By Independent Reporter
Members of President Yoweri Museveni’s party, the National Resistance Movement, arrived in droves for the funeral of Ms Gertrude Kabwasingo, the wife of the prominent politician, Mzee Boniface Byanyima.
Among them was Minister Urban Tibamanya, Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura, State House officials Grace Nyakwenegura and Dr Richard Muhinda, and MPs Mary Mugyenyi and Charles Ngabirano.
Yet when former Mbarara MP, Winnie Byanyima, daughter of Byanyima stepped to the microphone in Nyamitanga Catholic Cathedral in Mbarara municipality and announced that any official with a message from the government should present it, nobody came forward.
There was a hushed silence.
The Byanyima family, especially Ms Getrude Byanyima, is generally known to have allowed a young Museveni to live in their home. Museveni’s absence at the funeral was tacitly noted and not explained. It is no secret, however, that a rift has grown between him and the family.
Indeed, soon after Gertrude Byanyima’s death was announced, protocol observers were looking forward to drama at the funeral.
Museveni’s leading political challenger and leader of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), retired Col. Dr Kizza Besigye, who challenged Museveni in the last two hotly contested presidential elections, is married to Winnie Byanyima and attended the funeral.
But Gertrude Byanyima was a top Democratic Party (DP) official and her husband, a former national chairman of the party, is highly respected and influential.
Â The DP president, Ssebaana Kizito and other officials attended the burial, together with prominent opposition party officials from the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) Mr Yonna Kanyomozi, Kibirige Mayanja leader (JEEMA), FDC leadership and officials from Buganda kingdom who delivered the Kabaka’s message. Since some of them are former Museveni allies who have fallen out with him and regularly trade swipes in the media, mourners were looking forward to a duel of titans. Museveni did not attend but the sparks still flew.
“At this time, my wife is going to the grave with many scars on her body by Museveni’s men,” Gertrude’s husband, Byanyima told mourners.
The silence was palpable in and outside the church, as he narrated how his family lost part of their ranch in Kiruhura district in late 1980s and government security personnel beat up his porters and wife. He said his wife was hospitalised. He lamented that although those suspected in the beating were arrested and are known, the police released them immediately following an order from ‘above’ which many understood as a code word for the president.
“I beg that this act of torture on my wife be put in the books of DP hoping that time will come when DP will ask why my wife was beaten,” he said as his daughter Edith Byanyima kept patting him on the shoulder to console him.
He said he had warned his wife not to oppose the regimes of late president Milton Obote or Museveni because both were bad and would kill her.
“In 1986 when NRM came, I warned my wife that these guys are worse than Obote who had imprisoned me,” Byanyima said.
Gertrude Byanyima passed away at Mulago Hospital on November 13 following a stroke. She was until 2005 the national chairperson for women in DP. A strong -willed woman, mourners talked of her as a person who lived for the values of her church and party. DP president John Ssebana said Gertrude was a good mobiliser who was able to recruit several women, including Sarah Muwonge Nkonge and Maria Mutagamba, though they later left the party.
At the well-attended requiem mass, Byanyima stunned the mourners when he wished that it would be better if God allowed both husband and wife to die together because couples are joined together in vows and live as one. They met in 1950 when Nathan was a teacher at Mbarara High School and they got married six years later.
DP, the party that she so dedicatedly served, maintained a heavy presence. The master of ceremonies was no other than DP Secretary-General and MP Bukoto South, Mathias Nsubuga. A UYD flag moved ahead of Gertrude’s casket which was draped in DP colours of green and white. This prompted Archbishop Bakyenga, who presided over the requiem mass, to admit he had never before seen a political flag in church.
Gertrude is survived by children, Edith, Winnie, Anthony, Martha, Abraham and Olivia. The body was later laid to rest in Ruti, 3 kms on Mbarara – Kabale road.