Gen Tumwine fights for his life in Nairobi

Gen Elly Tumwine was taken to Nairobi for treatment last week. PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

  • Gen Tumwine is number two of six original members of the then NRA High Command as of January 26, 1986, according to the UPDF Act, 2005.

The former Security Minister, Gen Elly Tumwine, 68, was last night reportedly fighting for his life at the Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, where he was airlifted on Tuesday.

Sources familiar with the evacuation said the four-star general, a historical member of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) High Command, looked frail and was wheeled through the airport to take the flight.

His daughter, Cynthia Tumwine, was unavailable to speak to this newspaper as our repeated telephone calls to her went unanswered. She on Saturday on Twitter dismissed rumours that her father had passed on.

In another tweet at 7:29pm yesterday, Ms Cynthia, without commenting on the condition of her father, wrote that “adversity will teach you so much about human nature”.

“That said, I wouldn’t wish the last 24 hours on anyone. Travel time needs to undo social media because it’s currently in the pits. God is faithful, regardless, th[r]ough [inserted love emoji]. We give him praise,” she noted cryptically.

The health of Gen Tumwine, who hails from Mbarara District, has been a subject of public speculation for a while, including when he was still a Cabinet minister.

Relatives and associates reported that weeks ago, he collapsed at the marriage ceremony of a prominent female journalist, and was later booked at Nakasero Hospital in Kampala.

His condition worsened, prompting a relocation to Nairobi on Tuesday for more specialised medical care.

The ailment hasn’t been publicly disclosed, but the general in the past received treatment at the Uganda Cancer Institute in Mulago Hospital.

Earlier, an unknown person tweeted on Gen Tumwine’s official handle that “on behalf of the family of Gen Tumwine, we hereby dispel rumours circulating on social media in regards to his health and well-being. Thank you for the love and prayers.”

The UPDF spokesperson, Brig Felix Kulayigye, yesterday said he could not discuss the life and health of a general, saying it would contravene policy.

“Do you expect that a UPDF general can die and we keep quiet?” he asked to dispel the death rumours.

The four-star general last year was forced to declare himself alive after unknown people on social media circulated messages announcing him dead.

Gen Tumwine is number two of six original members of the then NRA High Command as of January 26, 1986, according to the UPDF Act, 2005.

The others are President Museveni, his brother Gen Salim Saleh Akandwanaho, Gen David Tinyefuza (now David Sejusa), late Eriya Kategaya and Brig Matayo Kyaligonza.

By the virtue of being a historical member of the High Command, Gen Tumwine and five others are permanent members of the Defence Forces Council and High Command, both the army’s highest policy and decision-making organs.

In that capacity, he attended the July High Command meeting at State House Entebbe which came hot on the heels of the military being placed on Standby Class One, the highest level of combat readiness.

Gen Tumwine undertook cadet officers course at the famed Tanzania Military Academy in Monduli before proceeding in 2005 among pioneer students to train at the Senior Command at Staff College in Kimaka, Jinja.

He reportedly obtained other military qualifications in the former Soviet Union.

Presently a senior presidential adviser on security matters, Gen Tumwine was among top generals lined up to retire last month, but the army later said it did not have enough resources to clear the benefits, putting the send-off ceremony on an indefinite halt.

A fine artist by profession, he joined the military struggle in 1978 under Front for National Salvation (Fronasa), the precursor to NRA.

After the 1980 General Election, Tumwine banded with Mr Museveni, who had lost in the presidential elections, and was to gain post-victory fame for firing the first bullet that started the five-year National Resistance Army (NRA) guerrilla war. NRA toppled the Tito Okello Lutwa government in January 1986.

The four-star military general previously served as the Commander of the NRA until 1987, a year after they had taken over power, when he was dropped from that position. Two years later, the President named him the State Minister of Defence.

A singer, who drew swords with Parliament over his questionable takeover of Nommo Gallery, formerly a public facility in the leafy Nakasero State Lodge neighbourhood, for private business, Gen Tumwine has been a high-pitched man regularly on the charge in self-defence made elaborate by his proud invocation of his role in liberating Uganda.

One of his eyes was damaged during the NRA war, and had to be removed. Recollecting such personal tragedies is a common tact by the NRM historicals whenever cornered, or when they want to project battlefield sacrifices.

Critics both in and outside Parliament have derided the display as calculated to hold the country at ransom for a destructive war that no one voted the fighters to fight, and a convenient pretext to evade scrutiny for official commissions and omissions.

The perception that the old guard hold a sense of entitlement has led Gen Tumwine to clash with opponents on the floor of Parliament and in television studios over the years.

He occupied Nommo Gallery in Nakasero in 1998, and housed his Creations Limited business there, and used part of the public facility to open a private restaurant.

Parliament later discovered that he had not paid a single coin to government in rent computed by 2018 to gross Shs1b. Ms Rebecca Kadaga, the then Speaker of Parliament, ordered him to vacate Nommo Gallery, which he hasn’t done. His paintings and music compositions, some of martial genre and others similar to variations of existing songs, have featured prominently at military parades while the songs have played on the state broadcaster.

The general was until 1996, when Uganda held its first vote under President Museveni, the director general of Uganda’s External Security Organisation (ESO), which collects and analyses intelligence about states and individuals outside Uganda.

During the period of different deployments, Gen Tumwine remained a representative of the army in the legislature for decades until 2021 when he was designated a presidential adviser on security after losing the line Cabinet slot.  

Shortly after the change, the four-star general quipped during handover that he intended to commit to advise President Museveni, in power since 1986, to plan a succession and leave peacefully. 

Nothing is publicly known about whether he made good on his word, or if he meant to call the president’s bluff.

Dealing with Opposition

Back in the run-up to the 2006 General Election, Gen Tumwine was appointed to chair the General Court Martial, the military’s highest appellate court. It was then that Opposition flagbearer Dr Kizza Besigye was arrested on treason and taken there.

Dr Besigye’s treason case was later transferred to the civilian courts after a constitutional judgement before it was dismissed.

But Gen Tumwine’s remained a key state actor, bouncing in 2019 to superintend the powerful Security portfolio which oversees Uganda’s spy agencies.

While holding this docket, the Internal Security Organisation was accused of illegal detention of innocent people. Then more trouble unfolded in 2020.

Uganda was set for a presidential vote in January 2021. One entrant who turned heads was a younger celebrity musician-turned-National Unity Platform party presidential candidate named Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine.

Accused of flouting strict rules against mass campaigns to stem the spread of Covid-19, security forces arrested Bobi Wine in Luuka District. 

The result: a violent protest in Kampala that a government own investigation found led to the shooting dead of at least 54 people.

The police probe concluded that only 13 of the deceased were “rioters”, while the majority succumbed to “stray bullets”.

The condemnation and demand for accountability for what rights defenders and Uganda Law Society called “cold blood murders” peaked, Gen Tumwine showed up to publicly proclaim that security personnel have a right to shoot and kill civilians if demonstrators reach a certain level of violence.

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