The news of the passing of retired Maj. Gen. Zeddy Maruru has spread across the country like a wild fire.
For a man whose business was risking his own life so others can live, Maruru’s death definitely couldn’t go unnoticed.
In fact, according to his brother Hamu Tumuhairwe, the Uganda People’s Defence Forces has offered to give him an army send-off, for his service to the nation was something worth honouring.
More saddened by the untimely death however is his wife Victor, who was by his side at the time of death, and his seven children (six girls and a boy).
One of the first to fly
One of the very first Ugandans to get recruited in the country’s air force and sent to Czechoslovakia on a fighter pilot cadet training in 1965, Maruru breathed his last at about 1:00pm on Saturday Jan 11, 2013, at Mulago hospital. He was 71.
Not even his wife, who was by his side at the time of death, got the chance to hear a last-minute word from him.
“I had last talked to him Friday night after dinner, when he complained of dizziness. But we assumed he was probably tired, so he took his medication for hypertension and went to bed,” said his wife Victor during an interview at the family home in Kitintale yesterday.
The day he fell ill
“At first, he breathed well in his sleep but at about 5:30am, he started snoring abnormally. I tried waking him up in vain, and that’s when I called his brother Tumuhairwe, who left his home in Ntinda and mobilized an ambulance that took him to Mulago Hospital, where he was immediately admitted.”
A younger brother to the deceased, Tumuhairwe, a private consultant in valuation and surveying, described the situation of his brother as “worrying” by the time they made it to hospital.
“His state stayed the same until a little after midday when I left to go buy some drugs at a pharmacy in Wandegeya. The call came in as I left the pharmacy; it was Maruru’s son Norman Babyesiza telling me to forget about the meds, ‘dad is dead’,” recalls Tumuhairwe, who adds that the UPDF and the deceased’s personal friends in the army have offered great help throughout their time of trial.
By the time of our visit to the bereaved family, they were yet to get the postmortem report from Mulago. But Tumuhairwe said the doctors who have been taking care of the late say he had severe bleeding in the brain.
Maruru’s son Babyesiza, who said he and the father shared a love for mathematics and meat, had also been by his father’s side from the time he was admitted.
“But at the moment of death, I had stepped outside to reduce on the crowding in the room. Mum came out for me moments later and hurried me back in to find the nurse disconnecting the life support machine. I knew that was it. I kept looking at his face hoping he would wake up. I can’t get that sight out of my mind,” recalls Babyesiza, who described his father as “a man in every sense of the word, a man whose footsteps I have followed since childhood, so much so that for our shared interest in science subjects, I am pursuing a mechanical engineering degree at Makerere University, now in my third year.”
Maruru with Gen Katumba Wamala (left) and Lt. Gen Ivan Koreta.
Who was Maruru?
Like Babyesiza, each of the late’s children we were able to meet had an inimitable attribute of their dad they held closest to their hearts.
For Dennise Kobusingye, the second-last born and third year student of actuarial science at Makerere University, it was in the old man’s humour. “There were moments I would ask him for something, say pocket money, and he would go like: ‘so?’” She recalls with a smile reminiscent of fondness for her dad, adding “I always found that amusing.”
Yet for Cynthia Kobugabe, also a Makerere University student studying Bachelor of Commerce in first year, the old man and her shared one special bond, partly because she is the last born.
“Whether he was annoyed with me or not, he always called me his princess. My fondest memory of him was when I was going to sit for my P.L.E and he made it a point to revise the Pass P.L.E booklet with me,” recalls Kobugabe, breaking down in tears.
In what wouldn’t surprise that he turned out a soldier, Maruru was born on Feb 03, 1942, at the beginning of the Second World War.
Because it was at the height of recruitments for young men to join the war under Britain’s King’s African Riffles, people around his village in Rwensinga Kayonza, Ntungamo district, sounded alarms at the arrival of recruiters to alert young men to show up and enlist.
“As a result, our parents, Zaburoni Rukoma and Zuraina Rukoma, named him Maruru, which is Runyankole for ‘alarms’,” says Tumuhairwe, who described the late as “a big brother with so much love, humour and a survival instinct that kept him afloat despite serving in tumultuous regimes like those of Idi Amin and Obote.”
The first-born of seven boys, three of whom, still alive, Maruru went to Rwamanyonyi Primary, Kitunga Primary (now Muntunyera High School), Junior Secondary School (now Mbarara High), and Ntare High School before finally sitting his O’ Levels at Makobore High School, then Kinyansano School. After his S.4, Maruru went to Royal College in Nairobi, where he did a Cambridge equivalent of A’ Level.
Throughout his studies, his prowess in especially Mathematics and physics stood out. It was upon finishing this level that around 1963, he opted to skip university and join the army. At the time, Kabaka Mutesa II was president.
Due to Maruru’s background in Maths and Physics, he was signed up as a cadet on fighter pilot training, and sent to Czechoslovakia in 1965 to perfect his thing. Indeed, upon graduation in 1967, he emerged one of the best with specialty in flying the EL29 jet fighter.
His exploits in the army.
Upon his return to Uganda after his 1967 graduation, Maruru was decorated 2nd Lieutenant. He later formed the first group of pilots to open an Air Force base in Gulu. His group included the late Lt. Otunnu Lakor and the late Okello Jackson. He trained young fighter pilots and was respected for his intelligence and skill in air force operations.
When Amin took over power in 1971, Maruru was on another fighter plane course in the Royal Air Force Academy, Britain. But on a visit at the academy, Amin met Maruru and was impressed by his prowess in anything aircraft, promoting him to the rank of Captain in absentia.
Upon his return, he was further promoted to Major and appointed Quartermasters General of the Air Force. Subsequently, when Amin fell out with Air Force Commander Smuts Guweddeko, Maruru took over as Air Force commander. Following a series of times when Maruru challenged Amin’s murderous ways, the tyrannical leader expelled him in 1975.
Maruru goes into exile
And in 1977, following Archbishop Janan Luwum’s murder, Maruru fled to Kenya and then to Tanzania, later surfacing as one of the leaders in the Kikosi Regiment that fought Amin in 1979, with Tito Okello and Oyite Ojok.
In July 1985, when the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLA) under Tito Okello captured power from Obote, they had left several loopholes that could have caused a counter coup. Maruru, then a colonel, devised a strategy that helped UNLA consolidate.
In a media interview last year, Maruru talked of how he advised them to dissolve parliament, dismiss the whole cabinet and close the airport and other border points. “I also advised them to stop all foreign exchange transactions in the central bank,” Maruru said in the interview, about his advice that crippled the enemy. For this brilliant advice, he was promoted to the position of Major General in Tito Okello’s regime between 1985 and mid-1986, and later to Chief of Staff.
When Museveni captured power in 1986, Maruru, who had served in various other capacities under the different regimes, remained without a position but under government support until 1990, when Museveni appointed him general manager of Uganda Air Cargo. He retired around 2002, enjoying his retirement until breathing his last on Saturday Jan 11, 2013.
Maruru’s funeral service takes place today, midday at All Saints. He will be laid to rest on Wednesday afternoon at Rwensinga, Rwamanyonyi, Kayonza, Rushenyi, Ntungamo district. May his soul rest in eternal peace.
❑ Born on February 3, 1942 to Zaburoni and Zuraina Rukoma in Rwensinga Kayonza, Ntungamo district.
❑ Named Maruru, which is Runyankore for ‘alarms’ because people around his village sounded alarms at the arrival of recruiters to alert young men to join the Second World War.
❑ Went to Rwamanyonyi Primary, Kitunga Primary (now Muntunyera High School), Junior Secondary School (now Mbarara High), and Ntare High School before finally sitting O’level at Makobore High School, then Kinyansano School. Maruru later went to Royal College in Nairobi, where he did a Cambridge equivalent of A’level.
❑ Around 1963, he joined the army.
❑ He was signed up as a cadet on fighter pilot training, and sent to Czechoslovakia in 1965 for further training.
❑ Upon graduation in 1967, he emerged one of the best with specialty in flying the EL29 jet fighter.