Kifulugunyu served the army for 43 years and retired in 2008 at the rank of Sergeant
Soldier cum musician Sgt. Steven Ssempagala aka Sgt. Kifulugunyu passed on Tuesday morning.
In a recent interview, the retired soldier said he regrets the life he led.
Below is the interview:
I could have done better - Sgt. Kifulugunyu
Sgt. Kifulugunyu is not a happy man. The soldier, a celebrity in many homes who used to sing and dance on TV, now sells kaveera water, pocorns and music in many public places in spite of his retirement package from the army. PAUL WAISWA talked to him about what went wrong with his retirement.
Sgt. Steven Ssempagala aka Sgt. Kifulugunyu was born on January 8, 1937 to Elifaza Bulasiyo Mwebe and Phoebe Nalumanga in Namiringa village, Wakiso district.
He dropped out of school in P4 after discovering how a car engine works and picking interest in driving. His father knew how stubborn his son was and did not force him back to school.
He joined the garage to become a mechanic. But things were not as rosy as he had anticipated, so when an opportunity to join the army showed up in 1964, he took it.
He served the army for 43 years and retired in 2008 at the rank of Sergeant.
Kifurungunyu is a musician and claims to be the singer behind songs such as Nitasonga, Kino kye kiseera, Mwoto nawaaka, Kibonge among others.
He was married to Saudha Nalubega and both are residents of kilokole - Ttula in Kawempe.
He said he had many children and, like his father's case, could not tell the exact number.
Life in the army
"I was first sent to Bama garrison in Jinja where I trained in different techniques. Regimental Sergeant Majors (RSM) always praised me as the smartest and most disciplined soldier during the line inspections we used to have."
Kifurugunyu participated in the DR Congo war in 1965 when Uganda went to support Congolese nationalist rebels led by Moishe Tshombe. He was then taken for commando training in Libya.
"On pass out, Col. Gadafi told us that what we had seen (the commando training) was just theoretical! The harder practical part was next. And that whoever survived it would be promoted. Then they sent us to Chad where we managed to conquer the whole strip", Kifulugunyu recalls.
Back in Uganda, Kifurugunyu bought a car, a Cadet Opera, UVJ 682. To his surprise, one Lt. Odema reported him to Amin that he had gotten the money from kidnapping people. He was arrested.
He says he also participated in the 1979 Uganda- Tanzania war and was part of the group that blew up the German-built bridge on November 3, 1978 at Kagera.
"I was in the Malire Mechanised Reconnaissance Regiment (MMSRR), which had some of the best tank squadrons," he said.
When they eventually lost the war, the new regime asked all former soldiers to report and when he did, he was arrested and imprisoned in Makindye Go-down and later Luzira.
"In 1980, I managed to escape with other ex-service men and, for three years, I hid in Mubende district. In 1984, a man they called Kasinzi took me to the National Resistance Army (NRA) rebels. But on the day I arrived in the Bush, I was arrested. They could not believe my story.
"They thought I was a spy and detained me in a trench for two days. With my guitar, I started singing for the prisoners. After two days I was set free and made the OC morale. I liked the title. I started calling myself ‘OC omuraaro'. My major role in the bush was to entertain fighters," Kifulugunyu says.
One of his best compositions is the morale boost song omwoto nawaka, he says.
"In 2008, at the rank of warrant officer class 1, which I obtained in 1973, I was retired from the army. I had served for 44 years. I got a retirement package of only sh8m and it has not changed my old age," he says.
Kifurugunyu was not happy in retirement.
"Life has not been good. I worked for many years for government, but I have nothing. I retired without a plot of land or a house. With my retirement package of sh8m, I bought a plot in Ttula - Kawempe and built a small house through struggle.
"However, I handed it in as bank security to obtain a school fees loan for my children. I failed to pay back and now my house is on sale. I am not getting any pension, I have no viable business, and so, I am in darkness!
"Can you imagine that at 80, a full ex-commando has to eke a living by selling boiled water in kaveera at sh200, popcorns and songs on CDs and video in Kampala!" he says.
Kifurugunyu says his only success is in being alive.
"Of course that is the work of God, but I also did my part. I do not drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or eat fatty foods. Maybe that is why I am alive and healthy at my age. Otherwise, my army salary was small. Soldiering disfavored me from saving or investment," he said.
Kifurugunyu says he spent much of the time in wars, eating and sleeping poorly hoping for a handsome Government appreciation.
"When they gave me sh8m, I almost threw up! We did not have SACCOS like Wazalendo. Saving was hard considering the political insurgencies and chaos in the days.
"My mistake was to love my country so much that I give it my all without saving any energies for my future? I was so disciplined that I did not engage in looting or grabbing people's property the way other soldiers did. Unfortunately this has left me a sad, miserable retirement."
Lessons for retirement
Kifurugunyu explains that during volatile times, many soldiers live with the death experience of battles and lost friends. So, the tendency to enjoy life comes in to bring back hope but also as a compensation for the fear of death at your next outing.
"Whenever we received salary, partying and fun was the order of the first two days! But I think colleagues who are still in the force need to think also about saving and planning for the future," he says.
He says salary earners should get some side income before retirement so that by old age, the business is stronger and the income from it is better than what the salary used to be.
"Depending on government salary alone hardly changes your financial status because it is a fixed payment yet needs keep growing," he said.
He also advises against having so many children. Kifulugunyu says looking after the countless children of his curtailed his saving efforts and disabled him from owning private businesses.
To soldiers and army officers, he advises to take advantage of SACCOS that have been established, especially Wazalendo.
"Start planning now. The future starts today. Starting early helps you to identify your weakness and put them right," he says.
Retirement benefits for soldiers
According to the UPDF Act 2005, every soldier is entitled to pension and gratuity even when dismissed from the force as long as it is without disgrace.
Upon retirement, every officer receives gratuity and pension for 15 years.
The UPDF Conditions and Terms of Service say if an army officers has clocked a certain age without getting a promotion to the next rank, he or she has to be discharged.
For example, if at the age of 40, a captain is not promoted to major, the army must retire the officer.
Regulation 28, Cap 307 of the terms of service specifies at which age an officer should be promoted to another rank, or if not, be retired from the service.
From the rank of Lieutenant to Captain, one can apply for early retirement at 40 years, while a Major can leave service at 45. A Lieutenant Colonel can retire at 47, while a Colonel's retirement age is 51.
The army code also specifies the years of service upon which an officer can rightly apply for retirement. From the rank of 2nd Lieutenant to General, an officer can rightly apply for retirement after 14 years of service, while the lower ranks can retire after nine years.
The UPDF Act says a soldier intending to retire applies to the Commissions Board which is chaired by the Chief of Defence Forces which decides whether to approve the retirement or not within 90 days.