On July 21, 2013, slightly more than a year ago, a little known Shamisa Nanyonga hit headlines for beating President Museveni’s security detail to access the head of state.
From nowhere, she was at the President’s feet, armed with a pile of documents and frantically pleading with him. The President, who was in the company of his younger brother Gen Salim Saleh and other government officials, directed a senior army officer to sort out her grievance. but that is where it all stopped.
Legendary poet Maya Angelou (RIP) wrote with epic passion about the phenomenal woman, delving into the inner mystery of an extraordinary woman. That trade mark, for Ms Nanyonga comes with a tad of resilience and faith, the kind that gets you hanging on the thinnest thread of optimism, in the hope that one day, lady lucky will smile upon her.
Her family has desperately sought compensation from government for a quarter a century. They have been to every office, gotten a signature from whoever matters and spoken to the high and low cadres in the corridors of power.
When Nanyonga fell at Mr Museveni’s feet, her message, however, seemed to have come out genuine, clear and tickled the President’s heart of hearts. He instantly directed Brig Proscovia Nalweyiso to handle her grievance. Since then, however, Nanyonga and family have returned to square one. She claims Brig Nalweyiso has since “stubbornly cut communication” with her on the issue.
“She told me she would sort out the matter in one week but since then (July 2013), she now never picks my calls. When I go to her office, the secretaries all know me as a burden and keep saying she is too busy to see me,” Nanyonga says, adding: “Where things have reached, only the President can help us now. We have given up on Nalweyiso. She clearly has no interest in helping us.” Intriguingly, she had approached Nalweyiso before.
In 2010, she reveals, “I met Nalweyiso on the same issue, she asked me to bring all documents and my mother, siblings which I did. She kept tossing us up and down and when the president referred me to her (in 2013 at Nama), I hoped she would act different.”
Efforts to reach Ms Nalweyiso were futile as her known telephone contacts were switched off.
However, Presidential press secretary Tamale Mirundi says: “Does she [Nanyonga] know the magnitude of work Brig Nalweyiso has? Let her be patient. That lady (Nalweyiso) has so many things to do and we cannot just compensate the family without investigations to ascertain the truth of their claims.
In some Christian families, the fighters have several families. What happens if we compensate one family and the other emerges tomorrow? We need time to investigate.”
Asked if 25 years were not enough time for the ‘investigation’ and reminded him that several senior government officials, including himself, had given the family a nod for compensation, Mr Mirundi retorted: “In fact there are some families that have not received anything. She should be happy that they were recorded.” He added, “Above all, not everyone who knocks at the President’s door gets money. It is not automatic as some people imagine; State House is not an ATM machine.”
When Nanyonga visited this newspaper’s offices recently, she said this might be their last option to catch the President’s eye one more time. But what is her story, beyond the Mukono July 21 incident?
An avalanche of correspondences Sunday Monitor has seen reveal the family has desperately sought government intervention from as far back as 1989.
On November 6, 1989,Mr Twaha Kayanja – Nanyonga’s father - received a letter from GW Sikubwabo Kyeyune, the district Administrator Mukono, Member National Resistance Council, titled, “in recognition of your job”.
It reads, “Following your appeal to HE, through my office for recognition of your service to the struggle and for possible material assistance, HE has directed that you contact Alex Mugumya (welfare officer to HE) to make arrangements to procure the assistance to you.”
Brig Elly Kayanja, the then director loans and welfare in the army, too wrote a letter on December 13, 1988, to the Ministry of Defence, to among others, put a case for Mr Kayanja to be allocated a “Tata Lorry” that he had donated to the guerrilla struggle.
In response, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, then minister of Transport and Communication, wrote back, “I wish to inform you that Mr Twaha’s application will be given due consideration with others at the next sitting of the vehicle allocation committee.” Today, Dr Rugunda, who wrote the letter in 1989, is the minister for Health. Mr Kayanja died in 1993 without receiving compensation for the said lorry.
In a separate correspondence, Maj Gen Caleb Akandwanaho, aka, Salim Saleh wrote in his capacity as chief of combat operations, affirming knowledge of Mr Kayanja’s contribution that brought the current regime to power in 1986.
“He is known to most of our officers and even you. Therefore pay him and he will repair the vehicle himself,” Salim Saleh, wrote on February 18, 1997. It is not clear which vehicle he would “repair himself.”
Nanyonga peruses through this pile of correspondences and wonders why the help has never come through. Even more shocking is that this exchange of correspondence stretched to the 21st century.
On February 18, 2013, presidential press secretary, Mr Tamale Mirundi, wrote to Ms Rose Mary Namayanja Nsereko, then State minister in charge of Luweero Triangle and now Information minister.
In the letter, he asserted, “The bearer of this letter is the daughter to Twaha Kayanja Mayega. The family has all documents to prove they actually participated in the struggle. Accord the family any assistance.”
A few years ago, she remembers, she went to meet Gen Salim Saleh at his Garuga residence. He directed a junior minister (name withheld for security reasons to the complainant) to take care of her school fees.
“Afande Saleh personally called me and said he had given him (minister) money for my school fees (at Namagabi SS) but he paid for only one term after too much pressure,” she says. When she put more pressure on him, “the minister told me on phone he would shoot me if I continued disturbing him.” Nanyonga says. Mr Kayanja is survived by 40 children.
Asked how the expansive family would share the assistance from the government if it came through, she says, “We are a united family. In fact my other siblings tried and failed to get this compensation but I am not giving up until the President saves our family. Children are dropping out of school and our mother is very sick. We are suffering yet our father sacrificed for this country.”
She adds: “I am sure the President is not a liar, it is the people around him not helping us but we are now crying out to him because he is still in power.”
With the President recently reaching out to veterans of the struggle and the country in campaign mode, Ms Nanyonga and family can only hope the agony and despair they have been in for more than 25 years touches a soul somewhere in the echelons of power.
The tragedy, however, is that her only strand of hope, as she relentlessly emphasises, is the President and him alone. Will the President listen and act as he did after her brave act at Mukono? Will he this time round cut the thick red tape of delegation and personally follow the matter to its logical conclusion so that the family can rest once and for all? Was assistance sent to the family only to land into other hands? She does not know. Only time can tell. For now though, Nanyonga’s candle of hope struggles to light.
what nanyonga’s father wrote
On February 10, 1988, Twaha Kayanja wrote, “I joined the NRM in 1981 on advice of my late brother Steven Semugenya. He was killed in 1982, I fled to Bugerere and while there I joined the seventh battalion. I worked faithfully and with full commitment. I later found it necessary to commit myself wholly to the movement by donating my lorry, UMP 876. Currently I am suffering from chronic illness that has rendered me very weak. Kindly rehabilitate Kayanja poultry farm and pay fees for my children.” His pleas seem to have fallen on deaf ears.