About a month ago, Dr Francis Ssenoga received a most shocking call. The man on the line, one of Ssenoga’s relatives told him his father, Mr Thomas Aquinas Kaggwa Jombya, was alive. Ssenoga could hardly believe it. He had last heard of his father several years ago. Jombya’s family were convinced he had passed away and now here was someone telling Ssenoga that the man was alive. Was this a prank call? Was someone trying to con some money out of him? It was none of the two. Mr Jombya was actually alive, albeit unwell.
The reason for Ssenoga’s shock is understandable. It was in 1978 that Jombya suddenly disappeared under mysterious circumstances. There was a search for him, but it bore nothing. Ssennoga and his relatives concluded that Jombya might have been kidnapped, murdered and afterwards his body gotten rid of by the assassins.
But the whole mystery was solved about a month ago when information prevailed that the man whom everybody had assumed dead, 36 years ago was still alive and living in Buvuma Islands in Buvuma District. “It was one of my relatives who called me and informed me that that my dad had been found alive but sick in the islands,” Ssennoga says.
For a person who had actually never seen his father, this news rather than bring joy, created all sorts of questions for Ssenoga: “Where has he been all this time? What is the point now that he is still alive? What difference would it make since he had not been there throughout my life?”
Ssennoga says that it was probably because of these looming questions in his head that he did not feel any kind of emotion upon hearing such an update about his father.
Despite his misgivings, the 44-year-old made the necessary arrangements to have him transported from the islands to Kampala. Within a few days, Jombya was brought to the city and taken immediately to Mulago Hospital for treatment.
Doctors diagnosed him with bilharzia. After spending a week in hospital, Jombya was discharged, after which he went to stay with one of his deceased brother’s wives in Mpererwe, a suburb in Kampala. All these arrangements had been done in Ssennoga’s absence because he had travelled out of the country. “I had gone for a business trip and had given them some money to take care of everything,” he says.
And so one of the first things he did after returning, was to go and pay his father a visit. As he was driving from Entebbe to Mpererwe, Dr. Ssennoga could not help but rather feel perplexed that his father had been found after so many years.
When he arrived at the home, he was welcomed by relatives and ushered into the sitting room. A few minutes later, Jombya who was dressed in a checked shirt and a pair of grey trousers emerged from the bedroom and shook his son’s hand firmly.
“He also cried uncontrollably after seeing me,” says Ssennoga.
Unlike his father, there were no tears in Ssennoga’s eyes. He was calm and composed. As much as he kept on reassuring him how everything was going to be fine, he also made it a point to ask his father what his wishes were now.
“I want to go back home with you,” was the old man’s reply to his son.
It would not be possible at that point as Ssenoga had to arrange for his stay first. He promised to pick him up the following day, which was January 14, this year.
The promise was honoured. The 72-year-old was picked up, taken for further medical check-up at Kampala Hospital and finally to his new family home in Namugongo, a township in central Uganda. Ssennoga now says he intends to look after his father until the time he breathes his last breath. Meanwhile, he says that they are starting to bond through the many conversations that they have on an almost regular basis.
How Kaggwa Jombya left without a trace
Dr Francis Ssennoga was only eight years old when he learnt of his father’s disappearance. At that time, he was under the care of his maternal aunt and her husband. He was staying with them right from the time he was one-year-old.
“It was my mother who handed me over to them. They wanted to raise me as a son of their own,” he says. The other reason was because his mother was still so young at the time (20 years) and the relationship between her and Ssennoga’s father was rocky.
His aunt and her husband showered him with love and affection and it is this family that he lived with till he became of age. Ssennoga’s biological mother always made it a point to go and check on her son. “She would bring for me nice clothes unlike my father who never visited me. I would only hear about him but never got the chance to see him,” he says.
It was during the last funeral rites of his grandfather in Mpererwe when the then eight-year-old was informed by his relatives about his father’s disappearance. “They said that my father had gone to collect fresh produce from Buluuli, a county in Nakasongola District and sell it in Kampala. This was during the time his father had been sick. He wanted to raise some money for treatment. However, he failed to return and his father died,” he explains.
Brief sightings of Jombya
Afterwards, contradicting stories began emerging about Jombya’s whereabouts. Some said he had been sighted along the shores of Lake Kyoga and others said he had been seen in the islands of Lake Victoria. “Our family had tried to follow up all the leads but all of them came to naught,” he recalls.
With time, the family members concluded that he had died.
“How else would one explain the disappearance of a man whose faculties were all operating well?” Ssennoga says, adding, “1978, was Amin’s regime and that did not help matters. We concluded that he had been killed by his men.”
So by the time Jombya joined secondary school in 1984, for his senior one, he knew his father did not exist anymore.
The impact of not having a father however hit him hard after he finished his senior four in Namilyango College and was about to start his senior five. At the time, his aunt and her husband could no longer afford to pay his school fees since they were getting old. His mother could not help much either, since she had many other responsibilities.
“This was the time I wished my father was around. I was in a hopeless situation. All I thought about was that if my father had been around, he would have sorted out my school fees,” he says. For the next two years, Ssennoga was unable to attend school. He was however determined to succeed. So he devised a plan. He borrowed notes from students who attended class and read them in preparation for Advanced Level Examinations.
“I sat for the exams as a private candidate at 3Rs Secondary School in Mukono District. As much as I had not attended the classes, I knew I was going to pass because I often borrowed notes from my friends who attended different schools,” he says.
Ssennoga sat for his Advanced Level Examination in 1991, passed and joined the Institute of Teacher Education Kyambogo for a Diploma in Education.
After the Diploma in Education, the sky was the limit.
Excelling in school
He proceeded to Makerere University to study a Bachelor’s Degree in Education (Business Studies). In 2002 he joined Uganda Martyrs University to study an MBA (Master’s programme in Business Administration in Finance.) Then, in 2005, Ssennoga got a scholarship to the Netherlands and was eventually awarded a PhD in Public Procurement from the University of Twente in 2010.
Sadly, the parents who looked after him did not live long enough to see him succeed. The husband to his aunt passed away in 1991, his mother in 1999 and his aunt two years later in 2001.
Ssennoga hopes that he can learn to love his father as much as he loved his deceased aunt and her husband who brought him up like their real son. Some of the two things that he feels that his father missed out include seeing him transform from a humble child to the successful man that he is now.
Also, Ssennoga feels that Jombya missed out on meeting his mother who had always believed that he was still alive. “She still cared about him and that is why she was among the few members who believed he was not dead,” he says.
Although Ssennoga knows that his father is deeply sorry for abandoning him, he wants him to appreciate the fact that he was not around and use this time to also apologise to other family members who were affected by his departure.
The father’s story - I really do not know what made me disappear
“My name is Thomas Aquinas Kaggwa Jombya. I was born in 1942 in Mpererwe. I went to Mulajje Primary School and later proceeded to Nandere Junior School in Luweero district for my junior education.
After my education, I worked for Uganda Meat Packers till around 1970 when we were retrenched. Afterwards, I went into business full time. I was dealing in almost everything ranging from animals such as goats and cows; fresh produce such as beans, groundnuts and simsim; and sometimes fish. I built a home in Mpererwe where I stayed with my family. But because of the nature of the business, I travelled far and wide looking for supplies such as fresh produce to trade in.
In 1978, I disappeared. Just like every other day, I went to look for supplies and this time round, we went to various areas around Lake Kyoga, Lwampanga in particular. My intention was to look for fresh produce and bring it back to Kampala. I never returned. Up to now, I cannot say why. Part of the reason could have been my desire to get enough money such that I could come back and look after my family. One day became a month, a month turned to years and years to decades. I failed to communicate with my family members because there were no phones back then. Because of my hectic schedule which included travelling to different places with other traders to get supplies and then take them to the market in Katwe-Kampala, and then going back to search for more supplies, it became impossible to visit my family.
Since the business of buying produce became difficult especially during the 1980 to 1986 war, I had to change my line of trade. I decided to go fishing. I relocated to the islands of Buvuma around 1985. I moved from one island to another but in 1995, I settled on an island called Lwajje. It is here that I stayed till last month when I was brought to Kampala. All this time I lived there, I never returned to the mainland.
How he was reconciled with Dr. Francis Ssennoga
I had one time talked to the Chairman LC1 of Lwajje called Kassim, about where I was born and about the family I had left behind. So, when I became sick at the beginning of this year, the chairman took it upon himself to look for my family in Mpererwe. He found them and it is this family that organised my return and my treatment in Mulago and Kampala Hospital. The excitement that I had while making the journey was like that of a child thrilled about going to school for the first time. I even kept smiling to myself every now and then because I knew was going to meet my people again.
It was one of my family members in Mpererwe who called up my son, Dr. Francis Ssennoga and told him that I was finally found. The tears I cried upon seeing him were those of joy. It is something that can happen to anyone who has not seen a loved one in such a long time.
I now stay with him at his family home in Namugongo. I do not want to return to the islands immediately because we have just reconciled. Back in Buvuma, I left a plot of land and a house which I am now planning to sell since I will not be living there anymore.
Before I left, I had had six children. Five were from one woman and the other child was from another woman who happened to be Ssenoga’s mother. I left these children when they were really small. Most of them were below 10 years. Two have since died. I feel guilty that they had to grow up without me but I am now back.
I want to make it up to everyone and catch up on the all the things that I missed. The conversations that I have with him on a daily basis are already helping us bond. I am so grateful to him for having forgiven me. I know this because he told me so on the day we first met. I am old and frail but I hope I can get down to work and who knows, even buy a car.”