Owiny Ki Bul Bus used to ply Lira-Kampala route and on one fateful day in November 1981, she did not reach her destination. It is understandable that a Northern Ugandan bus was named so, because the phrase “Owiny Ki Bul” was quite popular in the region at that time. It was a phrase of pride and reflection that represented the sacrifice the region had endured for a decade to rid the country of a brutal dictator Idi Amin Dada.
In the early 1970s, Obote negotiated a deal with President Gaafar Nimeiry of Sudan to allow him establish a rebel training camp inside Sudan to fight Amin. Consequently, Owiny Ki Bul rebel camp was established in 1971 attracting hundreds of volunteers especially from Acholi.
The camp location just across the border between Lamwo District Uganda and Sudan (now South Sudan) was not originally called Owiny Ki Bul. The term “Owiny Ki Bul”, which later renamed the Sudanese village was a Luo code phrase, coined by the rebel recruiters to tell those intending to join the camp that, “to locate us, listen to the sound of our drum and let it lead you to our location”. Indeed many recruits found their way to the camp by following the drum sound coming from rebel camp.
Now back to the Owiny Ki Bul Bus. Shortly after the general elections of 1980 that saw Obote become president of Uganda again, Museveni, who had threatened to go to the bush and launch a rebellion if the elections were rigged; indeed went to the bush. One of the tactics his guerrilla movement embarked on was ambushing civilian transport system on the Kampala-Northern Uganda route. So, Owiny Ki Bul Bus became the first major civilian vehicle they targeted.
According to a UNLA soldier who participated in the Owiny Ki Bul Bus counter attack operation, what they found on arrival at the Owiny Ki Bul Bus ambush scene was utter carnage. “When we arrived at Bombo Valley, we found Owiny Ki Bul on her knees, and her passengers, if not dead, wailing in pain. We literally did not know where to start from”.
He said that NRA rebels had laid ambush in the valley and as the bus approached, they riddled it with countless bullets. The former UNLA soldier continues to narrate that one of the rebel foot soldiers (now a General), was reportedly shocked when after ambushing Owiny Ki Bul, climbed inside her and found his relative among the lifeless passengers.
The Owiny Ki Bul Bus ambush type would later become so frequent on Kampala-Northern Uganda road that the people of Northern Uganda nicknamed the road “Lam dogi”, a Luo expression meaning: pray for divine mercy as you embark on a journey on that road.