Analysis. Parliament last week passed a motion to recall Uganda’s envoy to Burundi from his diplomatic posting. However, a Parliament resolution is not binding on the Executive. But to some, it came as no surprise that Maj Gen Matayo Kyaligonza, a decorated Bush War fighter, could not subdue his violent streak, write Frederic Musisi & Francis Mugerwa.
In his book titled ‘The Anatomy of Power’, Maj Gen Kyaligonza says he first joined military service during former president Idi Amin’s regime under the dreaded State Research Bureau (SRB) until 1974 when he fled after the killing of his boss, Lt Col Sarapio Kakuhikire.
SRB employed the dregs of society and their tools of trade were hammers, crowbars, pistols and guns, which they used to extract confessions from their victims.
Maj Gen Kyaligonza fled and joined Save Uganda Movement under Akena P’Ojok that resisted Amin and later, he was part of President Museveni’s Bush War.
It is his daring skills that nearly brought him to death many times, at one time fleeing from a room at Nile Mansions where he was detained by the Tito Okello military junta.
Although handcuffed, Maj Gen Kyaligonza in commando style tied bed sheets onto the window and used them to climb and jump to the ground to flee and join NRA in the bush.
Anthropological research shows that recovery from war is heavily influenced by the society one returns to and there are societies that make that process relatively easy.
For Maj Gen Kyaligonza, his formative years were heavily influenced by violence both under the tutelage of the State Research Bureau officers and later as an NRA guerilla commander.
After NRA captured power in 1986, he proceeded to fight insurgencies in Teso and Acholi sub-regions, which predisposed him to more violence.
To him power could only be exercised through the barrel of the gun, opines Kira Municipality MP Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda.
“Kyaligonza’s conduct and that of some Bush War generals is symptomatic of two main problems; the failure to retire and subject all of them to a psychiatry evaluation given the conditions they worked in,” says Mr Ssemujju.
Dr Joshua Tugumisirize, a psychiatrist and neurophysiologist, says behaviour is a mirror of society.
“There are many reasons why people behave aggressively or use violence. As a culture, there are people who behave in achieving their wishes through use of violence and if society accepts, they exploit that ability,” Dr Tugumisirize says.
“When someone does something and gets away with, for the second and third time, it becomes a habit,” he adds.
In relation to the several examples of impunity either involving former Bush War fighters or the military, Dr Tugumisirize reinforces the notion of obligatory violence.
“You deliberately use violence, feed on violence because it serves a purpose,” argues Dr Tugumisirize.
Trouble seemed to trail Maj Gen Kyaligonza even after the NRA captured power.
He was made a Brigadier when the NRA gave official ranks in 1988 after the war. He was one rank short of Major General, the highest rank given then to President Museveni, Salim Saleh, Fred Rwigyema and Elly Tumwine. A member of the High Command, he was later demoted to the rank of Colonel in 1989 after beating a traffic officer.
Mr Joseph Kabuleta, a journalist who hails from Bunyoro, the birthplace of Kyaligonza, says he finds it strange that ‘people are surprised’ by the incident. “He is a troubled man. First of all, there are people in the army who say he has been promoted only once. He has been demoted and taken back to his former place. There are a few people who might say he feels hard done because of the things he was doing during the Bush War,” argues Mr Kabuleta.
He says, however, the resolution by the House to recall Maj Gen Kyaligonza is in vain. “Because if you put him under that sort of scrutiny, you are putting the whole system under trial,” says Mr Kabuleta, adding that perhaps it is wise to leave out the entire guerilla-war generation.
“When somebody fights in a guerilla war, the first thing you lose is conscience, decorum. You have to ask yourself, ‘what are the things Kyaligonza was doing during the Bush War?’” he says. Mr Kabuleta says whereas he does not condone Maj Gen Kyaligonza’s behaviour, he says, for instance, American soldiers, who were returning from the Vietnam War, had to undertake counselling to escape the emotional turmoil.
Speaking from Parliament, Masaka Municipality MP Mathias Mpuga says: “He [Kyaligonza] needs help and the actions of Sunday [February 24] are not isolated. He has a record of violence.”
Going by his response, Maj Gen Kyaligonza did not show any remorse after the incident. On the contrary, he said the traffic officer provoked the incident and only got a slap on the wrist. He later told BBS TV, a Luganda television station, that the traffic officer should have been killed.
Speaking to NTV, Maj Gen Kyaligonza said: “My car was knocked behind; that’s how the soldiers jumped out, and asked the askari why she was stopping the car. The taxi man who knocked my car took off.”
“I liberated Kampala, eastern up to Karamoja. This peace we brought, don’t abuse it. I am fed up and disgusted with my comrade Ugandans. I went to the bush. Was I going to earn anything from the bush, was there gold?” he retorted.
Earlier, he had told this newspaper that “my guards went out of the car to ask the police officers what had happened. The two parties involved in the accident were fighting each other in the middle of the road. My driver wanted to make a U-turn to avoid the chaos” .
He added: “What would you do? To continue driving in a chaotic scene or immediately make a U-turn and leave in peace?” Maj Gen Kyaligonza asked, adding: “Police and army officers are on the road to save us from chaos.”
In the run up to the 2001 General Election, Maj Gen Kyaligonza beat up Mr Amlan Tumusiime, then a news editor of Radio Hoima, for airing a story he said did not favour him.
Mr Tumusiime, in an interview with this newspaper last week, confirmed the incident, which left him bleeding profusely, but said he forgave the ambassador.
“What he did is very bad; it should not be done to anyone nor repeated again but should not get him removed from his position,” Mr Tumusiime told this newspaper at his home in Wakiso.
“I don’t want to sound tribalisitic; I hate tribalism; it is very divisive but he is the only person from our region we have in that position,” he added.
In August last year, UPDF soldiers guarding the home of Maj Gen Kyaligonza beat Rogers Waiswa into coma following a disagreement at a construction site in Wakiso District belonging to the ambassador.
Maj Gen Kyaligonza also threatened to slap the President’s son-in law, Mr Odrek Rwabwogo, for seeking to contest against him for a coveted regional seat on the Central Executive Committee, the second-highest organ of the NRM party.
Yet he seems to have a conflicted personality. There are those who speak favourably of him, saying he has often displayed acts of kindness and benevolence.
His ancestral home in Rumiiga Cell, Buhimba Town Council in the newly created Kikuube District floods with scores of people whenever he visits.
“He allows the poor to access his land and cultivate crops for their survival,” says Mr Samuel Muganzi, the NRM vice chairperson for Hoima District. Although he moves with his military guards while in his home area, Mr Muganzi says Maj Gen Kyaligonza tends to mix freely with the people.
During the inauguration of the Bunyoro-Tooro Regional Khadi at Bwikya Mosque last month, Maj Gen Kyaligonza, who contributed a bull at the function, exchanged pleasantries with dignitaries. He carried the former Bunyoro District Khadi, Sheikh Musa Mabanja, on his laps for more than 20 minutes.
His good side
“He is a friendly general. Of course no person is perfect. Let us appreciate the good in him and correct him where he has wronged,” says a Muslim cleric who prefers not to be named.
In Hoima and Kikuube districts, he is known to contribute generously to the Church; he constructed one in Kigaaya Village, Buhimba Town Council. He also supports sports.
“Has he killed someone? Let them first talk about everyone who has committed offences. Why focus on him alone?” says Mr Muganzi, who is also the former Hoima deputy town clerk.
“He prays here every Sunday when he is around. We saw on TV a clip alleging that he assaulted a police officer. But for us in this village, we do not have any problem with him. He is a good Christian,” says an elderly woman in Kigaaya village.
According to the Buhimba Town Council chairperson, Mr Neber Byaruhanga, Maj Gen Kyaligonza has transformed his home area. He built a monument in the area in memory of the people who died in the NRA Bush War.
“He also lobbied government to construct another monument at Ibanda Primary School in Buhimba Town Council at a mass grave where hundreds of people were buried during the NRA war,” Mr Byaruhanga says.
“He is short tempered; that we know, but he does not attack innocent people; we stay with him peacefully. He does not want to be provoked. If he punishes someone, there must be a reason,” he adds.
Recently, Maj Gen (Rtd) Kasirye Ggwanga, the President’s security adviser in Buganda, shot at a tyre of singer Catherine Kusasira’s car in Makindye, Kampala, over a petty misunderstanding.
Police later said they could not summon Maj Gen Ggwanga since Ms Kusasira had not recorded a statement. The army also did not question him on why he discharged a bullet. Gen Ggwanga is likewise extolled in his area for paying school fees for several children, including Bush War veterans and as such, he is not a “bad man.”
It is nearly 33 years since Maj Gen Kyaligonza and his colleagues captured power. But beyond the camaraderie with his comrades forged on violence, risk, fear and triumph, Maj Gen Kyaligonza returned to a dysfunctional society that often glorifies violence. To some of his admirers, he is not a bad man after all.
Past incidents of violence
Issues. In August last year, UPDF soldiers guarding the home of Maj Gen Kyaligonza beat Rogers Waiswa into coma following a disagreement at a construction site in Wakiso District belonging to the ambassador. Maj Gen Kyaligonza also threatened to slap the President’s son-in law, Mr Odrek Rwabwogo, for seeking to contest against him for a coveted regional seat on the Central Executive Committee, the second-highest organ of the NRM party.