On Saturday night, my best friend and brother, Robert Aldridge Kasango, died in Murchison Bay Hospital in Luzira Prison. The cause of death was heart failure. He was only 46 years. Bob did not have to die at this early age and in the way he did – alone and lonely, away from the care of his family and friends or competent doctors, in a prison hospital not equipped to handle his condition.
At Murchison Bay, he had no access to the medical attention he needed. First, the prosecution protested his application to go abroad for heart surgery in spite of specialist doctors recommending it as urgent and critical. Then one day the judge arbitrarily cancelled his bail and later convicted him. Court rejected bail pending his appeal, so he could access a better-equipped hospital and competent doctors to handle his complicated condition and also be cared for by his family.
In a country where people accused of murder, robbery, treason, defilement and terrorism regularly get bail I found the treatment of Bob depressing but also illuminating.
But this is the time to celebrate the life of this great man, to give testimony to this victor in a thousand battles.
I met Bob in 1992 during a school debate when we were both teenagers and became instant friends. It was like love at first sight; within one minute of our meeting we were hooked. People who knew us thought that we would be friends; if we met. It could only be that way because Bob embodied many attributes which made him magnetic: handsome, intelligent, articulate, jovial, humorous, witty, name it. It became a lifelong long union. And now he is gone, yet still young with so much he could offer.
Across the years, Bob and I spent a lot of time together, read books together, debated together, attended conferences together, did business together, travelled locally and internationally together, dined and wined together, struggled together, celebrated together, lent each other money, spent time at each other’s home, we became twins. My first date with Fifi, the love of my life, was in hospital on Bob’s side. His wife Nice Bitarabeho brought us the dinner there.
Then, misfortune struck. The state accused Bob of theft of Shs 15.3 billion. The money belonged to pensioners and had been properly appropriated and paid to his law firm. The pensioners testified that Bob had served his role to their satisfaction. The Shs 15.3 billion was what they agreed to pay him. The case was pursued with relentless tenacity. Finally in a judgment that will live in infamy Bob was sentenced to 16 years in jail.
I visited Bob regularly in Luzira, almost every weekend, especially before Covid-19. When Covid-19 struck, prisons were set off limits and visitations stopped. But because of his sickness and the kindness of prison authorities, I was allowed to visit him twice this year.
Bob was resilient. Thus in Luzira, he preserved his optimism, humour, confidence, kind heartedness and generosity. Each time I visited, I took him books to read, friends to share experiences with. He was always jovial and conducted himself as if he was on a short leave.
When he went to jail, Bob seemed to recover. I recognised his inner fighting spirit. He was determined to prove his innocence and stage a dramatic comeback. He acted like he had made a strategic retreat, preparing his offensive to return to the stage. The disease that had threatened to kill him now seemed to be in miraculous retreat. In prison Bob found renewed energy and vitality.
He read books, reflected, introspected. He developed an incredible insight into the weaknesses and strength of both the judicial and prison system and began writing a treatise on how to improve the system. When I visit prisoners, all they talk about are their troubles; the people who betrayed them, those who fought them and the injustice they are facing, which is understandable.
Yet Bob rarely complained about the injustice meted against him, or his personal situation. In almost all cases, he talked for the forgotten inmates of Luzira; men wrongly incarcerated, others lacking legal representation, those with medical or family problems, and sought his assistance to help them. It is rare to find such a selfless soul – concerned about the issues of everyone else when his own weighed heavily on him. Who does that? That was Bob.
Instead of jail putting him down, it fired his creativity and gave him a new purpose. He had no time for self-pity, never allowed anger to cloud his judgment or let short term reversals undermine his optimism and his enduring faith in a bright future. He saw in every setback an opportunity to learn, in every misfortune a chance to sit back and reflect and in every disaster the stirrings of his imagination, giving him new horizons.
Thus in Luzira, sickly, seemingly crushed by a 16-year sentence and bad press, Bob bounced back with renewed energy and vitality. He helped extend legal services to other inmates – for free: listened to their cases, provided them advice on how to go about their cases (how to plead or appeal), wrote their appeals and using his friends paid some of their legal bills making them feel treasured, cared for and human again. Within two months of him in Luzira, he had helped more than 50 inmates get their freedom.
He became a lecturer in the prison teaching law and helping inmates get degrees from the University of London. He read books, lectured and tutored, wrote and analysed, helped his inmate-students focus, inspired them to look beyond their prison environment to a future after prison. The prison officials too were both intrigued and inspired by Bob’s selflessness, his boundless energy, his enduring optimism and his unbroken and unbreakable spirit.
Loved and generous
He organised inmates to pray and fellowship with the Lord, invited prison officials to communion with him and other inmates making everyone feel equal and loved. Prison warders fell in love with Bob; they always went to him for advice or to seek help to solve their problems using his large network of friends. He became a celebrity, a mentor, saviour and adviser to many and thus earned a place as a sage of Luzira Maximum Security Prison.
Bob derived satisfaction, fulfilment, meaning and purpose in life from helping others. I have met few generous persons who can even compete. His generosity knew no boundaries. Initially, his generous spirit made me feel guilty because I just lacked the inner spirit to give endlessly without expecting a return. But then I realised this should instead inspire me as well and make me a better person to my family, friends and the community around me.
Wherever he went, he expressed his gratitude to those who served him by learning their names, asking about their lives and giving them tips. In banks and restaurants, in clinics and clubs, on planes and in taxes, Bob always gave generous tips to those who served him and established relationships with them that survive to date.
Retired not dead
Bob was a committed Christian who believed that life on earth was only a short stint to life eternal. We know he has gone to communion with God. To his dear wife Nice and children Samora, Stephie and Ivana, your grief should be relieved by the fact that Bob has not died. He has retired from this world to the next and is waiting for you to join him.
To those who knew him, Bob was not perfect, and he would have been the first person to admit this. He made many mistakes and misjudgements. But looking at his life, one conclusion is unmistakable; he was bigger than those mistakes.
These are excerpts from Andrew M Mwenda’s original eulogy published on Facebook.
Whenever he visited our offices at The Independent, staff crowded around him, listening to him discourse on social, political and business issues. Then, Bob would be in his element; rigorous, insightful, dashing, humorous, witty, poetic. He just commanded presence and got respect and admiration. Staff just felt good being around him.
Aside from this, he listened to the personal and family problems of staff, understood their struggles, then digested their aspirations and challenges and wherever and whenever possible extended help in form of a connection or money or just advice. Anyone who met Bob would immediately feel the tinge of his magnificent personality. He never lost hope, never lost his humour, never got bitter, never lost faith in the goodness of the human soul, never lost his cool, never abandoned his friends.