VINCENT KAPILONGO and other Rwenzururu veterans recently told President Museveni that they masterminded last year's attacks on security forces in the western Uganda district of Kasese.
The attacks culminated in the army raid on Rwenzururu king Charles Wesley Mumbere's palace on November 27, 2016. In this interview at Jeliza hotel in Kasese, Jerome Kule Bitswande probes the mind of a man some critics have labeled a self-confessed criminal now enjoying state resources.
First, who is Vincent Kapilongo?
I am Vincent Kapilongo Muhindo, born 1976 to the late Asanasio Mupaghasia, one of the senior commanders in the Rwenzururu Movement between 1963 and 1982. I am also a former deputy minister for royal security in Rwenzururu kingdom.
I did not study a lot. I went as far as senior four at Kisinga Vocational SS in 1997; I then dropped out of senior five due to lack of money. My father had died in 1996 when I was in senior three. So, our mother could not support us all; we were quite many children.
You are a member of the Rwenzururu Veterans Association, yet you are a young man; how did you become part of them?
I joined the rebellion even when I was still in my mother’s womb. I was born in 1976 when the struggle was at its peak and our parents were in the jungle. So by my birth, I am a default Rwenzururu veteran.
However, I joined the Rwenzururu Veterans Development Association in 2004. The veterans, after forming an association, thought my dad was not supposed to miss out on any benefits that might come through it. So, they asked me to join them on my father’s ticket.
What were you doing before joining them?
I was a humble man, engaging in farming at my home in Kisinga sub-county in Kasese district.
Before dropping out of school, what had you wanted to become in life?
I was born with fighting blood in me. So, I always wanted to become a soldier.
In 2014, you confessed to have masterminded attacks on military installations including Kanyamwirima barracks; why would somebody who wanted to be soldier kill soldiers?
We did not attack those people because we wanted. It was a reactionary move. What you should remember is that then, I was minister for security in the kingdom. I was receiving a lot of reports on my desk. People were asking us to save them; the situation especially in Bundibugyo was dire and we thought it was high time we acted.
By launching a full-scale war with government?
We thought it was necessary for government to know that we had our problems, and it ought to sort them out.
In Bundibugyo, the Bakonzo were being mistreated by the Bamba. When they got a cultural institution in Bundibugyo, they [Bamba] wanted to forcefully assimilate the Bakonzo into it. You can imagine, even the king [Mumbere] was stopped from going there, yet he has a big number of his loyalists there.
Secondly, the Bakonzo were not getting a fair share of the district cake. Social services were not being extended to them in their areas. The security was also adamant to prevail over elements that were terrorizing us and we looked at that as an indicator that they are accomplices. We also had land issues that needed urgent attention.
Those problems notwithstanding, many people would not understand your choice of fighting the government!
We thoroughly planned this, and we saw that it was how our message would reach to the decision-makers fast. Initially we wanted government to solve our problems. But just in case it remained adamant, we were willing to move on with the struggle.
But the UPDF is a very strong force!
We had thoroughly planned this, and anything is possible....
By the way, we had magic, and this magic would give us protection against bullets.
That sounds like some history, of the Maji-Maji rebellion!
While you people think magic does not work, it actually works. When we raided Kanyamwirima barracks in 2014, in less than forty minutes, we had confiscated 22 guns and we ran away with them.
It’s only that most of our people were killed by civilians when we were out of the barracks, and that is not something we had thought, we didn’t anticipate that some people [civilians] would attack us after we left the barracks. So, we did not plan for it.
Are you the one who introduced this magic to the royal guards to attack the military in 2014?
Not necessarily royal guards; some of the people had never been royal guards; they were just youth from Kasese and Bundibugyo who felt that they were being oppressed. They just wanted to show their frustration, and yes, I am the one who introduced them to the magician in DRC [who gave them magic].
Were you not afraid for your life?
It really did not matter whether I died or not, I am a born fighter. My main goal was to protect the king and the kingdom and that is something I successfully did.
But your recent confession to the president that you planned attacks in 2014 and 2016 seemed to incriminate the king and the kingdom.
I tried to cover up in 2014, see how far we reached in 2016. Our palace is in ashes and the king is facing trial. The only option there left, is to come out and speak the truth. In this way, we can ask that our brothers under custody are forgiven and so is the king.
And it is because of our revelation that the king was recently released on bail. I think this is a step towards securing his freedom. The truth also made the president understand our problems and why we keep confronting the state; in this way, he will be in position to solve them.
Why has your revelation put you on a collision course with most of the Rwenzururu cabinet ministers and royals?
As you know, the truth is bitter and many people would rather not listen to the truth. For us, veterans, our goal is very clear; we want this problem solved once and for all.
How will this exactly happen?
The kingdom should concede to the subversive activities that it was involved in; then we can forge a way forward with the president and that is exactly what we did.
Isn’t this the reason some people are bitter with you, that when you went to meet the president, you purported to be speaking on behalf of the kingdom and the Banyarwenzururu yet veterans are not anywhere in the structure of the kingdom?
The veterans may not be anywhere in the structures of the kingdom, but do not forget that they are the ones who listened to Isaya Mukirania’s words when he passed on. They fought for the liberation of the Bakonzo people against oppression for two decades; you cannot sweep them under the carpet. [Isaya Mukirania is king Mumbere’s father and Rwenzururu’s first king. He died in 1966].
It’s said you veterans are disgruntled after failing to get big ministerial positions in Mumbere’s cabinet; that it is why you engage in activities that will put the king at a cliff!
The veterans are the very people who crowned the king after the demise of his father; how can they go to that extreme?
Isn’t it strange that you confessed to such serious crimes and you are allowed to go scot-free?
The president is a forgiving person, especially if you articulate your problems to him; he forgives you and helps you solve them. And that is the truth that our politicians do not want to tell the people of Kasese.
How come he has not solved the problems that you talked about?
He knew we had challenges but had not yet appreciated how grave they are. But now that we have articulated some of the problems of the people in Rwenzori, I am sure that he is going to work on them.
I hear the president gave you a lot of money and a car after your confession.
Not a lot of money, but after our interaction, he asked us to go to the communities and expunge lies moving around the community about last year’s events. But most importantly, it was to demobilize the communities against secessionism and indoctrination. So, he gave us facilitation to do that.