Obtuary: The Felix Kaweesi I Knew
By John V Sserwaniko
Like myself, Andrew Felix Kaweesi hailed from the greater Masaka area. But that isn’t the reason I closely worked with him. It was purely work. He was a big name public official who I inevitably had to regularly interact with as I went about my duties of sourcing and writing news for my newspaper.
I mostly report politics and indeed a political story I wrote, to his chagrin, inadvertently got us talking. It was, I think, 2014 or thereabout.
The political feuding between President Museveni and his man Amama Mbabazi was beginning to escalate. And as we now know, this feud was used by many to fix their adversaries.
A mere story linking one to JPAM was sufficient to put any public official in trouble. The regrettable story I authored in this instance created almost a similar impression about Kaweesi who was then a very powerful Commandant for KMP.
He had for years been flamboyantly doing his job as I also concentrated on mine-never crossing each other’s path. We had never interacted. We perhaps had no reason to. He began looking for me. Initially he sought dialogue through Red Pepper colleagues covering the police bit.
Unsure how he exactly thought about me, I for two weeks avoided audience with him. I was in the end approached by RP crime reporter Stuart Yiga who said: “I know you have your reasons not having audience with this man but you are both my friends. I insist you talk to him and get to understand his side more. I know you know something but there is nothing wrong seeking to deepen your understanding of the man and what he stands for.”
On Yiga’s insistence we went and met the man at Imperial Royale where he was attending a conference. I was disarmed by his humility.
“There is a lot a rogue in my position can do but our boss the Inspector General has taught us dialogue. He [IGP] is for engagement and not confrontation with perceived adversaries and it’s what I stand for. I’m here to see how we get to understand each other and work better next time,” Kaweesi humbly said to me during that meeting as Yiga looked on fearing tempers would flare and walk out on them.
Before I could find sufficient time to work with him enough, Kaweesi was transferred from KMP Commandant to Director Operations meaning his docket was the whole country.
I vividly recall the day he handed over the KMP office to Haruna Isabirye with a huge crowd coming to see him off. It was a pompous ceremony and when he was called to speak, a smiling Kaweesi called on his old friend Deo Matsanga to speak on behalf of his friends including many city tycoons that came to bid him farewell.
It was an emotional moment. Instead of speaking, Matsanga broke down and wailed on the microphone. I remember Kaweesi telling him: “Deo don’t cry for me! I’m not dead guys. I see everybody in tears as if I’m dead.”
He explained that his understanding of the new job was a promotion and not a demotion as some were saying. To him this was indicative of how much the IGP Gen Kale trusted him.
Kayihura was to later praise him for leading in a manner that raised the profile of KMP. This was during a public ceremony at police headquarters weeks after Kaweesi left KMP, a position he had cautiously used to endear himself to many.
Though he was always on the road going to different parts of Uganda being Director Operations, Kaweesi always kept in touch. He always liked comments regarding his performance as Director Operations.
“I’m going to set a new pace for my colleagues in the police force. I’m going to make sure each one of us does his or her work as dully instructed by my boss the Inspector General,” he always said whenever we got to talk on phone.
Whenever he returned to Kampala he insisted on us meeting to hear my view regarding what I thought of the performance of the Uganda Police. He always respectfully called me “Counsel” and kept saying “I can’t wait coming to your chambers as a lawyer and seek legal services.”
He always encouraged me saying “I know that Makerere Law School isn’t easy but I know you are going to make it.” He liked discussing career things always and liked jokingly boasting about his masters’ degree.
“I have always been considering law but I hear it’s a tough course. It needs time yet I’m very busy. We must be available to support the Inspector General in his efforts to stabilize this country,” he always said.
He one time told me he looked forward to a professional life serving at the UN in his retirement and doing a PhD was one of the things he always aspired to. Kaweesi also liked intellectual discussions.
He was also humble and kept his appointments. He liked the word Ndugu (brother)-and if he didn’t call me Counsel, he called me John. “Ndugu I suggest we reschedule our meeting,” he always texted in advance if he felt he wouldn’t honor the appointment.
“I know you are busy working for the RP and studying at the law school. There is something of strategic importance I want to consult you about. Let me know the place of your convenience and I will drive there but we must talk about this today,” he always said jokingly adding being a big man in police he would always find his way around the jam.
Indeed many times he would reach the venue ahead of me. He was calm and his calmness manifested in the fact that he never exhibited anger or offence in case you came late for a meeting or in case a story didn’t come out the way he wanted.
“I wasn’t quoted properly but its okay we shall find away but let’s concentrate on correctly portraying the Inspector General and the police force he envisages for this country,” he always said.
Since 2014, I met him many times at office and city hotels or even police functions but I never saw him angry-not even to his juniors. He always controlled his emotions. Maybe I was lucky. Despite a heavy schedule, ever moving from one meeting or media talk show to another, I never failed to get his audience whenever I sought to.
“Let him come after all this is a brief issue,” he always told his escort the amiable Corporal Erau who was by his side that fateful Friday morning when he was shot.
A very talkative chap, Erau always told me about his background. I one time asked him how he came to learn so many Ugandan languages. “My dear Counsel I’m a former street boy. I used to vend everything on the streets of Kampala and other major towns. That is how I learnt those languages,” he always said smiling and showing his black gum.
He is the man I always called to confirm if Afande (as they fondly called Kaweesi) was coming. “I know you have an appointment with him. Just wait at office. We are about to set off. Afande was just delayed home,” Erau always answered on phone.
Indeed on Friday morning when RP Marketing & Advertising Manager Bruce rung inquiring about the veracity of the news of Kaweesi’s death, Erau is the man I rang immediately. I rung twice but, unusual of him, Erau wasn’t picking. I started shivering imaging the worst had come. I rang Afande Semogerere who worked with Kaweesi in the PR office.
“Two people have called me earlier but I’m not sure. I’m also still trying to verify the same,” Semogerere said. It was unthinkable calling Afande Kaweesi to cross check because phone calls wasn’t his thing.
Instead he was very good via texting/whatsapping. “Ndugu you know those meetings, they are sometimes very high profile. If it’s not a press conference, it’s a meeting and there is simply no way I can take calls,” Kaweesi always apologetically said regarding missed and unreturned phone calls.
Whenever it was emergency, he got out of the meeting and called right away or delegated his assistants to call back. He was no doubt a diehard Musevenist but even in privacy he never held specific grudges against Museveni adversaries-Mbabazi, Besigye etc.
One time I asked him what it felt like arresting Besigye and sitting next to him in the police van to Nagalama.
“Does he keep arguing shouting at you or what?” I asked. Kaweesi smiled and said: “Ndugu you can’t believe that man is such a gentleman. He keeps quiet after saying a word or two. Sometimes he says nothing.” He told me something consistent with what Besigye said about his death.
Kaweesi told me how Besigye onetime protestingly said to him on being arrested by him personally. “I have nothing against you young police officers because you are merely acting on orders.”
He believed in managing the truth rather just denying. I one time told him of claims he was of Rwandese origin. One of his adversaries in the Lwengo politics had told me: “Kaweesi is part of the political problems in Lwengo yet he isn’t even a Muganda. His real name is Andrew Kyuuma which he conceals because he is ashamed of his nationality.”
Kaweesi, when asked about this, told me: “It’s true. In fact I’m Kyuuma Kityamuweesi which is a common Luganda saying in Masaka and it’s something I’m not ashamed of. Anybody can interview me and quote me on that because there is a whole background to how and why I don’t use that name even when it’s part of my names.”
When he became PRO, just weeks after we had interview him for RP, he told me: “I don’t know anything about this job but with friends like you my dear Counsel, I’m sure I will prevail.”
Indeed he always consulted senior scribes on how to go about things. He was very respectful of authority and always insisted credit going to his boss Gen Kale.
He resisted bad stories about the entire police force and always defended fellow officers including those he considered adversaries. This he did both in public and privacy.
“You see the bad thing about such stories is there is no way you can write to destroy a senior officer without my boss the Inspector General’s image being affected,” he always said justifying his refusal to leak bad stories about colleagues.
“This police force is big enough for all of us to shine and serve our country. One doesn’t have to fall first for me to shine.”