The NRA, hitherto known as the People’s Resistance Army (PRA), launched a guerrilla war on 6 February 1981 after the rigged elections of 10 December 1980.
The NRA raided the Kabamba Military School garrison at the start of the war with the aim of obtaining a few guns, but due to resistance from the UNLA, about 40 rifles were obtained.
The NRA failed to seize a large number of rifles in Kabamba, in what President Museveni described as “God’s intervention”. He was speaking on the occasion of the 42nd anniversary of Tarehe Sita. He said: “I said the failure to seize the 1,000 rifles stored in Kabamba was an intervention of God, because even if we had seized them at the time, the UPC government could have taken them back from us because we hadn’t collected them. to thousands of rifles.” Our soldiers were deliberately scattered across Uganda by UPC. “
These soldiers included Salim Saleh (now general) who was in Karamoja at the time, Ivan Koreta of Pakwah, Joram Mugume of Moroto, Mugume Mugume of Jinja Chaga and Pecos Kutesa, still deployed in Nakasongola. By God’s grace, the NRA secured more weapons in subsequent raids on military installations.
By October 1985, the prominent obstacle facing the NRA was breaking through the Kagela River bridge at Kaunga, the gateway to southwestern Uganda. By controlling the bridge, the NRA intends to prevent the delivery of logistical supplies and personnel reinforcements to government forces in Mbarara and Masaka. “We dug trenches in Katonga to destroy the UNLA far from Kampala from there,” President Museveni said.
Therefore, he appointed Saleh as the commander-in-chief of the military operation to seize the bridge. The operational commanders under Saleh were Pecos Kutesa and Fred Mujisha (1st Battalion) and Steven Kashaka and Ahmed Kashlingi (5th Battalion camp). Kutesa’s forces blocked the bridge, while Kashaka’s forces guarded the bridge on the south side of the Kampala-Masaka highway.
The military action has left the United Nations Liberation Army in a desperate and brutal situation against innocent civilians. For example, The New York Times reported on October 8, 1985, “Hundreds of government troops killed and looted in western Uganda after hours of pitched battles with insurgents, witnesses said today.” The report added, “ According to travelers arriving in Kampala, 30 soldiers sent by Kampala to drive out NRA guerrillas from its western stronghold disbanded after heavy artillery fire near Kayabwe, 50 miles southwest.”
On October 13, there was a fierce confrontation between government forces and the National Rifle Association on the bridge. As a result, the NRA defeated the Ugandan Liberation Army and its associates, the former Ugandan army, and on 26 January 1986 marched and occupied Kampala.
Due to the historical significance of the Battle of Katonga, the NRM government has since named one of the national medals the Battle of Katonga. It is the highest military decoration awarded to individuals for extraordinary heroism in the armed forces.
In February, President Museveni was awarded the medal in recognition of his liberation struggle.
The battle of Katonga should remind Ugandans to maintain the country’s peace and security, democracy, economic transformation, youth and women’s emancipation. This is the message we should emphasize as we commemorate President Museveni’s birthday in Kololo on 8 September.
The author is the Senior Presidential Advisor for Political Affairs in the Office of the National President NRM/National Coordinator Bazzukulu.