Heroes Day 2020 began like any other day. In the morning, Maj Gen Kasirye Gwanga, 68, breathed his last in a Kampala hospital, and in the evening, President Nkurunziza of Burundi, 56, suffered cardiac arrest in Bujumbura.
President Nkurunziza’s death floated for sometime, when everyone on social media is requesting for “confirmation”. In fact, the confirmation came from a foreign media organisation, BBC, a major but diminished news organisation due to the times that still covers news all over the globe, a connection to Britain’s colonial past.
Burundi has been wrapped in various episodes of violence, episodes of nation building and a semblance of normalcy with President Nkurunziza preparing to handover power to his chosen successor. Nkurunziza, loved and hated in equal measure, would retire with a modest presidential pension of $500,000 and basically all the accoutrements of a sitting president.
The last time this model had been in use was in 1985 after the retirement of Julius Kambarage Nyerere. Tanzanians were so beholden to their leader who had risen from glory, Ujamaa through a repressive period, itself a product of a failing economy and the Uganda war that left the country bankrupt. Ironically, the bankrupt economy saved a wider elite for service.
People like President Jakaya Kikwete, who had a capitalist outlook, were all around. Even John Magufuli, the chemist, were still a decade from joining elective politics.
Nyerere was respected more than feared. So many of the attributes of authoritarian rulers even where they existed were simply not discussed.
Nkurunziza was accused of presiding of many things, bloodletting, but he was able to share one accolade with Nyerere, a solid plan to leave office. For Burundi that rivals Tanzania in the number of ex-presidents alive, this was no mean achievement. In Burundi, the ex-presidents are life members of the upper chamber, the Senate.
Kenya is different, the departure rather than death in office, was a much later thing that kicked off in 2002 when Moi’s chosen successor Uhuru Kenyatta lost his first run for the presidency at age 41 before capturing the seat a decade later. Tanzania once Muwalimu’s consensus was accepted it paved way for people on katebe like Kikwete to become president.
So Nkurunziza, the soccer-loving president, had just passed the first test, organising an election where he wasn’t a candidate. The Constitutional Court affirmed the election in EAC’s sole francophone country.
Burundi has challenges coming up as the guarantor of the peace in their nascent economy has passed on. People may forget they have a new president.
Back to Gen Gwanga, he has been ailing for sometime even though as the case there is, still disbelief when the inevitable happens, he was just 68 years old. A prosecutor at the chambers of the DPP regularly releases on social media decisions of major criminal decisions from the higher courts.
Uganda versus Evaristo Nyanzi, a case that had among the accused persons Andew Kayiira where Gen Gwanga was a key witness. This is not the time to delve into the details, but Gen Gwanga and other people with a military background, had lots of things to say about their time in the cold.
There are a few of his peers who were officers who had gone to officer cadet after UCE, which was a very high level of education at the time. Gen Katumba Wamala, and others who exited like Frank Njuki.
Its amazing that people familiar with Gen Ggwanga and his career are still alive. Over the years, Gen Ggwanga has enjoyed largesse from the State, and a don’t disturb sign. Those and other answers require a longer write up.
Ggwanga’s role as a key informer and witness in 1986 partly, but not entirely, explain this role but that’s for another time.
Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-At-Law and an Advocate.