It is 10:30am, January 28, 2019 and I receive a phone call from a brother requesting me to accompany him to the residence of Haji Hussein Kyanjo in Kawuku.
I had seen Kyanjo, the former member of parliament for Makindye West in Kampala, two days earlier when we met at the burial of Prof Abbas Kiyimba’s a daughter; Kyanjo was in a jovial mood then, cracking jokes with everybody. He knew most of those present, many belonging to a tightly-knit group of Muslim professionals with a penchant for politics, especially in the opposition.
Back to the invite; I agree to go. Two hours later we are at Kyanjo’s home in the sprawling Kawuku residential area that is slowly but surely being colonised by our city’s middle class. Kyanjo’s house is a one-storied, yet-to-be-finished beauty sitting on half an acre of land overlooking Lake Victoria to the east. The scenery, serenity and breeze leave us in awe.
“What a palace you’ve got yourself!” my brother told Kyanjo as he welcomed us.
“Wapi! When they ask for a good house can you point at this?” he replied.
This home is where his second wife used to stay. She collapsed in the bathroom and died about five months ago. After exchanging pleasantries we sit down and have a no-holds-barred conversation covering politics, religion, security, international affairs, terrorism and women, among others.
Kyanjo looks healthy and in good spirits, although you can’t help but notice the struggle in his speech. If one does not interact with him on a daily basis, it is a struggle to understand what he is saying, due to the dystonia disease he suffered about four years ago as a result of poisoning.
Wikipedia defines dystonia as a movement disorder in which a person’s muscles contract uncontrollably. The contraction causes the affected body part to twist involuntarily, resulting in repetitive movements or abnormal postures. Dystonia can affect one muscle, a group of muscles, or the entire body. The disease can be hereditary, or caused by other factors such as physical trauma or poisoning.
Kyanjo has in the past ruled out the disease being hereditary or having had an accident, leaving poisoning as the only possibility.
“They took away his most valued asset: his speech. If it wasn’t for Allah’s mercy, maybe he would be dead by now. Although he is speaking with difficulty, at least he speaks. He has learnt to live with it and it no longer bothers him,” Asuman Basalirwa, the Justice Forum Party (Jeema) president and its lone member of parliament (Bugiri municipality), says.
For 10 years from 2006 to 2016, Kyanjo, like Basalirwa, was Jeema’s only MP. Basalirwa wonders how an MP would allege that he was poisoned and the government does nothing to investigate who was responsible.
“If that can happen to a man of Kyanjo’s status, what about the wretched of the earth? We would have demanded for answers from them but knowing who they are; I think it will be a waste of time,” he says.
As we are about to leave, we suggest to Kyanjo the idea of writing a book. He buys it but hastens to add: “I like the idea but I don’t think I have the concentration to write.”
We go into the A to Z of book writing and finally he agrees that my brother can record him.
“I will give you all the time you need,” he assures him.
As he sees us to the car, he remembers we should have taken a selfie. We go back to his balcony and tap, tap, tap later, we are done and embark on the journey back to Kampala.
In Kampala, I liaise with my editor on the possibility of having Kyanjo feature in our lifestyle pages, and after working out the details of the story angles, I set up another appointment to visit Kyanjo.
But before I can find him, news breaks on Friday February 1 that Kyanjo has been diagnosed with stage four cancer of the colon. Stage four cancer is also considered the terminal stage of any cancer diagnosis, with less prospects of remission. It is unbelievable; two days earlier we met this man and he had not complained about any discomfort despite our talking at length.
This is hard news to take. We agree to go back and see him. He is at his Munyonyo residence, this time, a stone’s throw away from Speke Resort Munyonyo. At Munyonyo, his wife Hajati Sarah Kyanjo is the one that welcomes us – the job she has done all day since the unfortunate news broke. She is unexpectedly calm.
“It’s unfortunate but we thank Allah for his life; he and we are not scared at all. We are confident Allah will see us through. Whatever comes, he says he is ready; if it’s time to go, he says he is prepared,” Mrs Kyanjo says to soothe our anxiety, but fails spectacularly.
How life can flip on you within seconds!
Mrs Kyanjo goes upstairs to get her husband, once one of the most respected legislators in the august House, for us. Five minutes later, her daughter instead comes to tell us we should go to his bedroom.
“He has just taken drugs that make him very weak and sleepy,” she explains. In the bedroom, Kyanjo lays on his bed holding a bowl of what looks like porridge, and with a spoon eats from it occasionally.
He is wearing his pyjamas and looks very frail, a far cry from the man we left in Kawuku a couple of days earlier. He tells us he is not afraid at all.
“I was to travel to India for my routine check-up to see that the machines that were inserted in my body are working in sync with the charger. You know they told me not to pass through [metal detectors], but in this country you never know what has been put where; that’s why I needed to go back to my doctors in India,” Kyanjo says.
He adds that he went to see his local doctor before traveling, because he was having excruciating abdominal pain that he needed to check out.
“On [January 31], I saw the doctor who carried out a thorough check-up including an endoscopy. He told me, ‘you know Haji, you’re sicker than we expected’. I asked him what was wrong. He said I had stage four cancer of the colon that had blocked much of my intestines,” Kyanjo says.
He was told to immediately stop eating solid foods, which was causing the excruciating pain upon digestion. The doctor also recommended some drugs as they carried out conclusive tests. He referred Kyanjo to India for specialised treatment. Kyanjo left for India on Thursday last week.
Basalirwa says preliminarily they suspect the cocktail of drugs Kyanjo has been taking the last five years could be responsible for causing the cancer.
“He has been taking seven tablets every day; we think they have had a negative impact leading to the cancer. Let’s see what the doctors in India say; that will determine how much money we need for treatment.”
Asked who is footing the bills, Basalirwa says it is friends and relatives.
“We will be telling Ugandans how much we will need, but for now we need everyone’s prayers.
“Kyanjo is still very instrumental in the struggle for good governance in this country,” Basalirwa says.
For his part, Kyanjo assures those who look up to him that when one soldier is on the ground, it does not stop the others from marching ahead.
“Don’t cry, keep strong. One soldier down should not break the struggle. For that loss does not in any way strengthen the enemy. He will collapse. I know that many people are hungry for property like land and arcades. They will go with nothing. I only ask you that never sell out to the enemy; keep fighting,” FDC’s deputy secretary general Harold Kaija quotes Kyanjo as telling him.