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Amos Kaguta: A legacy of modesty

By Haggai Matsiko

He sought treatment from clinics near his home; exotic machines and convoys made him uncomfortable

He resented the fanfare that surrounds being a father of the President. It was almost as if by becoming the President of Uganda, his son President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni had interrupted his simple life. That is why Amos Kaguta, 97, who passed away on Feb.22 remained a very quiet man, in a country where such a status would have elevated him above everybody else.

It would have meant; a palace for a home; bodyguards at every turn, with a convoy to escort him even around his village, a horde of revelers camping at his home for handouts, the list is endless. If one thing is certain, trips abroad for medical checkups would have been high up on the agenda.

But that was not Kaguta’s life. Dying at Kampala International Hospital on Feb.22 was not accidental, earlier last year; he declined to be taken a broad for treatment.  Family sources told The Independent that coming to Kampala for treatment might also have been dictated by the wrath of illness exacerbated by old age.

Kaguta always preferred humbler settings. He would seek treatment from local clinics near his home, away from the exotic machines, the fuss of convoys, the sight of towering buildings, the noise of industry, the grandiose living that he found uncomfortable.

“He was a really reserved man, he wanted to be looked at as Kaguta and if you wanted to treat him differently because he was the president’s father, you would have problems with him,” a family source told The Independent.

He had problems with bodyguards that made him inaccessible to relatives and friends. He preferred to mix freely and welcome and listen to many that came from miles away to seek support from his son—although President Museveni was against this.

Family sources suspect that this is perhaps why he was very close to Caleb Akandwanaho or Salim Saleh his third born than Museveni his first son.

Unlike Museveni, Saleh is reputed to be more accessible. Like his father, Saleh likes living a simple life, hates convoys and the clutter that comes with influence. He also makes time to listen to the problems of ordinary people—this endeared him to soldiers that for a very long time Saleh wielded more influence on the army than his brother.

Indeed, amongst all of them, family sources told The Independent that Kaguta liked to spend time with Saleh. He was the closest to him and his death appears to have affected Saleh the most.

But Kaguta also liked to be his own man; he was not the type that would easily cede his power in his family to his son just because he had become president. Kaguta had even in the 1970s refused to join his wife Esteri Kokundeka in Rwakitura and remained in Mbarara until he finally succumbed to pressure from his peers and his revolutionary son.

He was the total opposite of his wife, Kokundeka, and thanks to women power, even the concessions he sometimes made against his strongly held views were due to his wife’s influence. But certain things would not change. When they converted to Christianity, Kokundeka became a puritan but Kaguta maintained several traditional values.

“He [Kaguta] would smoke, drink traditional beer, curse, and later on, in 1955, he became a polygamist, taking a second wife with whom he had a further eight children,” Museveni writes in his book, Sowing The Mustard Seed.

Under the influence of the drink, he would sing in a traditional way and not Christian hymns that Christianity dictated.

The traditional ways, however were mainly intended to impart knowledge in younger Museveni. Thanks to Kaguta indeed, Museveni is well grounded in the Kinyankore culture—and even authored a Runyankore-Rukiga dictionary.

Also while Kokundeka would hit campaign trails to campaign for her son after he had captured power, Kaguta would offer his two pence in “words of encouragement and prayers”.

According to The EastAfrican, in April 1994, at their home in Rushere, a barbed wire fence separated Kaguta’s modest compound from Museveni’s.  Museveni reportedly explained that the fence was intended to keep their herds of cattle from mixing because his father had refused to have his animals vaccinated. Quite surprising for a man whose herd had in 1960 almost been wiped out by Tsetse flies. But that was Kaguta, certain things had to remain the way he wanted them.

However, the same man had a sharp eye on the future. While the rest of his fellow Bahiima looked to keep their children looking after their herds, Kaguta “moved his Kraal from Kirigime, four miles away from the school, to Kafunjo, two miles nearer the school so that Museveni would have a shorter distance to walk”.

By doing this Kaguta defied the lure of places that had a lot pasture and the taunting by his peers that he was grazing his cattle by himself since he had sent his kids to school. But he also defied tradition, according to Museveni, fellow Bahiima were biased against education because they thought going to school would lead to eating chicken, which was an abomination.

Kaguta defied all that and stuck to his humble livelihood—grazing his cattle even after his son had become the president of Uganda. He represents a generation that made concessions for change, breaking through the confinement and dictations of traditions, which enabled Uganda to get its current leaders, doctors and other professionals, but at the same time keeping tabs on the wealth of tradition.

Indeed his humble character had dotted Museveni’s lifestyle before it was consumed by perhaps the fire of staying in power for a fairly longer time, 27 years and counting. Preferring to don Kaunda suits and keep a thin security detail, Museveni in his early days had despised African leaders that import furniture from abroad and fly in personal jets to United Nations meetings in Washingston when their voters were dying of jiggers.  But his 27 years in power appears to have made him succumb to the easy life.

A proud owner of a few presidential jets, Museveni has been criticised for having some of his family members use the presidential jet on private business abroad, his convoy has over the years grown to a fleet of over 30 cars—some the latest on the international market fitted with armor and technology to detect all sorts of things.

But one thing is certain. Unlike in the past where the First family and their relations were feared and revered like they were some sort of demi-gods; with a licence to kill, the Kaguta’s have been different thanks to the old man. The Kaguta’s control the army, business and politics today, but they do it quietly. We possibly should thank Kaguta Senior for that.

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