On July 25, afternoon, social media was awash with condolence messages to the family of Charles Kwebangira Byabakama and Rukungiri District. Byabakama was the Kebisoni Town Council Sub-county chairperson and is remembered for the good, the bad and the ugly in politics depending on who speaks about him.
“Byabakama spent much of his time doing political mobilisation that he barely had time for his family business,” says Steven Tumuheirwe, former Kamukuzi Divison chairperson and his elder brother, adding that, he advocated and worked for Rukungiri to be a model. He was optimistic and looked for anything that brought about unity.”
From classroom to politics
A teacher turned politician, Byabakama served diligently in all positions he held after 1986 when the NRM government took power. He was a mobiliser, civil servant and politician, which earned him credit at different levels.
He cut his teeth in politics in the late 1980s as chairperson of Kebisoni Sub-county, a position he held until 2003 after which he was was appointed Resident District Commissioner of Rukungiri District.
“Appointed RDC, Byabakama approached me for counsel on his new role. I just told him about a leopard’s character. It is the most fierce but it can never kill or feed on an animal in its habitat,” Zabron Bakeiha, the former Rukungiri district education officer, recalls.
“A lepoard only escorts someone to their home and ensures that the person is unharmed lest they would blame him for killing that person.” I think he took the advice and he served well without hurting his own people,” Bakeiha adds.
Indeed during his time as RDC, the storm that had gathered in Rukungiri following the 2001 presidential elections involving Dr Kizza Besigye somehow settled and political activity was reduced.
Even upon his return from exile in South Africa, he addressed a rally in Rukungiri stadium before he was arrested on his way back to Kampala.
After the 2006 elections, he was transferred to Yumbe district as RDC in what some thought of as punishment for being soft on the opposition supporters.
During the bush war struggle that brought President Museveni to power in 1986, Byabakama was a key mobiliser of fighters from Rukungiri District to the war zones to aid in fighting against the Obote II government. He was arrested and tortured but managed to escape and join the struggle.
On many occasions he had to block Dr Besigye from addressing rallies. He once ordered security to block Dr Besigye at Kahengye (Rukungiri border with Ntungamo) from entering Rukungiri District.
“I do not participate in those things called defiance and I don’t go on street to protest. What if I sustain injuries. Those of us who never did those things (defiance) never crashed with him. I was the mayor and he was the district chairman but we would plan for our district, even when he became RDC he would sometimes consult me,” Charles Makuru, the Rukungiri Municipality, mayor says.
At the time of his death, he was recovering from a stroke which he suffered in 2017. However, he always came off as a brave and daring man.
At the funeral, Joy Byabakama, his wife, praised her husband for being strong.
“Despite his ailment, my husband would still want to do everything by himself. Well knowing that he was incapacitated, he took long to accept the situation he had lived in for three years. He did not want a caretaker to wash his clothes, to dress him or care for his hygiene but he had no option. My husband suffered a lot,” Joy eulogised.
In a condolence message presented to the family by Gen Jim Muhwezi accompanied by Shs40m as burial contribution, President Museveni, said Byabakama was a brave fighter who mobilised well for the ruling party from times of the revolution to date.
The former information minister Maj Gen Muhwezi said Byabakama’s legacy would continue to impact many in Rukungiri district and the country where he served.
Roland Mugume Kaginda, MP for Rukungiri Municipality found Byabakama versatile.
“I have never seen a man like Byabakama whose leadership and politics was in his blood. A man who served as LCIII chairperson, RDC then LC V chairperson and back to serve as chairman LC III! I don’t think I can do that,” Kaginda said.
He served at different boards including the Uganda National Farmers Forum (UNFA), was chairperson of PTA at Muntuyera High School, Kitunga, a member of the Commonwealth Farmers Federation representing Africa and also in different positions at Internal Security Organisation and External Security Organisation.
The Rubabo County MP Mary Paula Turyahikayo, described him as a distinguished leader, progressive farmer and role model who supported development.
His successor Charles Andrewson Katebire describes Mr Byabakama as a patriotic leader who especially loved the NRM and he put the nation and Rukungiri district in particular, first.
At his burial on Sunday, July 28, in Nyamambo village, Kebisoni Town Council, several politicians including former FDC presidential candidate Dr Besigye and Kyadondo East Member of parliament, Mr Robert Sentamu Kyangulanyi, attended.
Who is Byabakama?
Born in 1959, he died at 60, survived by a widow and seven children.
Byabakama attended to Kinyasano Primary School, was among the pioneers of Muntuyera High School, Kitunga with Chief Justice Bart Katureebe and Principal Judge Yorokamu Bamwine before joining a teachers’ training college in Rukungiri District. He graduated and taught different in schools.
He later joined political activism in 1979 participating in recruitment from fighters in a war against president Idi Amin Dada. In 1980, he joined the Uganda Patriotic Movement which later metamorphosed into NRM.
In 1983 he was arrested tortured and detained before fleeing to Rwanda before returning to fight in the war in Buhweju then Bushenyi District.
He became a full time politician from 1985, becoming the sub- county chairperson of Kebisoni for two terms, and later district councillor in the council where FDC secretary for mobilisation Ingrid Turinawe was deputy speaker and was appointed RDC in 2003 in Rukungiri and later Yumbe District.
He replaced Zedekia Katono Karokora as district chairperson in 2011.
In 2017 during the Rukungiri District Woman MP by-election, a new town council of Kebisoni was created where he stood and became the first chairperson.