editorialBy Observer Team
Kampala — Maj. Gen. James Bunanukye Kazini is perhaps the only General of the UPDF who has fought in every single major war--internal and external--since President Museveni captured power in 1986. He fought against the West Nile-based Uganda National Rescue Front II of Ali Bamuze, the Lord's Resistance Army of Joseph Kony, the Allied Democratic Forces in his Kasese home area, and above all, three battles with the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) in DR Congo's Kisangani city.
In each one of those battles, Kazini emerged unscathed only to be killed by a civilian woman in the morning of Tuesday, November 10. Indeed if Kazini hadn't been granted bail that enabled him to suspend his three-year imprisonment in Luzira Prison for causing financial loss of Shs 61 million, he would probably be alive today.
But such was the life of the General; he survived the biggest threats against his life, only to die under totally unexpected circumstances. Perhaps the time Kazini ever came close to death was in 1999 when he survived being executed by firing squad for allegedly disregarding advice not to attack the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) in Kisangani during which a UPDF battalion of about 700 soldiers was wiped out. The soldiers were under the late Col. Sula Ssemakula's command. Then a brigadier, Kazini was the army chief of staff.
After the Kisangani clash, President Museveni summoned a High Command meeting at Bombo Military Headquarters to discuss the matter. During the meeting, Col. Edison Muzoora who commanded the UPDF Kisangani sector before the clash, narrated how he attempted to dissuade Kazini from attacking the RPA.
At the time, Kazini was based at Bunia in Eastern DR Congo, from where he ordered Muzoora to attack.
Muzoora reportedly told Kazini that the RPA enjoyed a superior position and would annihilate the UPDF in case of an attack, but he was adamant and refused to communicate with Muzoora again. Muzoora then called the Army Commander, then Lt. Gen. Jeje Odongo, and informed him of the development.
In the end, Muzoora was recalled from Kisangani and replaced by Col. Sula Ssemakula who enthusiastically implemented the attack on RPA positions. Muzoora handed over all the messages he had exchanged with Kazini to Museveni, the commander-in-chief. It is this incriminating evidence that pinned Kazini and Ssemakula.
According to standing military regulations, an officer who acts against advice and causes mass death of soldiers under his command, is liable to death by firing squad.
Silence descended on the room as Muzoora, who was later hounded into exile, narrated the tragic incident to the High Command. After his account, the Chairman of the High Command adjourned the proceedings. The members returned to the meeting expecting a resolution to execute Kazini and Ssemakula, but Museveni tactically left early and asked Amama Mbabazi, then Minister of State for Defence, to chair it.
Mbabazi told the meeting that the chairman had proposed an inquiry to be chaired by Gen. Elly Tumwine, effectively saving Kazini's neck. But some members of the High Command speculated that an order to attack a foreign army could not have been given without the blessing of the highest office.
Because of the possibility that Kazini may have communicated an order he didn't initiate, a way had to be found to save him. In fact in 2001, he was promoted to the rank of Major General and appointed Army Commander.
The next time Kazini was again in trouble was on April 16 this year, when the General Court Martial chaired by Lt. Gen. Ivan Koreta, was supposed to rule on the case in which Kazini was accused of insubordination. He had allegedly moved soldiers in big numbers contrary to standing orders, and this was interpreted as an attempt to overthrow President Museveni's government.
Kazini rushed to the Constitutional Court on the eve of the judgment and obtained an injunction stopping the General Court Martial from trying him after The Observer published a story, Kazini faces life in jail over coup on April 13.
It seems Kazini didn't realise all along that he was actually being prosecuted for plotting to topple President Museveni. He had been accused of disobeying lawful orders and unauthorised movement of large numbers of troops when he was army commander. The general and his lawyers had not realised that the alleged offence had been linked to a plot to overthrow the government. He faced life imprisonment.
Through his lawyers; Abaine - Buregyeya & Co. Advocates, Kakuru & Co. Advocates, and Rwaganika & Co. Advocates, Kazini asked the Constitutional Court to rule that the General Court Martial under the Deputy Chief of Defence Forces, Ivan Koreta, had not been properly constituted.
Kazini argued that during the trial, Koreta had refused to show him evidence and exhibits that prosecution relied upon to pin him. The exhibits included the 2003 report of the UPDF High Command probe committee on "ghost" soldiers that was compiled by Amama Mbabazi, Gen. Salim Saleh and Gen. David Tinyefuza.
Last month, the Constitutional Court threw out Kazini's petition, leaving him with no option but to petition the Supreme Court. He has died before receiving a judgment that would have either spared or ended his life.
Section 133 of the Uganda Peoples' Defence Forces Act 2005 provides for a death penalty for a person who disobeys a lawful order that results in failure of operation or loss of life, and for life imprisonment in other circumstances.
Maj. Gen. James Kazini exhibited blind loyalty to the commander-in-chief since he joined the NRA in 1984. He became the escort commander of Gen. Salim Saleh soon after entering the bush. Saleh helped Kazini rise through army ranks to become army commander.
Because of his abrasive style, Kazini virtually conflicted with every senior commander in the Army, but the President always kept faith in him. The first time that Museveni appeared to lose faith in Kazini is when it was alleged that the General had created a semi-autonomous unit in the Army, the 409 brigade based in West Nile, that reported directly to him.
The late Brig. Noble Mayombo confirmed this while testifying to the committee that probed "ghost" soldiers in the Army. He said: "Yes, 409 Brigade was reporting to Maj. Gen. Kazini" when he was army commander.
A brigade has three battalions, each with about 700 soldiers. That means that General Kazini had a "personal" force of about 2,100 soldiers.
The Mbabazi, Saleh, Tinyefuza committee wrote in its 85-page report that they didn't know what Kazini's motive was in creating that unit. They recommended further investigations.
Museveni also learnt that Kazini was training 7,000 recruits at Bihanga Training School near Ibanda and Kamwenge, who were not known to the establishment. The school was headed by James Sebaggala whom Kazini didn't have confidence in and thus got Museveni to transfer him.
Kazini then picked one of his closest friends, the late Col. Sula Ssemakula, to take charge of Bihanga. The military school has capacity to train a maximum of about 3,000 people at a time, but Kazini stuffed it with 7,000 recruits.
Asked by the probe committee why he had crammed recruits in a small training school, Kazini's response was that the same number had been trained there before and he needed more troops to urgently deploy in Ituri, DR Congo.
Despite his explanation, the committee concluded that "Bihanga training school was unsuitable to train 7,000 recruits because of unsuitable terrain, lack of infrastructure, insufficient training staff and inadequate medical and other facilities."
The deployment of Col. Ssemakula to head the training school raised even more suspicion. The Chief of Training, then Col. Geoffrey Muheesi, was not aware or involved in the recruitment or even training.
Instead, it is another Kazini friend, Col. Poteli Kivuna, then commanding officer of 2nd Division in Mbarara, who took charge of the training school.
All the supplies were channeled through Kivuna and not Muheesi. With Col. Ssemakula in charge of a 7,000-strong force of recruits, Col. Kivuna in charge of an estimated 7,000 soldiers that made up 2nd Division , and the autonomous 409 brigade that was reportedly reporting directly to him, there was panic that Kazini wanted to topple Museveni.
Quick action had to be taken. Aronda Nyakairima was appointed Army Commander in 2003, succeeding Kazini. The probe committee had also asked Kazini why he influenced the rapid promotion of Lt. Col. Segamwenge, Lt. Col. Muhindo Dura, Lt. Col. L'Okech and Maj. Nuwe Kyepaka. But Kazini asked the probe committee why it had not included Maj. Gen. Mugisha Muntu who jumped the rank of brigadier on his way to becoming Major General and Army Commander. He also cited Lt. Gen. Jeje Odongo.
Idi Amin soldier
Like his military number RO 1,331 suggests, Kazini is not part of the group that launched the NRA bush-war. He joined the Luwero bush-war almost three years after it had started but this did not stop him from rising to the top.
Colleagues who joined the Army with Kazini during Idi Amin's time in power say the fallen general was a nursery school teacher at Kabamba in 1979. He ran away with Amin soldiers when a combined force of Ugandan exiles and Tanzanians attacked the barracks in 1979. His military career began in Sudan where Amin's fleeing soldiers had camped and formed the Uganda National Rescue Front under Moses Ali.
Kazini became part of this force, which operated mainly in West Nile. As various fighting groups discussed the possibility of merging to fight Apollo Milton Obote's government, Kazini abandoned Moses Ali to join Museveni's NRA in 1984. Some say he defected, but others claim he was one of the soldiers sent by Moses Ali to work with Museveni in a show of solidarity.
Kazini's deceased brother, Lt. Col. Jet Mwebaze, had already joined the NRA in1982. On joining the NRA, Kazini became one of the bodyguards of the then well-equipped Mobile Brigade Commander, Caleb Akandwanaho a.k.a Salim Saleh. By the time NRA cut off Katonga, Kazini had become Saleh's chief bodyguard. After the fall of Kampala, Kazini became the commander of the 1st Battalion. Kazini was known for his ruthless character, which some say was partly responsible for his rise to the top.
As commander of the 1st Battalion, he participated in an urban operation aimed at forcing traders who were importing cars from Japan with 'Nagoya' number plates to have their vehicles properly registered.
The operation involved towing the suspect vehicles away to Kololo and Lubiri barracks. The 'Nagoya' cars were reportedly evading taxes and also regarded as a source of insecurity because they were not registered.
To safeguard their vehicles, some of the traders asked soldiers to keep them. But strict Kazini didn't spare any vehicle, including those in the hands of senior officers. Indeed his operation against 'Nagoya' vehicles convinced his bosses that Kazini's fearlessness could be put to greater use. He was soon promoted to major and deployed as commander of the Military Police, replacing the late Lt. Col. Benon Tumukunde.
One of his first assignments here was to stop military vehicles from being repaired in any garage in town. He preferred selected garages. Ruthless, strict, tough, but very loyal; Kazini started an operation of towing away military vehicles found in garages in Kampala.
But the Army reportedly lost billions of shillings in this operation as mechanics took advantage of the order to remove vital parts from some of the Army vehicles before handing them back.Kazini also clashed with senior officers who found their cars missing from garages. Also, while commanding the Military Police, Kazini got closely associated with the Army brass band. This was either because he was giving the band security or routine escorts.
The Army band found in Kazini a good friend and asked him to keep even some of their equipment.
But when Kazini was transferred to Masaka to head the Mechanised Brigade, replacing Col. Dr. Kizza Besigye, he went away with some of the Army's band equipment. He had been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel before moving to Masaka.
When reports that Kazini had taken away Army band equipment reached the Chief of Staff, Brig. Sam Nanyumba, the latter sent the former a radio message instructing him to hand over the equipment.
In a show of defiance that frightened many observers, Kazini sent back an angry message, telling Brig. Nanyumba that he was not going to release the equipment. Nanyumba had not copied his message to the commander-in-chief, but Kazini did.
Radio messages can reach all Army installations, so this exchange was followed with keen interest by other officers.To the surprise of everybody, the commander-in-chief didn't act against this indiscipline, leaving the chief of staff humiliated.
From Masaka, Kazini was deployed to West Nile to fight Maj. Gen. Ali Bamuze's National Rescue Front II. He was later promoted to Colonel and assigned additional responsibilities in the Gulu-based 4th Division.
This shocked some senior Army officers because Brig. Chefe Ali, 4th Division Commander at the time, was Kazini's senior. They also wondered how one division was going to be run by two officers. As expected, Chefe Ali and Kazini were soon locked in a conflict until Museveni moved Ali to Bombo and appointed him army chief of staff. Kazini then took over command of the whole northern region.
Tumukunde vs Kazini
When Henry Tumukunde was appointed Chief of Personnel and Administration (1996-98), he began what came to be known as PROMOX -promotional exams. Tumukunde's thinking was that since most of the fighting had reduced, save in northern Uganda, soldiers needed formal training, especially those who had missed it. The promotions were to be based on training rather than fighting alone.
Tumukunde's proposals were endorsed by the Commissions and Promotions Board and implementation began in all divisions, except the 4th Division. Later, Tumukunde proposed that some officers be sent to 4th Division to replace those going for training, something Kazini objected to.
Later, Kazini reportedly told his soldiers that they were better than those officers seated at Bombo. He reportedly said that the Bombo group could not sustain a war, and that if they were taken up North, Kony's LRA would march up to Nakasongola within weeks.
The Chief of Staff, Brig. Chefe Ali, directed Kazini to appear before the Commissions Board to explain why he had refused to release soldiers for training. But Kazini didn't waver, even after the Army Commander, Jeje Odongo, sent him another message.
Defiant Kazini instead sent Sula Ssemakula who told the board that his boss was busy with the war. Ssemakula instead presented a list of soldiers Kazini wanted the board to promote. The board refused to promote Kazini's soldiers, forcing the well-connected officer to send his list directly to President Museveni.
His list included Muhindo Mawa, Segamwenge, Poteli Kivuna and Sula Ssemakula. What all these officers had in common was their modest education and close friendship with Kazini.
Museveni surprised many officers when he sent out a communication promoting Kazini's men.
Chief of Staff
In 1998, the fast-rising Kazini was appointed Army chief of staff. As usual, Kazini began his job with enthusiasm and ruthlessness. First, he ordered that every office-holder living outside Bombo Barracks must be in office by 8a.m. He also ordered that no civilian's vehicle must enter the barracks, and that all vehicles driven by officers must be painted army green.
He enforced this personally by standing at the gate and turning away all late-comers, as well as towing vehicles not painted green. He was so serious that he didn't spare the civilian Ministry of Defence Permanent Secretary, Dr. Ben Mbonye, who came late one morning and got himself turned away.
An angry Mbonye returned home and didn't report for work for at least two days, causing a financial crisis because the PS was not in office to authorise payments. Soon, news of Mbonye's sit-down strike reached the commander-in-chief.
Our source says this was the first time Museveni expressed anger at Kazini publicly, by sending him a radio message to stop interfering with the operations of the ministry, and stop belittling his colleagues.
Kazini withdrew a bit, but his resolve didn't wane.
It was not long before he developed serious misunderstandings with Maj. Sabiiti Mutengesa, the Director of Records. The feud reportedly covered the questionable promotions of Mawa and Segamwenge, with Sabiiti pointing out that one of the two had been detained at Makindye for his role in the burning of six buses along Karuma-Pakwach Road.
The feud ended with Mutengesa fleeing Uganda. He now lives in Europe. As chief of staff, Kazini was deployed to oversee the campaign against the ADF and 'Operation Safe Haven' in DR Congo.
In Congo, he ordered the UPDF to attack the RPA, a move that resulted in a permanent scar on the Uganda-Rwanda diplomatic relations.
An inquiry by Uganda Army Commander, Jeje Odongo, and his Rwanda counterpart Kayumba Nyamwisa, found Kazini partly responsible for the Kisangani clashes. But the UPDF rejected the findings of the Jeje-Nyamwisa team and instituted its own.
1984-Defects from Uganda National Rescue Front in 1984 to join NRA
1987- Becomes commissioned officer at the rank of Captain.
1989 -Promoted to Major and appointed Commander of Military Police
1991- Promoted to Lt. Col. and appointed Commander of Masaka Mechanised Regiment
1995 - Sent to West Nile to fight the Gen Ali Bamuze's West Nile Rescue Front II.
1996 - Promoted to Colonel
1998 - Deployed in Kasese to fight ADF rebels.
1999- Promoted to Brigadier.
2000- Recalled from Congo after clashes between the armies of Rwanda and Uganda in Kisangani (1999 and 2000)
November 2001- UN report accuses Kazini among other officers of gaining personal wealth from DR Congo November 4, 2001-Appointed Army Commander
June 6, 2003-Fired as Army Commander
December 1, 2003-Committed to General Court Martial for trial
2003- Sent to war college in Abuja, Nigeria
2005 -Graduates with a Master's of Science in Military Strategies from War College in Abuja
March 27, 2008 -Sentenced to three years in jail for causing financial loss of Shs 61 million. Later released on bail.
April 15 -Blocks Court Martial judgment