It was frightening episode, even to people following the news—short videos, distressing images, and minute by minute status updates—from Kampala, as the army/police stormed the Palace of King Charles Wesley Mumbere in Kasese town at the weekend after he reportedly defied several commands, including from President Yoweri Museveni.
A short video clip filmed from a distance and circulated on social media, besides the heavy sound of gunfire and moans of perhaps dying men, shows a cloud of asphyxiating smoke and huge pockets of flame from the King’s palace; which was brought down as the security apparatus advanced.
The official body count of both the police/army and Rwenzururu royal guards killed in Sunday afternoon’s clashes, by press time Monday, according to police, remained 62. Another 139 royal guards were arrested and were being detained at the Kasese Police Station, while items that were reportedly recovered by police from scene included 16 petrol bombs, 42 knives, and three metal detectors.
The deadly offensive, in the long standing chapter of hostilities between government forces and the Obusinga Bwa (king of) Rwenzururu, which has divided the public court of opinion was commanded by Brig Peter Elwelu, the UPDF 2nd Division Commander, who described the actions of the royal guards as those of a terrorist group threatening peace in the region.
He defended the army’s actions saying King Mumbere had been given an ultimatum of two hours to disband and disarm all royal guards from the palace, but in vain.
A battle-hardened soldier, born-again Christian, and gentleman, Brig Elwelu, led the first contingent of Ugandan troops—Battle Group One (UGABAG1), which landed under a hail of fire in Mogadishu on March 6, 2007—under auspices of the US/European Union funded African Union Mission to Somalia (Amisom).
Before the full scale deployment, in 2005 he was among the select group of officers alongside (now) Gen Kale Kayihura, and Brig Dick Olum (current 3rd Division commanding officer) whom President Museveni quietly dispatched to Baidoa, capital of Somalia's southwestern Bay region, to study the security and political situation.
Prior to the Somalia mission, he had been in operation in northern Uganda during the LRA insurgency.
He returned from Somalia in December 2008, and was deployed as 3rd Division UPDF commander in the Eastern/Karamoja region that was tasked to disarm marauding warriors and cattle rustlers through thick and thin.
From there in June 2013, he was tapped as commander of the Western-Uganda based 2nd Division taking over from Col. Fred Rugadya Akiiki, the deputy division commander, charged with shielding the area from any potential ADF threat.
In the wake of hostilities between security forces and King Mumbere, the UPDF launched an operation code-named “Usalama Rwenzori (Peace in Rwenzori) in the districts of Kasese, Kabarole, Ntoroko and Bundibugyo to contain the situation.
Sadly, Sunday's episode spiralled out of control.
Up in smoke
Brig Elwelu, who left a smoking palace and several dead on Sunday, now stands at the precipice of history as being only the second military officer to have commanded the invasion of a traditional kings palace in post-independence Uganda.
The first was then Maj Gen Idi Amin Dada, who in May 1966 stormed the Lubiri, Kabaka Edward Muteesa’s palace leaving it up in smoke and several dead. History will no doubt compare the two incidents, the two men, the two kingdoms and the two commanders-in-chief.