Thursday January 31 2013

January 26, 1986: We remember Brother Kisitu

By Karoli Ssemogerere

In January 2011 the college chapel at St. Mary’s College Kisubi filled up, it quickly went into overflow. Kisubi has many dignitaries and hosts many events which will fill up the 1, 200-seat capacity chapel but this was a special day-
Lying in state at the head of the chapel was Brother Emmanuel Kisitu. Shortly thereafter, his plain casket would quickly disappear into the Brother’s cemetery. Emmanuel Kisitu’s life had been devoted to early childhood education. Born in 1930 all he had done was teach or run a primary school.

1985 found him in the care of a little over 250 children at Savio Junior School. Savio Junior School was founded in 1955 to act as a feeder school to St. Mary’s College Kisubi. At the helm of this enterprise was Emmanuel Kisitu. In 1984-1985 he had managed to keep the school running when schools were closing down because of lack of food. In 1985, Bro. Kisitu had made the right prediction and closed the school the Friday before the July 27 coup. The 1985 Coup today is written about as a bloodless coup but the country was in a state of paralysis for one week before the final resistance by pro-Obote forces died down.

The lives and innocence of children is almost sanctimonious. If the country at the time was falling apart- an ethnic divide between the north and the south; it was not up to people like Brother Kisitu to promote the same divisions. During my time, we had the son of a very outspoken District Commissioner Benson Ogwang, the Mpigi D.C. There were a few other names that would get folks then losing control of their bowel movements. Many of these sadly have passed on; David Kanyamusaayi, the CID Director, was one of those. As a child I thought he was a vampire rather than a human being. It almost seemed ironic that his name rhymed with that of his boss- Dr Luwuliza Kirunda the Internal Affairs boss. “Luwuliza” would listen in on people’s conversations before “Kanywamusaayi” sucked out their blood with long jail sentences or the Minister sent them to jail under the Public Order and Security Prevention Act of No. 11 of 1967.
So my god-father’s son Kasirye shared the same benches with the children of people who were responsible for his detention. These were the lives we were used to at the time very complex yet not removed from childhood pleasures like swimming in the lake and so on.
In January 1986, school opened again. But this time Bro. Kisitu seemed to have made a miscalculation of great proportions. The term was one week old when rumours of military movements descended on our hill. On one day, it dawned on us that NRA positions now seemed closer than we thought. It did not take long before sightings of the guerillas became common knowledge. An old UPM hand, Mr Byensi, who taught English, had disappeared at the end of 1985 to join the NRA rebels in something close to a Bond action; something that was replicated just two years later by our Music and Maths teacher Mr Ogwang to join the Holy Spirit Movement. Mr Byensi lived but Mr Ogwang did not.
As the week wore on, it was clear we would not be able to go home. SMACK was evacuated and students there some barely 13, endured long distances into rebel held territory. Brother Kisitu did not have the capacity to evacuate a much younger contingent.
To this day the profile of this man strikes me as not only courageous but saintly. He huddled everyone in the three dormitories. The gun-battle of Kisubi waged first on the Main road and then in the grounds of Savio Junior School with a gunner right above one dormitory. Shortly, after 9.00 a.m on a late week day, rounds began flowing down-hill at UNLA positions from the gunner.
The steady blast of gun-fire blasted bolted doors and windows open. Teachers stood over us while Brother Kisitu in breaks traveled from one dormitory to another. Kisitu a jolly man in happy times and even when he was very “cross” was in tears exasperated at how close we were to death. Now much older, I remember the implications were much deeper. On his pupil list there were kidnapping targets, possible ransom targets and another bloodbath that could begin if a deranged gunman opened the doors of the dormitories.
We did not have cell phones then. Somehow, Kisitu in his industriousness still managed to prepare meals for the students and teachers who were huddled. No mean challenge given that the kitchen even though closed used firewood which had to be taken apart by pick axe before being shuttled to the kitchen.
Palpable relief after two days descended on Kisubi after the war ended. Kisitu travelled to Kampala for the swearing in ceremony. When he returned, he announced to us we had a new government.
I recall raising my hand and asking how long had the President committed to staying in power. Kisitu wearily and perhaps in a signal of what was to come said weakly: “he says four years.” Happy 27th NRM Anniversary.

Mr Ssemogerere, an attorney and social entrepreneur, practices law in New York.