Discovering Kasirye Gwanga, the man who fears nothing

Brig. Gen Kasirye Gwanga’s cantankerous nature preceeds him. A day with him indeed devulges a bold, proud, intimidating and yet interesting personality who takes pride in the fruits of his agricultural projects, enjoys spending time with his pet dog and would choose living in a tent over staying in a mansion anytime.

Sunday March 18 2012

L-R: Col. Sam Wasswa, Lt.Col Kasirye Gwanga and

L-R: Col. Sam Wasswa, Lt.Col Kasirye Gwanga and Col. Peter Kerim pictured at Namukora, the burial place of Gen Tito Okello in 1996. 

By Ivan Okuda

Kasirye Gwanga! Make mention of the name and you will be sure to get a wealth of descriptions about the beholder. Arrogant, proud, loose talker, down to earth, straightforward, brave and cantankerous….the list could go on and on. At the end of the day, it is a question of who is saying what about him and from what point of view. Thus is the world of the man whose domain I set out to explore.

The journey started with a one hour ride from Kampala to the remote Kisoga village in Mukono, a few kilometers away from Mukono town where his 200 acre farm lies. The place is so isolated that only a few wornout structures exist, the rest is his farm with livestock and fruits.

In the taxi, passengers stare at me in awe when I ask the conductor to drop me at Kasirye Gwanga’s place. The bodaboda rider who takes me to his farm wonders, “Naye gwe eyo empologoma mwogela ki naye?” meaning, “What do you talk about with that lion?” I only tell him I have a meeting and tickle him to tell me more about the “lion”. He goes into how one time Afande as he is popularly known, caned policemen.

“I wonder why people suffer with suicide; just go to his farm and before you know he has shot you, bodaboda men only go there when they are called by him,” he said. “Forget about Moses Golola (the kick boxer), Kasirye Gwanga is bad news, no nonsense!”

When he drops me at the entrance to the farm, he urges me not to take chances as anything can happen. I oblige and call Afande who asks one of the gate men to take me to our interview venue.
The middle aged man stares at me suspiciously. I tactfully manipulate him to tell me about his boss.

“Mama nyabo! Just go and find out yourself,” he says, making me push him to the wall to say something positive about him, “He is good, but changes colours. You work aware that there are slaps for you if you make mistakes.”

When I ask him how he has coped in the last three years of working on the farm, all he says is that life is about understanding people. He regrets why I did not call Afande to Kampala for the interview such that they get breathing space, “Even his children do not stay with him when he goes to Kampala. The man is too tough!”

With all this, I was filled with a mixture of fear and anxiety; not sure if the interview will go well. What if, as they say, he changes colours and turns the gun on me or gets emotional over a question and roughs me up? What if he says, “Go back, I am not in my mood?”

What would I do if anything happened On a farm of 200 acres, particularly in a location where only a gorgeous lass, him and I would be for over four hours? I murmured what could easily become my last prayer and resigned my fate to God.

Brig Gen Kasirye Gwanga showes off his jackfruit tree.

Brig Gen Kasirye Gwanga showes off his jackfruit tree. photo by edgar r. batte

The first meeting
my guide for the day salutes him and politely lets him know I had arrived. He tells me to wait and signals me to sit on a stout tree trump. As I wait with my heartbeat rising, the gorgeous lass (whom I later discover is relative) gives me a glass of passion fruit juice. I take time to understand the man from his environment.

Where I am seated, Rex cigarettes are littered all over with empty tins of canned beer. Next to them are magazines, a novel and bottles of mineral water. Meanwhile, the white Land cruiser a heartbeat away from me is intriguingly striking. While the rear bears a government number plate, the front only has an army star. There is no house, save for an army green tent, which I imagine is a store.

He moves with a mixture of a swagger and a stagger. He is dressed in old fading green jeans, tucked in with a T-shirt and black socks in African sandals. He opens his pepper red eyes and stares at me calculatively from head to toe and in a baritone asks, “For how long have you been a journalist? What is your name?” Reading how jittery I was getting, he offers a handshake with the stiffness of his palms not going unnoticed as we sit down.

I break the ice by passionately telling him how honoured I am to meet a man I greatly admire and look up to. “Yeah, some people admire me and others hate me and I like that. I do not like people.” He lights his cigar and turns down the volume of the radio playing Lingala music before continuing. “I do not have friends, all my childhood friends are dead. These people you meet at 30 years are not true friends; they just want to gain from you.”

He strokes his well shaven chin, coughs and thoughtfully adds, “Life is all about yourself. There are lessons to learn, if you learn them, you become successful.” With the dexterity of an accomplished philosopher or life coach, he then takes me through the waves of life (stages by which one should have accomplished certain things in life.)

“I am now in the fourth wave. Some of my children are working, others are married,” he reveals, pouring more passion juice in my glass and assuring me to feel at home.

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