We are celebrating currently, the passing on of one of the rarest remaining machines of the NRA rebellion which helped to catapult the current regime into power. Gen. Elly Tumwine lived and worked for the advancement of Uganda and particularly, his party and the NRM government. At the sunset of his life, Tumwine left the comfort of teaching and drawing pictures plus painting.
He then embarked for many years, on the daunting mission of ridding his motherland of dictatorship. These escapades would see Tumwine throwing caution to the wind and gallantly fighting the regimes of Idi Amin first, and all through to those of Dr Apollo Milton Obote, plus the last junta of Gen Okello Lutwa and Bazilio Olara Okello.
His lasting badge of honor, has been the missing sight in one of his eyes. The fearless military general lost the orbit in that eye during the legendary raid on Kabamba barracks in Masindi district. It’s such raid, much as the President has gone on record, to hold that the same was an act of recklessness, that would kick off the NRA rebellion and alerted the world that Museveni wasn’t just joking when he threatened to go to the bush and fight the government of UPC, over the debatable 1980 rigged election.
It is during the execution of that daring raid for guns on the government’s military installation, that Tumwine would end up losing an eye to the fire from Obote’s repulsing forces. After the rebels had captured power, Tumwine was now appointed the maiden army Commander of the victorious National Resistance Army (NRA). What this speaks to us is the fact that, the man lying there now in state, has been a rare kind of military strategist, and fighter too.
His appointment meant that he had been weighed up by his superiors against his equals and found extremely competent in as far as flushing out the hotspots of rebellions, which were still being staged by the upstaged armies, is concerned. In his three years at the helm of the rag-tag military, Tumwine did tremendously well to overcome rebellions that were still going on and to give an excellent face to the new army of rebels fresh from the jungles.
During his times at the apex of the army and just as it has always been his leadership style, looting and such other atrocities, by the soldiers, who were, moreover, rebels with a bigger appetite for dusting off the dust (okwekubako enfuufu), was unheard of. In short, that gentleman who has how signed out of State duties for the second world, deserves to be loudly celebrated for instilling a high sense of discipline into the first army of this regime, seeing that the same were just evolving from a ragtag (kwalakwala) rebel outfit.
Small wonder, Ugandans who were highly doubtful of the discipline of the new rebels in town, having just witnessed the big mess caused by the other departing rebels of Gen Tito Lutwa, would gradually shrug off the mistrust and now wholeheartedly embrace the new gunmen. Granted, Tumwine has been a tough guy to the point of even acting recklessly, just as when he ordered for the shooting of rioters. But what had made Tumwine to be too tough a guy, is the fact that he has during his lifetime, not wished a jot to live under chaos or wished the same to happen to anybody else except whilst instilling law order. This position, because he himself had seen and tested as well, the bitterness of living under chaos for a good number of years.
It’s such big fear for riots that has always prompted him being a soldier and leader, to take the toughest stance always, but which has ended up being interpreted by many to mean anarchy itself. Other than that, Tumwine, and despite having been a very powerful guy, has not been a chaotic guy in the league of Gen Kasirye Gwanga, Gen Severino Kahinda Otafiire, Gen Matayo Kyaligonza, red hot Gen David Sejusa and even rabid Gen Kakooza Mutale.
All the time, no one has tampered with him and public peace. Tumwine has been seen busier knitting his signature military and civilian garbs for himself and his clients at Nommo Gallery. He would punctuate the designing of bitenge with composing and singing revolutionary songs, painting as well as drawing pictures and cartoons. A case can be made that as a strict disciplinant, Tumwine has been crossing the red line sometimes. But it’s natural for majority of human beings to detest people tough with discipline and favor those soft with discipline.
So, it would depend on which side of the argument one appears to fall on, for one to judge Tumwine on this charge as either having been guilty or innocent of the same. Yes, Tumwine gifted himself with the Nommo Gallery which is a public entity. But he did it under the mistaken belief that it was his share of the spoils of war (omunyago). After all, Gen Kasirye Gwanga once shared that everyone, including his superiors, helped themselves to something to thank themselves for fighting. One of the Luweero bush war combatants, indeed famously stated that he hunted for his caucus and so, he should be left in peace to enjoy the same.
On a serious note, and to be fair to the deceased, no one in government had called out Tumwine or even asked him to release the property for many years. Let alone demanded for rent from him, not until Pius Bigirimana, as the Permanent Secretary of Gender, Labor and Social Development had raised the issue many years later. Tumwine’s defense that he had used a lot of personal funds to refurbish the gallery to the shape in which the government now wanted to recover from him, stands unchallenged to date.
But, Tumwine has been able to retain the gallery as long as the leadership of this country have allowed him. Not the other way round. Period. If the Powers-that-Be had wished to evict him, just as Gen Sejusa was evicted from the Lord Mayor’s Kololo property, there was no way he was going to refuse to get out of the same. Some quarters have intimated that Tumwine has been feeling a high sense of entitlement for having fought. He was entitled to it since the reality remains that he actually fought and he has been one of top-tier luminaries of their bush war liberation.
You can take anything from the military general, but certainly not the honor of having been a rare fighter of his generation. The warrior himself has fallen now, but that piece of history is going to endure for many years to come. Fortunate enough, no one has accused the man of stealing public funds, which is sort of fashionable with this regime. May the Almighty look favorably at the fallen military general’s positive side of the balance sheet and playfully, use only that one to grant him a blissful rest.
- Mr. Stephen Kasozi Muwambi is a seasoned crime investigative writer, majoring in judicial-based stories. His two decades’ experience as a senior investigative journalist has made him one of the best to reckon on in Uganda. He can also be reached via [email protected]
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