Gen. Kasirye Ggwanga, a Maverick soldier Quietly goes to Rest
On Uganda’s 31st Heroes Day morning, June 9, 2020, RO/00692 Maj. Gen. (Rtd) Samuel Wasswa Kasirye Ggwanga 68, a maverick professional soldier, prisoner of war, rebel, soldier and officer again was pronounced dead from Nakasero hospital. Ggwanga had battled months of debilitating conditions where he was in and out of different medical facilities.
Ggwanga has been a friend to many, perhaps loved and reviled equally, and we had fun beyond measure at his ‘Camp David’, Nakisunga, and Mukono where we often retreated to roast goat, beef, plantain and much more on a ‘farm’ that never made profits. His farm was more for boasting than a commercial enterprise. Many will agree that Ggwanga was a kind and generous bully who didn’t gladly suffer fools. Indeed he achieved in the UPDF, enjoyed life, and told friends there won’t be need to mourn him, and COVID-19 helped restrict his funeral to a simple formality.
From humble beginnings as a child of a hunter, peasant farmer and butcher in rural Katakala, Mityana, Ggwanga walked footpaths to school and joined elite Kibuli secondary school, originally dedicated to Muslims in the immediate post-colonial Uganda.
After completing O’Level, he joined the Uganda Army (UA) in 1972 as Private and by the end of Idi Amin’s military regime on 11th April 1979, he had been promoted to Staff Sergeant. He was among thousands of former UA soldiers captured by the Tanzania Peoples Defence Forces (TPDF) and taken to Tanga Prisoners of War (POW) .17341). Ggwanga was POW no.17341 and spent a total of 897 days in jail in Tanzania and Uganda. Although he was among the first batch of POWS to be released from Kirinya prison in Jinja on 7th October 1981, he remained a very bitter man till death.
Upon being repatriated in 1980, Kasirye initially lived a quiet life in downtown Kampala before the post-1980 elections acrimonious events forced him into armed rebellion where he joined Dr Andrew Lutakome Kayira’s adventurist Uganda Freedom Movement (UFM).
Upon UFM’s defeat in the adventurist assault on Lubiri barracks, Kayira fled to Nairobi where upon reorganization Capt. George Nkwanga formed the Federal Democratic Movement (FEDEMU) with Ggwanga as part of its High Command. However, when UPC II regime fell, Nkwanga joined the short-lived Gen. Tito Okello junta forcing Ggwanga to break ranks for which he was sentenced to death. As a result he joined the more organized, purposeful and better organized NRA in 1985 which captured state power on January 1986.
Much later Ggwanga became a trusted ally and tasked by President Museveni to infiltrate Kayira and Evaristo Nyanzi’s coup attempt against NRM government in 1987, after which he became a key witness in the treason trial of Kayira and Nyanzi before the High Court.
In his long career in the NRA and UPDF, Ggwanga is survived by several adult and successful children attended a number of professional trainings here and abroad including the prestigious Fort Leavenworth, USA. Ggwanga also held many positions in the UPDF among them Chief Instructor School of Infantry (SOI) in Jinja and Director Store. It is apparent that it is in Fort Leavenworth that Ggwanga got inspired into and became engrained in the American Cowboy free-talk, gangsterism and recklessness. He was a conversationalist and an avid reader of wide ranging, thriller, military and world politics.
A combination of poverty in childhood, hard life in the military and prison, rebellion and eventual success including rising from an army Private to a decorated General with massive land wealth, made bragging, Gen. Ggwanga’s unmistaken trademark. The medals are Luwero Triangles, Golden, and Masaba Star that he refused to pick early.
So, Ggwanga is a veteran of Uganda’s multifaceted wars since 1972 has earned several prestigious medals particularly under UPDF. From his own confession, as a child, Ggwanga learnt hard work and discipline from home, in the villages, school and the military which he often publicly confessed to be his utmost career and destiny till death. Earlier he was elected chairman (Governor) Mubende district local government where claimed he transformed the district, but in reality he got frustrated and served only term and never sought re-election. In 2005, he got frustrated with the UPDF, sought early retirement but quickly returned having squandered his retirement package.
From then on, he mostly lived a disgruntled life and trying his hands on many things including serving as presidential advisor, and disguising as a successful commercial farmer in Mubende and Mukono districts. In the rough and tumble of Uganda’s politics, Ggwanga found himself as a useful tool in public discourse where he cut teeth as an expert commentator on every subject and so even in retirement he hadn’t disappeared from public view.
In that light, Ggwanga often walked scot-free from transgression of the law, basic decorum expected of a public officer, a UPDF General, and a senior citizen all of which he was. His demise closing the chapter of unruly senior officers, and fortunately no new ones are being born. Therefore, it’s polite and befitting to say adieu to Gen. Kasirye Ggwanga!