So much Leadership learning was packed in the five-year bush war & Jack Mucunguzi was one its brightest expression

Like sediments moved and deposited in new places by a river, so does life treat us. The river of life is unidirectional for its water just like time, does not return to where it came from. This week, this river of life deposited Jack Mucunguzi, one of the few remaining NRA officers that led the February 1981 attack on Kabamba to its river bed – to his final resting place. Jack follows Generals Elly Tumwiine and Pecos Kuteesa along with Col. Ahmed Kashillingi, all exceptional fighters of the resistance who have passed on in the last two years.

Every time we lose an officer of the foundations of the resistance, we are reminded of how much the world has changed since the young people of the 1970s and 1980s made a singular decision to abandon all they knew and under good leadership, gave their lives to the cause of the country. Few came from elite families. Many were of a peasant stock just like the majority of our country but their kind of spirit, intellectual capacity, ideological depth, was of a superior category. Todate, it still baffles and inspires some of us in equal measure, how these young people then, were able to hold together, win the war, lead a country of out of decay and re-establish the foundations on which the next generation is able to build. They are a sign that nothing can defeat a committed group of people. Today’s often unfair and harsh judgment by the young people who have no idea of the country Uganda was, some 42 years ago, tells us that when a country ignores the means by which it was changed and do not firmly tell the stories of the people who led the change, the next generation loses a sense of its heroes.

While we are saddened by the loss of these officers and reminded of the passing on of what was a courageous generation of fighters, we should be reassured that some like Jack, had a bonus, a sort of double helping on life. They fought, won the war, lived and built families and some have left grandchildren. Many of their colleagues died in the war and their bones have never been given a decent burial. I meet many children, today’s grown men and women who never saw their parents because they didn’t return. Rather than mourn, I thank God for those like jack who God gave more years to see the result of the ideals they fought for.

I met Jack in 1992. He often came to Makerere university where we were students to see his relative, with whom I shared a room at university hall.  Lanky and tall with cully hair, I thought he was of Somali stock until he spoke. He invited all of us to his home and I cannot count how many meals we shared, the stories of the bush war and the training in Monduli he told us, the pocket money he gave us and how much encouragement he was to us then. Smart and open to debate with a rich army history, Jack was the first to tell me in very specific details about the NAZI army’s invasion of the Soviet Union in June of 1942 under ‘Operation Barbarossa’. I had not read about it in the early years of university. He introduced me to a ‘general’ called “Winter” not a human being but he meant the extreme weather conditions that froze the German offensive against Soviet Union saving the city of Stalingrad in November of 1942. He had read Carl Von Clausewitz, the 19th century Prussian military theorist. He understood global military theory and strategy yet Jack had not been to an advanced military college, an expression of how intelligent he was. Even more, this tells us how much leadership learning not just the fighting, was packed in the five-year bush war that the young people who took up the cause drank on.

Their character, self-restraint against provocation, deep loyalty to a cause, country and their leader, is a challenge to the young leaders of today. There is nothing one must take for granted, all must be worked hard for with care and patience, they teach us. They were serious people with a mission and had no time for Katemba (games). Jack was quick on his feet, often leaving one with a feeling that he wanted to walk ahead of time itself. He drove fast, ate fast and closed all his conversations standing to leave for the next engagement. He was warm hearted, extremely generous to a fault and never distraught or discouraged. He always said, if you survived the war, you had no reason to be depressed; life was a bonus and you are compelled to live it joyfully. Jack leaves us with two lessons:

First, to avoid a spirit of dependency. When he left the army, he loved very much and went private as at a young age, he worked very hard for every ground he stepped on. He taught himself management and his bush war experience were put to use in places like Uganda Revenue Authority where he encouraged us to join him briefly. He had a good work ethic, kept time and managed with his feet as well as his head and heart. He was at every scene of every incident personally and took facts not emotions. At a time when many young people seem to blame their circumstances on other people, we got to look at the shining example of Jack. His life teaches us to pull ourselves by our bootstraps, stand one’s ground and do the right thing even if the temptation to a sense of entitlement, simply because one gave the prime of their life to a cause, is very high.

Secondly, to be decisive when we make decisions and stick with them. A friend told me Jack had taken to smoking when he was young, often doing a packet of cigarettes a day. One day he run out of cigarettes late evening and drove by a club to buy them. The seller refused him the purchase saying only members were allowed. He pleaded and tried to shove the money to the cashier to pay but to no avail. Jack then turned to his car and told himself, “I will not fight for cigarettes. They do not have to control me. I leave smoking now and forever”. In an instant, he ended a bad behaviour. In the last 31 years I have known Jack, I had no idea he ever smoked a cigarette. When we make quality decisions, even behavioral ones, we must stand with them, regardless of how difficult it might be. In our time of social pulls and media, to stay above the fray and discipline our words, behaviour and actions, is hard. Jack’s life teaches us, it is possible. For all this, we had a special name for Jack. We called him ‘Wise Counsel’ because we often went to him for advice on decisions of life. We now are mentoring other younger people because Jack by his character mentored us. Good bye our friend till we meet.

Odrek Rwabwogo




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