Bita, Francis Mukasa
Francis Mukasa Bita was born into a large family–he had forty-six aunts and uncles–on January 20, 1937, in Butebere, Masaka district, Uganda to Mr. Ereneo Ddaaki Bwentunge and Mrs. Anna Maria Musubika Mpaddemu. His grandparents were named Kayanja and Paulina Tulinaomubeezi. Kayanja was the son of Tamusuza who had forty-six children. Mukusa was the ninth in a family of twelve children, with eight boys and four girls. His parents, both mother and father, were zealous and committed Catholics who struggled to give him a balanced education in human, cultural, and religious values.
In 1947, Mukasa was taken to Kyamaganda Primary School to start his primary education and he remained there until 1954. He never continued school because he was constantly attacked by a crushing headache. In 1955 he went back to his parents’ home in Butebere Narozari and stayed with them. In 1957, he tried his hand at fish mongering for two years. However, his father insisted that he was not destined to be a fish mongerer but a farmer. He eventually succumbed to his demands and, in 1959, he went to Mulebi Kagoogwa to start a new life as a farmer. He was, in fact, the founder of this village.
He married in 1964 but his wife was unstable and deserted him. Mukasa was overwhelmed by the tragedy but had to continue taking care of his toddlers. When he found it almost impossible to bring up the children alone in the jungle where he was, he took another wife who also got sick in 1983. Mukasa now had nine children but he settled down, trusting God to take care of the children he had given him. Mukasa recognised that he had to live an austere, highly disciplined, industrious, and sober life in order to accomplish the task of bringing up these children. Even now, people can hardly understand where this mysterious man got the energy to confront the evil that assailed him and how he lived to be the founder of the vibrant Christian village of Kagoogwa and the father of a priest. Yet Mukasa always believed that God would not abandon him. His simple, sincere, and strong faith combined with an abundance of good will and courage enabled him to achieve what he did as a Christian parent.
Strongly drilled in the fundamentals of faith by his parents and Fr. Ssewajje and supported by his brothers, especially Fr. Benedict Ssettuuma Senior and Fr. John Mary Waliggo, Mukasa beat the odds of his time. When his father took him into the jungle and left him there at the age of twenty-two, he helped to colonize a hostile place and founded a Christian village. He brought in the cultivation of banana plantains, coffee, cotton, irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, sorghum, oranges, papayas, and other fruit trees. He got involved in mixed farming and was an exemplary farmer who reared goats, chickens, and ducks. He created paths and made a road that joined the villages to the main road. He championed development in the area and was an example of the Christian meaning of fruitful work.
Mukasa was not learned but he hated illiteracy and ignorance, so he started a school in his own house and used his meager resources to pay the teachers so that the children of the village would be educated. He was an example of true Christian charity in this regard as he spent much of his fortune sustaining the school. Many people often laughed at him and wondered why he wasted his money on sustaining a school. But that did not move him. The school which started humbly now exists as St. Francis Primary School and has about 600 children. It has educated a number of important citizens including a priest. That is not very common in the hinterland of a country like Uganda. In addition to sustaining the school, he also worked hard to send his own children to school. This was very difficult because, according to the mentality of the time, sending children to school was a waste of time.
This was the infamous period of Idi Amin Dada. Many people abused Mukasa for not buying beer and for wearing rags and suffering the way he did because he sent his children to school. Mukasa was consoled by his faith and persevered quietly, blessing those who abused him and not cursing them. This often surprised his enemies and eventually won him great admiration and respect. By the time he died in 2006 he was considered an elder, a sage, and a guru in the area. Many people, especially the young people, flocked to him for advice and counsel.
Mukasa and Catechist Bwegoye struggled to establish an outstation at Nambaale which eventually became a parish in 2004. Mukusa also worked hard to get an outstation at Kagoogwa and strived to see that a church was built in the place when he was chairperson of the laity. In doing this, Mukasa was convinced that the presence of a place of Christian worship would help combat superstition and witchcraft that dominated the area. This initiative was, in fact, successful.
By his resilience, his strong faith in God, and his great bravery, Mukasa fought against fatalism which at one time had dominated the area. People were convinced that they were victims of fate and could not change the way they were and their lifestyles. Mukasa rejected this point of view. With singular courage in both word and action he rebuked those who held to this belief that threatened to maintain backwards ways. For example, people said cows could not be kept in this area. Mukusa worked hard to buy a cow and it survived. People said the local children were destined to remain poor and uneducated because the gods had decreed this. But Mukasa worked hard and with great sacrifice, he managed to send all his children to school and had the joy of seeing one of his sons become a priest. These very children have helped transform the village that Mukasa started into a modern village that now has water, a good school named St. Francis Primary School with a nursery section, and a dispensary, Our Lady of Health Giugliano Boatto Dispensary. Also, many families raise cattle for their daily income thanks to the initiative of Fr. Benedict Ssettuuma, Jr.
In his simplicity, Mukasa helped to control the violence that often dominated the area as a result of joblessness and drinking. He worked as a chief for Mayumba Nkumi for several years and as chairman Lc I.[sic] He struggled to bring peace and civilization to a place that was rather backwards in doing things. He dispensed justice to all with fairness and did his best to see that each Christian home lived out Christian values and that children went to school. He established the rule of law in the area and controlled vandalism and vagabonding. People hailed him as a good Christian leader, for he tried his best to serve the community instead of asking to be served. He used his resources as a leader to improve the place and help those in need.
When he grew old, he became the darling of the children of the area. He was very kind and welcoming and gave special attention to the children. He was convinced that children are the future of humanity and he wanted every child to smile. He grew many fruit at home. It was suprising that at a time when many people burdened by the economic demands sought to sell everything they had for survival, Mukasa simply gave all the fruit in his garden to the children. Everyday after school children would flock to him, they would find he had gathered fruit for them and then he would tell them stories about life, the beginning of their village, and the need to love it and their country. Every Saturday he made it a point to teach the children catechism in his simple way and to teach human values that would help them to be true human beings (abantu balamu). All the children remember him as Jajja Katonda Wabanaku teyebaka (“Grandfather the God of the afflicted does not sleep”).
Mukasa became a symbol of Christian hope for the village. He was assailed by many misfortunes and, as in Job’s story, many people thought he had sinned and asked him to curse God, but he did not. He continued his life with courage, sometimes wondering why God gave him a cross so heavy to bear. However, he summoned his energy and, with God’s help, he persevered until his death on June 6, 2006. He was laid to rest on June 8, 2006 at his home in Kagoogwa, the village he had founded as a young man in 1959.
In his life and work, Mukasa belonged to a stock of courageous young lay people who, through his work, helped to found a Christian village, pioneering evangilisation, development, education–and bringing sanity, order, and civilization. The success of his story can, in a greater part, be attributed to his piety, faith, hard work, courage, and perserance. At his burial many people observed that they had buried a true saint who struggled with his own weaknesses and failures to show people the right path to God through manual labor, a dedication to children’s education, and service to the community.
Benedict Ssettuuma Jr.
Waliggo, John Mary. “Mukulu Wange Bita.” Unpublished paper, 2006.
Ssettuuma, Benedict. Zikusooka Nezitakuva luvanyuma. Kampala: Christian Graphs, 2006.
This story, received in 2011, was written by Fr. Benedict Ssettuuma, a Catholic priest from Masaka Diocese who holds a doctorate in missiology from Urban University Rome. He teaches missiology, pastoral theology, and African theology at St. Mary’s National Major Seminary, Ggaba, Uganda.