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Sunset: Gen. Elly Tumwine safe and free

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Sunset: Gen. Elly Tumwine safe and free

 Gen. Elly Tumwine was human. Neither saint nor villain, the son of Kazigirye na Ruhondeire of Burunga, Kazo, Nkore walked a journey whose story is yet to be told, one that must not be reduced to errors he made in his final years or peppered over with deification as though he was different from other children of God.  


His death at 68 cut short a life of a good, albeit fallible man that, by the grace of God, is now free in the arms of the Lord.  I write this with certainty because I know that his sins were forgiven, his guilt resolved and his punishment done by Jesus Christ, to whom Tumwine gave his life decades ago.


We first met at Makerere University in 1975. Though we were not social friends, we shared the joy of professing Jesus Christ as our saviour, not because we were better than the next person, but precisely because we were hopeless sinners that had surrendered our faulty selves to the Lord. I fled into exile in 1977 and chose to continue to use my tongue and pen to fight for justice and freedom. Tumwine, endowed with martial courage that I lacked, joined the armed rebellion in 1978, and embarked on using the gun to struggle for freedom. I fully supported his choice and path. He probably despised my refusal to pick up a gun. He certainly disagreed with my political views and affiliation in the last 25 years, though he respected my tiny contribution to our country. 


Our last conversation in Kampala was passionate and frank. He defended his politics and the direction in which Uganda was headed. I condemned verbal and physical violence as a means of governing. We did not yield on our very different visions for our country. However, we had mutual respect founded on a shared knowledge that we were fallible, temporary dwellers on Earth.  I now replay every moment of our last encounter as a treasured record of two brothers with irreconcilable political differences. Our journeys were incomparable, but our hope for eternal life in glory was a powerful bond.


Notwithstanding our political differences, we shared a passion for our history and the preservation of the artifacts of our past. For example, we abhorred the neglect that the palace and the burial site of the Kings of Ankole had suffered.  Whereas I was, and I remain, a neutral observer of the unresolved debate between the monarchists and anti-monarchists of Ankole, I was one with Tumwine and many others in our advocacy for preservation of the story and traditions of that great kingdom. 


Tumwine did what he could to save, restore and maintain Egashani, the royal burial site at Nkokonjeru in Mburara, Nkore. He struggled hard to get Mugaba, the last king’s palace at Kamukuzi in Mburara, rehabilitated as a national cultural monument that it was meant to be. 


I was especially delighted that Tumwine embraced his ethnic identity with unapologetic pride. He was a Muhima w’Omuhinda who said and did what many Ugandans from different ethnic communities were afraid to expose. Few things affirmed his authenticity, his what-you-see-is-what-you-get-honesty, than his defence of his heritage and identity.  Music and art were tools of his cultural struggles, a mark of a man unapologetically African. 


His public testimonies, complete with unvarnished confessions of his sins, demonstrated his unwavering commitment to Christ. In one recorded confession of a sin that troubled his flesh a lot, he reminded us of the tradition of okwata amabanga (baring it all), that was central to the East African Revival Movement. His long illness afforded him plenty of time to make peace with God and to prepare for his death in the arms of the Lord.


To those who crossed swords with him, whether in armed battle or parliamentary debate, whether in heated exchange on television or in trial before his Court Martial, reading the above may sound strange. To be sure, his widely publicised warning in November 2020 that the police had the right to shoot and kill protestors if they reached “a certain level of violence” became a badge of dishonour that he probably regretted. 


Among the rewards of public life, especially in politics, is the accumulation of admirers and detractors; supporters and opponents; friends and enemies. One who is in the public space for decades gets these in great numbers. One with power to punish and kill citizens gets opponents who, given an opportunity, would kill him with the same swiftness and brutality that he exercises over others. That is the nature of humanity. 


Tumwine did many good things. I know many to whom he was gracious, courteous, and very helpful. He was a very courageous man who took risks and paid heavily in war. He acted with singular dedication to a ruler who set the direction to which his subordinates adhered if they wished to retain their places in the regime. As a result, he became the face of a ruthless regime, a role that had been previously occupied by the likes of Kale Kayihura and Kakooza Mutale. 


So, one was hardly surprised by the torrent of celebration by many Ugandans who gleefully received the news of Tumwine’s death. They vented their pent-up anger against a dead man whom they considered the latest poster boy for entrenched impunity. This celebration was as painful to me as was the news of Tumwine’s death. It revealed a darkness of spirit that was very un-Christian and un-African, one that decanted our tradition of making instant peace with the dead. It went against the universal self-constraint imposed by civilised conduct, one that helps us engage brakes that check raw emotions and a desire for revenge, when the perceived enemy has been rendered harmless by death or incapacitation. 


My hope is that those who needed to vent their frustration will embrace the power and freedom that come with forgiveness. To continue to hate anyone, especially a dead man, is a spiritual prison that inflicts pain on the hater and none on the object of that hatred. 


None of us is qualified to judge Tumwine, for we are as sinful as he was. Our sins are just different, but no less consequential before God. The good news is that he is safe and free because he gave his sinful and flawed life to Christ. His sins, including those he committed against his political opponents, were already taken care of on the Cross at Calvary. 


My thoughts are with his wife Jolly, their children, and relatives, to whom I send my condolences and a promise of continuing to pray that they may be comforted at this very difficult time. Farewell, my brother Tumwine.


© Muniini K. Mulera


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