The year is 1974. I have gone to visit my sister, a student at the Institute of Teacher Education Kyambogo, which is what the place is called before it becomes a university.
Before I take my leave to board a taxi back to Makerere University, a very handsome gentleman emerges from a car. He walks towards us with a ramrod-straight gait, his black polished shoes hitting the ground with confident firmness, creating a click-clack sound whose rhythmic cadence I can still hear 45 years later.
My sister introduces the stranger as her friend. Though I don’t know what kind of friend he is, the gentleman’s beautiful smile, his A-plus attire, a perfect haircut, a tenor voice that delivers his measured words with careful diction, and an overall agreeable demeanor earn him quick preliminary approval.
He offers me a ride back to Makerere. I learn that the gentleman’s full name is Patrick Balati Kimumwe, a Musoga from Nkondo in Kamuli District. By the time we reach Nakawa, I have learnt that he “works for the Ministry of Defence.”
I decide that he is one of the higher ups in the ministry, obviously a civilian given his impeccable manners and fluent English. Then I notice a handgun lying in a cradle on the centre console of the car. Panic-stricken, I ask him what the thing is. Upon learning what I know already, I demand that he drops me off right there. “I’ll take a taxi,” I tell him.
Kimumwe keeps driving. His smile and calm voice push my patience to the limit and induce thoughts of a reckless exit from the moving car. “Yes, I am a soldier,” he admits, “but do not be afraid. Not all of us are bad.” He tells me he is a professional soldier and he hates what is happening in our country as much as I do.
I am not persuaded. I raise my voice and demand to be dropped off. We are near the Uganda Railways Station on Jinja Road. He stops the car. I make a quick exit, thank him for his kindness, and try to suppress thoughts of committing sororicide. How can my sister do this to me?
Long story. In the subsequent months, I discover that Maj Patrick Kimumwe is exactly whom he claims to be – a classic officer and gentleman. I soon embrace his love affair with my sister without reservation. Well, except that gun.
I make it clear to him that I hate guns, and he should not carry one when he visits me in Northcote Hall. He obliges. At least he does not let me see one.
Our friendship becomes that of brothers even before he marries my sister in January 1976. He leads an attempt to assassinate and overthrow Idi Amin in June 1977. The plot is foiled. Kimumwe and his friends are thrown in prison at Nakasero, to await their death by execution.
Kimumwe and nearly all his men gain their freedom through a most daring escape in October 1977 and join us as refugees in Nairobi. When Amin invades Tanzania in late 1978, Kimumwe agrees to join the Uganda National Liberation Army that will fight alongside the Tanzanians to retire Field Marshall Amin from the presidency.
Before departing for the war front, Kimumwe telephones me in Lesotho, where I am now a refugee, to invite me to join them. “We need doctors,” he pleads.
I remind him that I hate guns and I will not join him. Yes, I am conflicted, for I support the war, but I hate and fear guns.
Dr Brent Nduhuura, my friend and classmate, based in Lusaka, Zambia, also calls to invite me to join the war. I turn him down, wish him God’s grace and protection, and promise to pray for him. He accurately diagnoses my cowardice, to which I freely admit with no apologies.
Kimumwe, leading a marine unit on a mission to capture Entebbe, dies on Lake Nalubaale (Victoria) in early 1979. His entire unit perishes under circumstances that remain contested and incompletely documented.
Nduhuura survives the war. We have a very happy reunion in Kampala in May 1979. He is carrying an Avtomat Kalashnikova, better known as the AK-47, that frightful invention by Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov, a self-taught Russian weapons designer, whose contribution to humanity has caused massive rivers of blood.
I plead with Nduhuura to give up the gun and return to civilian medical practice. His hearty laughter at me is the most vivid memory of our last time together. Nduhuura is shot to death in the early 1980s.
Like nearly every Ugandan of my generation, I have lost many friends, acquaintances and relatives who have been victims of gun violence, even outside of formal war. Like you, Tingasiga, my heart bleeds each time I learn of another life wasted with a bullet. It does not matter who it is that is killed. I cannot accept or justify this madness.
Please do not bother to tell me that gun violence is worse in other countries. I know that. My concern is with the situation in Uganda, my homeland, where civilians and members of armed state organisations discharge bullets the way pipe-smokers spit after every few puffs. When does the madness stop?
The death of a man called Alseyed Ali Abdu Jabar, reportedly killed at the weekend by his sister-in-law, who was playing with his gun, invites us to have a serious conversation about Uganda’s love affair with guns. Are people so desensitised about the dangers of guns that they play with them as though they are kid’s toys?
One lesson from Jabar’s murder is that owning a gun is not an insurance against violent death. In fact, that very gun can be used to kill you. Guns, not people, kill people. Had his sister-in-law been throwing tennis balls at him, Jabber would probably be alive today.
I understand the role and, perhaps, necessity of armies and other armed security agents in this mad world. But if Kimumwe and Nduhuura returned today, I would tell them that I still I hate guns.
I still fear them. I have not touched one. Never will. Guns do not belong in civilised society. You heard me right. This planet is uncivilised. The statistics, even in peaceful Canada, tell the morbid story.