My father’s death has refocused my mind on the brevity of life and its ultimate meaninglessness. One hundred years-plus, yet so brief a sojourn in time.
While he lived, Omugurusi Ezra Kisigo Mulera was a larger than life presence; a huge tree that gave me life and shade; a mountain that, like Muhabura, was my faithful guide. However, much as I would have wished otherwise, his death has neither stilled the Earth nor changed the Sun’s routine. Humanity’s frenzied activities, even among his immediate family, have continued unabated. We now speak of him in the past tense.
Kigyezi and Uganda, the land that he served with passion, one whose political battles he fought as though his life depended on it, march on without him. Yes, those political battles of the 1960s, bloody affairs, so to speak, that inflicted deep wounds on our society! My father was the last man standing among the great commanders of the fratricidal battles within the Kigyezi branch of 1960s Uganda People’s Congress (UPC).
It was a period upon which he looked back with deep regret and apologies. Fortunately, he lived long enough to apologise to the younger men and women with whom he and his generation locked horns in the 1960s Banyama-Baboga war that was driven, not by an ideological contest, but by personality cults.
The Banyama supported John Wycliffe Lwamafa, a minister in the first post-independence government. The Baboga supported John Bikangaga, the Rutakirwa (constitutional head) of Kigyezi.
The genesis and theatrics of that conflict are beautifully chronicled by Charles Kabuga in his excellent autobiography Charles Kabuga: Learning, Leading, Legacy.
My father, who was taught by Lwamafa and Bikangaga at Kigyezi High School, had been a friend of both men before the madness descended upon the land. The Banyama-Baboga conflict shredded the relationship between my father and Lwamafa.
It was not until they were sobered up by Idi Amin Dada’s military coup d’état in 1971 that the two men restored their friendship and brotherhood. Happily, they became closer than they had been before the foolish conflict.
When I last spoke with Lwamafa, only months before his death in 1988, he deeply regretted his role in the Banyama-Baboga political fiasco. “I am very sorry that we let you down,” Lwamafa told me.
These words were similar to what my father and Bikangaga told me in their last years. I knew that the three men were genuinely sorry that they had contributed to a destructive conflict that ill-served the land that they all loved.
Now that they and all their colleagues with whom they presided over that conflict are gone, we who witnessed the madness – and were swept up in it - are left to ponder the consequences of their actions. Kigyezi gained nothing from it.
Sadly, Kigyezi appears to have learnt very little from it. Personality politics remains in the driver’s seat. Many of today’s politicians from Kigyezi fight and undermine their colleagues, their agendas centred on self-interest, not on the common good. I listen to the words of some of the MPs from Kigyezi and wonder who has bewitched them. A functional caucus of Kigyezi parliamentarians remains a distant dream. Unity of purpose is not part of our regional leaders’ vocabulary.
Our history and experience are ignored in the desperate jostling for personal attention and favour from the country’s ruler. To many, Kigyezi is a stepping stone, not a project that needs focused and collective attention and representation. Not surprisingly, Kigyezi lags behind most of Uganda even as her sons and daughters hold key positions in the current government of the Republic.
Driving along the horrible roads in Rukiga and Kabale districts during the current rainy season has left me dejected. Poverty and hopelessness seem more entrenched than ever. Able-bodied beggars everywhere. Inebriated men at noon. Mass despair.
This in a region that has produced some of the brightest men and women in Uganda. This is a region that has produced two prime ministers, ministers of finance, secretaries to the Treasury, a Governor of the Central Bank, and trusted courtiers in the current rulers’ palace.
This in one of the most beautiful parts of Africa, with a potential to turn its tourism opportunities into large cash inflows, and its intellectually gifted citizens into lucrative service industries. We need wisdom to find a way of salvaging the land of our fathers and mothers who, notwithstanding their errors, invested in our education as they sought to advance Kigyezi.
We need wisdom to choose leaders – not self seekers – regardless of partisan political colours.
What is true of Kigyezi is true of most parts of Uganda. The damage that has been done to this beautiful country by the vanity of political battles in the last 50 years is sobering.
We do not have much time left to do our bit in the search for healing. There was a time when my father and his peers were as young and as vibrant as we are. In all likelihood, they too overlooked their mortality just like we foolishly do. Yet time marches on.
Today’s youth will be tomorrow’s dead. The famous and powerful will be forgotten or despised before this century ends.
Our names will be forgotten by future generations. That’s fine with me. The mansions, cars, feasts and power that so consume us today will become senseless rubble as we totter towards our graves – sooner than we think. That too is fine with me.
However, our deeds will outlive us. They will impact our children and grandchildren. That’s what matters to me. It should matter to you.
I am reminded of the words of Moses in Psalm 90:12 – “..teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” We need wisdom to find a different path towards fulfilling the dreams of our fathers and mothers, and to leave a legacy of real progress and prosperity in a land of freedom – true freedom – not just for some, but for all of God’s children. It is not beyond our means.