‘I am trying hard to fit in my father’s shoes’
Posted Wednesday, January 22 2014 at 02:00
On January 26, the National Resistance Movement (NRM/A) government will mark 28 years in power. In a countdown to this day, Daily Monitor is running a series dubbed CHILDREN OF REVOLUTIONARIES, where we interview children of those who fought or facilitated the 1981-86 Bush War. In this 10th part of the series, Risdel Kasasira talks to Leon Lwanga Lumaga, son of Col Sserwanga Lwanga, about growing up with an absentee father, who was with the NRA rebels in the bush.
“I am Leon Lwanga Lumaga, but people like calling me Sserwanga Lwanga Junior. I was born on November 7, 1983, during the National Resistance Army struggle. I was born in Masaka but both my parents were from Kalangala.
I work in the Ministry of Defence under Air force. I was commissioned a lieutenant in 2008. We are the pioneers of the Uganda Military Academy, Kabamba. My mum died in 2001 when I was in Senior Four vacation. I started school in Bumangi Primary School in Kalangala and when I completed primary, I joined St Lawrence.
When I lost my mother in 2001, I started looking at this world differently. A year later, I lost my uncle, Eng Mark Gava, who was my dad’s younger brother. He had become my dad. He was the one looking after me following my father’s death on January 5, 1996.
I first saw my father in Kalangala after they had captured power. He joined NRA in 1981, a month before he graduated. He went to the bush but his parents thought he had been killed by the government soldiers. But one time he was in Masaka carrying out a clandestine operation and someone saw him and went home and told my grandfather. My grandfather could not accept because he thought he was dead.
Even on the day he was supposed to graduate with his other brother, Eng Mark Musenga, I am told my grandfather refused to go to Makerere despite insistence from my grandmother that they go and attend the graduation of Musenga. He reportedly said: “I cannot sit in front of Obote whose troops killed my son.” I am told my grandmother used to cry all the time.
Before he left to join the bush war, my father intimated to his cousin that he was going to join the NRA but warned him never to tell anyone, including his parents. He kept it a secret.
My father grew up in Luzira with his aunt and her son was later killed during the war, thinking he was Sserwanga Lwanga.
In 1984, uncle Musenga and my aunt’s son were at home on Christmas Eve. Uncle Musenga was reportedly reading the Bible and my aunt’s son was ironing clothes. They heard someone pushing the door trying to enter the house. Uncle Musenga told my aunt’s son to take cover after seeing the gun muzzle. But for him, he rushed to lock the door and he was shot through the window.
When my father met his cousin he intimated that he was going to the bush in Malaba. They later met there and discussed the killing of their cousin and my father told him that he had received intelligence that government soldiers were looking for him. My father was in Malaba to do reconnaissance.
During the meeting in Malaba, his cousin told him that his mother was distraught but he said it would be unsafe for his parents and other people to know he was alive and fighting in the bush.
Those days he used to quietly sneak from the bush and visit his relatives in Nabweru. My other uncle, Luke Kalibawo, the current bursar of Old Kampala Secondary, also told him about the miserable condition my grandmother was living.
My uncle convinced him to meet his mother. My grandmother was told that there was something urgent and she travelled to Kazo where other relatives were staying. Reaching Kazo, she saw her son. She was relieved and happy. He, however, emphasised that no one should tell grandfather that he was alive. When grandmother went back to Kalangala, she continued “mourning” her son.
I saw my father with so many soldiers after they captured power. He had come for celebrations in 1986 and that’s when his father realised he had not died.
They captured power when he was 33 and he was made the first Principal Private Secretary to the President. It took him time to marry. He married in 1995 and died in 1996. He came from Parliament in the morning and went to church for his wedding.
He later became National Political Commissar and the Fourth Division commander, replacing Maj Gen Pecos Kutesa. My father was born a commander. He was a man of action. Open-minded and independent minded. He had prophetic traits. Most of the things he talked about are happening today. I remember when he once said land policies in Buganda should change. He called for use of land as a security. He talked about having estate developers buying and developing land. He was advancing this argument when he was political commissar and they are happening now. These days I see Jomayi and others.
I was told by his friends that towards the end of the rebellion, he was told that he was betrayed by FEDMU (Federal Democratic Movement of Uganda) boys. He reached the roadblock and one of the FEDMU boys saluted him as an afande and government soldiers arrested him.
Luckily enough, the NRA side had also captured a chopper in Kasese with five soldiers. They had to go into a swap deal. NRA gave a condition that UNLA releases my father and they also release the chopper and the occupants.