Maj. Gen. Kasirye Ggwanga is in the news again, this time round for firing a bullet or two at a car owned by a low grade local artist who found it fit, in an act of characteristic impunity, to noise pollute (sic).
The Maverick Maj. Gen. Of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces, recently retired upon promotion from Brigadier, is an ex Idi Amin soldier and by his own account of history in one of my many chats with him, was one of the few soldiers who remained standing in 1979, in defense of Amin against an intruding Tanzanian armed force even as many of his troops surrendered. He would later be captured as a prisoner of war thanks to unwavering loyalty to his commander in chief whom to this day he speaks so kindly about.
That Ggwanga is in the news isn’t surprising. He once fired in the air in Makindye when Born Again Christians refused to reduce on the noise they were making in the area, albeit many pleas by his aide for them to be considerate to the Neigborhood of a largely residential area.
In one of my many chats with him again and I am sure he wouldn’t mind me sharing this here, it took the intervention of President Museveni who sent a fellow General to beseech him to say sorry for the incident which attracted immense media attention. Some born agains had petitioned the First Lady over the incident who petitioned hubby who asked his soldier to just say sorry to rest the matter. Only a few months ago the rubble rousing General burnt a tractor belonging to someone whose only crime was offering service to a client who seemed to have been in a hurry to take possession of the land before the dispute on ownership is resolved.
Ggwanga’s actions attract ambivalent feelings; some praise him, others empathize, some dash to bash him for what they call impunity. In part, his actions reflect a country with a state whose institutions are not trusted as an arbiter of conflict so people resort to using impunity as the anti-dote to impunity.
We all have suffered the pangs of impunity on our roads and wished you had the guts of Ggwanga to put an errant motorist endangering lives of many, in order. We have had to contend with noise pollution all night seven days a week thanks to Born Agains who think they own UGANDA and must pray at the greatest inconvenience to all. There are even bars that blare music inconsiderate of patients in a nearby health facility battling for life and in desperate need of peace of mind. It’s easy to bash Ggwanga’s actions but in a typical literary piece of work, an author would use a character like him as a mirror of what’s gone wrong or can go wrong when the state chooses when to enforce rule of law and when it does, do it selectively or when institutions that are meant to address law and order issues sleep on the job, letting everyone be above the law.
A year or two ago, I was a guest at Ggwanga’s house in the leafy upscale suburb of Makindye. As we sat at the compound, him partaking of several sips of liquor and I imbibing his wisdom coated with humor and sometimes crass jokes, around 5pm, a few meters away at the main road, about 4 young men driving Subaru’s at break neck speed turned the road into a rally ground. They would drive a distance of 500 meters, then return, at the speed of Light with the loudest music and scare everyone off the road.
As we chatted Ggwanga became uneasy and sent his aide to ask them to behave like they are in a civilized community. The aide, a captain, couldn’t access the excited young men and returned to his master who was increasingly getting incensed by the continued acts of fellows who appeared high on drugs. He became impatient, asked, actually commanded me to jump into the car and ready myself for war. Confused and unsure of what to do, I obliged, at least excited that whatever would happen, I would be the first journalist to witness it as it happened.
He asked one of the many kids he pays fees for and has brought up (some orphans of fallen military comrades) to bring his AK-47 rifle which he placed in the car. We drove to main road, whence he parked his Prado and spoke to the people who were shocked at what was happening and celebrated his intervention with confessions of how the motorists nearly killed a child crossing the road.
Ggwanga then got out his gun, cocked it and waited for the fellows to return, promising to shoot at their car tyres and teach them a lesson. We waited for 15 minutes and they never returned, having been alerted by whosoever. We drove back home, amid celebration from the people and praise for the intervention of their guardian against impunity.
So yes, Ggwanga’s actions may defeat logic and reek of abuse of power but they are a mirror of a despondent populace whose trust in state institutions to enforce law and order is wanting, making everyone above the law and giving those with guts the confidence to deal with impunity using impunity!
If you have talked to victims of land grabbing who are subjected to the painful slowness of our justice system, with some land cases dragging for 15 years (meaning you can’t do much on the land till court resolves the dispute), then you would be less harsh to judge Ggwanga taking the law by the horns and burning a tractor in a bid to fix impunity with impunity or if you have complained to city authorities in vain to help deal with a noisy church or bar denying you well-earned sleep, then you would be less quick to throw stones at Ggwanga and instead reflect on what’s gone wrong with law and order enforcement in our country where everyone is acting like a moron in hurry to break the law.
Ivan Okuda is a Ugandan Lawyer and Investigative Journalist with the Daily Monitor