It was still early evening, around eight o’clock, October 21, 1980, as the family settled down to dinner in their home in Makindye, Kampala, when three soldiers walked into the house. My auntie’s first thought was how to feed three extra mouths that had shown up uninvited, but the guests showed absolutely no interest in the food.
“You must be Edward,” said the lead soldier, eyes fixed on my uncle. “I am,” he replied, wondering where all this was leading to. He didn’t have too long to wait, because the soldier calmly lifted his gun and opened fire on him – as his wife and four children watched. My aunt instinctively attacked the soldier, with the fury of a lioness, but my uncle stopped her. He had always been composed throughout life and even when death came calling, Uncle Edward saw no reason to lose his cool.
“Leave him!” he commanded his wife. “Because he will kill you too and then who will look after the children?”
My auntie backed off. The soldiers knew a dying man when they saw one; they calmly walked away. Auntie, who was also very pregnant, then realised it wasn’t dinner they had come for and watched quietly as the eyes of her husband, Edward Fredrick Wabihire, then purchasing officer of Larco Concrete Products Ltd, closed in death.
In 1980, Uganda was in between wars; the previous one had ended in 1979 and the next one began 14 weeks after Uncle Edward’s death, and lasted five years, before sparking off further civil war for the next 10 years. Leadership at family level was, therefore, very crucial and its absence could be fatal, as I will explain shortly hereafter.
Every little boy has a hero in their life; Uncle Edward – tall, strong, light-skinned, very handsome and really nice to people – was my hero. I was nine at the time and in Primary Four at Victoria Nile School, Jinja.
When my daddy broke the news to me during lunch break, I cried like I would die. In those days honesty and hard work took you places; and that is exactly how Uncle Edward, who began as a compound cleaner, rose to the very sensitive position he held in what was one of Uganda’s most prosperous companies at the time. He was the foundation and fulcrum of my mom’s family; the glue that held them together.
When he was murdered, I watched an entire extended family disintegrate. I never saw my grandmother smile again; she slept by her son’s grave for weeks and died of a broken heart not long after. The murder set in motion a series of events and deaths in the family that the large graveyard in my grandfather’s home in Kachonga, Butaleja District – just opposite Bukedi College Kachonga – can amply testify to.
More critically, Uncle Edward’s kids – he had 15 – didn’t make it through school. The killers, whoever they were, didn’t kill Uncle Edward; they massacred an entire family.
The videos circulating on social media about the police and army killing Bobi Wine’s supporters are now too many to count. We now know that dozens are dead, hundreds injured, some maimed for life. Some people will never walk or work again. Many children have no daddy to carry them on his shoulders; widows are uncertain how to raise their kids. Reason: the President will stop at nothing to keep in power.
At an elementary level, it is easy to count the cost of the suppression – by getting numbers of the dead and injured. And the quantitative researchers then throw statistics around, in numbers, graphs and pie charts, sprinkle the mix with a few conclusions and then think they are smart.
But that is where quantitative research becomes deceptive; because without the supplement of qualitative research, to interrogate the impact on individual lives, one can never appreciate the actual harm caused by the bullets the President’s men are casually letting fly.
When Suzie, born a few weeks after Uncle Edward’s funeral, grew old enough to know that all little girls must have a father and asked where her daddy was, she was shown a grave.
Mr Tegulle is an advocate of the High Court of Uganda