Col (Rtd) Shaban Bantariza, the deputy government spokesperson and second in command at the Uganda Media Centre, has died at the age of 65.
Col Bantariza, a Bush War hero who came in the limelight for his meticulous defence of the military and government image for three decades, yesterday succumbed to Covid-19, according to his boss, Mr Ofwono Opondo.
Col Bantariza died at 2am at Mulago Hospital where he has been in intensive care since Sunday.
Last Friday, he first complained of chest pain, low blood pressure, sugar and cough, Mr Opondo said. He then visited Mbuya Military Hospital and later went to Victoria (Medical Centre).
"He was transferred to Mulago Hospital after it was suspected that he had contracted Coronavirus. Upon testing, it was confirmed that he had contracted Covid-19. I can confirm that Col Shaban has died of Covid-19," Mr Opondo said.
The news of Col Bantariza's death came as a shock to many people, including some of his friends and journalists, who last saw in July after he was disqualified from contesting for the National Resistance Movement western region chairperson seat.
Col Bantariza came to limelight in 2000 when he was appointed the spokesperson of the Uganda People's Defence Forces at the time the Lord's Resistance Army rebels were wreaking havoc in northern and eastern Uganda.
His communication abilities saw him rise in military rank from a major to a colonel and later, a deputy government spokesperson.
Col Bantariza was born in Kagorogoro Village, Bitereko Sub-county in Mitooma District on December 17, 1955. Although he is a Catholic by religion, he said on a social media platform a few months ago that his grandfather named him+ Shaban in memory of his Muslim Muganda friend. He, however, used his Christian name Sebastian.
"So when I joined the liberation struggle, I chose Shaban as my 'Nom de Guerre [Liberation Name].' And on January 26, 1986, after Legal Notice No1, that turned us from a rebel force into a national army, my name continued to be Shaban," Col Bantariza explained then.
He went to Muhangye Primary School in Bushenyi now Mitooma District and St Leo's College, Kyegobe in Fort Portal, Kabarole District, for his Ordinary Level education. He completed his Advanced Level at Caltec Academy, Makerere. He joined National Teachers College, Kyambogo, for a diploma in secondary education in 1980.
In 1984, he joined Makerere University where he studied political science, literature and French, but he cut short the studies and joined the National Resistance Army (NRA) rebels.
Life in army
Years after NRA took power, he returned to Makerere University and completed his degree in 1992. In 1989, he earned the rank of second lieutenant and was appointed political commissariat instructor at Bombo Military Academy.
Nearly four years later, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant. The military sent him to Uganda Revenue Authority as an administrative officer in the Anti-Smuggling Unit for one and eight months.
In January 1995, he was transferred to UPDF headquarters as the director of information for seven years earning two promotions - captain and later, major.
The army appointed him its spokesperson in February 2002, a position he held for three years. He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel on June 21, 2005.
Mr Grace Matsiko, a veteran security beat journalist, who covered Col Bantariza since 2000, said the late was one of the "finest and most informed army spokespersons."
"Whenever the media got to him, you were rest assured of getting a quotable comment either as a confirmation or a denial because he understood media work very well. He always defended journalists when the army leadership wanted to silence them on critical military operations such as LRA, ADF and Democratic Republic of Congo," Mr Matsiko said.
Mr Andrew Mwenda, who hosted a radio show on KFM on which Col Bantariza was a frequent guest, said he was an embodiment of the liberal spirit of the UPDF. "As its (UPDF) spokesman, he was a regular on my KFM radio show, Andrew Mwenda Live, where he faced heavy fire but held his ground with tenacious zeal and took no offence," Mr Mwenda said on his social media platform
In 2007, he was appointed deputy chief political commissar and chairperson of the Infantry Division Kakiri. Two years later, he was transferred to Oliver Tambo Leadership School Kaweeweta as the commandant.
He was promoted to the rank of a colonel and soon after, he was transferred to the National Leadership Institute (NALI) Kyankwanzi as the director before the President appointed him as the deputy government spokesperson.
While at the Uganda Media Centre, he was arrested on allegations of corruption while he was the director at NALI, but he was acquitted.
The government announced yesterday that the deceased will be buried in Mitooma District on Thursday.