Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | This morning the country woke up to the sad news of the passing of Col Shaban Bantariza, the Deputy Executive director of the Uganda Media Centre. The news of his passing was stunning to many because it had not been reported publicly that he was sick.
His last known public appearance was on August 12, at the National Resistance Movement-NRM secretariat, Plot 10 Kyadondo road in Kampala where he had gone to address the Central Executive Committee, the topmost organ of the party.
Together with six others, Bantariza was challenging Maj Gen Matayo Kyaligonza as the Deputy chairperson of the NRM in charge of Western Uganda. Bantariza said he was not in the race because Kyaligonza has failed but rather he wanted to be a link between government and the people.
But unlike others, Bantariza never even got to the chance to appear on the ballot paper after he was eliminated on a technicality. Being a deputy spokesperson of the government, directly drawing a salary from the Consolidated Fund, the law prohibited him from engaging in partisan politics.
This technicality might not have targeted him if it was not for a one Kefa Mafumo, the presidential secretary in charge of political affairs, who was challenging NRM vice-chairman AlHaji Moses Kigongo. In the end, Bantariza paid the price. He tried resisting the elimination but him not being a General like Kyaligonza, he yielded. But before he did, he tried to explain that everybody working in and for government picks a salary from the consolidated fund.
“I’m appointed by the President like the minister and we all pick salaries from the Consolidated Fund. Why eliminate me and leave others? By the way, this is not a regular public service job that the law talks about,” Bantariza, tried to reason with other contestants. One of them, Nsegumire Kibedi who was challenging Hajji Abdul Nadduli for the Buganda region vice chairmanship stood out.
“You guys what are you still looking for? You already have a government job and you still want more? Why can’t you leave it to another person,” Kibedi who was to also later bow out of the race in favour of the eventual winner Godfrey Kiwanda Ssuubi said.
Bantariza wondered why anybody thinks that he shouldn’t contest for any position. He said that as a person who helped midwife the NRM, he had a duty to influence the direction it takes. He said it was only people like him who understood the ideological position of the party that he helped get in power 35 years ago.
Bantariza has not been shy with articulating the vision of the NRM. Even when he was a public servant, he would more often than not be on public media, defending not just the government that he speaks for, but even the political party that controls that the government.
He wouldn’t tire reminding his listeners that Uganda was liberated from the jars of monsters and that he wouldn’t hesitate to pick up the gun again if any group threatened the peace of Uganda. For him, anybody threatening the presidency of Yoweri Museveni was in essence, threatening the very existence of Uganda.
Two years ago, Bantariza was sent to Kamwokya to deliver a package; a donation of 100 million Shillings to Kamwokya ghetto-based groups from President Yoweri Museveni.
Bantariza dismissed arguments that the money was being dashed out to neutralize Kyadondo East Member of Parliament Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine who enjoys substantial support in the area.
In a video clip from a news bulletin from NTV Uganda, now making rounds on social media, Bantariza warns Bobi Wine and his People Power ‘tribe’, that for them, they don’t have ka sukaali [sugar] but fire [guns]. He says he has three guns to his name and he’s ready to use them if this group was to threaten Uganda’s peace.
Little wonder that the NRM secretariat, headed by the party’s secretary-general Justine Kasule Lumumba was among the first to send in condolences.
“Col. Bantariza has been a loyal member of the NRM government and the party which he has served till his death,” a statement issued in Kasule’s name by NRM senior communication manager Rogers Mulindwa reads in part.
It adds that on Thursday last week, Bantariza was part of the 47 eminent Ugandans appointed by Museveni to carry out the reconciliation programs among party members. His area of operation was Butaleja, Busia and Kibuku districts. It adds that after picking the necessary facilitation for the exercise, he later felt unwell to travel and sent back the undisclosed resources to the party.
“We feel Col Bantariza has gone too early and at a time we needed him most,” the statement adds.
Who is Bantariza?
Francis Bantariza was born in 1963 in Bushenyi district, present-day Mitooma district. He went to St Leo’s College Kyegobe in Kabalore district. He later joined Makerere University in 1985 but he abandoned his studies in favour of joining the National Resistance Army.
Not much is known about his time in the bush but he made his name mainly as the spokesperson of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces [UPDF], the foster child of the NRA. He held the job two times between 2000-2002 and between 2003-2006. Journalists who interacted with him while he held the position say he’s one of the best to ever hold the job.
He was forthcoming with information never mind the spin to it. The time he held that position, the UPDF was always in the news for good and not very good reasons.
It was during his tenure that the Lord Resistance Army insurgence was at its peak and the Juba peace talks all of which kept the army in the news. Then the severing of ties between Museveni and his erstwhile physician and minister Dr Kizza Besigye.
The claim that Besigye had formed a rebel movement, the People’s Redemption Army, his arrest, the siege of the army on the Courts, all had Bantariza to explain. When he was dropped as army spokesperson, Bantariza was sent to Oliver Tambo Leadership School Kaweweta in Nakaseke district. From there, he was sent to the National Leadership Institute [NALI] Kyakwanzi as a director where he served up to 2011.
In 2013, he was appointed as Deputy Executive Director of Uganda Media Centre. His time at Kyankwanzi however didn’t go well as he was charged in the Court Martial for abuse of office and fraud. It was said then that the ministry of finance had donated a tractor to NALI but Bantariza using his powers as the director instead forged documents to show that he had bought it at 67 million Shillings.
He was also charged with being highhanded in the way he ran the institute leading to several complaints by soldiers under his command. He was tried and later acquitted by the Court Martial, then chaired by Gen. Levi Karuhanga in April 2015 for lack of evidence on all the counts. In that very year in September, Bantariza retired from the UPDF at the rank of Colonel.
Adieu Col Shaban Bantariza.