The funeral of former minister Matthew Rukikaire’s son in Rukungiri on Friday set the stage for the reunion of former Bush War comrades, who have since found themselves on opposing political sides, and Security minister, Lt Gen Henry Tumukunde, used the opportunity to praise Opposition activist Dr Kizza Besigye.
Mr Rukikaires’ son, Timothy Mark Kainamura Rukikaire, 42, his Rukikaire’s first born son, succumbed to pneumonia in Kampala on Tuesday.
He was on Friday laid to rest in Rwakabengo Cell, Southern Division, Rukungiri Municipality, Rukungiri District.
Gen Tumukunde, Dr Besigye, Mr Rukikaire, former minister Maj Gen Jim Muhwezi and former prime minister Amama Mbabazi, who were instrumental during the Bush War and President Museveni’s earlier years in power, all hail from greater Rukungiri, although it has since been split and Mr Mbabazi now finds himself in Kanungu District.
Former Chief of Defence Forces Aronda Nyakairima, who has since passed away, also hailed from Rukungiri.
Rukungiri and Museveni
The ‘Rukungiri group’, as some have called them, has served Mr Museveni well in many respects, but have also presented the President with biggest headache coming out of western Uganda and perhaps the whole country.
Gen Tumukunde, now back in government, bitterly fell out with Mr Museveni over the removal of term limits and was forced to resign as an army MP and faced almost a decade of exclusion and trial in the military court.
Mr Rukakaire too had taken issue with the removal of term limits in 2005, a move that was heavily championed by then “super minister” Mbabazi. Mr Mbabazi would later fall out with Mr Museveni and demand that he steps down, leading to an unsuccessful shot at the presidency in 2016.
Earlier, Gen Muhwezi had fallen out with Mr Museveni and it became public knowledge that he refused to apologise for the sins the head of state was accusing him of.
Perhaps Gen Muhwezi had taken cue from Dr Besigye, who had been the first high profile cadre to publicly fall out with Mr Museveni, penning a damning dossier in 1999 when he was still a serving soldier.
Mr Museveni toyed with the idea of trying him in the military court but would later give in to pressure, much of it from Rukungiri, and let him retire from the army. This is a decision he would perhaps later regret when Dr Besigye challenged him in the 2001 elections, a fierce contest that was marred by violence and widely adjudged not to be free and fair.
Dr Besigye would again challenge Mr Museveni for the presidency in 2006, 2011 and 2016 and still remains the most potent challenger against the man who has ruled Uganda for the last 32 years.
It, therefore, surprised mourners at Mr Rukikaire’s home when the Security minister offered a full-hearted praise of Dr Besigye, describing him as a development-oriented and peace loving Ugandan, who never misuses the power he has, traits which he said Dr Besigye exhibited, especially at the time he served in the government.
“I have worked with Dr Besigye since the Bush War and we have been friends since. Dr Besigye had a lot of power while in government and I don’t think there has ever been a person with power than him.
Even when he was still in government, as a young man below 30, when he summoned you to his office, you would see a person with power, but he really never abused this power,” Gen Tumukunde said in Rukungiri on Friday.
He said only Mr Mbabazi at his peak had power comparable to that of Dr Besigye. Mr Mbabazi worked as the mobiliser of the external wing during the war, while Dr Besigye was a combatant and physician to the rebels, including Mr Museveni.
Mr Mbabazi, whose daughter Nina is married to one of Mr Rukikaire’s sons, was not present on the occasion at which the speeches were made.
Gen Tumukunde added: “Besigye is out of government but he remains a very powerful man. What is more important is that he never uses this power to divide people… I think that is why we are friends.
I have known you as a person who never sabotages development. I think that is why we are friends. I hope you can also be friends with your other powerful man (possibly referring to Mr Museveni). Also, let me state it here that if it wasn’t for you, Besigye, I would not have a leg.”
Gen Tumukunde was shot in the leg during the Bush War.
Besigye, Rukikaire speak
On governance. Dr Besigye said Mr Rukikaire, a founding member and key financier of the Bush War, and other comrades who fought alongside President Museveni and supported the struggle in different ways, have since given up on politics and their dream of good governance has not been realised.
Dr Besigye said some of those who were part of the struggle have engaged in stealing national resources to amass wealth when many Ugandans are poor.
“When we went to the bush, it is only Mathew who was rich and he contributed almost everything to the struggle that he could do; he singly funded operations of UPM (Uganda Patriotic Movement party under which Museveni stood for president in 1980), and he sustained the struggle, including sacrificing his home to the struggle until the first invasion of Kabamba.
But here we are now, all the others have a lot of money you can’t tell where they got it. Ugandans are becoming poorer while a few are becoming richer,” Dr Besigye said.
Seeking solution. Mr Rukikaire said there is need to find a permanent solution to the disagreements in the country’s governance so that one does not have to seek permission to visit people who are opposed to government as he did when he wanted to visit Dr Besigye at his home after the 2016 presidential election.
“No one was allowed to visit him but I did. How? I would go to [Prime Minister] Ruhakana Rugunda’s office and tell him I wanted to visit my friend Besigye. I would ask Rugunda to call (IGP) Kale Kayihura so that he could instruct his police not to interfere with my visits. Kayihura would call his officers and my car would be allowed to go through.”
Mr Rukikaire added: “However, I always found it easier to visit him in Luzira [prison] than at home because I don’t need authorisation to visit him in prison. After all this, I think we need a permanent solution for our country’s problems.”
Museveni on Rukikaire
Political. Mr Rukikaire was a strong Uganda Patriotic Movements (UPM) and National Resistance Movement (NRM) pillar. He supported Mr Museveni to wage a guerilla war against the UPC government after he lost the 1980 election, which he said was rigged.
Mr Museveni wrote in his autobiography, Sowing the Mustard Seed: “The day chosen for the attack which would launch our campaign was Friday February 6, 1981.
Our plan was to obtain a vehicle, drive quickly and secretly from Kampala, arrive near our target in the early hours of the morning and take the barracks by surprise shortly after dawn.
The day before our planned attack, about 30 volunteers assembled in Mathew Rukikaire’s house in Makindye, a suburb of Kampala and stayed in hiding there all day. Eventually, the number grew to 34 but only 27 of us were armed.”
Mr Rukikaire served as the MP for Kabula County and was State Minister for Privatisation.