On the early morning of June 9, 2020, which happens to be Uganda’s Heroes Day. The country woke up to the news of the passing of the controversial retired Army Major General and Bush War veteran Kasirye Ggwanga.
To the majority of Uganda’s civilian population, Kasirye Ggwanga was no different from all the other army men. He was just another case of an extrajudicial executioner, an authority under-miner and a disrespect to the rule of law and institutions masked behind a different face.
Born Samuel Wasswa Kasirye in Katakala, Mityana district then part of Mubende district to Mr. Kizza Kasirye a peasant farmer in 1952. He had his primary education in his hometown of Katakala and went on to attain an ordinary level secondary education at one of the country’s prestigious schools, Kibuli S.S. After his O’level education, he joined the national army, the Uganda Army in 1972 where he was trained and passed out as a map reader.
Kasirye was later deployed in West Nile to start off service to his nation in the Uganda Army. As a map reader, he narrates to have found it hard and tiring to teach junior officers the skill of map reading.
In 1978, Kasirye was promoted to Staff Sergeant, the same year Tanzania invaded Uganda. After the Tanzanian Forces overthrew Idi Amin, he was one of the Ugandan army soldiers that were taken as prisoners of war. During his 2 years as a captive, he was imprisoned in Tanga alongside others, while a few other officers ended up imprisoned in Tabora and Dodoma.
In June 1980, President Binaisa and the Red Cross successfully negotiated the hand over of political prisoners to Uganda. On October 7th 1981, Kasirye and other prisoners were finally set free after spending time in Maluku Prison, Mbale and Kirinya main prison, Jinja. On his release, Kasirye embarked on living a simple life as a local trader.
The turning point in Kasirye’s life came three months after when Andrew Kayira’s Uganda Freedom Army (UFA) attacked Lubiri Barracks in search of ammunition. It was after this very incident, that the then incumbent Obote’s government zeroed down to the recently released ex-soldiers as the orchestrators of the attack.
They started a manhunt prompting Kasirye to go incognito. The army went on to arrest his beloved elder brother James Kasirye, who was tortured and killed after he failed to give up his brother.
The news of his brother’s death left Kasirye down in the dumps and to that, he vowed to dedicate his life to avenging his brother. From then he adopted the name ‘Ggwanga’ from the Luganda phrase “Okuwoolera eggwanga”, which means to avenge something/someone.
First, he formed his own rebel faction which operated in areas of Mubende, Mityana before he joined Kayira’s faction, and later Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA) in 1985.
The death of his brother forced Kasirye Ggwanga to once more rejoin the fighting and take on arms as a resistance fighter in the 1980s
Together with the NRA, they captured power in 1986, a story which has been told for as long as they have held a grip on the country. During this time the “Liberators” have lived a life of untouchable villains while making undermining of civilian authority a normal order over the years.
Kasirye Ggwanga was one of the main actors in their villain lifestyle, at the time of his death he had more than 10 offences registered at different police stations but he neither honoured police nor court summons. He committed most of his injustices in the company of his three best friends, that is his dogs, his guns and a Rex cigarette.
He lived most of his life as a military bully, and on many occasions, he beat up civilians, destroyed their property and always walked away free.
Kasirye Ggwanga always wanted to be feared by the ordinary Ugandan but was a charming and welcoming person to the selected few like the media to whom he always granted interviews, and was famously known for his favourite rhetoric’s like ‘cut the crap’, ‘idiot’ and ‘I don’t buy that’. He was also a darling to the farmers who worked on his land, his family and the children of his fallen comrades whom he took cared of.
Like many of the bush war veterans, Kasirye Ggwanga also got involved in active politics when he was elected LC V Chairperson of Mubende district for only one term, something many of his colleagues have failed to do within their respective seats of power. In his political career, he continued to be different from many of his colleagues as he led from the front line.
During community work activities, he was also always actively involved and as a man of his old habits, those who tried to abscond from work faced the wrath of his cane. Throughout his time in office, he was never involved in any corruption scandal.
The untimely demise of the late retired Major General Kasirye Ggwanga
At the end of his term, many requested him to run again for the office but he turned down the requests and told them to look for someone else to stir Mubende forward. Kasirye then went back to the army.
He always made controversial statements to which humour loving Ugandans fell for and still love about the deceased. The statements he made often caused many players in the political spheres to wonder about which side he fell but Kasirye Ggwanga was very calculative, as he was always hyping up the public and commanding the attention of the Commander In Chief. This is how in most of his life as a retired army officer managed to navigate the tough political waters of the country.
When the COVID-19 pandemic finally hit Kampala, Kasirye Ggwanga warned the citizens to adhere to government guidelines in order to survive or else he would act upon any disobedience. In late March, he beat up shop keepers in Mityana town for failing to adhere to lockdown rules.
Later at the beginning of April, in what we little knew was the final act of his many controversial episodes, he was caught up in a strong verbal exchange with military administrators in Mbuya. He had returned his security detail on an account that they were idle and wondering about.
He further asserted that the soldiers had become romantically involved with married women in the community hence becoming a problem. It was later that he revealed he had been arrested, informing the media about it though the military refuted the claims.
The military later stated that Kasirye Ggwanga had been admitted at the Mbuya Senior Officers’ Diagnostics Centre and while there, his health further deteriorated before being transferred to Nakasero Hospital where he breathed his last.
Rt. Maj. Gen. Kasirye Ggwanga will be laid to rest today Friday 12 June in full military honours in Nkene, Mityana district at 10 am. For all his deeds, let’s not bury the good with him but copy one or two things from the departed like not holding onto public office like a personal assert. And for the bad ones plus all those on whom they were inflicted, may they find peace within their conscience and forgive him. May he be judged justly and may he get the rest he deserves. In the end, it is time we all do cut the crap and send off the General!
Author: Katende Basajjabaka
Katende writes about sports and occasionally technology.