THE LAST WORD | Andrew M. Mwenda | On Saturday night, my best friend and brother, Robert Aldridge Kasango, died in Murchison Bay Hospital inside Luzira Prison. The cause of death was heart failure! He was only 46 years. Bob didn’t have to die at this early age and in the way he did – alone and lonely, away from the care of his family and friends or competent doctors, in a prison hospital not equipped to handle his condition.
At Murchison Bay, he had no access to the medical attention he needed. Why? Because our judicial system denied Bob access to all reasonable medical care. First the prosecution bitterly protested his application to go abroad for heart surgery in spite of specialist doctors recommending it as urgent and critical. Then one day the judge arbitrarily cancelled his bail and later convicted him. Court rejected bail pending his appeal, so he could access a better-equipped hospital and competent doctors able to handle his complicated condition and also be cared for by his family.
In a country where people accused of murder, robbery, treason, defilement and terrorism regularly get bail I found the treatment of Bob depressing but also illuminating. It suggested that there was an invisible power pulling strings from behind. We may never know who this power was. What we know is that Bob did not just die. He was killed by a perverted system where judicial power was not used judiciously and in some cases actually abused.
But this is not the time and place to indulge in quarrels and recriminations. It is the time to celebrate the life of this great man, to give testimony to this victor in a thousand battles: beaten but unbowed, down but not out, jailed but not destroyed, fought but not defeated, frustrated but never depressed, always imitated but never equaled and even when killed his memory will continue in the lives he touched.
As Amilcar Cabral said at the funeral of Kwame Nkrumah, quoting an old African saying, “No man’s hand, however big, can be used to cover the sky.” No amount of bad press, however vitriolic, could hide Bob’s generosity to friends, kindness to fellow human beings, legal excellence, intellectual acumen and good humour. But died frustrated but fulfilled. He knew his weaknesses and mistakes, and with time he would have corrected them. He and an enduring faith in repentance and redemption
I met Bob in 1992 during a school debate when we were both teenagers and became instant friends. It was like love at first sight – within one minute of our meeting we were hooked. People who knew us thought that we would be friends – if we met. It could only be that way because Bob embodied many attributes which made him magnetic: handsome, intelligent, articulate, jovial, humorous, witty, name it. It became a lifelong long union. And now he is gone, yet still young with so much he could offer.
Across the years, Bob and I spent a lot of time together, read books together, debated together, attended conferences together, did business together, travelled locally and internationally together, dined and wined together, struggled together, celebrated together, lent each other money, spent time at each other’s home, we became twins. My first date with Fifi, the love of my life, was in hospital on Bob’s side. His wife Nice brought us the dinner there.
Then misfortune struck. The state accused Bob of theft of Shs 15.3 billion. The money belonged to pensioners and had been properly appropriated and paid to his law firm. The pensioners testified that Bob had served his role to their satisfaction. The Shs 15.3 billion was what they agreed to pay him. The state had no right to complain. The case was pursued with relentless tenacity. Finally in a judgment that will live in infamy Bob was sentenced to 16 years in jail.
I visited Bob regularly in Luzira, almost every weekend, especially before COVID. When COVID struck, prisons were set off limits and visitations stopped. But because of his sickness and the kindness of prison authorities, I was allowed to visit him twice this year. Prison is a horrible place: it separates inmates from family and friends. Its confining walls can suffocate even the most resilient, making them sad, depressed, resigned and despondent.
But Bob was a resilient man and tenacious fighter blessed with a competitive spirit. Adversity always seemed to bring the best out of him. Thus in Luzira, he preserved his optimism, his good humour, confident tone, kind heart and generous spirit. Each time I visited, I took him books to read, friends to share experiences with. He was always jovial and conducted himself as it he was on a short leave. (turn to page 2-CLICK)