The children of Gen Elly Tumwine lay a wreath on his casket at Kololo Ceremonial Grounds on August 29, 2022. PHOTO | ABUBAKER LUBOWA


‘God used Tumwine to liberate Uganda’

What you need to know:

  • Gen Tumwine, a professional artist and artiste-turned-liberator, politician and entrepreneur, was a man of many hats and meant different things to different people he encountered or whose lives he touched. Thus, his remembrance was bound to be multichromatic, even polarising.

At around 9:30am, a green Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) ambulance yesterday pulled up at Kololo Ceremonial Grounds, which the army had ringed off at intersections of abutting roads.

Curious mourners under marquees craned their necks to catch a glimpse. Nothing was visible until the ambulance stopped near the helipad, and the backdoors were flanked ajar.

The body of Gen Elly Tumwine, who died in Kenya last Thursday aged 68, had arrived.

In past days of celebrations, and as chair of the National Awards Committee, his high-pitched voice echoed names of national heroes and heroines presented for medal awards. Yesterday was a national function, but for mourning him, drawing a tamed contrast. The mood at the official funeral service led by Bishop Emeritus Edward Muhima of North Kigezi Diocese, was sombre.

The UPDF Spokesperson, Brig Felix Kulayigye, who was the master of ceremonies, invited members of Tumwine’s family and the military’s top brass as well as protocol officers to the ambulance.  

Then the remains of Gen Tumwine in a casket draped in the national flag was placed on a gun carriage and drawn to a green UPDF funeral service tent in a quadrangle formed by other marquees.

Dirges and martial music played by UPDF band, both of which the general loved to sing and dance to, blared on gigantic speakers. The funeral service attendance was largely by invite.

Prospective mourners without invitations were welcome, but ordered to leave their telephone handsets at the gate. This and other security restrictions were a turn-off for some that simply walked away.  

Bishop of North Ankole Diocese Stephen Namanya leads mourners to receive the body of Gen Elly Tumwine at his home in Mukuru Village, Kazo District, yesterday. PHOTO | FELIX AINEBYOONA

Then shortly after 10am, police outriders cruised in followed closely by multiple armoured vehicles shadowing a state-of-the-art S500 Pullman Guard Benz in which President Museveni and wife were chauffeured.

The pair disembarked and headed to pay last respects to Tumwine. President Museveni, who is also the commander of the armed forces, removed his wide-brimmed hat, bowed and took a salute to a general who had also served as army commander and external spymaster.

Gen Tumwine, a professional artist and artiste-turned-liberator, politician and entrepreneur, was a man of many hats and meant different things to different people he encountered or whose lives he touched. Thus, his remembrance was bound to be multichromatic, even polarising.

Some admired and loved him. Others despised and loathed him in ways that the critics mocked him in death.

In his tribute yesterday, Mr Museveni took a swipe at Ugandans who gloated over Tumwine’s demise, saying they don’t mean anything.

“People insulting Tumwine are wasting their time because he’s somebody who has accomplished so much,” he said of a general he described as patriot.

Tumwine, according to the president who taught him in 1967, trained at Tanzania’s Monduli Military Academy after enlisting into the Front for National Salvation (Fronasa), a precursor to the National Resistance Army (NRA), the guerrilla outfit that brought Museveni to power in 1986.

The first shot starting the NRA war was fired, in panic, by Tumwine who, as number RO 00023, was one of the 42 original fighters claimed to have held only 27 guns.

President Museveni, speaking off-script, yesterday offered some detailed account of the bush war, singling some early recruits and supporters, including a janitor at Masindi Military Barracks turned spy, and lauding them for their contributions.

Gen Tumwine was God-given in advancing the liberation war, he said, including the war’s first bullet that he released out of fear during a less-than-successful February 6, 1981 attack on Kabamba barracks to get guns from government armoury.

Five months later, on November 1, 1981, Milton Obote II government soldiers ambushed NRA fighters in Bukomero. Tumwine was shot and he lost an eye, and undercover doctors at Mulago National Referral Hospital, including the current Head of State House Health Monitoring Unit, Dr Warren Naamara, smuggled and treated him and took him back to the bush.

“Tumwine was a resilient man. Because he was injured badly at Bukomero, but healed and came back and continued with the liberation struggle,” the President said, according to a statement issued by State House.

“God used Tumwine to start the war, but not to go very far, because we failed to get guns and after four years, we went back and got the guns,” Gen Museveni said of the 1985 New Year operation in Masindi commanded by his brother, Gen Salim Saleh, in which the rebels captured 760 guns.

But there was a Tumwine hand in the success. He had been posted to Masindi during the reorganisation of the command and structure of NRA. In Masindi, Tumwine knew many contacts, among them Col Kaka Bagyenda, the immediate past domestic spymaster, who enlisted a compound cleaner inside the barracks to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance for the rebels.

“This was God who did this actually. God used Tumwine to fire the first bullet … So, I am here to give this little testimony on Gen Tumwine, dying at 68. He was still young, but had achieved a lot. I am very happy to hear that he died a satisfied man,” he said.

Four of the deceased’s children, among them Cynthia Tumwine and Daudi Tumwine, paid glowing tribute to their father whom they described as tough, loving, generous, patriotic, teacher, and a patriotic Ugandan who served as patron of many associations and clubs.

Gen Tumwine, they said, was pragmatic and humorous too. For instance, one day, Tumwine and wife Jolly were headed out for a wedding, but somehow he delayed upstairs. After a wait, Jolly fell asleep on a seat in the sitting room.

When the husband spotted her, he instead picked a pencil and paper and sketched the wife’s image, sending those present into bouts of laughter. The picture remained a wall hang for years. He also encouraged his children to do all that he did – business, dancing, singing, attending state functions – and more.

Just before President Museveni eulogised Gen Tumwine, he asked the mourners at Kololo to stand up and observe a minute of silence in honour of former Cooperatives minister in Milton Obote II government and Uganda Peoples Congress party member Yona Kanyomozi, who died suddenly at Nakasero Hospital on Sunday.

The body of Tumwine, who is due to be buried today, landed in Kazo District aboard a UPDF helicopter to an emotional meltdown by both the young and old.