If clothes are to the body then the gun is to Major General Kasirye Gwanga for without it he may as well be naked.
“I would be naked…even now I am naked. I always need my grogger here….everyone talks about a gun but a gun is something very funny. It’s like a human being…,” Gwanga compared his closeness to the gun promising a more intimate connection in his autobiography.
But there is more to him than the weapon he has known for 40 years as a soldier because at his Camp David in Mukono where he finds homage and comfort away from the city is a symbol of a mini forested army camp planted with green tents and a glimpse of soldiers on call.
It is nowonder he asked after I hinted at his retirement from the army as the reason to why he should not be in possession of arms, “..didn’t you find people building a tent there? That tent is built for the soldiers who are going to guard me until I die. Generals aren’t left alone, they are always guarded. Me, I’ve my weapons! There’s no need to take away my weapons…you can’t just disarm a General officer, you make him vulnerable” he retaliated.
Ggwanga’s experiences can be interlinked to his childhood in Katakala, Mubende district that brought him face to face with a group of buffalo hunters that were traditionally labelled, “abatujuu” in whose circles he bloomed as the gun handler and became familiar with not only the bush but with the weapons too.
He narrates, “I started playing with guns when I was very young…we would go hunting. The way we moved, the wind and with vivid crawl…If you make a mistake, the animal might sense which you’ve been trailing for several hours….it’s gone. So learnt about hunting then I graduated to hunting people.”
He speaks of his family to have been poor and it was his sacrifice to discontinue school at the age of 14, in favour of his siblings and joined the army in 1972.
Drawn into the literary war world of the American and Western frontier through novels at the age of 9, Ggwanga reminisces of a reading culture that served his curiosity with stories of the World War I&II, books he said taught him many a lesson about being a soldier.
“You are either ready to die or to serve. You decide because you swear with the bible- For God and my country and in the army if you desert, we want you down and kill you. When you join the army, you lose your identity, they give you a number &that would be your name for the rest of your life,” he emphasized.
He who became an army Map reader at the age of 20 after core military training in the Uganda Army, later an artillery officer , a staff sergeant and the Major General he is today, Ggwanga is no father abraced with his children following in his footsteps.
He explained, “I have got boys, I was trying to tell them, can you also join the army? They said, Dad that’s your business…the world has changed, they’re making money at their age…one of them is going to earn 41 million in 3 months, so you tell him to go in the army and he sees Somalia, are you mad?”
Not to let the cat out of the bag about the army’s dirty linen; his frustrations about the army that discourage many from joining are the postings of soldiers in poor or no infrastructure development camps and other mistakes that the army is making which he says the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development is to blame, “…I don’t want to talk about about the army became I am the army. Those are my kids and they’re making mistakes and I know the reasons…”.
Recounting his first taste of war with Tanzania in 1978, Ggwanga recalled, “…you know we artillery people we play with maps….I saw where I was and instructed my boys to lays the guns…while laying the guns, those guys had an OP on a certain high ground so they ranged us…that was the first time when I got the adrenaline…when you get adrenaline in your mouth, don’t move, don’t do anything. Swallow it, then you get back to your senses.”
It was this Tanzanian war victory in which Kasirye Ggwanga was taken as a Prisoner of war in Tanga in April 1979-June 1980 until he and others were released. While many of his army colleagues died in exile, others deserted and some murdered on return after they were identified as Idd Amin’s soldiers by civilians. Ggwanga said that a lot had changed in Uganda’s political terrain with the emergency of political party politics.
His recollection of meeting a young Museveni was summed up by, “…the first time I met him, I saw a very cunning guy and I don’t want someone smarter than me… i said let me fight my war and let them fight theirs….but with understanding that we are going to meet because we had the same enemy…. ”and it wasn’t until after the 1985 Coup that he joined him and his group in the National Resistance Movement bush war.
The Leavenworth army scholar whose most memorable art of war was his blast of the Koreans from the top of Kololo during the battle over Kampala rebuffed mention of ever suffering from post traumatic stress disorders revealed that most of his friends have died and the rest live in diapora.
While many a people pass him off as angry and tough; to one of his sons; Ramo Kasirye, Maj. Gen. Kasirye Ggwanga is just a father who is passionate, honest with a strong resolve for whatever he sets out to do.