The Life And Times Of Ugandan Rebel Leader, Itongwa

here geneva; font-size: small;”>Military officials say Itongwa passed away Friday night. The cause of the death remains unclear as officials said they had to wait for the postmortem report.

about it geneva;”>UPDF Political commissar Col Felix Kulayigye confirmed receiving the news about Itongwa’s death but could not provide more details.

no rx geneva;”>He, however, said Itongwa was no longer “a threat to national security.”

Itongwa, whose real name is Herbert Kilomeko, was leader of National Democratic Alliance (NDA), a rebel movement based in central Uganda composed of army deserters from Buganda region fighting for the introduction of a federal system in the country.


The group was operating from Luweero, 65km north of Kampala, since its inception in January 1995 until it was defeated by Uganda security services.

In September 1995, at least six of Itongwa’s followers were arrested in Luweero.

In 1996 Itongwa fled to Nairobi, Kenya where he was arrested by security agents.

At the time, President Yoweri Museveni ruled out the possibility of any extradition procedures against Itongwa.

Kenya Police later handed over Itongwa to UNHCR for protection and as a refugee, he could not be extradited to Uganda.

He later moved to Denmark where he was reported missing in 2007. Until his death, his whereabouts were unknown.


According to an article dated August 19, 2009, by The Observer, Maj. Herbert Kikomeko Itongwa, RO 100, joined the NRA bush war around the time it started, in 1981. Veterans of the bush war we spoke to describe Itongwa as one of the most daring fighters the NRA ever had. Notoriety was his worst shortcoming, but rare fighting skills always made up for that.

In the bush, Itongwa belonged to a class of fighters everybody came to fear because of their extraordinary courage. These fighters were nicknamed Kalampenge because they would rather die fighting than withdraw from the battle front.

In fact, some of their colleagues suspected they were fighting under the influence of drugs.

Fighters with Itongwa’s daredevil character included; the late Lt. Col. Moses Drago Nyanzi, Lt. Col. Jet Mwebaze, Lt. Col. Magala Proof, late David Musisi Kalampenge, Maj. Moses Kanabi, Sabata, Boxer, Kamomo, Musoke Kateregga, Bruce Muwanga, Licambo, Kangaho, and Mulindwa.

Itongwa mutiny

Government forces led by the late Maj. Gen. David Oyite Ojok and Lt. Col. Eric Odwal launched a serious offensive against the National Resistance Army (NRA) at the end of 1983, forcing the rebels to go underground (total concealment) for the second time. Ojok died in a plane crash during this offensive in December 1983.

Veterans tell us that isolated rebel units were seriously terrorised by Oyite Ojok’s offensive, forcing their leader, Museveni, to amass his troops to be able to put up stiffer resistance. The government forces tried to deny the rebels food in a bid to force them out of hiding, or starve them to death.

When the hunger became too much, Itongwa who had risen to the rank of Junior Officer II, suggested that they get out of hiding, confront the government soldiers and get food. The order from the High Command was that no such operation should be carried out.

Itongwa’s rebellious suggestion was supported by Brig. Taban Kyabihende, Fred Mugisha and the late Njawukana Mandeevu. Since the three were junior commanders in the 3rd battalion of the late Patrick Lumumba, they had a sizeable following.

Itongwa and his colleagues mobilised other fighters and they started demanding clearance for an operation to get food. Word soon reached the rebel leader that Itongwa and company would rather be shot than starve to death.

Itongwa also reportedly suggested that if the High Command refused to heed their demands, they would kushambulia (hit) them. Arresting Itongwa and company was not easy. So Museveni tricked them by sending their 3rd battalion for an operation.

This mission isolated them from the main force and Itongwa, Kyabihende and Njawukana were arrested and returned to the High Command base (headquarters) as prisoners.

Arresting such top fighters was likely to cause tension and to defuse it – Museveni addressed his fighters to explain why such stern action had to be taken.

He accused the Itongwas of being “Tumbo mbere kazi nyuma”, loosely meaning “stomach first, work last”.

Intelligence officers such as Gregory Mugisha Muntu and Frank Kaka were tasked to investigate the prisoners. Their findings suggested that Itongwa and company were not only fighting for food, but women as well.

Restricting their movements meant that they would not sneak out to meet their girlfriends in the neighbouring villages. The Itongwas were eventually convicted and detained in the NRA trenches meant for prisoners. They were also demoted from JOII to sergeants.

Veterans tell us that the arrest of some of the best 3rd battalion commanders weakened the unit and it started registering more causalities than before. The absence of Itongwa and fellow mutineers was immediately felt.

The 3rd battalion, which had been the most feared, fell behind Pecos Kutesa’s 2nd and Steven Kashaka’s 4th. Kashaka’s battalion was known for its discipline. Besides, the morale of some ordinary fighters dampened because those arrested were fighting for them as well.

Under pressure, Museveni cut the Itongwas’ jail sentence short and redeployed them, this time round in separate battalions. This is how they participated in the February 1984 NRA’s most successful attack on Masindi Barracks and the June invasion of Hoima Barracks.

Although Itongwa and company had been demoted to sergeants, they took up commanding roles and did an excellent job, according to our informers. An excited Museveni restored their ranks after the attack that yielded many more guns. Itongwa, we are told, is one of the commanders that sneaked into Masindi Barracks first.

Early contribution

Herbert Kikomeko Itongwa must have joined the bush war either in it first or second month. When the few fighters who started the war were split into zonal units, he was deployed in Kabalega under Stanley Muhangi.

His military background is not well known but some veterans think he could have benefited from the training of Mayumba kumi who operated like the current LDUs (constables). He could have joined with a group that came from Bwaise.

Itongwa, Drago Nyanzi and Bell guarded the Nakaseta Bridge around early 1982. Obote’s soldiers once scattered the Itongwa group and chased them up to as far as an NRA training camp at Kasambya, manned by Rwamukaga and Rwangiro.

Veterans tell us that when the NRA opened up the Western Axis, as the war drew towards an end, Itongwa was among those selected to escort non-combatant groups to the Rwenzori region. And during the march towards Kampala, he was part of the force that attacked Makindye Barracks and later continued to eastern and northern Uganda.

After the rebels took power, Itongwa took command of a battalion.

Itongwa fallout

An undated 15-page document in 1995 authored by disgruntled fighters complained about what they called unfairness in promotion and deployment of former NRA fighters.

The document listed 17 disgruntled senior fighters who included, Itongwa RO100, Julius Chihandae RO24, Andrew Lutaaya RO28, Matayo Kyaligonza RO34, James Kalanzi RO59, Peter Rwamukaga RO59, Sekamwa Boxer RO113 and Lawrence Bisaso RO125 as some of the sidelined fighters.

Veterans tell us that Itongwa had never been content with the rank of major, which was given to him in February 1988.

He reportedly met some Baganda fighters who included the late Nsobya, Lt. Col. Bruce Muwanga, and Lt. Col. Moses Drago Nyanzi, and together they discussed what they called sectarianism in the award of ranks and promotions.

Itongwa reportedly complained bitterly that he was not at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, like Gregory Mugisha Muntu, Patrick Lumumba and Fred Mugisha. He felt that he was at the same level as these officers who now had higher ranks than him.

Itongwa felt that the reason behind this was ethnic discrimination. In his view, Baganda officers were being sidelined. Either genuinely or opportunistically, Itongwa took advantage of the denial of Buganda’s quest for federalism by the 1994/95Constituent Assembly (CA) and declared war against the very government he had helped come to power.

He named his rebel group the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). He was later linked to Maj. Fred Mpiso and they were seen as a rebel group fighting for federalism with the support of some veteran politicians, including former DP Treasurer General, Evaristo Nyanzi.

Now a rebel leader in his own right, Itongwa made newspaper headlines when he kidnapped then Health Minister, Dr. James Makumbi, and killed the Masaka Regional Police Commander, one Kakaire.

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