Maj. John Kazoora’s Memoirs: NRA War Heroes Died In vain

price geneva; font-size: small;”>The official launch of the book is due August 13.

On 25th May 1966 I returned from school and found my mother crying.

She told me that she had heard over the radio that the previous day Idi Amin had a staged a blood-spattered attack on the palace of the Kabaka of Buganda at Lubiri on Prime Minister Obote’s orders, ostensibly to forestall a coup.

She said that government troops had killed hundreds of unarmed civilians and there was extensive looting, raping and torture by soldiers especially around the Mengo area.

My sister Robinah Kazoora was studying at Mengo Nursing School which was near Lubiri and my mother feared that she had been killed.

It was the first time that I had seen my mother cry. Three months prior to that incident, the Minister of Justice Grace Ibingira, who was from my village, had been arrested with four other colleagues and there was trepidation in Kashari.

In January 1971, I returned from school and again found my mother crying. Apparently there had been dramatic and unexpected troop movements and Idi Amin had overthrown the Obote government.

She feared that my brother James Kanari Kazoora who was residing near Makindye Barracks had been killed.

Idi Amin ruled with an iron fist. Thousands were killed, many disappeared never to be seen again. The economy crumbled. When he was eventually overthrown in 1979, Ugandans hoped that this would be the end of dictatorship. This was not to be the case, as later events showed.


These incidents made a huge impact on me. They became the beginning of my political conscience, my awakening. In 1982, at the age of 23 and just after I had completed my under graduate studies, I decided to get involved in the liberation struggle in the hope of returning democracy to Uganda.

Joining the bush war was for me an act of conscience, driven by a powerful belief that good governance could restore hope to my country.

I had confidence in Mr. Yoweri Museveni on account of his record, when as leader of the Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM) he had led a campaign for “Clean Leadership, Unity and Peace”.

This became the mantra of the young party and, although it could not massively sway the electorate, UPM made its mark on Uganda’s political landscape, paving the way for the “famous” or “infamous” 1981-1985 bush war.

Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA) took up the struggle, rose to the occasion, and took over power in Uganda in January 1986.

The NRA’s coming to power after a five-year armed struggle could not have taken place without building on the experience gathered during other struggles like the one against colonialism, the fight for independence and the dictatorial regime of Idi Amin. I believed that the UPM offered the best hope for Uganda’s future. What a chimera!

Horrors Of War

The ravages, ruins, misery and frustration of war had all taken their toll on the population. The people desperately hoped for the fundamental change which Museveni’s broad-based government promised.

Indeed, it was popularly received; the government’s 10-point programme attracted admiration for its guiding principles – respect for human rights and the rule of law. Peace and stability reigned.

People in exile returned, the country experienced economic growth, infrastructure was improved and there was respect for human life and dignity. The best years for the Movement were from 1986 to 1994.

Fundamental Change

Then the high hopes were gradually dashed. From “fundamental change”, things changed fundamentally to “No Change”, then to “Pakalast and Pakalost” which represented the increasing hubris of the regime.

What was meant to be a joint effort eventually became a one-person affair and we saw a personal detonation.

The harmony came to be undermined; Movement support declined; personal rule became the name of the game. Over time the leader of the Movement became synonymous with the Movement and now the leader has become synonymous with the country.

President Museveni began surrounding himself with sycophants and charlatans believing all they told him about his “superhuman” qualities. The only man with a “vision”. Once you positively criticise him, it becomes a personal or subversive criticism. The political situation has been twisted to become a security matter.

What was supposed to be a participatory grass roots Movement has shrunk to a scraggy skeleton of one man’s vision or rather one man’s envelope.

Comradeship disappeared and has been replaced by intrigue, conceit, laxity and inertia.


Dictatorship, despotism, abuse and misuse of power, election rigging, and corruption became widespread. Gratuitous misuse of public resources, violation of human rights, disregard for the law and the constitution, harassment of political opponents, impunity and nepotism became the norm – the very ills that provoked the bush war.

I did not ever imagine that the success of our struggle would simply exacerbate the very vices we had set out to eliminate.

Had we joined the struggle only so that some of our leaders could plunder the country, primitively and crudely accrue wealth, cause bedlam and shamelessly rig elections?

The years some of us squandered in the Luweero bush war, the wasted energy and youthfulness are regrettable and what a pity that our colleagues, heroes and heroines died in vain.

That so much energy should have been wasted believing in something spurious (Kiwaani) fills one with disenchantment.

I had wanted to take my Master’s Degree immediately after my undergraduate studies and later a PhD so that by the age of thirty I would be a Doctor teaching at the University or in Private Consultancy. But the catastrophic events that befell my country made that dream impossible.

It was never my intention to become a soldier. When I returned from the Bush I offered to immediately retire from the army because when I joined the struggle my intention was limited to seeing the elimination of dictatorship and establishment of democratic governance.

However, Mr Museveni refused saying that revolutionaries such as I still had work to accomplish. I felt that this was conscription.

It was twenty years later that I was allowed to retire from the army, and 18 years later that I was able to complete my postgraduate studies. That conscription and the delay in completing my studies is a regret that I have always harboured.

Museveni’s character

I pity those who are still unable to read Mr. Museveni’s character and see the direction our country is heading in, and those who cannot learn from the perpetual regret in which those before them live after being used as political door mats.

This book is neither an in-depth study of Uganda’s history nor an academic treatise. It is a straight-forward and honest account of my life so far as I remember it, a collection of what in retrospect seem to me to be personal highlights, events as they unfolded, as I felt them and reacted to them.

It’s the story of how one man has lived all these turbulent years; his experiences and hopes; and the extreme betrayal and exploitation of his prolific and youthful years.

My memoirs are as much about people as about events, as in my political life I have found that personalities are as important as programmes.

Writing this book has been difficult, it has meant reliving the pain of the past, but has forced me for the first time to come to terms with memories I had been trying to escape.

But I have always believed in the importance of historical record as what is not recorded is not remembered.

The English Poet William Blake once wrote of someone;

“His whole life is an epigram smart, smooth and neatly penn’d

Plaited quite neat to catch applause, with a hang-noose at the end”

Continues on Monday…


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