NRA Rebellion In Uganda 1981-1986: Occupation, Liberation, Counter-Revolution Or Revolution?

If I Base My Thinking On These Ideas, I Do Not Hesitate To State That The NRA Rebellion Of 1981-1986 Was Neither Liberation Nor A Revolution. It Was More Or Less an Occupation Because The Guerillas Had An Excess Of Rwandese Refugees Compared To Ugandans At Command And Combatant Level.

Uganda Today: NRA Rebellion In Uganda 1981-1986: Occupation, Liberation, Counter-Revolution Or Revolution?

Makerere University Retiree Prof. Oweyegha Afunaduula

By Oweyegha-Afunaduula

25 January 2024

NRA in this article stands for National Resistance Army. When, as National Resistance Movement/Army (NRM/A), it organized a Constituent Assembly between 1991-1994 to make a new Constitution, which its ideologues and former combatants in the bushes of Luweero chorused as a constitution that would stand the test of time, NRA was constitutionally changed to Uganda Peoples Defense Forces (UPDF).

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The NRA Luweero bush Commander, Yoweri Museveni (later known as Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, and now Yoweri Tibuhaburwa Museveni), on 25th January, 1986 as the new commander of all armed forces in Uganda, said, during the promulgation of the new Uganda Constitution 1995 on 8th October 1995, that if he had his way, he would have retained the name of NRA as the name of the post-bush war Uganda army.

Although the NRA triumphed in capturing the instruments of power on 25th January,1886, the bush war guerilla outfit decided to change the date to 26 January 1986 threafter the guerilla leader was sworn in on 29th January 1986 as the post-Tito Okello-Basilio Okello military junta Uganda President. During the swearing in, he pronounced that “This is not a mere change of guards but a fundamental change. One immediate change was the change of the date when NRA captured power in Kampala from 25 January to 26 February 1986. The reason was that 25 January was also the date when Idi Amin Data overthrew the government of Obote 1 government in 1971.

Since 1987, the NRM has been celebrating the NRA capture of power at astronomically rising costs to the tax payer. Virtually writings in official documents on NRA capture of power mention January 26. This is a fundamental deception. The 38th celebration of the deception will be held on 26 January 2024. I am, therefore, writing this article a day before the celebration.

Every year on 26th January the army and NRM government remind Ugandans and the world that the celebration is a celebration of the liberation of Uganda. Many times both liberation and revolution are used to glue Ugandans to activities of NRA in the bushes of Luweero from 1981 to 1986 rather than the future in a complex century 2021 and beyond, with numerous wicked problems requiring thinking, rethinking and pertinent actions. Such problems include green land grabbing and climate change and their causes.

Yes this is Uganda!
The Royal Mile commonly known as Kabaka Anjagala (the King loves me, a1km adventurous stretch connecting Bulange (Buganda Parliament) to the King’s palace Mengo
The stretch is beautifully designed with sculptures of all Buganda clans

While the former bush war combatants stick to using liberation and revolution to convince Ugandans why they should continue to hold onto power and rule them, many critical thinkers and writers have continued debating the NRA rebellion. The common questions are:

  1. Was the NRA rebellion in 1981-1986 an armed struggle for occupation of Uganda by an armed group of mostly refugees and former refugees?
  2. Was the NRA rebellion in 1981-1986 an armed struggle to liberate Uganda and Ugandans and from who?
  3. Was the NRA rebellion in 1981-1986 an armed struggle to ensure that a true or genuine revolution takes place in Uganda?
  4. Was the NRA rebellion in 1981-1986 an armed struggle to derail Uganda from a path of meaningful and effective national-democratic liberation for ulterior motives?
  5. Was the NRA rebellion in 1981-1986 an armed struggle to usher a counter-revolution in Uganda for external forces to capture the social, economic and political spaces in Uganda for their ultimate benefit?
  6. Given that the Anglo- American Axis of Power was solidly behind the NRA rebellion, was the rebellion an armed struggle to distort the social, economic and political landscape for Neo liberalism to take place in Uganda for Britain and USA to benefit given that Uganda is one huge mine of diverse minerals including gold, oil and rare earth natural resources? Was this the reason why the NRM/A made Uganda Constitution 1995 decreed that everything underground belongs to the Central Government and made the institution of President the supreme sovereign power over them?

All these questions need answers to demystify the astronomically financially expensive annual rituals that have perennially siphoned money away from the socioeconomic sociopolitical, sociocultural, socioecological and environmental development of Uganda for almost half a century. I may not be the one to provide all the answers. Mine is to specifically create a new opportunity for critical thinking, analytical thinking and rethinking of the NRM rituals and pathway to the future by asking pertinent questions. It is often said that formulating pertinent questions is more important than providing answers for them. The assumption is that when confronted with an arsenal of questions that must be answered we may begin to think correctly. And thinking correctly we must rather than continuing to falsely think nothing is grossly wrong.

Grotesque Karuma bridge

The questions above suggest there is no consensus about what the aims and purposes of NRA rebellion were. They also suggest there are Six Schools of Thought about the NRA rebellion:

  1. The school of thought that believes the NRA rebellion was occupation of Uganda by a military force.
  2. The school of thought that believes NRA rebellion was liberation of Uganda and its people.
  3. The school of thought that believes the NRA rebellion was a true or genuine revolution in Uganda
  4. The school of thought that believes the NRA rebellion was a military onslaught to derail Uganda from the path of national-democratic liberation
  5. The school of thought that believe the NRA rebellion was a counter-revolution in Uganda.
  6. The school of thought that believes that the NRA rebellion was sponsored by the Anglo-American Axis of global power to usher in Neoliberalism as a strategy for it to secure access to Uganda’s rich underground natural resources.

If Uganda were still a country where intellectual capital and the power of debate are valued, these various schools of thought would ignite lively intellectual clashes and debates at Uganda’s more than 50 university campuses. They would also not be having different representatives in the country struggling to project one or the other as superior and more credible. Besides, many academic papers would have been produced. Instead, the sociopolitical environment of the last 38 years has generated official, intellectual and academic adherents to the falsehoods that NRA rebellion was both a struggle for liberation of Ugandans and a true or genuine revolution. Consequently, Ugandans have lost time, energy and money parading and pursuing falsehoods.

Let me define the concepts mentioned in the title and the text so far mentioned. I know some people would have loved to hear much earlier how I define them. But better late than never! We have  been at par before I expound my latest opinion on the ritually and annually celebrated NRA rebellion at great expense in terms of time, energy and money. Here we go:

  1. OCCUPATION: This is the act of moving into another country and getting control of its instruments of power, institutions, people and resources using military power. An occupying force may even capture the State, budget and every other thing by constitutional design. It may be a guerilla outfit or the army of a country. The characteristic feature of the invading guerilla force or army is that it is predominantly composed of foreigners. The occupier may change everything in the occupied country: human energy system, education, health, land use, security, culturally, socially, politically, ecologically, scientifically and in terms of information technology
  2. This is the act of freeing someone, a people or country from another. If a country, it may be liberation from an occupying force or from an oppressive ruler or political/political military regime.
  3. REVOLUTION: a simple definition of revolution is “a fundamental change in political organization especially: the overthrow or renunciation of one regime or ruler in power and substitution by another. It may involve total overhaul of the structure and function of a country socio-politically, socioeconomically, socioecologically and environmentally and in terms of access to opportunities, resources, jobs, education, health and services. Those involved in a revolution are called revolutionaries.
  4. COUNTER-REVOLUTION: This is a violent action against a regime in power as a result of revolution in order to destroy and replace it from power and authority. Thus, one involved in a counter-revolution is called a counter-revolutionary.
  5. NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION: This is the key to understanding developments in a country that boasts of having nationalism as one of its pillars. Most Ugandans know nothing or little about it. It has a powerful ideological appeal. It offers the most effective way for the revolutionary leader or party to entrench oneself/itself in power. It had its origin in the defunct Soviet Union as a strategy through which to provide the most direct route to socialism. Socialism is a transitional social system between capitalism and the fully classless communist society, which is the final objective of a national democratic revolution.
  6. NEO-LIBERALISM: This is a political approach that favours free market, capitalism and reduction in government spending and by extension borrowing. The ideology of neo-liberalism postulates that the reduction of state interventions in economic and social activities and the de-regulation of labour and commerce liberates the enormous potential of capitalism to create an unprecedented of social well-being. Central to the neoliberal ideology is the idea that governments are poor economic managers and inefficient compared to private enterprise. Another way of looking at it is that it is a form of capitalism that promotes private market-based interests at the expense of public and state supported institutions.

If I base my thinking on these ideas, I do not hesitate to state that the NRA rebellion of 1981-1986 was neither a liberation nor a revolution. It was more or less an occupation because the guerillas had an excess of Rwandese refugees compared to Ugandans at command and combatant level.

These ended up weening themselves away from NRA as Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) to constitute a force that overthrow the government of Juvenal Habyarimana in Kigali, Rwanda. Many Ugandans believe they fully participated in the making of the Uganda Constitution 1995, ensuring that a new indigenous group of Uganda, Banyarwanda, is integral to the Uganda Constitution. Many Ugandans also believe a big number of Rwandese remained in the country to participate in Uganda Politics, and in the making of obnoxious laws that today are used to oppress and suppress Ugandans, and also to make the Dual Citizenship Law, which has benefited the ethnicity in diverse ways, including access to opportunities, jobs and resources as well as green land grabs in the country.

Yoga Adhola, the self-instructed scholar in the ideologies of Marxism, Leninism and communism has written that Uganda was not ready for revolution when Tibuhaburwa Museveni led the rebellion in Luweero. He also asserts that it would require another 100 years for Uganda to have a revolutionary situation conducive for a true or genuine revolution to take place in Uganda. He bases this prediction of his on the statement by Fidel Castro that the struggle in Cuba against US imperialism started in 1868 and matured in 1959.

Therefore, Uganda has never experienced a true or genuine revolution. It has only experienced unarmed anticolonial struggle between 1900 and 1962, and then two military coups in 1971 and 1985, power capture by guerillas of FRONASA and Kikosi Maalum in 1979 and NRA in 1986. Yoga Adhola is convinced the NRA rebellion was just to feed the greed for power of Tibuhaburwa Museveni and group in Uganda and Rwanda. In his article “The Museveni Counter Revolution” published in the Daily Monitor of June 25 2023, he categorically dismisses NRA’s claim of revolution and liberation of Uganda and Ugandans as sheer deception.

Therefore, there is need to liberate Uganda and Ugandans from the almost 50-year-old deception of liberation and revolution. The money, time and energy dedicated to the deception will, perhaps, then be wisely invested in Uganda’s and people’s development, transformation and progress, and perhaps emerge as an effective way to reduce the over borrowing syndrome of the NRM regime.

For God and My Country.


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Chris Kato

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