If you combine a perfect catapult shooter, a wonderful traditional hunter, a delinquent youth, a soldier, a prisoner of war, a district governor, a yam farmer and a very egocentric character in one pot, you get retired Brigadier Kasirye Gwanga.
For 34 years, Brigadier Kasirye Gwanga lived by the barrel of the gun. Either he was firing at somebody in the bushes, or he was being fired at.
Dressed in jeans, an MTN cap and sneakers, he bends low as we move past the last bend towards his camp. â€œThis is the Camp David of Africa,â€ he says, pointing at two tents. Gwanga sleeps in these tents while at this camp. He is very much a soldier in retirement.
The camp is located in the middle of a forest at Kisoga, Mukono district. It is part of his 200-acre farm. It has got all kinds of crops, birds and animals.
â€œThis is where I am as a retired brigadier,â€ he says before boasting, â€œThis is the real environment a man should live in. Very few people can make it.â€
â€œMan,â€ he starts, with a twist on the â€˜aâ€™ to sound American, â€œI have passed through an inferno to reach where I am today. I have come from very far, that is why I donâ€™t want anybody to mess with me.â€
â€œIt was indeed time for me to become a full brigadier. I have left the army with honour,â€ he laughs while admiring his very sharp knife.
â€œI have a leopard on this land. When it comes, I just use my knife against it. Let it come and face the wrath of a brigadier,â€ he boasts.
Gwanga spends most of his time at the camp. At night, he lights a fire by the side of his tent and drinks. He says he does not miss his posh house in Makindye, near Kampala.
When he first set foot in a formal classroom, he had already proved himself as an excellent edible rat hunter. â€œI first went to school at Katakala Primary when I was seven years old,â€ he says.
From childhood, Gwanga says he was a disaster waiting to happen. â€œOn the first day I joined school, I thoroughly beat up a huge boy who tried to tease me. I earned the respect of everybody in class because that boy had been bullying them for quite a while,â€ he says.
The young, stubborn Kasirye was the leader or commander of a group of boys. â€œOurs was not a terror squad. We started the group to stop other boys from bullying us,â€ he says.
â€œWe used catapults and dogs to fight off the bullies. We could even attack a village and sniff out stubborn characters. I was no joke,â€ he says. At 53, Kasirye still carries a catapult. I see it peeping from the left pocket of his jeans. This time, it is not for hitting delinquent youth, but for scaring off wild birds and monkeys.
Little did Gwanga know that by being called commander of a squad of boys, he was budding a career that has characterised his entire life.
â€œWe used to sit in the bush and draw battle plans, after which we would move to attack the stubborn youth,â€ he says. â€œThis madness made me very popular in my village. They started calling me â€˜our manâ€™,â€ he adds.
â€œOur other pass time was raiding shambas to steal jack fruit, mangoes and sugarcane,â€ he says.
However, Kasirye, even with all his bravado, was afraid of his father, Yovani Kasirye. â€œHe used to beat me up whenever he received information that I had engaged in this or that mischief,â€ Gwanga remembers.
â€œAt one time, I spent a full year leaving home for school, yet I never reached school,â€ he says. Then his father got wind of it. â€œHe beat me up thoroughly. My entire body became as swollen as a sack of avocados,â€ he says.
Perhaps, having gotten a fairly rough upbringing from his parents, Kasirye was determined to give a wonderful upbringing to his own children.
Although he is fairly richer than his father was, he does not roll out a red carpet whenever they come home for holidays.
â€œI was very hardworking at home. We were more than 15 children and there was no need for our father to hire labourers to work on the family shamba. We used to do it ourselves,â€ he says. His children also work on the family shamba.
â€œMy father was a good hunter. I soon caught the hunting bug. I would go with him every Saturday to hunt. Facing wild animals increased my bravado. Sometimes I used to hunt alone with my dogs,â€ he says. Even in adulthood, Kasirye still has the dogs.
After primary, he left the village and joined Kibuli SS in Kampala, were he completed his S4. In Kampala, he was among the most happening students. He loved dancing and watching football.
â€œI had passed very well, but I decided to stop studying and do something else,â€ he says.
Kasirye joined the armed forces in 1972, at 20 years. â€œI was recruited into the forces by Brigadier Bogere at the present day Bulange. I joined the army because of madness,â€ he says. He was sent for training and later deployed in the West Nile region.
When war broke out, he was in West Nile. However, he was deployed at the frontline as a field artillery commander.
â€œI fought gallantly. I was serving my country, but there were a lot of odds against us,â€ he says. One of these odds was corruption and lack of seriousness by the commanders.
â€œThey spent most of their time drinking vodka and sleeping with women, while we risked our lives at the frontline,â€ he remembers. He recalls an incident when he called for more shells for his artillery batteries at the frontline. His seniors either feared to take them to the frontline at Masaka, or were not serious.
â€œI personally came to their offices at Lugogo and picked the shells. When I looked at their faces, I saw a terrified lot,â€ he says.
After Aminâ€™s defeat, he was arrested as a prisoner of war and put in a prison in Tanzania.
On the way to Tanzania, he recalls an incident that has stayed in his mind all these years. â€œAs we were being taken through Nakulabye, a woman spat at me and shouted that I should be killed. I looked at the woman and wondered why I should be killed. She said I was a killer,â€ he recalls.
Kasirye later discovered that although he was never involved in any act of terror against the Ugandans, his colleagues, especially those in the city, had harassed and killed a lot of people.
â€œThe prison conditions were very harsh, so many of my colleagues died there. Their bodies were never returned to Uganda,â€ he says. Kasirye is tough, but as he says this, tears well in his eyes. This was the most trying moment of his entire life. The memories simply canâ€™t go away.
â€œCan you imagine watching your colleague rot away? You are joking man. You Ugandans hate a lot. That is why I ignore you, because I am a survivor,â€ he says.
After his release, he was prepared to settle into private life again. However, something annoyed him.
â€œI was determined to live a normal life, but when these people (Obote regime) killed my brother, I decided to go out and revenge,â€ he says.
He started operating individually, like a one-man army. â€œI used to ambush those men and teach them a lesson,â€ he says. He joined Kayiiraâ€™s UFM (Uganda Freedom Movement), but lack of coordination and disorganisation within the UFM saw him join the NRA. He commanded a 120mm artillery unit during the capture of Kampala.
He has served in several positions including director of stores in the UPDF and LC5 chairman Mubende, where he called himself governor.
The Brigadier is a married man. His wife is currently in the USA, while the children are studying in different schools and colleges around the country. For now, he enjoys his life at Camp David.
Kasirye Gwanga lives in the bush