Kampala, Uganda| AFP | THE INDEPENDENT | Many are still wondering if indeed, Maj Gen Kasirye Gwanga is dead. The news of his death remains doubted even after confirmation from his family, and members of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces-UPDF.
This, probably because he has been pronounced dead so many times, only to come out to refute reports of his death, in a rather humorous way, that many would still make fun of it.
In April this year, the army spokesperson Brig. Richard Karemire told the media that Kasirye-Gwanga had been admitted at the UPDF Senior Officers’ Diagnostic Centre in Mbuya for an illness he didn’t disclose. But Kasirye Gwanga contradicted this stance saying he had been arrested. He said as a retired officer, the army had no business choosing for him where he’s to be treated.
That was the nature of Kasirye Gwanga; tough, cunning, no-nonsense but humorous and likeable. And it is for such stories and other run-ins that many Ugandans who care about what goes on in their country know Kasirye Gwanga; two names, always pronounced as one.
He was one UPDF officer who would do anything and get away with it. He would call upon President Yoweri Museveni to retire, vow not to salute the Chief of Defense Forces, Gen. David Muhozi, and complain about being sidelined in the army in favour of junior officers.
From nowhere, he would be in the news for any reason, including firing at musician Catherine Kusasira’s car, deflating its tyres for allegedly annoying his American bred children. In one of the escapades, Kasirye Gwanga fired at trucks ferrying charcoal or logs and branded himself an environmentalist who can’t afford to look on when people are destroying forests for fuel.
His neighbours in Makindye will probably remember him for other reasons after he accused them of allegedly wanting to steal his land. This time, he even burnt a tractor sent to grade a contested land in Kajjansi. Days later, in an interview with The Observer newspaper, Kasirye Gwanga said Ugandans only understand such crude methods.
“As a veteran of many wars, you have to instil a bit of fear whenever you sense looming danger because if you don’t do that, people can trample on you. You saw what happened to the ‘idiot’ who wanted to steal my land in Kajjansi…since then no land grabber has ever troubled people in that area. So, for me, I prefer to use deterrent methods instead of reconciliatory ways,” Kasirye Gwanga said in that interview.
Most of the time, the army would be tight-lipped on issues concerning Kasirye Gwanga. But when he complained too much about how he had been sidelined in the army, he was promoted first, from the rank of Colonel to Brigadier and later to Major General. Kasirye Gwanga was always proud of his rank and would disapprove if anyone messed with it.
He retired in 2018 after receiving his new rank. This was the second time Kasirye-Gwanga was retiring from the army. The first was in 2015 but just after three months out of the uniform, he would bemoan the life of a civilian. The president allowed him to return to the army on a five-year contract which would have ended this year but was cut short by two years in 2018.
After his retirement, he spent most of his time at his farm in Nakisunga, Mukono district. He named it Camp David. Here, he had two friends; the very one he has kept all his entire life-His dogs and the gun.
“I like the dogs to guard me because they can never betray me like people. I don’t even trust my bodyguards more than my dogs,’” Kasirye Gwanga said. He also liked the bottle accompanied by sticks of cigarettes.
“I’m just living my life the way I want. I’ve stared at death more times than anyone in the world and to be here still energetic is already a miracle. In fact, I’m soon writing a book about my life and adventures,” he has not been able to write one; but those who will write his epitaph will surely say he lived his life to the fullest.
Kasirye Gwanga was born Samuel Wasswa Kasirye Gwanga in 1952. He went to Katakala Primary School, Kibuli Secondary School for his O-Level education. After his O’ level, he joined the Uganda Army in 1972. When the Tanzanians attacked Idi Amin’s government, Kasirye Gwanga was arrested and taken as a prisoner of war in Tanga, Tanzania. He was released in 1981 after the government of Godfrey Lukongwa Binaisa negotiated the return of prisoners of war.
He joined the Uganda Freedom Army led by Dr Lutakome Kayira up to 1985 when he joined the National Resistance Army rebels led by now President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni. His main area of specialization was in the artillery and commanded 120mm unit as they attacked Kampala in January 1986. He served as the director of stores in the UPDF. In the political wing, Kasirye Gwanga served as the LCV chairperson of Mubende district between 2001 and 2005, a time he won the title of the Governor of Mubende.