What you didn’t know about late Maj. Gen. Pecos Kutesa

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PROFILE– Pecos Kutesa began his military career in 1976 when he joined FRONASA, one of the military groups formed to fight Id Amin Dada. Like other FRONASA recruits, he was trained at Munduli Military Academy in Tanzania. After the fall of Amin, Kutesa was deployed in Nakasongola Military Training School.

It was from here that he deserted the army in March 1981, aged 25, to join Museveni’s NRA rebels fighting to remove Milton Obote. Kutesa says he joined FRONASA after completing S.6 at Masaka Secondary School.

After the NRA captured power, he joined Makerere University and graduated with a social sciences degree. He claims he ran away from Nakasongola, where he was a serving UNLA soldier, because an order for his arrest had been issued after his colleagues declared a rebellion and in fact attacked Kabamba Barracks on February 6, 1981.

Before joining the main group under Museveni in Luwero, Kutesa operated briefly under Brig. Matayo Kyaligonza who was in charge of urban terrorism. In his book, Kutesa recounts how, together with Matayo Kyaligonza and Benjamin Dampa (RIP), they unsuccessfully attempted to set Kampala City ablaze when they hit the Agip fuel depot in the Industrial Area.

They also planned to set ablaze other neighbouring fuel depots belonging to Shell, Caltex and Total, hoping to trigger a huge fireball that would engulf the entire city. Fortunately, or unfortunately for them, the Agip fuel tanks were empty at the time they struck with an anti-tank gun.

After the botched operation, they withdrew to Nkrumah Road, opposite Uganda House, which was their base at the time. Their next target was the Kampala water reservoir in Muyenga. Museveni reportedly restrained them before they could launch the attack.

After a stint in terrorism, Kutesa joined the main rebel group in Luwero on March 30, 1981. He says that at the time of joining the rebellion, fighters under Museveni were less than 50, and some of them were unarmed.

KAKIRI ATTACK

The UNLF detach at Kakiri was attacked at least twice by the NRA. The April 4, 1981 attack was led by Museveni himself as a platoon commander of 53 people. Veterans tell us this was the second time Museveni was commanding a major operation, the first one being the attack on Kabamba on February 6.

But even then, as the overall commander, he was in the rear section commanded by Fred Rwigyema. The NRA attacking force had been split into five sections, each with 10 people. Sam Magara (RIP) led section one, Kutesa led section two, Jack Mucunguzi (RIP) led section three, Hannington Mugabi led four and Rwigyema took charge of section five.

Kutesa is the only surviving section commander of the NRA force that attacked Kakiri. This account also shows how senior he was in the struggle as early as April 1981. In fact, he participated in this attack hardly a week after his arrival in the bush. He was therefore at the level of Rwigyema at the start of the war.

One of the soldiers Pecos commanded in his section was Paul Kagame, currently President of Rwanda. During that operation, the NRA captured about 50 guns and declared this mission a success. Some veterans tell us that the following night, some NRA fighters sneaked into Bukomero and killed a UPC councilor in Mubende district.

They took off with his motorcycle which they wanted to use to carry their weapons. The UNLA and Tanzanian soldiers trailed the motorcycle and eventually bumped into the hiding rebels. The UNLA hit the rebels, forcing them to abandon some of the guns they had captured. Some of the guerrilla fighters were also killed. One veteran said the UNLA forced the rebels to abandon their own guns as well as those captured from Kakiri. The rebels dispersed in disarray and re-assembled almost two weeks later.

With everybody back and more recruitment – the number of fighters rose to about 200. The force was re-organised into six units under; Kyaligonza (Mwanga), Fred Mwesigye (Nkurumah), Elly Tumwine (Kabalega), Hannington Mugabi (Lutta), Jack Mucunguzi (Abdel Nasser), and Fred Rwigyema (Mondlane).

Kutesa then became Museveni’s ADC. Museveni’s other guards were; Marius Katungi (Suicide), Arthur Kasasura and later Andrew Lutaaya. After the Kakiri attack, the NRA went underground for some months.

In fact, later in June, Museveni with some of his guards went to Nairobi for six months. Being a Kalampenge, Kutesa asked his boss to be redeployed in active combat. Upon his return, Museveni visited all units, largely to sort out leadership problems that had cropped up in his absence.

Museveni again re-organised the NRA and this is when Kutesa became Commanding Officer of the C coy. This was one of the units that made up the Mobile Brigade under Salim Saleh. Some veterans say Saleh was commander of the A coy and Joram Mugume B coy.

It is Pecos Kutesa who received a truck-load of guns that Lt. Col. Ssonko drove to the NRA base after the failed UFM attack on Lubiri in 1982.

MASINDI ATTACK

The February 20, 1984 attack on Masindi Barracks was arguably the turning point in the NRA bush-war, veterans say. Not only did the rebels multiply their arms by two, but it also boosted their morale, especially after the failed May 1983 attack on Kabamba.

Hungry rebels had walked for over 20 days to Kabamba but the operation was called off by Museveni after reports of too much hunger and desertion reached him.
One senior officer who was part of the mission has told us that while seeing them off, Museveni almost shed tears as he told his brother, Gen. Saleh, the overall commander, to exercise restraint because he (Museveni) feared that a botched mission could result in the wiping out of the entire NRA.

Saleh went with 700 fighters and about 300 rifles –almost about 75% of the group’s strength. Besides, those who stayed behind with Museveni took refuge in an area surrounded by Luwero Triangle rivers.

If the UNLA had wiped out the Saleh force, they could well have besieged the Museveni group and the war would be effectively over. The Masindi attack happened after another re-organisation had brought in battalions. Kutesa who was commanding C Coy was now the boss of 1st battalion, Stanley Muhangi commanded the third, Steven Kashaka the fifth, and Kyaligonza’s Black Bomber was renamed 7th battalion.

Some veterans credit Frank Kaka for the success of the Masindi operation because he spied on the barracks and provided the rebels with all the intelligence that they needed for the operation to succeed. But others think Kutesa played a more significant role.

Kutesa says his 1st battalion was responsible for leading the attack. They were supposed to attack at day break but they delayed and reached at 7a.m. In fact, Saleh who had been cautioned seriously by his brother, sent him a radio message to inform him that they had arrived late. Museveni advised them to call off the operation.

Saleh informed Kutesa of the High Command Chairman’s advice, but Kutesa protested saying they were ready to attack. The now cautious Saleh asked him whether he would take full responsibility in case the operation was not successful, and Kutesa consulted his deputies after which he said yes.

Kutesa’s deputy was Peter Kerim and his operation officer was Fred Mugisha a.k.a ‘Headache’. After consulting other commanders, Saleh gave the attack a go-ahead. In the attack, the NRA overran the Artillery School, captured about 350 rifles, plus other ammunition. They carried their loot and marched back to their base to rescue Museveni who had by then come under UNLA attack.

KAMPALA FALLS

Before the fall of Kampala into rebel hands, the NRA had undergone yet another re-organisation after Museveni returned from a six-month diplomatic and arms searching trip. Kutesa retained command of his 1st battalion while his operation officer, Fred Mugisha, became his deputy and his deputy Peter Kerim was appointed to head a new 21st battalion.

Kutesa operated on one side of Katonga Bridge while Ahmed Kashilingi’s 5th battalion was on the other. At that time, Steven Kashaka who was the substantive commander of the 5th battalion, had withdrawn because of sickness, leaving the command to his deputy.

In fact, at one time even Kutesa withdrew for other assignments, leaving Fred Mugisha to command the 1st battalion. When the Katonga Bridge fell to the rebels, the 1st battalion led the match towards Kampala along Masaka Road. There were hold-ups, especially during the peace talks in Nairobi, but eventually Kutesa’s battalion led the march towards the capital, capturing Lubiri Barracks while other units attacked different government and military encampments.

After Kampala, Kutesa went to Jinja together with Kyaligonza. At the fall of Kampala, Kutesa was one of the 15 most senior NRA officers, alongside Ivan Koreta, Mugisha Muntu, Joram Mugume, Kahinda Otafiire, and Jim Muhwezi. Others are Peter Kerim, Andrew Lutaaya, Amin Izaruku, Julius Chihandae, Fred Mwesigye, Gyagenda Kibirango, Ahmed Kashilingi and Samson Mande.

It is not clear why a man who fought so gallantly and was one time ADC to the Chairman of the High Command remained at the same rank of Colonel since 1986. He was promoted to Brigadier around the 2006 general elections. By the time Kutesa was a Colonel, Aronda Nyakairima, the Chief of Defence Forces, was a captain—two ranks his junior.

Some veterans say he could have challenged the CHC, something he was no longer tolerating after capturing power. Others point to a conflict over something they don’t want to mention. Whatever the explanation, like many great fighters, Pecos never got accelerated promotion.

Indeed he was only recognised as an NRA hero just last month. It is claimed that out of frustration, Kutesa applied to retire from the Army but his request was turned down. After capturing power, Kutesa was made Commanding Officer of 157 Brigade, which used to oversee Kampala up to Jinja. He was later transferred to Gulu to head the 163 brigade, which was battling Alice Lakwena and later the Lord’s Resistance Army.

It is claimed that while in Acholi, Kutesa spoke negatively about Acholi and Langi which made him unpopular among local political leaders. For unknown reasons, he was withdrawn from Gulu and sent for a course in 1990. Upon his return, he was appointed Chief of Training and Recruitment.

In 1994, he was elected Constituent Assembly delegate for Kabula. After the promulgation of the Constitution in 1995, he was not deployed. Some say that that was when he found time write his book, which Museveni launched in February 2006.

Kutesa was one of the senior officers who fought alongside their spouses during the bush war. His wife, Dora, now a Second Secretary at Uganda’s High Commission in India, is also a veteran of the war. In fact, she gave birth to a daughter at a time UNLA was attacking rebel bases.

MAY HIS SOUL REST IN ETERNAL PEACE