On September 12, 2015 while on a transit flight from South Korea, the former Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) and then Minister of Internal Affairs, Aronda Nyakairima was pronounced dead.
Aronda had been in South Korea in pursuit of the Uganda National Identity Card project when he started complaining of stomach ache to his companions. He was given pain killers in the hope he would be okay.
Aronda, however, was later discovered dead by air hostesses who had come to attend to him, in case he needed onboard refreshments.
“They found him unresponsive when they came to serve snacks and drinks, a doctor called in later pronounced Aronda dead,” a family source in 2015 confirmed.
Aronda was a workaholic, according to close friends, his successor Gen Katumba Wamala and their commander in chief President Museveni.
He single-handedly pursued the printing of the National ID project amidst criticism for deploying soldiers and several other petty reasons. The ID project had stalled for years before he took over and by the time of his death, several Ugandans had acquired their IDs.
Indeed, to justify the project was from his own hand, Aronda’s death could have stalled the ID process once again. Thus, Aronda should be a hero of whoever supports the National ID project, which lately is referred to as Ndagamuntu project.
Before the ID project, Aronda had been the CDF for 10 years, making him the longest serving CDF to date. He replaced Maj Gen James Kazini who had overseen the army take a very ‘strange direction’
Aronda took on an army that was full of ghost officers, it was plundered by intrigue and favoritism, was as well scandal and image tainted following their shambolic display in DR Congo (one of the few reasons that got Museveni to order for the arrest of his highly favored army commander – Kazini).
The soft-spoken, born again Christian in Aronda started the army on a new unified, professional and welfare-based direction.
Former Presidential aspirant and army officer Maj Gen Benon Biraro while eulogizing Aronda said: “It was during his command that UPDF got its character. He had no tribe and religion. His religion and tribe was Uganda.”
Aronda was a unifying factor even at death, he was buried by several people across the country, from Kitgum in the North, to Soroti in the East, to the Buganda region up to Rukungiri, where he was born.
A strong believer in teamwork and one who respected his predecessors, Aronda taught his officers that they need to consolidate achievements of those they succeed and as well do more to ensure those that succeed them find a stronger foundation.
“He taught many of us after he took over UPDF command from Gen James Kaziini RIP that without teamwork, we would not defeat Joseph Kony leave alone build a viable military institution that was the main focus of the commander in chief then,” Brig Charles Bakahumura said in a heavy eulogy.
“I believe that it was this philosophy which led to UPDF playing a leading role in both national, regional and international missions after the defeat of LRA in 2005. This, of course, did not augur well with some people who felt that he had outshined by his performance. In addition to this, he detested tribalism and corruption,” he added.
“He has been a great motivator and mentor of young and promising UPDF officers who felt disillusioned and disappointed by some elements of bad leadership within UPDF ranks. Many people young as well as old people within and outside the military can give testimony to his inspirational leadership and command skills.”
Indeed, Aronda knew that he was working with younger officers now, who would throw away their lives easily due to excitement and the likes, thus he struggled hard to ensure they saved for their welfare, hence the birth of Wazalendo savings scheme.
In the words of his successor, Gen Katumba Wamala: “I feel proud that I followed him. From a humble beginning, he was able to become a General and Minister. I am also from a humble beginning. He also taught soldiers that there is life beyond the uniform and that there is a need for preparation. So, he spent sleepless nights convincing people about the need to form Wazalendo,”
Wamala said when Aronda, who became the first Chief of Defence forces in 2003, handed him the baton, he told him that: “I leave nothing but a mountain to climb.”
“But he had laid a firm foundation on a rock. If we fail to build on this rock, we shall have let down Gen. Aronda,” he said.
The writer is a private contributor to the Nile Post