The evening of the day I heard that General Aronda Nyakairima had passed on my eyes were wet as I joined family and friends to pray for the soul of an angelic boy called Daniel Babara.
There is not enough space for us to delve fully into the thoughts I had as I thought about the lives of both the General and the young man I had known so well for the short time he lived.
Besides their early, regrettable passing, both men made me think deeply about humility and gentleness.
Humility because Danielson (that’s what we called him) was a superstar within his peers and yet carried himself quite ordinarily amongst them and within the family.
The same humility has been used in every eulogy and message about General Aronda, with as much consistency as we remarked about this quality in him when he was alive.
All through his army and official life he held various positions of serious responsibility and high authority but never did you hear tales of arrogance, high handedness or bullying linked to him.
Most recently, when he took office at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and asked staff to put in extra time at work in order to create a much-needed acceleration of their duties, very few responded positively.
It was amazing how defiant some people could be in the face of such power and authority, as presented by an Army General, former Army Commander, and substantive, sworn-in Cabinet Minister in charge.
But what was more amazing was his response – which was to turn up at work every day and on Saturdays and on Sundays, with the few who did show up.
On many mornings, he would smile in amusement and kick aside the odd bits of witchcraft charms that some characters would litter about his office, and then go about his work as normal – and the results were unquestionably impactful across the entire country.
After bumping into him one day at the Kampala Serena and watching him petting a bevy of frolicking children as we chatted briefly, the words ‘gentle giant’ came to mind as I considered that this man had overseen an Army that pacified the North, changed our view of the Karimojong warrior, and gave new meaning to the processes governing our Internal Affairs.
That gentleness of manner made me look up the word ‘gentility’, defined quickly as ‘social superiority as demonstrated by polite and respectable manners, behaviour, or appearances’.
One more lengthy definition, though, contained the phrase, “gentility is that rare kind of graciousness that is handed down from one elegant generation to the next.” which made me look more closely at the other gentle giant I was mourning last Saturday.
Danielson, a tall, noble prince, was Captain of his basketball team, the UMU Flames, by the time his life was snuffed out by an errant security guard firing off his gun during a scuffle.
Danielson was not part of that scuffle – ever the leader amongst his peers, he had stepped in to try and break up the fracas but took a bullet in the process – which is painful to think about right to this day, but in a twisted way made him even more respected amongst his friends. See, he took a bullet for them.
So respected was he that all through this past year, his team has continued to honour his memory; his mother, Phyllis, is now called ‘Mama Flames’, and is invited to grace their games as oft she can.
His friends have stuck together for him so tightly that on his birthday, they turned up at his home to cut cake with her.
The boy clearly had a strong impact as a leader!
At one point in his short life, young Danielson thought about joining the armed forces, which but for God’s plans would have certainly led to his being a General some day rather than the Angel in heaven that his family tearfully but gladly knows him to be today.
I honestly think that if he had taken up the uniform, he would have led with the same gentle but efficient strength that General Aronda displayed through his service.
In his short life and General Aronda’s longer one we see evidence that we don’t have to be brash and confrontational to get things done, as many so-called leaders around us seem to think.
Sadly, both gentle giants left us in questionable ways that will have us looking to God alone for answers. Till we meet again. May their Souls Rest In Peace.