I remember asking my colleague on our first ride into Bundibugyo, on a Saturday afternoon, whether we’d walk out alive.
My fears were warranted, we’d just driven 140 kilometres (or so) into the Rwenzori region and every part of that stretch from Fortportal, through to Hima and down to Mubukku then back to Bundibugyo was filled with UPDF checkpoints under which many people were arrested. We didn’t dare take photos lest we lost the camera equipment we had but deep within, it was evident that the story needed to be told.
My first stop was at the Bundibugyo police station where the police had summoned a quick press conference to allay fears that the region had been overrun by the insurgent forces. To this point, all we had gathered about the fighters was that they were dressed in the same footwear and also had the same colour of t-shirts, black.
At the army presser, which we settled in five minutes before a lanky and tough soldier Lieutenant Ninsiima Rwemijuma arrived, media houses from far and wide had gathered into a small makeshift boardroom. Journalists from the AFP carried big cameras while the BBC’s crew kept pacing the room seemingly knowing more facts than we could possibly have found.
Before the presser, we were told the Police force in Kampala had announced that the attackers had made off with guns and that intelligence had linked them to a Rwenzururu kingdom official, their Prime Minister then, Yeremiya Mutooro. Suprisingly, by the time we called to interview him, the army had detained him saying that they ‘feared he would be mobbed’ by the crowds.
On that night, the attackers struck again, this time with greater force and even much magnitude at an even much fierce location. I should have been sleeping but the prospect of collecting everything I needed before heading out of the ‘combat zone’ the next day was high.
A phonecall came in, from a source I am unable to disclose, they (the source) sounded pensive and unsettled, they asked me what I had learnt on the attack that evening and I told them, ‘nothing’. Then they told me, here is a good one, “a barracks is being overrun as we talk”. They didn’t wait long to answer my questions and just like the morning, the search was back on. I rang a contact reporter at a radio station near the barracks and he confirmed the news. I punched in the story. Later in the morning we’d learn that over 45 people had been killed in the attack and also that ended the much tenacious Rwenzururu uprising. Co-ordinated together with that attack, the insurgents had also struck the palace of Obudhingiya in Bundibugyo and fired off many bullets. One of the survivors I interviewed said, he’d seen a group of youths creeping up onto the palace and jumping into the palace. He says they kept gesturing to each other to surround the building before finally pulling out machetes and using guns too to fire at the building,
I returned to the mountains a year later seeking to dig up more stories on the attack funded by an ACME grant. Much of the cloud that stood in our way during the attacks was still present, but if you want to clear some of it, listen to the documentary here http://ugandaradionetwork.com/s/national-perspective-vol-163-rwenzori-attacks-audio-english-30min/