A fairly elderly man ushers me into a medium-sized green gate in the chic suburb of Kololo, where I see a modest storeyed house. With a neatly mowed green lawn only bleached by drying pale grass and a rail fence covered with flowery shrubs, the gigantic Tundra eclipses a smaller car to impose itself on the unassuming homestead, that is the residence of Maj. Gen Mugisha Muntu.
Only the occasional tweeting of birds and monster military helicopters that hovel in the skies from the nearby Kololo airstrip pierce the silence that envelopes this dwelling. Exquisite bricks are placed on the window and door panes to make an elegant exterior.
Donning a meticulously ironed light pink shirt, sleeves pulled back, Barack Obama –style, and neat black trousers with black jungle shoes, Gen Muntu speaks with a calculated, bold, defiant and sharp accent from a balcony beautifully decorated with flower pots to constitute a TV-like makeshift studio for our interview.
Born to Enoch Muntuyera Ruzima, a close confidante to former president, Milton Obote, and Idah Matama Muntuyera, on October 7, 1958, in a family of six, Muntu says the discipline he espouses today is largely attributed to the strong-willed character that his mother was. Two of his siblings passed on in the early 90s, reducing the family to four.
Attending his primary school at Mbarara Junior and later Kitunga Primary School, Muntu’s mother would not allow him don shoes to school, despite the young boy owning the rare luxury then, as a sign of humility.
“In hindsight, I think it was right because my mother helped instill in me a sense of self-discipline,” Muntu says in a calm, reflective tone describing his childhood as “ordinary with nothing spectacular’ though he was born in a relatively well-to-do family.
If memory serves him well, Muntu remembers that only three members of his class could afford a pair of shoes.
Muntu would later join Muntuyera High School Kitunga and Makerere College for his O and A-Levels respectively. He pursued Political Science at Makerere University. Muntu is an orator who believes he honed his speaking skills in the Debate club of Muntuyera High School Kitunga, where he also played cricket, baseball and was a member of the Geography club. “I used to be a shy character but debating helped me overcome that,”Muntu says cheekily about his secondary school days.
Army generals are fond of a penchant for an exuberant social life but surprisingly, Muntu, a former army commander does not partake in any of the vices associated with soldiers. Muntu, though he enjoyed the bottle in his early days, has since evolved into a teetotaler.
“I used to drink but stopped towards the end of my O-Level and also smoked for 10 years but quit [ironically] when I was in the bush,” Muntu says, about how he dropped the love for the bottle, without any specific thing on what inspired him.
“One time during the bush days, we were under intense pressure, moving very fast and I thought that I was becoming breathless and needed to take care about my health and therefore stopped smoking,” Muntu recalls what inspired him to quit the “Twin Devil of the Military”.
Muntu, who says rarely watches TV save for the History and the National Geographic Channel, spends most of his leisure time reading spiritual books, having become born-again in the early 2000s. His favourite is Joyce Meyer literature.
He, however, occasionally finds time to attend weddings and meet friends in other social gatherings. Those who have heard Muntu speak will attest to one of his favourite catch phrases being the “grace of God”, which he generously uses in all his speeches. When I ask him about how he ended up being saved, he borders on being philosophical.
“I had always searched in my mind trying to find out why on earth do we [people] exist but what sparked off my interest were footprints in the Church that talked about someone who was complaining about being abandoned by God,” Muntu says of his journey to salvation.
As he frequented the church on a Sunday, Muntu heeded a call for those who wanted to join Bible Study, ultimately leading him to salvation around 2000.
Muntu cuts an even more reserved figure when I ask him about how he met his wife, Julia Kakonge Muntu, who charmed the public with her looks during the recent campaigns, with a local tabloid claiming she was part of the ‘psychological blows’ votes were swayed to the General’s side.
“She was studying in Canada and had come for the funeral rites of her late father, John Kakonge, in Hoima, when I met her through a friend around Kampala in 1992,” Gen Muntu says, adding that it was the proverbial “love at first sight.”
Muntu married Julia Kakonge in 1992 and they have two children, Ankunda Muntu, 19, and Bukama Muntu, 16.
Over two hours into the interview, with the holiday season having kicked in and the Christmas festivities in the offing, this Kololo homestead is devoid of that excitement that fills most families during this period.
Muntu has to contend with spending time without his family as the children globe-trot with their mother on her banking adventures, initially with the East African Development Bank and currently with the African Development Bank in Tunis. “Emotions are subject to the state of your psychological preparation. Most times, you have to balance your life, “Muntu says of how he manages without the family.
With a wife not there, many men struggle to determine their outfits, but not Muntu. He is no shopping addict, only re-stocking his wardrobe mostly when travelling and he looks out for the perfect colour and fitting clothes. He holds no specific barber for his well-shaved moustache and hair, but visits several around town, depending on where the need to shave finds him.
Muntu does not struggle with his meals in the absence of the wife as he is a vegetarian who enjoys groundnuts. For his private business, the former army commander has managed a stone quarry in Mukono for the last 10 years and is launching an Information Technology project with a friend.