At the height of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) insurgency in the late 1990s, many Muslim youths got arrested for alleged connection to the Jamil Mukulu-led rebel outfit.
Disturbed by the indiscriminate arrest of the Muslim youths, the Uganda Muslim Youth Assembly (UMYA) protested, accusing the government of having a motive of discrediting Islam and Muslims.
“They were highlighting names that were taken to be of Muslims yet the army [UPDF] had many officers who had similar names but they were not Muslims. I am talking about the likes of Shaban Bantariza, Chefe Ali [Elijah Mwine], Salim Saleh [Caleb Akandwanaho], President Museveni himself at one time used to call himself Kassim, and Amama Mbabazi was Ahmed. They deliberately used these names to discredit Islam,” said Imam Kasozi.
When Bantariza was appointed army spokesman in 2000, UMYA invited him to its annual Ramathan seminars at Kibuli Primary Teachers College near Kampala where they put him on the spot over his continued use of the Shaban name yet he professed the Roman Catholic faith.
Until his death on Monday, October 26, Bantariza was officially known by his pseudo name, Shaban, which he adopted in 1985 after joining the National Resistance Army (NRA) rebellion that brought the NRM government to power in 1986.
Making reference to a famous quote, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” by William Shakespeare, a celebrated English playwright, Bantariza told his audience at the UMYA Ramathan seminar that he couldn’t stop using the name.
Before joining the NRA bush war, Bantariza had attended formation studies under the congregation of the Brothers of Christian Instruction, one of the religious congregations in the Roman Catholic Church.
He established contact with the NRA rebels from St. Edward’s Secondary School, Bukuumi in present-day Kakumiro district where he had been posted for his school practice as part of the requirement for the award of degree in Education from Makerere University.
Seasoned journalist Ahmed Kateregga Musaazi who closely worked with Bantariza remembers the fallen soldier during the early days of the NRM government.
“He was a political commissar, one of the first writers in the army magazine, Tarehe Sita which was started in 1987,” Kateregga said. “The editorial board was chaired by Amanya Mushega who was the Chief Political Commissar of the NRA before the late Lt. Col. Sserwanga Lwanga took charge. The late Teddy Seezi Cheeye was the editor but was later replaced by Godfrey Sserwadda who had led a group of journalists that deserted DP mouthpiece, Munnansi/ Citizen newspapers,” he added.
As a writer in Tarehe Sita, Bantariza still disguised his identity, writing under the byline, Shaban Seban and remained a little known army officer until his appointment as army spokesman in 2000 that he became a household name.
Because he died of the deadly Covid-19, his burial at Kagorogoro village in Mitooma district was restricted to a few family members, selected UPDF officers, a priest and five church choir members.
The minister for East African Community Affairs, Maj. Gen. Kahinda Otafiire delivered President Yoweri Museveni’s message describing Bantariza as a trustworthy, patient, and a hero who has never betrayed his country.
Museveni reiterated his call on Ugandans to observe the Ministry of Health guidelines that prevent the spread of covid-19. He castigated people who have failed to adhere to the guidelines and who say there is no covid-19 in the country.
“We tell you to wear a mask, you call it a joke, wash your hands, you call it a joke, cover your nose, you call it a joke, please social distance you hear people say there is no Corona, but the virus is there and it kills,” Museveni said.
Ofwono Opondo, the Executive Director, Uganda Media Center described the late Banatariza, as approachable and passionate about his country.
“Being multi-talented, linguistic and his expensive background in public relations and administration, he was always available at short notice for duty and never hesitated to share information with colleagues and the country,” he said.
Col. Shaban Bantariza is survived by 12 children.
Additional reporting by URN.