In 1981, a group of University students joined the armed struggle against Dr Obote, mainly opposed to the manner in which the 1980 election had been blatantly rigged. Among these were Mugisha Muntu, Sserwanga Lwanga, Benon Biraaro and Henry Tumukunde.
On joining the struggle, these so called intellectuals were given the roles of political commissars and distributed amongst the units that formed the fighting body of the then NRA. Some of them, however, rejected these roles arguing that they had come to fight the UNLA and Obote, and that these bystander roles belittled their intentions from the onset. Among these was Henry Tumukunde.
Tumukunde went on to fight in the war until he was gravely injured and evacuated abroad for urgent treatment. He bears the scars of these injuries, his gait the most telling of all. He was awarded the Damu Medal (blood in Swahili), awarded for personal sacrifice and blood shed during the armed struggle.
Major Tumukunde’s first role after the takeover by the NRA/M, was as the Defence Attaché and First Secretary of the Uganda High Commission in the United Kingdom. Here he was responsible for reaching out to exiled Ugandans who had served in previous goverments and set up resistance in parts of the country. These included the likes of Peter Otai.
His exit from the UK was acrimonious, as he simply returned home and asked to be redeployed in Uganda. His deployment to the UK had been on account of his injuries that had left him on crutches for 4 years at that point. On recovery, he wanted a return to the country he had only recently, and rather visibly, fought to liberate.
The President at the time once again sent the then Major Tumukunde to the Nigeria Command and Staff College in Kaduna to attend the Command and Staff Course, the primary course for senior officers in any respectable military in the world. Needless to say, he excelled there.
On his return, he was appointed to the backwaters of the Directorate of Planning. He then, like many of his cohort, decided to put himself forward to contest for the Constituent Assembly representing Rubabo County in Rukungiri.
There was no law forbidding serving Army officers from contesting in the one year constitution creation body, and indeed several did take part, including those who had been nominated by the High Command of the NRA.
Tumukunde surprisingly defeated Minister and later Makerere Chancellor, Prof. Kagonyera, more than twenty years his senior, and took part in the formation of the 1995 constitution, as a representative of the civilian Rubabo Constituency. This was only after campaigning for six months.
The then CIC (still the same, by the way) was not too keen on a politically active, idealistic and young officer corps and most of these were re-absorbed into active military duties. Tumukunde was sent to the Chieftaincy of Personnel and Administration as well as being seconded to the 6th Parliament by the UPDF, as voted by the Army Council ( a body that brings together all commanders from brigade commander upwards).
He was the proposer of the defence review that brought about the structural and command changes as seen in the UPDF today, including promotional exams, education requirements for officers etc. His work in the triumvirate of Intelligence; military (CMI), civil (ISO) overall supervision (Ministry of Security) is as unprecedented as it is documented, so I will only add that, his work spoke and in some cases still speaks for itself. Effective and Efficient, no doubt.
Less documented however, is his role as the Commanding officer of the Fourth Division based in Gulu, Northern Uganda. The then Brig. Tumukunde, was Fourth Division Commander during the 2001 Ebola Outbreak.
His immediate response in closing off the region and quarantining entire villages halted the spread of the disease, and saved lives. He was in fact recognised by NGO’s at the time. Furthermore, he had succeeded in making inroads against the LRA, so much so that certain senior officers felt that he should not be given any credit and every effort should therefore be made, to get him redeployed. Suffice it to say, they succeeded.
During the 2003 removal of term limits, Tumukunde opposed the near consensus within the NRM that wanted terms removed from the constitution to facilitate President Museveni’s stay in power. He raised his views in the Movement caucus in the presence of the President went on to vote against the term limits removal when the amendments were brought before the 7th parliament. The dye was cast.
His years after that are also well documented; two years in military detention followed by another ten years oscillating between court and house arrest. He was, at the end of this sentenced to a ‘severe reprimand.’ An unprecedented sentence for an unprecedented litigation process as far as international military jurisprudence is concerned.
Tumukunde went on to leave the army and campaign for the NRM in 2016.
Any amateur political strategist can attest that these two events were in fact co-dependent irrespective of which side of the fence one sat on.
Tumukunde needed to leave the army ( he had first applied in 2003) and the NRM, on the other hand, needed an effective mobiliser to counter Amama Mbabazi’s rise. It was a compromise that was not entirely comfortable for either party, but one that needed to be made nonetheless.
That Gen. Tumukunde is qualified for the job is of no doubt. The question has always been whether or not he is sufficiently detached from the core of the group that is leading this country downhill.
The economic mafia and the military junta that decide what goes and what doesn’t in the Pearl of Africa. Tumukunde’s record is clear and effective.
The current President himself has been a beneficiary of Tumukunde’s intelligence, hard work, methods and quick thinking.
He would, if it weren’t for the incalculable fate, actually recommend Tumukunde for any job. The only problem is, Tumukunde wants change and peaceful transition of power without any blood shed! .
Whether Tumukunde will succeed is up to the people of Uganda and the will of God. What is clearer though, is that he will certainly make every effort to do so, and the results of this methods of work will surely show come voting day in 2021.
Those who undermine his resolve do so at their own risk; ask history.