By Chris Kiwawulo and David Lumu
Maverick Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF) officer, Maj. Gen. (rtd) Samuel Wasswa Kasirye Ggwanga, is no more.
Kasirye, 68, was confirmed dead by a section of his family members and friends Tuesday morning. He had been admitted to Mbuya military hospital from where he had been undergoing treatment before he was about two weeks ago transferred to Nakasero hospital where he breathed his last.
Ggwanga was admitted to Nakasero hospital on May 18 from where he underwent a successful operation after doctors discovered a blood clot in one of the vessels in his head. He has since then been in Intensive Care Unit, and only a few family members could access him.
In 2016, Ggwanga suffered lung-related complications and he was admitted at International Hospital Kampala (IHK) located in the city suburbs of Namuwongo.
The motto of the UPDF artillery regiment states: "Gunners Determined the End of State", and Ggwanga lived all his 47-years in the military true to this motto ass an artillery trained soldier.
"Even if I die today, I have made it in the military. I will be happy and they will always say there lived Maj. Gen. Kasirye Ggwanga. I am happy," he told New Vision in a 2018 interview.
UPDF deputy spokesperson, Lt. Col. Deo Akiiki, said Ggwanga's body has been taken to Bombo military hospital for further management. "We are in a meeting with the family to coordinate all arrangements of his dignified send off."
But controversy, notoriety and impunity are some of the lines that many used yesterday to described the man, who at one time described his life as a "dangerous one". Yasin Kafuuma, an aide to Kasirye and driver, said the fallen general had one best friend - his dog.
"I was a driver and his bodyguard was the dog. His death is a big blow to me. I don't know how life will be without the General in my life," he said. Before he died, Kafuuma said, Kasirye had told him that he was tired of the world.
Senior Presidential advisor in charge of special operations and first son, Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, tweeted of Ggwanga; "Very, very sad to hear about the passing of a great soldier and a good friend, General Kasirye Ggwanga. We just spoke weeks ago and he was in a jolly mood. Rest in peace General."
Also in a tweet, Lt. Gen. (rtd) Henry Tumukunde described Ggwanga as a great fighter, a great Ugandan and a distinguished veteran.
Lt. Col. Juma Seiko said he had learnt a lot from Ggwanga and he would take his advice seriously. "About a month ago, he advised me to plant trees in my area. I am going to begin this year, and I will name the forest after Kasirye Ggwanga. He was a true hero and a role model."
ICT minister and Mityana Woman MP, Judith Nabakooba, told journalists at Nakasero Hospital yesterday that Ggwanga was "a patriot" who served his country "diligently".
"He was a true patriot. He served his country very well and we mourn the departure of this great son of the soil. He has left a huge gap," she said.
Kyadondo East MP, Robert Kyangulanyi alias Bobi Wine said he received the news of Ggwanga's death with shock. "I had the opportunity of being his personal friend over a long time. We agreed and disagreed on many things, but every time I met him, there was a lot to learn."
Rose Mutonyi, the Bubulo West legislator, described Ggwanga as an uncompromising person. "He meant what he said and what he did. While we mourn him, I feel gratified that he has died on Heroes Day. We shall always remember Kasirye Ggwanga," said Mutonyi, who is also the former Mpigi Resident District Commissioner (RDC).
Residents of Kizungu zone in Makindye division, Kampala, where Ggwanga had a house before he sold it, also mourned the general and described him as a friendly person who had mood swings.
Ibrahim Kalule, a resident of Kizungu zone in Makindye division said; "by the time Ggwanga lived in Makindye, he was a friendly person who loved to interact with people although sometimes he could get angry and get his gun to scare away people who angered him."
He also remembers Ggwanga for dispersing Pentecostal worshippers who would play loud music at night near his home. "He warned them to stop playing loud music and shouting at night, but they did not listen. So, the next day, he fired three bullets in the air and they scattered."
Geoffrey Jiyapanda, a taxi driver in Makindye, said Ggwanga helped to solve some land conflicts in Makindye and he could not tolerate land grabbers. "But he loved his dog more than human beings. There was a time when he slaughtered a goat for his dog yet some people slept hungry."
Residents and local leaders in Mityana district on Tuesday mourned the death of Ggwanga, and many described him as a good, exemplary elderly leader.
"He has not only loved his district but also the nation. He has been so good to us leaders that he could even advise us anytime and guided us," Joseph Luzige, the Mityana district chairperson said. Luzige urged combatants and Ugandans to learn from Ggwanga's background and his service in the army civilian life.
Mityana RDC, Isha Ntumwa, recalled the activities Ggwanga engaged in to protect the environment, and asked residents to live by what he has taught them. Ntumwa also commended the general for his services.
Mityana Central Division chairperson, Fred Wotonava, expressed grief at the loss of Ggwanga, saying the nation has lost an exemplary leader. Although Wotonava is an opposition politician, he said Ggwanga has been his role model in life and his political career, and that he learnt a lot from him.
During the COVID-19 lock down period, Ggwanga and Wotonava went on a collision course after the general directed traders to close all businesses while Wotonava told them to continue operating.
"Before the directive was passed for businesses to close, Ggwanga was directing everybody to go out of town and I rejected this. He went on looking for me but one day, I bravely faced him and we discussed and sorted ourselves out. I am happy that he has died when we are friends," Wotonava said.
Ggwanga hails from Katakala village in Busimbi Division, in Mityana municipality. He also had a farm at Munkene village in Maanyi Sub-County in Mityana district where he spent most of his time.
By Tuesday afternoon, a few people had started gathering at his family home in Katakala for a vigil. Details of his burial arrangement were yet to be released by press time.
(Additional reporting by Luke Kagiri and Simon Peter Tumwine)