Wednesday January 22 2014

‘I am trying hard to fit in my father’s shoes’

Leon Lwanga Lumaga is an air force  lieutenant. He is a son of Col Sserwanga Lwanga.

Leon Lwanga Lumaga is an air force lieutenant. He is a son of Col Sserwanga Lwanga. PHOTO BY DOMINIC BUKENYA. 

By Risdel Kasasira

“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.

The last time I talked to him was in December 1995, he came to Kalangala with two fiat trucks full of cement and iron sheets. He was donating the cement and iron sheets. That was his last journey to Kalangala alive. Before he left, we were at church and he gave me money and said: “Take this money to help you study. Don’t spend it on pancakes.”

He was good and loving. But soldiers used to fear him. Soldiers are tough at work but become fathers when they are at home. I’m trying hard to fit into his shoes. But it’s not easy.
There was a cause at that time for him to go to the bush because of problems at that time. If you want to win a lottery prize, you must buy a lottery coupon. He couldn’t have sat here in Kampala to talk about the need to have change when he couldn’t participate.

I was able to go to school because government helped. In November 1996 during my father’s funeral rites, the late Eriya Kategaya pledged that government would pay our school fees and indeed they have done that. He later helped me to join State House Scholarship scheme. He told me how my father helped him to dodge a roadblock mounted by government soldiers in Malaba to arrest him.

He sent me to State House to meet Ssekubwabo Kyeyune, the former presidential assistant in charge of welfare. When I went to State House, I found Kyeyune waiting for me. I was sponsored until I finished the university. I did Business Computing at Makerere Business School and later a post graduate diploma in financial management.

My youngest sibling Amanda Lisa is in Senior Six and my other sister got married. I joined the army in 2008 after working with NSSF for three years. I think joining the army was a calling. I never enjoyed what I was doing in the private sector.”

Who is Col Sserwanga Lwanga?

He joined the NRA bush war in 1981. In the bush, Col Serwanga Lwanga served in many capacities and held many important appointments. He was NRA political commissar as early as January 1982, an intelligence officer in the same year and a deputy chief political commissar by December 1983.

He was the acting commanding officer of the Task Force Black Bombers by 1984, an urban brigade that attacked government forces in and around Kampala. He became the commander of the Northern Brigade in 1986, now UPDF 4th Division, and a chief political commissar from 1989, untill his death in 1996.

By the time of his death, he was a member of National Resistance Council, the government legislative arm. During the Constituency Assembly, Col Lwanga, Dr Kizza Besigye, Gen David Sejusa, and Brig Noble Mayombo were a quartet who exhibited brilliant debate.