There is a saying that ‘if you do good, the world will remember you, but if you write a book, you live for ever’. Perhaps Maj Gen Fred Rwigyema understood that well; the reason he was planning to write an autobiography.
As a National Resistance Army (NRA) soldier, he excelled, at least from the records available. Rwigyema fought and commanded many battles from 1982 until early 1990. But the most memorable one, according to sources was the Corner Kilak battle in Gulu District in 1987.
Sources told this writer that the NRA fell in an ambush in which they were out-numbered by the reminants of the Uganda National Liberation Army and many were taken captive. To be taken a prisoner of war is a war hazard which the NRA never wanted. The field commander radioed Rwigyema at Gulu barracks for reinforcement.
Rwigyema organised a rescue mission which engaged the enemy and killed its notorious commander called Kilama. After the mission, Rwigyema was nick-named ‘James Bond 007’ by his men. The story was made public nine years later.
In an interview with The EastAfrican of May 27 to June 2, 1996, after he retired from the army, the famous NRA Kadogo Christopher Lubega remembers the Corner Kilak battle, although he doesn’t mention whether it was ambush or a deliberate contact with the enemy. He said: “That day we lost 300 soldiers and I was captured with a friend and others by the enemy. Rwigyema commanded a counter-attack and Kilama was killed”.
Two years ago, I visited Margaret Kiwaana, the mother of the Minister of Finance Maria Kiwanuka at her home in Bugolobi. Rhoda Kalema had recommended that I talk to her about the research I was doing. Accidentally, we discussed Rwigyema. She said: Her mansion in Bugolobi had been forcibly taken by one of the Uganda National Liberation Army officers during the Luweero war, but fled the advancing NRA and left some military ware locked inside.
Getting the house back became difficult until some people told her to approach Rwigyema for help.
Kiwaana said: “I contacted Rwigyema at Republic House (Bulange), who got some soldiers and we drove to Bugolobi. The soldiers opened the gate and I entered my house”.
Since she feared the environs, Rwigyema gave her soldiers to guard the place for a while. There are many similar stories about Rwigyema. Next was to write a book so as to live forever. Once he returned home, Rwigyema planned to write an autobiography. This, he revealed to the Weekly Topic journalist Ogen Kevin Aliro in 1989 in Gulu in northern Uganda. In the Weekly Topic of October 4, 1991, Aliro wrote that he last spoke to Rwigyema in 1990 after the Villa-KCC match at Nakivubo stadium hours before Rwigyema embarked on the journey home.
About the book Rwigyema never wrote, Aliro wrote in the same paper that the army flew journalists from Kampala to Gulu after the Holy Spirit Movement rebels attacked Gulu barracks. The NRA had killed hundreds of them. The 4th Division commander, Lt Col Sunday Mukuru, and others were excited for the job well done; but not Rwigyema. After the press briefing, Aliro approached Rwigyema, the deputy army commander, seated at a distance for a comment. Rwigyema ignored him.
“No, no you go away. I don’t want to talk to the press. You ask Sunday Mukuru, he is in charge here”. Aliro wrote. But Aliro insisted. Aliro wrote: “I refused to budge. Ok off the record, I won’t quote. I promise.” Then Rwigyema smiled and asked: “What is your name?” Aliro told him. “So you come from around here? Rwigyema inquired again. “No I don’t, but part of my great parentage had roots in Lira” Aliro answered. Rwigyema looked at him for a full minute and said.
“You see, Kevin, there is no good reason why so many Ugandans should continue dying even if they are rebels. I wish I could stop all this”. Aliro quotes Rwigyema. He goes on, “I was taken aback. At least Rwigyema was the first commander I ever knew who was saddened about the mass killing of enemy troops. Yes, he was a different kind of soldier and that is how I became his friend. He seemed to have liked me too; we soon got down talking about our private lives”.
Aliro added: “Rwigyema then told me he would soon retire from the NRA”. He quoted him “I just want to end this madness in the north. I shall then return to Kampala and ask to be released to return home”. Then what next? Aliro asked him. “I just want to be by myself with my wife and child. The only thing I want to do is to write a book, my memoirs”. He asked if Aliro would help him edit it. Aliro accepted but told Rwigyema he had no experience in book editing.
Aliro continued. “I stood up to go and I was half way towards my colleagues when Rwigyema called me back” “Kevin, you see, I have done my best for Uganda. Now I want to go back home, to Rwanda”. Aliro said he did not comprehend then how Rwigyema intended to return home unless Habyarimana underwent a complete metamorphosis.
All I could ask was this foolish question: “What about the book?” Rwigyema answered: “I don’t want to be in power. I shall be retired after we get down to Kigali and still write the book”. Rwigyema answered back and asked Aliro to go. Rwigyema never reached Kigali alive as he wished. Aliro has since passed on. Now, who will help Rwigyema write his book?
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