At the inception of Yoweri Museveni’s bush war in 1982, he led an attack on Kabamba barracks.
Though the foiled attack had had targeted the acquisition of arms, it achieved its other major objective – declaration of an armed rebellion against the UPC government.
Thereafter the attackers withdrew to what came to be known as the Luweero Triangle where they set up bases for the next four years.
Kabamba was outside the Luweero Triangle but long expeditions for repeated attacks on Kabamba remained top on the agenda.
On February 6th 1981, Museveni led an attack on Kabamba barracks.
The 30+ man attack party was comprised of among others Elly Tumwine, Paul Kagame, Fred Rwigyema, Anthony Kyakabale, and Julius Chihandae. The attack was not very successful for it failed to acquire arms.
In 1983, following the offensive by government troops the NRA was forced out of Bulemezi to Lukoola in Dingo.
This was after serious battles in which some top NRA commanders had been killed while others like Gen Salim Saleh and Gen David Tinyefuza were seriously injured.
In an effort to reassert itself, the NRA planned another attack on Kabamba barracks.
Led by Elly Tumwine, the expedition was characterised by low morale and indiscipline such that it was called off half way en route.
Among the severe punishments administered to individuals accused of indiscipline during the journey was the 50 lashes thus that miserable journey has come to known as SAFARI 50.
In early 1985, a successful attack on Kabamba barracks led to by Saleh and Chihandae yielded good results in terms of arms acquisition.
Other than Masindi barracks, Kakiri and Rubona army detachments which were successfully attacked only once during the guerrilla stage of the Bush War, repeated attacks on Kabamba pose intriguing questions.
Here below we examine the factors that made Kabamba an easy target of the NRA repeated attacks.
Kabamba barracks had been established by the previous governments as the army’s school of infantry.
At the time of the first attack by the NRA in 1981, the facility was housing recruits for the post Idi Amin national army that were being trained by the Tanzanians thus the Tanzanian soldiers were the first to be killed by the NRA.
The barracks is located in Kasambya Sub-county of Mubede district at the far end where the district borders with Sembabule and Kyenjojo districts.
It is along the road from Masaka to Mubende via Sembabule and about slightly over 6 km from Nkonge Railway Station and River Katonga.
Kabagole in Kazo Sub-county is the closest area of former Mbarara district to Kabamba.
Kazo county supplied most of the original NRA top cream.
The facility stands on a vast chunk of land whose vegetation is characterised by evergreen bushland and secondary wooded grassland.
No wonder it is located in the infamous Cattle Corridor that stretches all the way from the southern border with Tanzania through central Uganda.
It was isolated from human habitation with the only permanent human habitation of Baganda over 10 km away at Nakawala along the way to Mubende.
The vast barracks land was host to herdsmen commonly known as Balalo who identified the rich grazing area and named it Omurukoba.
These herdsmen were ethnic Bahima and Rwandese refugees from the nearby Kyaka II Refugee Camp.
The said refugee camp was just less than 10 km from the Barracks and those refugees who owned herds of cattle had strayed from the camp and set up temporary residence in Omurukoba.
That way the Balalo had some ease of access to the barracks was either by vending diary products, seeking medical facilities and ‘friendship’.
But even beyond the barracks land, the vast woodland all the way from Ntutsi through Rwomuyaga and Bubanda, kyahi, Madu and all the way to Gomba, the only inhabitants were these Balalo.
It was not by accident that during the first attack in 1981, the attackers had to move from Kampala to Masaka before approaching the barracks from the direction of Ntutsi.
Even the other expeditions from Luweero triangle that followed the first attack would follow the routes inhabited by the Balalo.
The NRA had prominent local ‘contacts’ around Kabamba barracks who served as spies.
Among the many such spies were people like Katana in Kuyahi, Mzee Museveni (father of Maj. Lyangombe) in Makole, Miss Kalya at Nkonge railway station, and Katonka in Omurukoba.
It is the same Balalo inhabited areas of Lukoola in Singo that gave cover to the NRA when it was pushed from Bulemezi to Singo.
After the war, the former Balolo of Lukola were resettled at Kanyaryeru in the degazetted area of Lake Mburo.
That is how even the infamous journey to Rwenzori from Luweero could not be detected by the government not until the NRA had reached those areas in Tooro that were not inhabited by Balalo.
Given its geographical location coupled by the then hostile ethnic composition of its immediate neighborhood, it became easier for reconnaissance, advance to objective, concealment etc.
This is what Maj Kakooza Mutable alludes to when he states that he is training militias to crush whoever stands in the way of the Mulalo [in reference to Museveni].
Major Mutale is supposed to teach Ugandans to learn to appreciate the role that was played by the Balalo in liberating the country.
Sarah Nalukenge, the author, is a social and political analyst