakwena’s short lived rebellion. Joseph Kony too who had kept Northern Uganda without peace for a long time through his rebel outfit of Lord’s Resistance Army was fully defeated. By 2006, Uganda for the first time in 500 years was at peace.

Following a constitutional review process, started in 1992 by the appointment of a judicial commission headed by Justice Benjamin Odoki and culminating in the promulgation of a new Constitution in 1995, the NRA was renamed Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF).

Guided by a principal of Pan African ideology, and increasingly becoming a modern army with Land, Air and Marine capabilities, UPDF has engaged in missions to bring peace to firstly; Liberia in 1992, Somalia since 2007 and South Sudan. UPDF also helped the Democratic Republic of Congo to get rid of Mobutu’s dictatorship. UPDF Special Forces are active in Central African Republic. More prominent though, is the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) whose ideology was shaped in the jungles of Luwero by the NRA.

In commemorating the 38th Tarehe Sita, it is important to appreciate the journey that liberated Uganda for it is that journey that birthed the professional army which all Ugandans are proud of. In a world where intolerance – anti Semitism, Islamic and Christian fanaticism, and rejuvenation of tribalism – is first becoming the norm, Tarehe Sita reminds us to reject ideological idiocrasy. Tarehe Sita reminds us to reject monadic ignoramus nuances spun by certain members of today’s political class. It is a call to the ideals of Liberty. Happy Tarehe Sita celebrations to all our gallant sons and daughters in uniform.

Besi Ndereya is a Communications Assistant at Government Citizens Interaction Centre (GCIC), Ministry of ICT & National Guidance.