It was busy Friday evening on November 4 at Nyabuswa Town, visit this http://danielcalvo.com/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/nextgen_addgallery_page/templates/import_media_library.php Mugusu Sub-county in Kabarole District, Western Uganda.
At Mugusu market, clusters of traders stood at a respectful distance, negotiating with customers for better offers.
The chirping from birds was music to the ears of town dwellers.
The kids, no matter their cultural background or economic situation, found imaginative ways to have fun.
The small town located on the foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains boasts a grocery store, shops, bars, Health Centre IV, beauty salon and market.
It’s in this tiny town that a horrifying incident sparked a deadly battle whose ramifications would be felt not only across Kabarole but the entire country and also pose an existential threat to the once powerful Rwenzururu Kingdom.
At around 6:00pm, Private Mohammed Muranda attached to the 3rd Division arrived at Nyabuswa market to purchase household items for his wife.
As luck would have it, Mulanda bumped into an old friend. The two chose to share a drink at a bar, just a few metres away from the market.
Hugging, sharing jokes and reminiscing on their good childhood moments, the duo sat in the corner of the bar where they settled for cheap beer.
“Comrade,” Muranda told his colleague, “I have been hearing about Kirumira Mutima militia. Why do they kill innocent people?”
Kirumira Mutima is an armed wing of the Rwenzururu Kingdom. Its fighters accuse the government of Uganda of marginalization, a charge government denies.
The Rwenzururu government has since distanced itself from the militia, saying it doesn’t believe in violence to address its concerns.
Muranda was innocently sharing his thoughts about the Movement, which, unknowingly, would later cost his precious life.
“With this peace ushered in by this government, I wouldn’t allow anyone to destabilize this country. Even if it were my brother or father involved in Kirumira Mutima activities, I would pick my gun and act accordingly,” charged Muranda.
Whether his remarks were out of his conviction as a trained soldier or under the influence of the beer, no one could tell.
According to the bar owner, Richard Bagyenda, little did Mulanda realise members of the Kirumira Mutima he was demonizing were seated just a few inches away from him.
“Do you want to see Kirumira Mutima?” one of the men in the bar asked the soldier, who was wearing a UPDF uniform.
“Yes, I would wish to,” Muranda responded.
“Ok, you will see them,” said one of the men before exiting the bar.
Muranda and his colleague continued chatting, with the soldier revealing how he would spend his pass leave (14 days) before deployment in Somalia.
Hell breaks loose
In a space of less than ten minutes, a conflict emerged outside the bar. Some strangers were beating up Selevestia Asiimwe whom many knew as a Crime Preventer.
Muranda quickly picked his handset to call police but the telecommunication network was not the best.
Just across the road, he found an elevated area where he hoped to make a successful call.
Still, Muranda did not notice he had been lured out of the bar and his life was now in danger. The beating up of the crime preventer was a decoy.
As he made his call, Muranda saw dozens of machete-wielding men running towards him.
The unarmed soldier tried to run for his life only for the militants to intercept him about 15 metres away.
“One of Kirumira Mutima used a long sharpened machete to stab him in the back. The machete pierced his heart, landing with a thud. We saw him struggle for breath before dying in a pool of blood,” recounted John Eribankya, the area LC 1 chairman.
Eribankya has not only served as the area LC 1 chairman since 1985 but also heads the committee that runs and supervises the market.
“Muranda was a Mukonjo. The people who killed him were Bakonjo. They later celebrated in the town that they had killed a soldier in uniform,” said Eribankya.
“I knew the tension and resentment which was bubbling beneath the surface for long had hit boiling levels.”
A few years earlier, the Bakonjo who dominate the hilly areas of Karangura and Kamabare (Kabarole) wanted to take over lowlands of Mugusu Parish inhabited by Batooro.
After several meetings, according to leaders, this proposal was rejected by Batooro. “We gave the Bakonjo several sub-counties; there is no way we could allow them to take over our land,” said one of the local chiefs who preferred anonymity so as to speak freely.
“But they kept buying land from Batooro. We don’t know their source of funds but it was clear to all of us they wanted to extend their influence in our areas and eventually take over.”
When Muranda was killed, area residents looked at the incident as a provocation.
They picked stones and engaged the Kirumira Mutima for about three hours.
“It was a bloody battle. The attackers retreated to the mountains, leaving a trail of bloodshed and destruction,” said Eribankya.
The following day, Police deployed personnel in the town to investigate the soldier’s killing.
According to Bagyenda, Kirumira Mutima informed all its members about the police presence in the area.
“We saw militants encircling the town. Another battle ensued, leaving two Rwenzururu fighters dead. As police were returning to the station, their truck was ambushed by the fighters who wanted to take away the bodies of their fallen colleague,” said Mugusu sub-county chairperson, Joram Tumusiime.
“Several fighters were killed in this ambush. These people bury their fighters at night in unmarked graves,” added the 53-year-old leader.
The fighting between security forces and the militia sent shockwaves in Kabarole, compelling Mugusu residents to shift from their homes to the sub-county headquarters.
The UPDF leadership at the time thought this was nothing but an ethnic clash.
According to Kabarole RDC Stephen Asiimwe, “President Museveni visited that area on a tour of wealth creation programmes. All he said was that the ADF was thoroughly defeated and that insecurity could no longer be tolerated.”
When Muranda’s life was brutally taken, the army thought twice. Investigators flooded the area to prepare notes for President Museveni.
On the other hand, the fighters decided to build camps in Kamabare from where fighters reportedly trained and mobilised for what appeared to locals a plan for a large scale operation.
“They raised their Yiira Republic flag. One could see fighters hoisting this flag every morning,” said Tumusiime, adding, “The group is organized. They wear red and black shirts as their uniform during attacks.”
The police and UPDF held meetings in the area to listen to the residents’ concerns.
“Security was here for a week assessing the situation. The civilians were disgusted that government was not acting,” said a one Peace in an interview with ChimpReports.
It was a matter of time for the military to take action. But the fighters were not ready to be picked like grasshoppers.
Role of the army
Military chiefs who spoke to this website said talks between Rwenzururu King Wesley Mumbere started as early as 2014 when militants raided security facilities in clashes that left dozens dead.
“We organized many talks with Mumbere but he did not show interest in solving these problems,” said UPDF 305 Brigade Commander, Lt Col Richard Kiwanuka at his office last week.
“When a police officer was killed at Kidodo, we told Mumbere that our gun was hidden at the palace. He said, ‘I will find out’”, recalled Kiwanuka.
“On 3rd April, 2016, two soldiers were killed near his palace. When we told him to hand over suspects hiding at his palace for interrogation, Mumbere refused. He kept promising to surrender them in vain,” he added.
Amid the tension between the army and Rwenzururu Kingdom, Museveni sent 2nd Division Commander, Brig Peter Elwelu to meet with the King at his palace in Kasese.
“The armed Royal Guards almost stripped us naked. Elwelu carried Museveni’s message urging Mumbere to release the suspects. Museveni also said we can’t have two forces. So we pulled out UPDF guards and he stayed with his armed royal guards,” narrated Lt Col Kiwanuka.
The Rwenzururu government decided to recruit more Royal Guards throughout Kasese, Kabarole and Bundibugyo.
“30 guards were stationed at each sub-county. They would raise the Yiira Republic flag every morning,” recalled Kasese Mayor Godfrey Kabyanga.
The Royal Guard was accused of attacking police stations to loot guns; extorting money from people and killing policemen.
“The people living near Mumbere’s palace had to be home before 7:00pm. Beyond that time, the Royal Guards would seal off the area,” noted Kabyanga.
On April 25, 2016, Museveni sent the Chief of Defence Forces Gen Katumba Wamala to inform Mumbere to disband the Royal Guard.
Mumbere did not oblige.
“So we gave him another opportunity – to reduce the number of his guards to two per sub-county. We told him to select 30 of his best men for professional military training. We also proposed to put the trained guards on our payroll,” said Lt Col Kiwanuka.
It is understood Mumbere asked for more time to discuss the matter with his administration.
“Please give me time,” Mumbere told the UPDF, adding, “Those whom you want for crimes will be handed over.”
Kiwanuka confirmed this response, adding, “We were positive and ready to make peace. We told police not to hunt for the suspected criminals. It was like a ceasefire.”
Rwenzururu speak out
According to Rwenzururu officials, the King was suspicious of the military’s intentions.
“Mumbere thought the army wanted to compromise his guards to spy on him,” said a top official at the Kingdom who preferred anonymity to speak freely.
“The King fired many officials, accusing them of espionage. It was a tense moment for us to decide on handing over our best men.”
The Rwenzururu Cabinet sitting at the palace would later denounce government’s proposal.
“We couldn’t disband the guard,” said the source in the Rwenzururu Kingdom.
At public functions, Mumbere openly criticized Museveni for listening to “lies peddled by his informers” and “flooding my Kingdom with intelligence agents.”
However, according to Kasese RDC, Maj James Mwesigye, the King instead of disbanding his guard decided to recruit and deploy more of them in different sub-counties.
“It was terror. We couldn’t allow this,” said Mwesigye.
He revealed that during Mumbere’s coronation, thousands of Bayiira from the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo graced the function which was secured by the Royal Guards.
“These people had machetes. They wanted to disarm me, a move I rejected. Police and the army were not allowed anywhere near the function. The Bayiira said at the function that they would help Mumbere gain autonomy from Uganda,” said Mwesige.
Mumbere had as well spoken at several public functions, saying the Bakonjo were “ready to fight and die” for their Kingdom.
He also castigated president Museveni for undermining his authority by propping up chiefdoms in Rwenzori for the Banyabindi, Bamba and Basongora.
This information was corroborated by Kasese Mayor Kabyanga, a former close ally and confidant of Mumbere.
“The Bayiira gave Mumbere confidence they would support him to realise his ambitions. Even the Royal Guard started giving ranks to its members. That’s how the situation got out of hand,” said Kabyanga.
Lt Col Kiwanuka said a few days later, the Royal Guard started attacking police posts.
According to Internal Affairs Minister, Jeje Odong, on November 26, the guards of Obusinga Bwa Rwenzururu attacked the joint security patrol team in Kasese town with a petrol bomb, stabbed and injured a soldier.
This was immediately followed by simultaneous attacks in Ihandiro sub county, at Kagando hospital in Kisunga sub county, Bwesumbu, Kyabarungira, Mubuku in Maliba sub county and Ibanda in Bugoyi sub county.
In all, 16 policemen lost their lives and 6 guns were taken by the attackers
“They killed our soldiers here in Hima. I called the King and asked him, ‘What is this?’” said Lt Col Kiwanuka.
“In another area, two officers were killed while trying to arrest a rape suspect. Security is mandated to guard the people of Uganda. This was too much for us,” said the Commander.
The UPDF decided to send reconnaissance agents to Kabarole and Kasese in preparation for a possible encounter with the Royal Guard.
The Kirumira Mutima had already set up camps on hills overlooking UPDF bases.
Lt Col Kiwanuka said efforts to convince Mumbere to persuade his fighters to surrender the camp fell on deaf ears.
“They were creating improvised explosives such as petrol bombs and stocking food and ammunition. We told Mumbere that this was a terrorist group but he simply looked on,” he added.
Sources told ChimpReports that the army immediately planned to execute a combat operation in the Mountains.
This force comprised the 305 Brigade soldiers who are trained in Mountain Warfare, with support from elite units in the UPDF such as snipers.
Entebbe Airbase dispatched a unit of surveillance experts who used drones to relay live footage and coordinates of the militants’ base at Kamabare to the headquarters of UPDF Airforce.
A reconnaissance plane was eventually dispatched to confirm the targets.
The battle plan was drawn and approved by the military leadership.
“Our commanders told us that using artillery in the mountains would leave many innocent people dead. That’s why we used a small mountain force with snipers to hit specific targets,” said Maj Fred Kitatamuyima, the 2nd in Command of the 305 Brigade.
“We fell in two ambushes but went through them successfully. Several fighters died while others retreated to the neighboring mountains bordering Congo,” he told us.
Storming of the Palace
As UPDF carried out attacks in Kabarole, Museveni was on the phone with Mumbere.
It appears, the two failed to agree on a mutual agreement on the Royal Guards’ fate hiding at his palace in Kasese.
“The war had started,” recalled Lt Col Kiwanuka, adding, “The situation was changing.”
A Private was killed in the clashes while 8 guards had been taken out of action in Kasese.
UPDF contacted Mumbere through emissaries including his brother William Kibazanga to convince the king to tell his men to surrender and denounce violence.
Mumbere responded: “Give me time, I will handle it.”
Sensing danger, the King’s wife Agnes Nyabaghole Ithungu decided to run away from the palace to Kampala where the couple’s kids live.
“We intercepted the Queen in Kabarole as she fled to Kampala. In the car were Royal Guards with pangas. We held her for several hours until we received orders to take away the weapons and let her continue with her journey,” said Kabarole RDC Stephen Asiimwe.
Night Before the Storm
A day before the attack, UPDF units camped at Kasese Secondary School which shares a wall fence with Mumbere’s palace.
“The Royal guard cut all the trees near the wall fence, saying they were obstructing their observation posts,” recounted the school headmaster, Augustine Musereru, 52.
“UPDF had surrounded the school. All students were relocated to the girls’ dormitory. Other soldiers were camped on top of the hill. I advised students not to roam around the compound. It was a tense moment for us,” he told ChimpReports.
Asked whether the boys enjoyed socializing with the girls at the latter’s dormitory, Musereru smiled from ear to ear.
“Our teachers quietly sneaked out and did not return until the end of the palace attack. The soldiers told us to remain calm, assuring us of safety,” he added.
According to Lt Col Kiwanuka, Brig Peter Elwelu on Sunday morning (Nov. 27) met with Mumbere’s top officials.
“The message was: order Royal Guards to disengage, disarm and surrender. The King showed us that he couldn’t decide. We sent another delegation of emissaries but we did not break through this stalemate,” recalled Lt Col Kiwanuka.
“There were about 300 people in the palace including the King. Some were not armed. Others had smeared themselves with Mai Mai drugs that looked like porridge,” he added.
Rwenzururu Kingdom officials said the army was impatient while opposition FDC President Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu observed that UPDF should have sealed off the palace until the fighters surrendered instead of raiding it.
But Lt Col Kiwanuka does not subscribe to this school of thought.
“We were in a state of war. 16 officers had been killed. Police stations were being attacked. We had started negotiations with the King two years earlier without a breakthrough. For how long should we have waited?” wondered the Lieutenant Colonel.
When Elwelu and Museveni fell short of winning Mumbere’s trust, UPDF commandos raided the palace.
“We used a few soldiers in this operation. Heavy artillery was out of the question. That’s why Mumbere’s residence is intact and we were able to rescue over 130 people. We found the women had undressed themselves. We were later informed that a Congolese witchdoctor had hoodwinked them that his drugs would repel bullets,” added Lt Kiwanuka.
Asked why most of the huts were burnt to ashes yet UPDF did not use heavy weapons to attack the palace, officials said the Royal Guards’ improvised explosives ignited the raging flames that consumed the better part of the shrines at the palace.
“Our intention was not to kill anyone. We had lost 16 officers in the clashes a few days ago. We had no option with those who resisted,” said Lt Col Kiwanuka.
But why would Mumbere choose a fight after being informed that a more powerful force had surrounded his palace?
Kabyanga, a former Reform Agenda diehard who was thrice jailed for agitating for the recognition of Obusinga, attributed Mumbere’s woes to witchcraft.
“Congolese witchdoctors confused him. They gave him false hope that he was untouchable. Somehow, people made him feel he was more powerful than the President,” said Kabyanga, now serving as Kasese Mayor.
“The politicians and witchdoctors inflated his ego. They were telling him that Museveni would be defeated by 2016 and that United Nations is coming to take over the country.”
But then, why would Mumbere who spent 25 years working in United States as a nursing assistant believe in witchcraft.
“Mumbere lived in the Rwenzori Mountains for decades until 1984 when he cracked a deal with Milton Obote to surrender in exchange for a scholarship in United States. He was seeing witchcraft at a tender age. When his Kingdom was recognized in 2009, witchdoctors returned to disorganize him,” said Kabyanga.
“I support Obusinga but there are many issues we need to address especially witchcraft,” he added.
Kabyanga said efforts are underway to rehabilitate Rwenzururu militants who surrender to authorities.
By late Sunday evening when the fight at the palace came to an end, Omusinga was in an armoured military truck being taken to Kasese Police Station.
And quietly, the teachers who had escaped from Kasese Secondary School ahead of the UPDF raid, stealthily returned to class.