Retired Major General Kasirye Ggwanga, passed away this morning at Nakasero hospital in Kampala after failing to recover from a surgical operation on his head.
For some people, Gen. Kasirye came across as a crazy, untouchable soldier with too much power that made some believe he was above the law and perhaps the powers above feared to confront him. Kasirye Ggwanga did so many things that an ordinary soldier or individual wouldn’t dare try.
In 2017 for example he brazenly burned an excavator worth hundreds of millions of shillings that he found on his piece of land in Lubowa. He got away without a single charge. In January 2019, he shot at singer Catherine Kusasira’s car, for allegedly blaring music while parking her car in the road.
A few years back, he shot and allegedly killed a suspected pick-pocket near clock tower, in Kampala and was not summoned by Police for whatever became of the man.
Kasirye was not only an action man, he didn’t mince his words either. He always spoke out whenever he felt an injustice had been committed and told off whoever he disagreed with. In 2017, when Gen. David Muhoozi, was named the Commander in Chief of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), he said he would not take orders from him. This is despite the fact that he was still a serving army officer and a rank lower than Muhoozi.
He often openly criticised the policies of his commander in chief, President Yoweri Museveni. For example, he criticised the hostile treatment of Kyaddondo East Member of Parliament Robert Kyagulanyi by the army. He also never shied away from criticising some of the government’s policies and corrupt tendencies. This is not to say that he disrespected the President. On the contrary, he was an obedient soldier.
But beneath his fearless demeanor, lay a friendly, charming, and deeply patriotic and unassuming personality. He was clearly a development-oriented person who believed in pragmatism, hard work, and cooperation among people as a means to bringing about transformation of society.
Coming from my home district of Mityana, I had heard not only of many glowing testimonies of how he transformed the district, but I on several occasions experienced first hand how he led from the front in executing public works.
Despite his militaristic approach to things, including respect for order, discipline, he had good mobilisation skills. During one exclusive interview I had with him sometime in late 2000s, he told me how, if he had the power, he would address some of the challenges such as poor roads, that were holding communities back.
He had a huge disdain for politicians and their ways of cheap politicking at the expense of the suffering of poor people. He was an action man. He told me that the government had spoiled people by attempting to spoon-feed them with free things. He used his past experience in making roads and cleaning wells across the district as an example what people can achieve if empowered and educated.
“When I was the Governor of Mubende,” he reminisced, “I would mobilize everybody in the village to turn up for Bulungibwansi, (self-help projects) such as road maintenance in their area. I would tell leaders to tell everybody that I would be there at 7am and warned them that those who would come later than me would face it,” he recalled. “But I didn’t simply, whip them up, I made sure that we slaughtered a cow and bought beer for them to enjoy when the work was completed. So we achieved many things just by ourselves.”
His mobilisation skills and fearless character also helped him knock on a number of doors that allowed the district to acquire road making equipment as well as farm tractors that helped him improve food security in the district.
By the time he left Mubende, he had managed to erect an new administration block, helped to put a new tarmac layer on the Mityana-Fort portal road among many other road, health and education projects in the district.
He believed in hands-on-work rather than employing expertise. Asked what his view on the high-levels of youth-unemployment was, Kasirye told me that if he had his way, he would promote a programme for skills development that would bring together fresh graduates on practical jobs along with retired civil servants and technocrats like engineers, mechanics and technicians so that they could pass on skills to the young generation of Ugandans.
What he loved
Kasirye Ggwanga was a nationalist in the sense that he cherished his roots, as a Muganda. He was a traditionalist even he really didn’t openly show allegiance to Mengo, perhaps one of the lines he knew that crossing, would attract the ire of the President. He considered himself as a Muganda first, then a Ugandan next. For example, at the height of the Kony insurgence, Kasirye was asked about his view on the potential threat of the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) overrunning the UPDF and taking power. His response was that he didn’t mind Kony killing fellow Acholi. The only way he would, return to the war front, he said, is if Kony crossed Karuma (river Nile) with the intension of taking over Kampala.
Kasirye was a puritanical conservationist. He believed in the power of the uninterrupted power of nature to provide solutions to many of our ills.
He told me he didn’t eat fried food nor ate fruits or vegetables that had been sprayed with chemicals. In fact, in Mityana where he had one of his farms, people whom he offered land to grow food free of charge, had one strict rule they would not dare break. No herbicide use on his land.
In another illustration of his interwoven love for his country and nature, Gen. Kasirye last year mounted a campaign to stop deforestation in Buganda region. He marched with his guns across the forests in Busujju, Singo, Kiboga and chased away all legal and illegal loggers alike.
He told off those who claimed they had acquired logging permits from NFA as enemies of the people. He described them as Bakiga whom he would shoot on sight if he found them in forests.
In fact he just didn’t issue threats, he implemented every word he uttered. The people of Mabibi and Kalangalo in Mityana North recall vividly how he faced off with illegal loggers last year. Residents of these villages say they heard gun shots in the forests that ended with the loggers scattering in disarray. He also shot and deflated the tyres of two trucks he found in Maanyi Sub-County carrying timber.
A family man
Gen. Kasirye Ggwanga prided in the fact that he had educated all his children. He hardly finished a conversation on development without mentioning good child upbringing as a cornerstone of development.
Most of his closest family, I.e Wife and some of his children are understood to be living in the United States. Although one of his sons recently returned to Uganda, he has been very close to his daughter, names yet to be identified.
In the final analysis, Kasirye was a true hero freedom fighter and a pro-people person with a vision for a peaceful society that lives in harmony with nature. May his soul rest in eternal peace.