The Observer (Kampala)

Uganda: No Tears As Mzee Kaguta Is Celebrated, Laid to Rest

In his death, Amos Kaguta, father of President Yoweri Museveni, has become more relevant than ever, the subject of the nation's attention and an outpouring of grief.

By 9am on Sunday, the road leading to the president's country home in Rwakitura, Kiruhura district was jammed with vehicles and people stretching a few kilometres.

Women dressed in traditional suukas and men in kanzus with the signature herdsman hat and cane lined the dusty road. It was a rare opportunity for anyone who has never been to Rwakitura because everyone was allowed into the lush green gardens of Museveni's home.

The usually mean-looking security guards were kind to those mourning the death of 96-year-old Mzee Kaguta. The mourners were invited to a well-prepared buffet meal before walking in for the funeral service.

Except for the seats reserved for the first family, ministers and MPs, it was free seating. When a security guard tried to move people from the front seats, he was stopped and told that on that day, everyone was a mourner and could sit anywhere they wished.

Kaguta senior's modest house, sitting in the expansive grazing fields, attracted debate. Why, people asked, would a first father and a rich one in his own right, prefer to live simply? Kaguta owned some 2,000 cows.

His rich children, who include Gen Salim Saleh, could have granted him his every desire. Museveni told mourners that his father refused to follow his cousins to Karagwe in Tanzania to look for good pasture.

"Mzee Amos said Karagwe has no schools in easy distance. It obviously helped Dr Kajubiri [Museveni's sister] and me to continue with our education," Museveni said.

Mzee Kaguta also allowed anyone to walk into his home seeking help never mind his old age. Not even Museveni or his security could stop him from listening to the problems of people. In fact Museveni believes that his patriotism, altruism and desire to help others contributed to his health problems. NRM supporters from all over Uganda would come to his house asking him to take them to the president.

"He would turn himself into [a] welfare, political and legal officer, listening to their problems and trying to determine those he should bring to me. I told him to tell them that they should leave him alone because he is not a state official. He said: 'Am I a mad man? How can people bring me problems and I refuse to listen to them?'" Museveni narrated.

This probably explains the thousands of people who turned up in Rwakitura to mourn the death of a kind man who loved people. Even Museveni's political nemesis, UPC President Olara Otunnu turned up.

Others in attendance included Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki, EU head of Mission Roberto Ridolfi, Dokolo Woman MP Cecilia Ogwal, South Sudan Prime Minister Wek Mamer Kuol, Archbishop Stanley Ntagali, of the Church of Uganda, Kampala Catholic Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga, Mufti Shaban Mubajje, ministers and MPs.

But journalists combed the grounds looking for a bereaved distraught mourner who was wailing or sobbing at the very least but there was none. Not even his grandchildren or wife or daughters cried. His second wife, Jane Kaguta, who walks with the help of an aide, said that was old-fashioned, Kaguta's life was to be celebrated and not mourned.

"When I learnt that he had died, people asked me 'Why are you not crying?' I told them it is no longer fashionable to cry but instead celebrate his death," Ms Kaguta who spoke in Runyakore told mourners.

It was not difficult to notice that some of the relatives remained in the shadows of the much-prominent and popular ones. For example, the order of service has photos of Mzee Kaguta with his son Salim Saleh, another with his daughter Dr Violet Kajubiri. Another photo is of Kaguta with his late wife Esteri Kokundeka, who is Museveni's mother, his brother Eriya Riisi and his sister Margaret Kabazibira. Yet another shows him cutting the tape with Janet Museveni at the opening of a house in Rwakitura.

The memorabilia which was being vended outside, honours Kaguta, his sons Museveni and Saleh, and grandson Brigadier Muhoozi Kainerugaba. At 96, Kaguta left behind a wife, 12 children, 60 grandchildren and 34 great grandchildren. Brig Muhoozi spoke on behalf of the grandchildren, Dr Violet Kajubiri on behalf of daughters and Museveni on behalf of sons. The other boys remained seated probably hiding their emotions behind dark sunglasses.

Muhoozi said he first met Kaguta in Kololo in 1979 when Fred Rubereza was teaching them how to handle a gun.

"He taught us to work hard, be thankful, truthful and love our people. Amos, the nation has lost a grandfather but you contributed a son who has led this country," Muhoozi said.

When she spoke, Dr Kajubiri was quick to add that some of the women standing with her were cousins and not her sisters. Kaguta had four daughters.

Museveni was not impressed and was quick to correct her. The president called forward all sisters, brothers, cousins, uncles and aunties and told the mourners that they were all one family with no distinction of who is a real brother and who is a cousin.

"My sister is now European after living in Germany for very long. Here in Africa we don't have that thing of this one is a child of my uncle; this one is not a real brother. We are all brothers and sisters, we are all children of Kaguta," Museveni said.

He also rewarded three relatives with 10 cows each for taking care of their father when he was ill. The funeral service had gone on as planned and on time but mourners had to wait for the chief mourner, Tanzania's President Jakaya Kikwete, who was still in Addis Ababa where he had gone to attend the signing of the framework agreement aimed at restoring peace in DRC.

He arrived at 5.30pm and spoke only for three minutes before escorting Museveni to the burial grounds.

"We join you in mourning and may God give you strength," Kikwete said.

Condolence messages were also sent in by Rwanda President Paul Kagame, South Sudan President Salvar Kiir, FDC President Mugisha Muntu and Buganda kingdom. Mzee Kaguta, born in 1916, was given a Christian sendoff and laid to rest beside his wife in Museveni's front yard in Rwakitura.

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