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Gen Tumwiine Shot in Battle: The Story of Bedsheet Ropes and Kettle Reflection at Mulago Hospital to Elude Obote Spies

In July 1981, the National Resistance Army (NRA) helped the first overall commander, Ahmed Seguya, to travel from the bush to Kampala for specialized treatment.

Seguya had been appointed overall commander shortly after the attack on Kabamba barracks in January, 1981.

Seguya, who had trained at Monduli in Tanzania, eventually died of a liver ailment in Kampala.

His body was embalmed and secretly kept at Mulago Medical School until November 30, 1990 when it was buried in Mukono.

“He was one of the oldest people in Monduli. We were worried he would not manage the hard training. But he managed to endure and excel,” recalled Tumwiine.

“We lost him in July 1981,” said Tumwiine, adding, his death was on the tragic incidents in the rebel movement’s history.

Later in November, Gen Tumwiine planned to attack Bukomero, a town in Ssingo County, Kiboga District.

At the time, NRA had embarked on a gun-raising campaign, especially having failed to break through the heavily-fortified armoury at Kabamba.

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The event would later see Tumwiine teeter on the verge of death when things went dramatically wrong during the military operation. He would later play hide and seek games with Obote’s security agents at Mulago referral hospital hence surviving miraculously.

My story

“I led the battle (Bukomero) with Namara Katabarwa. We would go with an unarmed force with the hope that if you got a gun, someone would use it,” he recalled during the recently concluded Afrika Kwetu trek aimed at commemorating the heroics of the NRA combatants.

NRA fighters were quick on their feet. They were lightly-armed and battle-hardened.

Topher Agaba, who would later serve in NRA’s most deadly clandestine operations, participated in the Bukomero battle.

Agaba had just arrived in the Mondlane wing of NRA when he was appointed by Tumwiine as the latter’s bodyguard.

“We have a mission, you will be my bodyguard,” Tumwiine told Agaba, who complied.

In Bukomero, the NRA combatants swept through the area as Obote’s soldiers were felled by bullets.

“However, one of Obote’s surviving soldiers remained in the houses after the first platoon went through,” recalled Tumwiine, adding, “That person shot me with a machine gun. That’s how I was shot.”

Tumwiine could not tell who had shot him in the eye. He thought “my whole face had gone off. But I touched my face it was there. My escort came and carried me.”

The escort he was referring to was Topher Agaba.

“I remember when he was shot, I was just right behind him,” said Agaba during the trek in Birembo earlier this week.

“Tumwiine just fell in my hands – with blood all over his face,” recalled Agaba.

Tumwiine with Museveni and other senior army officers in Birembo, Kibaale district

Rescue

The force which was being commanded by Sam Katabarwa comprising Moses Kanabi quickly looked for a bicycle to evacuate the injured Tumwiine.

Unfortunately, the bicycle’s tyres lacked pressure.

“So I was put on a bicycle which relied on rims to carry me for a very long distance from Bukomero to Mayanja hill. The journey lasted about eight hours. When we reached the unit of Gen David Tinyefuza alias Sejusa (Singo), they gave me Valium, (sleeping pill) and I slept.”

On waking up, NRA combatants held a meeting to decide Tumwiine’s fate.

“They had two options – either to finish me off or risk moving with me in my condition. They argued. Fortunately they decided the right way. Let’s push him, if he dies on the way, blood will not be on our hands. I was unconscious,” said Tumwiine.

“Towards Lutta where Steven Kashaka (now Major General and Uganda’s defence attaché to Tanzania) was commander, I woke up. Soldiers at the quarter guard were crying. I told them I would survive. The first treatment I got was helpful. In every camp, I would get injections,” he added.

Tumwiine’s situation deteriorated.

Mulago drama

“Our people organized vehicles. We did not have doctors. I needed an operation. They risked and took me to Mulago.”

NRA had woven a net of contacts at Mulago hospital to treat wounded fighters.

Dr Patrick Tumwiine was among NRA’s collaborators. They had treated Mugisha Muntu who had successfully returned to the bush.

Dr Tumwiine, Dr James Makumbi, Ruyombya, Gwasaze (eye specialist), rushed the injured Tumwiine to the theatre.

As Tumwiine was recuperating, a terrible incident happened.

“Due to excitement, as I was being wheeled on a sickbed through the hospital corridors, I loudly said, ‘we shall fight Obote.’ Gwennie Kategaya had just brought me a mattress. She ran away for her life,’” recalled Tumwiine.

RIP: Dr James Makumbi

Fearing Obote’s intelligence services would pick clues about Tumwiine’s presence at Mulago, one of the nurses decided to give him a sleeping injection.

“When I woke up, I was called Rwakigundu. I created a story that I was driving a Fiat car when robbers shot me. One of the nurses was very interested in the story and came to see me every day. Gwasaze said I was very lucky. If the bullet had gone 1 millimeter up or down in the head, I would have died,” recalled Tumwiine.

Interestingly, doctors said, “we are the ones who are lucky.” Doctors were happy to save him for the good of the NRA war.

Then a curious nurse observed: “Oh, now I know.”

One of the guerrillas who visited Mulago to check on Tumwiine was Benjamin Dampa.

He secretly sneaked in a pistol and encouraged Tumwiine to hide it for his self defence.

“This might be dangerous. Anything could happen,” said Tumwiine, rejecting the offer.

Tumwiine, who was in room 17 on the 6th floor of the hospital, would then befriend the curious nurse and convince her to give him extra bedsheets.

Somehow, Obote’s intelligence network was tipped that Tumwiine was hospitalized at Mulago.

“I was always suspicious. So I got a tea kettle for boiling water. I kept it near the next bed. I would get a reflection of who came into the room,” he recalled.

Bed sheet ropes

Tumwiine had mastered the art of tying bedsheets together to make a viable rope. This old tactic would help him escape from the multi-story building.

In 2012, two inmates in a Chicago prison escaped their 17th-story cells by tying bedsheets together.

On a warm summer night in Virginia in August of 2017, a 78-year-old woman escaped the flames engulfing her apartment by, you guessed it, tying her sheets together.

“I had 7 extra bed sheets which I tied to create a rope. If someone came to pick me, I would just use the makeshift rope to escape,” said Tumwiine.

All one needs are high-quality sheets, as higher thread counts mean higher tensile strength, which leads to a stronger bedsheet rope.

Then one can estimate the distance from the ground to one’s window considering that the average height of a single story is about 10 feet. A king-sized sheet equals about 12 feet of “rope”.

Tumwiine’s seven bedsheets covered 84 feet.

This means at the 6th floor where Tumwiine was hospitalised, all he needed were 6 bed sheets to cover 60 feet from his window to the ground.

Using square knots, Tumwiine would have tied sheets together at the corners to maximize sheet length; secure one end of the rope to something sturdy, like a bed frame and lower himself out the window while holding onto the bedsheet rope.

Having trained as a rebel, Tumwiine would then snake the bedsheet between his feet to help control his descent and escape from Mulago.

“I had my rope. I wouldn’t let it down,” he said.

Arrests

Indeed, Obote’s security got information after arresting a driver who delivered Tumwiine to the hospital.

“The info leaked. Security services wanted to check every bed. They used an engineer who had lived with me at Lumumba Hall, Makerere University,” said Tumwiine.

The development shows how efficient Obote’s intelligence system was especially in hunting down dissidents.

Disguised as an engineer carrying out some works at the hospital, the man moved around the facility in search of Tumwiine.

Tumwiine would use the reflection of the kettle to monitor the man’s movements.

“He was a short and fat engineer. When I saw him, I covered my face. I could see him through my hankie. He didn’t see me. Info was sent to our people that Obote’s men were looking for me. The following day, NRA collaborator Moses Kigongo was told that security were looking for me. So, in the evening, we walked to his car in the parking lot and left Mulago. Doctors came to Rubaga hospital to treat me.”

He had spent a month at Mulago.

Road block

On the way to Rubaga hospital, Kigongo bumped into a roadblock at Nakulabye.

“I saw a police Officer I was training at Masindi. He would come to my house. He is now retired. He was on this roadblock. I covered my face. Kigongo said he had patient whom he was rushing to hospital,” said Tumwiine.

“Okay,” the cop responded.

Hajji Kigongo

Suspicious

At Rubaga, Tumwiine was suspicious of medics attending to him.

“There was one doctor whom I knew from our days at Lumumba. I didn’t know which side he belonged. I told him my story of the attempted car robbery. After four days, he came and said, “I know,’” which worried me.

After spending a week at Rubaga hospital, Tumwiine told his colleagues, “Take me back to the bush as I am.”

“Kigongo organized and took me back to the Bush. But I still had stitches all over my face. The daring doctors followed me from Kampala to the Bush to remove stitches. On return, they almost fell in an ambush in Matugga. They were told by people that security were looking for their vehicle which had visited Matugga. The doctors used ‘panyas’ to reach Kampala.”

Pain

Back in the bush, Tumwiine was appointed head of stores. After some time, NRA commanders suggested that Tumwiine goes to Nairobi for specialized treatment.

“I got bad headaches and had to go to Nairobi. I found interesting things with NRA’s External Committee. They had problems and could not work together. We visited many of the members after my operation in Nairobi,” said Tumwiine.

He, however, said the operation nearly took his life.

“The doctor tried to do local anesthesia instead of inducing the whole body. (Local anesthesia is a technique to induce the absence of sensation in a specific part of the body, generally for the aim of inducing local insensitivity to pain, although other local senses may be affected as well.) In middle of stitching, anesthesia was not working. I would hear him tear through my skin. When I shouted, he added another dose of anesthesia. He ended up doing a wrong thing and had to go to Cuba for another operation after we had come from the bush,” said Tumwiine.

In Nairobi, Tumwiine, who now serves as Security Minister, said he worked with the External Committee to create a network of supporters back home.

“We had contact at the Post Office. Our people would ring without paying. These contacts were in Entebbe and Libiri and the Lutwa government did not know about this till the capture of Kampala in 1986.”

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