By Godwin Agaba
“Old soldiers never die, they just fade away” Gen. Douglas MacArthur, I first met Gen. Elly Tumwine in 2006. It was in September while I worked as a reporter with Newline agency of Rwanda Independent Media Group (RIMEG).
I had traveled from Kigali to Mbarara with my former Managing Editor, Mr. Charles Kabonero, to attend Ntare School golden jubilee celebrations (to cover a story). Before that, I had heard about him many times as one of the top fighters and commanders that worked with President Museveni in the bush and in Government. He was a household name in Ankole but I had never come close to him until that day in 2006.
On reaching Mbarara, we booked a modest hotel in one of Mbarara’s suburbs called Omukijungu (facing Masaka road). The place was so “humble” that I don’t recall its name. In the morning, we woke up for breakfast in the dining room, and guess whom we set eyes on; Gen. Tumwine himself, accompanied by his wife. The couple, who were united in holy matrimony in 1989, sat near our table.
Tumwiine, good-humoredly, greeted us “Bwasheshya?” (Is it a new day?) We responded “Bwashesya, Afande”. (It’s a new day). There were no escorts, no airs around this former Army Commander, member of the NRA/UPDF High Command and historical, one who shot the NRA’s first bullet at Kabamba was in the building. We kept wondering how a General can stay in such a modest hotel. Outside the hotel, there was no sign that a General of his caliber was around. We all finished our business at the place and left.
Years down the road, l found myself with the four-star General on the same WhatsApp group. One of the biggest WhatsApp groups in Uganda, it has members from all walks of life; corporate, security, civil society, lawyers, legislatures, police, senior citizens, doctors, diaspora, name it!
In the usual social media way, members on the group criticized him, criticized the army he helped to build, criticized / talked ill of security agencies he headed, criticized Parliament which he was part of for longtime, criticized the NRA guerilla war that brought them to power, but in all this, Gen. Tumwine remained humble and unprovoked.
He never attacked or clashed with anyone. Yet this man was an achiever whom most members on the forum did not deserve to tie his shoe laces. That’s when you know that most achievers are not where they are by accident-it’s a thing of attitude. When you humble yourself, you are raised; when you are haughty, you’re humbled. He was a real Gentle General!
Tumwine’s last message on our space on July 28, 2022 was: “DO YOU LOVE WHAT YOU DO? AND DO WHAT YOU LOVE? SO THAT YOU DO IT TO YOU BEST AND LET GOD DO THE REST!” It was a prophetic post that I believe was his parting message to us as the angels beckoned him. I will live by his eternal counsel.
He has been described as a hardworking soldier man and an ardent artist who was an art teacher before the pangs of revolutionary struggle came calling. Among his famous art gigs, Tumwine designed the UPDF Flag, Emblem and camouflage Uniform, Wazalendo SACCO colors and flag and the award-winning Shs50, 000 Uganda shilling note.
Though he had one eye, having lost the other during the bush war, his sight was perfect, with a thing for color and creativity. But the General’s light side has been muddled with the dark side of humanity. At a time of grieving, some persons are celebrating his demise, in a fashion that has become common on social media. I think these are individuals who didn’t know the General well.
They are political in their views but that’s not how humans should behave. Tumwine was not perfect but neither are those celebrating his death. Tumwine ran his race; he wrote history, he is a liberator and nothing can erase that
I choose to stand with those who eulogized him in the normal African culture. Ellady Muyambi, Human Rights Defender, Executive Director at Historic Resources Conservation Initiatives ( HRC) AND Secretary General Uganda Network on Toxic Free Malaria Control ( UNETMAC): “He was my best friend, indeed. We worked together on saving the Uganda National Museum, National Theatre and Nommo Gallery from being demolished by non-heritage lovers.
Me and him discussed so many things about the restoration and complete recognition of Ankole Kingdom by the Central Government. Part of his efforts in this endeavour helped the renovation of Mugaba Palace. As Banyankore,
we know that we have lost a great man.
RIP my best friend” Richard Byamugisha, member of Statewide Multicultural Advisory (SMAC) and member of Office of Mental Health (OMH) legal services and advocacy, New York: “I am not mourning Afande Tumwine, I am celebrating his life! He has run his marathon well both as a military man and as a politician. No one is to leave this planet earth alive, it is how your journey has been. Afande, you did it your way as a blessed human being.
You led us well, you well one of our best leaders! To all NRA combatants, the UPDF fraternity this man made us proud and he has gone down a happy one! We are human beings, we have our faults and good deeds. Afande Elly did it his own way. We are to miss his guidance and entertainment. RIP Afande!”
Deus Kamunyu Muhwezi (PhD) Lecturer, Makerere University & Former Chairperson, Makerere University Academic Staff Association (MUASA) and Researcher: “Gen. Tumwine was also a creative man and yet modest. He was brutally honest also. He loved his country and rose in the dust of its building. Often building comes with a share of mistakes. No body claims perfection in the building of a nation.
Above all he earned his heroism and was patriot”. Kato Abel Max Barigye, a relative: “Rest well, Gen. commander, the second most senior revolutionary of the mighty NRA / UPDF, a patriot, a family man, an evangelist, a cultural enthusiast and an icon of our clan.
May the Almighty God judge you with mercy and rest your soul in eternity. Kindly, send our regards and greetings to your fellow fallen comrades who must have welcomed you with jubilation in heaven. I can’t control tears in my eyes
because you loved your relatives.
I have fond memories as child about my first ever gift that you gave us with my twin brother – customized identical clay cups that you made with your own hands. As a serving officer, you loved the army with you all heart. RIP. Turyakushangayo Afande.”
Mushabe Martin, an Agriculturalist: “I don’t know why the media is cutting short Gen. Elly Tumwine’s statement about police’s right of shoot to kill!? He said, ‘Police has the right to shoot and kill you, if you cross a certain line of engagement’. The media is saying, ‘General Elly Tumwine said that police has the right to shoot and kill you”.
Martha Muheesi, a Chef: “(I have such a heavy heart towards my nation today. I sometimes reflect vividly what the lives of these revolutionaries were like as they fought for us to sleep deeply at night)”.
I agree with Marc Anthony but I also agree with Tolstoy who said “All families are happy but every family is unhappy in its own way”. We celebrate and demonize our revolutionaries as and when it pleases us but these men and women gave their lives for something surely even something as small as being mourned with dignity.
Rest in peace to the gentle Giant. I will miss you Afande Cool“ Tom Namanya, a Grammarian: “Ironically, Tumwine fought for freedom. Tumwine shed his blood so that people can speak freely.”
Sarah Kagingo, PR and Communications specialist, and Managing Director of Soft Power Communications: “Gen. Elly Tumwine loved his country and heritage. His name is ingrained in Uganda’s liberation history. May the angels receive you, Sir, Commander of the Resistance. May God comfort your family and rest your soul in revolutionary peace. NRAForever”
What to Know about Tumwine
Elly Tumwine was born on 12 April 1954, in Burunga, Mbarara District. He attended Burunga Primary School, Mbarara High School and St. Henry’s College Kitovu, before joining Makerere University, where in 1977, he graduated with the degree of Bachelor of Arts in Fine Art together with the Diploma in Education; abbreviated: BA (FA)/Dip. Ed. He specialised in the history of art painting.
Immediately after graduating from Makerere University in 1977, Elly Tumwine embarked on a teaching career in various schools in Uganda, teaching fine art. After the National Resistance Movement victory in 1986, he resumed his art. While serving as the commander of the NRA, he designed the flag, the emblem and the green and camouflage uniforms of the army. He was appointed the chairman of the board of trustees of the National Cultural Centre. In 1992, he launched his company, The Creations Limited, to promote the arts and crafts industry, encouraging artistic values and creativity.
Tumwine subsequently graduated from the Cadet Officers Course at the Tanzania Military Academy at Monduli in May 1980. He also attended the Senior Command Course at the Uganda Senior Command and Staff College at Kimaka, in Jinja, Uganda, being a member of the pioneer class that graduated in 2005. Tumwine also held further military qualifications from the military academy in Vystry, in the Soviet Union.
In 1978, he interrupted his teaching career to join the FRONASA forces led by Yoweri Museveni to fight the Idi Amin regime. In 1981, when Museveni went to the bush to form the National Resistance Army (NRA), Elly Tumwine went with him. He is reported to have fired the first shot in the National Resistance Army War, which propelled the National Resistance Army and National Resistance Movement into power in Uganda in 1986. During the fighting between the NRA and the UNLA, Tumwine sustained facial injuries that led to loss of sight in one eye. In 1984, Tumwine was named Commander of the Army, a post he held until 1987, when he was succeeded by General Salim Saleh.
In 2015, Elly Tumwine co-authored a book, The Achievements of the NRM Revolution, with Dr Gilbert Gumoshabe of Makerere University. The book highlighted the initial near total breakdown of Uganda by previous regimes and what had caused those problems. The 191 page book further explains the political ideology of NRM and elaborated on how the liberation of Uganda started. It explains in details what has been achieved politically, socio-economically, security and other aspects of life since 1986 when the NRA/M took over power in Uganda. The book was launched by President Yoweri Museveni in 2016 at a national function in Buikwe, Eastern Uganda.
Tumwine also continuously represented the UPDF in the Ugandan Parliament from 1986. In September 2005, he was promoted to the rank of general in the UPDF and named to chair the UPDF General Court Marshal. On 16 May 2022, Tumwiine was among 34 generals who were set to retire from the UPDF but the function was postponed to 31st August 2022.
Tumwine collapsed at a wedding and was admitted to Nakasero Hospital in Kampala, sometime in July 2022. When his condition deteriorated, he was flown to the Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi. He died there on 25 August 2022, at the age of 68.