John Mwesigwa Nagenda ( 1938 – 2023): The Long Walk back home!

John Mwesigwa Nagenda

As he lay dying, the son stood on the edge, a storm of thoughts clouding his mind. His father, whom he loved deeply, was a famous global Evangelist, who had preached for a quarter of a century around the world the Gospel of salvation in Christ. However, himself, he had long walked away from the faith.

When I met John Mwesigwa in his early eighties, he not only shared with me his final moments with his father, Nagenda, but on the subject of receiving Christ as a personal Savior, he was quite adamant. “I loved my father dearly,” he told me, a bit teary. “But I just don’t believe you need to be saved to go to heaven!” It was just after noon and he took a sip of whiskey at Kampala Club where as President of Kampala West Rotary Club I had just honoured him with a vocational award, for his life of service as a writer.

In 1912 William Nagenda, had been born to a leading Muganda saza (province) chief, Festo Munyangenda. During the early reign of Ssekabaka Mutesa 1, Munyangeda briefly served as a regent. As was common then for sons of chiefs Nagenda was taken to King’s College Budo where he excelled to go to Makerere University. He graduated with a Diploma, the highest award offered, and was posted to the colonial central government base in Entebbe as a clerk. There while attending an open air crusade meeting led by a one Simeon Nsibambi, he made a life turning decision to accept Jesus as a personal saviour. And his life was never the same.

Nagenda resigned his secure government job, to engage in full time Christian ministry. Together with Nsibambi the two married two beautiful sisters of a leading chief, Erastus Bakaluba. While Nsibambi would marry Eva; Nagenda went for the younger Sala.

Nsibambi had also resigned from his government job as health inspector. A chance meeting with a British missionary, Dr Joe Church, had led him surrender completely his life to Christ. After that Nsimbabi had also led his younger brother, Blasio Kigozi, to Christ. Kigozi as well married a Bakaluba girl, Katherine. This trio became full time lay preachers, using the Nsibambi home in Bulange as a base.

Blasio Kigozi was a fiery preacher whom audiences could not resist as he urged all to repent and accept Jesus. Dr Church appointed him as Headmaster of Gahini Evangelistic Training School. However, in 1936 after a mission trip to Gahini, Rwanda, where Dr Church had started a missionary hospital, Blasio passed away following a short illness. Nagenda was posted to Gahini to succeed him. And it is here in 1938 that he and Sala gave birth to a bouncing son whom they baptized the name of Mwesigwa ( “Our God is faithful!”)

Bishop Stuart who headed the Anglican church easily saw in Nagenda the kind of leader he wanted. After a brief time as a Chaplain at a tea estate owned by a committed Christian business couple, Leslie Wilsons, he convinced Nagenda to attend Bishop Tucker Theological College and join mainstream clergy.

Founded in 1913 by Bishop Alfred Tucker the College was the best theological institution in the region, not just training priests of the Anglican Church, but also teachers and certain other vocational skills. When Nagenda joined he was on fire for Christ and started preaching against sin, repentance and modern practices that had made the church “cold!” Nagenda roused his fellow students to get up at 4 am for fervent prayers. Feeling threatened by this “revival movement” of young believers, the administration resisted. The matter went up to Bishop Stuart who was already under siege from the young balokole ( savadees) accusing the church of being lukewarm. He sided with the administration. The radicals were given an ultimatum to cease with their revival campaign. But they refused to balk down. In the end Nagenda, together with 26 students, just a month to graduation, were all expelled.

But that was not the end of the matter. The Anglican church now felt under attack from the radical balokole who were pushing her traditional members to embrace salvation. Coincidentally these balokole were from the leading Baganda families and wielded a lot of influence for the church to be concerned. Yet, also, among the balokole were also those who wanted to leave the Anglican church and form a separate church. What saved the day was when Nsibambi and Nagenda, the leaders of the movement, decided against exit. Their reasoning was that the church needed them most and it was better to preach “okulokoka” (salvation) while still in the church, than outside. Indeed, to this day, the balokole remain part of mainstream Anglican church.

It is generally acknowledged that if Nsibambi, a former Head Prefect at Budo, had not given his life to Christ, and continued with his government career, he would have risen to become a Kattikiro ( Prime Minister) of the 500 year plus Buganda kingdom government. Likewise, for Nagenda too, Bishop Stuart in sending him to Mukono, the idea was he could one day rise to become the first African Bishop. Bishop Stuart was disappointed when Nagenda refused to repent, who insisted that he had obeyed God. As a result of that, he was punished more, with Bishop Stuart revoking his license to preach in the Anglican church.

Denied of the opportunity to share the Gospel in church, Nagenda decided thereon to spend the rest of his life sharing the gospel of salvation as a street evangelist. He and Dr Church, whose license was also revoked, would occasionally be invited to speak within and outside Uganda. In 1946 Nagenda made his first evangelical mission to England. He had a very good command of the English language and easily won over crowds. Soon he was visiting the rest of Europe, parts of Africa, the US and South America on evangelical missions.

As Nagenda became a global evangelist, Sala at home was busy as a doting mother. Like all believing mothers, Sala introduced Sunday school stories about Jesus to her son. Although we have no record, at one point, Sala, must also have led young Mwesigwa in a prayer of salvation, which would normally happen with all children raised in believers home.

Nagenda and Sala also decided to take Mwesigwa to the best Christian mission schools around at the time. Starting him at Mwiri College, Busoga, Mwesigwa, who also had a stint at Kigezi High School, would later join King’s College Budo in the most famous class of Jubilants ( Budo @50 years). His Budo classmates would later read like Who is Who in Uganda. Among them was Charles Kikonyogo, later Governor Bank of Uganda, Professor FIB Kayanja, later Vice Chancellor Mbarara University of Science & Technology, Professor Phares Mutibwa, later the noted historian, Dr Jack Jagwe, later Medical Superintendent Mulago hospital, Dr Edward Kakonge, later a cabinet minister. But there was also Rev Laban Bombo, later not only my muko ( brother in law); but one who would return to Budo where for nearly 30 years he taught a future generation of global leaders.

After passing his Cambridge Certificate of Education with a first-class, Mwesigwa joined Makerere University where he had two interesting classmates- Joyce Kaddu, later a Vice Chair of Public Service Commission and Benjamin Mkapa, later President of Tanzania. They would remain close friends over the years. “Once when President Mkpa was in Uganda on a visit,” Joyce Kaddu would share with me, “Mkapa invited both of us for a private dinner at Sheraton hotel. We had such a good time reminiscing about our Makerere days!”

At Makerere University Mwesigwa’s love of writing flowered. It was not by accident though. Mwesigwa’s maternal grandfather, Erasto Bakaluba, was a writer of a small book “Emmere ya’Baganda”! His mother Sala had written an unpublished novel. When Mwesigwa joined university a young and restless African educated class was rising eager to define African identity in their words. Mwesigwa would become editor of a literary magazine Penpoint which first published his poems and short stories. In 1962 after graduation, Mwesigwa joined the Oxford University Press where he would edit and publish many of the emerging works of African writers.

As Mwesigwa rose and established himself in the literary world publishing poems like “Gahini Lake” and short stories like, “And This, At Last” he started cooling towards the faith of his parents. Somewhere in the mid sixties after preaching salvation on the five continents, Nagenda had slowed down. Concerned about his health, his many friends in the United Kingdom took him in, but as his condition worsened, he returned to Uganda.

By then Nagenda and Sala had given their all to their six children: Stephen, Ruth, Jane, Tendo and Jim, the best education of the day. Through their global connections they secured them places in overseas universities and all would go on to become well established. They looked with pride as Mwesigwa not only established himself as a writer but became a lion in the sporting world. In 1975 Mwesigwa would represent East Africa at the World Cricket match, by then recognized as perhaps the fastest bowler in East Africa.

So why would Mwesigwa, successful in life, now start cooling towards the faith of his loving parents! What had happened is that out in the world, freed from the religious atmosphere of his childhood, Mwesigwa had encountered a world of intellectuals and egregious sports lover, some hard drinking, who inevitably shook his earlier beliefs as a born again Christian. Among African intellectuals who, ironically had largely been educated through missionary schools, it was a fashion to scorn Christianity once exposed to the rest of the world. Many were quick to observe that Christian missionaries had hypocritically painted African cultures negatively as they held up theirs. In reaction prominent writers like Nagenda’s age mate, James Ngugi, decided to renounce the Christian faith as the religion of the exploiter. James Ngugi renounced his Christian name James, though Mwesigwa never went that far and retained his name John.

Another reason, less obvious, but clearer to the spiritual eyes, was because Mwesigwa was the First born of Evangelist Nagenda’s six children. In the Bible we find that when Moses went out to plea for the release of the Israelites and met opposition from Pharaoh, the only way the latter agreed was after God moved to snap the life of all First borns, with the exception of those of the Israelites. In as much as the First born belongs to the Lord; the enemy who comes to “kill and destroy” is always after these! If Mwesigwa would turn his back on his father’s faith, as the eldest child, then the rest had no one to look up to. Each one could walk his way.

On this point we must note that, as Mwesigwa walked away from the faith, the relationship between his parents remained strong. To the end they prayed he would return to the faith they had given their life to and preached around the world.

No longer identifying himself as a Christian, Mwesigwa now embraced humanism as an alternative belief system. The seventies were perilous times and Mwesigwa like many intellectuals of his time fled into exile. His fellow writer, Robert Serumaga, was one of those who took up arms to fight for removal of Idi Amin. In 1980 President Obote returned to power after contested elections. Some of those aggrieved decided to take up arms and wage a guerrilla war using Luwero Triangle as a base. Along the way Mwesigwa also joined in the struggle helping connect Prince Ronald Mutebi with Yoweri Museveni, of whom many Baganda were quite sceptical. Eventually he led Prince Mutebi to the battlefield, which was a turning point in that wars fortune.

Grateful for his support, after Mr Museveni took power, in 1986, Mwesigwa was appointed a member of the Commission of Inquiry to investigate the abuse of Human rights witnessed during the atrocious war. Having distinguished himself, he was later promoted to Senior Presidential advisor on Public Relations, a position he held up to the time of his death. In a sense Mwesigwa was one of those woud have the longest running relationship with President Museveni. But it must be said, also, it was often a fractured one, especially when out of exasperation and apparent lack of access to the President, he would take to his pen that could send shiver in many where he openly disagreed on important issues like removal of Presidential term limits.

In the early 2000s I started attending Prayer Breakfast prayer organized by Mr Balak Kirya. In 1966 Balak Kirya was one of the five ministers detained without trial by the Obote government who were opposed to his coup plot against President Mutesa. After Obote regained power Kirya quickly joined the rebels and took up base in Nairobi. One day he was kidnapped and hauled back to Luzira maximum security. There alone in a cold cell Kirya gave his life to Christ. Now as a Minister in the Museveni government he started weekly prayer breakfast meetings focusing on leaders. One day we were joined by Stephen, the younger brother to Mwesigwa and, one who himself confessed Christ as a personal savior. Later when he left to take over the management of the Namutamba tea estate, I could only relate with the Nagendas through Mwesigwa’s New Vision weekly column, One man’s week.

I was an enthusiastic reader and aside from following his incisive commentaries I could not help but count how many times he would bring up the memory of Nagenda and Sala, whom he had outlived for over thirty years. Yet, almost in the same breath, Mwesigwa, would also remind readers, that unlike them, he was not a believer. “My religion is humanism” he shared freely in one of his last New Vision interviews.

Incidentally, Mwesigwa was not the only First born to walk away from his father’s faith. The eldest son of Nsibambi, Dr John Nsibambi, had also backslid. Married to my cousin Solome Nabulya, I never heard anything about the faith of his father while growing up. All I knew was that he was living a high town life. But with the passage of years, Dr John Nsibambi, repented and gave his life back to Christ. Later he was joined by his younger brother Apollo Nsibambi, then Prime Minister of Uganda.

But where was Mwesigwa! Unlike his Nsibambi cousins, Mwesigwa, held on to the fences, even as he aged. In one New Vison interview, then 80, he spoke ruefully, “God exists and I don’t deny that according to the Bible, Christ came. I have read a lot about it, but I have my point of departure from my cousins, like Apollo Nsibambi, who got saved and stopped and then became a Christian again..!”

By then his star as a writer had soared, with a novel “Seasons of Tembo” to his name. He took on many prestigious positions in society, chairing the Uganda Cricket Association, among many honors. High as he went there was though that distinct, quiet but highly regarded part of society who, whatever Mwesigwa wrote would read and see him through lenses of “the son of an Evangelist”! For one of the permanent facts about our lives is that none of us can deny our identity. All of us inherited a certain identity at birth. If you are born a child of a Sheikh even if you turn out something else, you will always be known as “the son of a Sheikh”! Jesus is the “son of a Carpenter”! So, even as Mwesigwa took on a different belief system, and cast doubt on his father’s, he would remain ever “the son of an Evangelist!”

More importantly, many of the balokole were praying for him, that however long it took, no matter, one day, Mwesigwa- omwana’ w’omulokole, ( son of a savedee) would come back to his father’s fold, as he would have wished.

And why would they care so much? For some it was simply because a man called Nagenda and his wife Sala, had led them to Christ. In her autobiography, “My Life is weaving” Rhoda Kalema shared how as a young newly born-again Christian she visited the Nagenda home in Namutamba. “William was approachable, friendly and humble. He talked to me in a personal way about my new salvation…He promised to pray for me, for God to guide to me.”

After handing him his Rotary vocational award we continued to engage. Although I have read he could set terror in many, personally, I found him a gentleman of extreme grace and with a rich sense of humor. Once after the loss of a sister I placed a call to him but we missed each other. The moment he got an opportunity he got back to me apologizing profusely.

In another call I shared a matter of great concern. After reading about Nagenda and the 26 students expelled in 1941 from Mukono, because of their beliefs, I wondered if was it not about time that Uganda Christian University ( the successor of Bishop Alfred Tucker Theology) where I was then on staff, should apologize for their summary dismissal and award them posthumous diplomas! History had vindicated the Nagenda-led expelled students, who never wavered in their beliefs even if the decision had cost them their career ambitions. Through these expelled students the East African revival was born that touched the rest of the world. Mwesigwa immediately warmed to the idea. But then, by now, his health was in steep decline and we didn’t follow up. Our last conversation was when he told me how he was struggling to take regular walks out on his wide veranda, and I encouraged him to just carry on.

Far away in Tanzania, while following events back home, early this month I received news that Mwesigwa had passed on. Immediately a thought raced through my mind, almost too terrifying to behold. “Did Mwesigwa finally return to the faith of his father!” I felt a mixture of sadness and anger at the same time, thinking what a loss!

Then, as the day closed, my heaviness was lifted when news came from a close family member: “John confessed salvation in his hospital bed to his wife. I talked to him while he was alert. He didn’t deny his confession. Yesu talina gwalemwa. Tukutendereza!”

Jesus once asked, “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? ( Mathew 8:12). To illustrate the point he gave the story of the prodigal son who, left all his father had for him, wandered out in the world, only to realize there was no better home to be than return his father’s.

Not so long ago I happened to be attending a funeral of some important person. The Mwesigwa’s cousin, Prime Minister Apollo Nsibambi stood up to say something about the deceased. “I wonder what kind of rejoicing is happening now in heaven!” he mused. “It must be home coming joy up there!”

Nagenda and Sala gave all their lives to win over the lost to Christ. What a joy it was and, is, that the First born, had returned home, finally, to enjoy eternity together with Maama and Taata! The heavens must have rejoiced with, “Tukutedereza Yesu!”


Joyce Kaddu ( 1939- 2022)- a teachers teacher; a mother’s mother, quietly bows out!

As the Luwero Triangle war took root in the mid-1980s in Uganda, the country was on the brink of being a failed state, and Mrs Joyce Agiri Natabi Kaddu, found herself at its epicenter. She was the Principal of Lady Irene Teacher Training College, Ndejje, Luweero District at that time and this all girls college was surrounded by terrorists, who habitually left mines in the roadway, disrupting movement of school supplies and personnel. Internal displacement of citizens was rife and an internally displaced peoples (IDP) camp had already been set up in the college vicinity. Joyce was faced with the daunting task of keeping her students safe in the midst of incredible danger. So early one day Joyce and her staff were forced to flee for their lives and they led students and walked to Kampala, 43 Km away. With her husband, Sylvester, they looked after at least 100 students for weeks in their home at Mutundwe since many couldn’t be reunited with their families right way. The Kaddu family home at Mutundwe was transformed into one big internally displaced students camp overnight!

To find words to characterize Joyce one may think of selflessness but also a certain charitable grace. When I called up Mrs Rhoda Kalema soon after service at Namirembe, to share how she remembered her, her description of her was – “a heroic woman” ( oyo abadde mu’kazi muzira!)

For over a decade while Joyce served as Vice Chair of the Public Service Commission I would meet with her on a weekly basis for an early morning prayer breakfast event. This is how I got to know her exceedingly well and she became an adoptive mother, though at best she was my dear friend. Many a time she traveled from the Kaddu Country Home in Luyobyo – Luweero District and she was unfailing as the first to appear at Fairway Hotel, at Nakasero for those prayers. Dressed immaculately in her signature Busuuti, she was a fixture of grace.

Heroism defined Joyce all through her life. Born in August 1939, to an enterprising coffee farmer – Samwiri Merekizadeki Kasule, Joyce was blessed with a far seeing father who believed in girls’ education. When western education arrived here the Baganda as a patrilineal society reserved it largely for boys. The path of a girl was early marriage. But her father and her mother Alice Nabatanzi thought differently; they took and placed her in a girls only boarding primary school- Nalinya Lwantale, Ndejje. There she met some of her best friends in life including Mrs Robina Kalega and Mrs Christine Nassolo Kityo (RIP).

This was no mean undertaking, for it would raise eyebrows among neighbours, dismissing it as a fad and waste of money. In fact, many didnt think Joyce would last before dropping out. But not only would she complete Nalinya Lwantale, against odds, she then moved up to Gayaza High School. Joyce’s father would ride her on a bicycle from Ndejje to Kampala where he would hire a special taxi to take her to Gayaza High School. He would lead her by the hand determined that his girl would get the best education available.

At Gayaza Joyce started out with lifelong friends Rhoda Kayanja( later Mrs Nsimbabi RIP) and the vivacious Lydia Lubwama ( later Mrs Mugambi), Mrs Ida Wanendeya, Ms Robina Kawungu, Mrs Rose Kitaka, Freda Kase ( RIP) ( later Mrs Luganda) and others. These bright and self confident girls would go on to storm Makerere University where women were a rarity, at the time. You can imagine how they were intensely competed for during dance balls! They stayed in the only girls hostel then- Mary Stuart hall. One of their male school mates would go on to become President of Tanzania- HE Ben Mkapa ( RIP). After school they kept in touch. Once as President Ben Mkapa here on a state vist, he called up and took out Joyce and other classmates for a private dinner at Sheraton Hotel.

In 1963 Joyce graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics. They were few graduates then, leave alone women, and Joyce quickly secured a job with Shell. And just as she was starting, a dashing young man newly returned from England, arrived.

On his father’s side Sylvester Kaddu her husband-to-be, was one of only two children born to Rev Samson Kiwanuka, a former Chaplain of Makerere College School and later Dean of Anglican church Diocese of Bulemezi. His only sister was Gibwa Gwokyalya ( later Mrs Kanyerezi). Sylvester’s mother, Deborah Nandawula Lebeka Mulira was from the Kooki princely ancestry; the elder sister of EMK Mulira and other famous Mulira siblings. After joining Buddo Junior School and Kings College Budo in late 40s/ early 50s, where some of his school mates included Peter Nkambo Mugerwa, Mrs Betty Senkatuka and my cousin Mangalita Kavuma ( later Mrs Sam Odaka). After he went to Makerere University and then on to London University where he majored in English and for a number of years taught English people their language!

Sylvester was a man of many gifts, with a deep baritone voice and perhaps the best English speaker around after Ssekabaka Mutesa II. It was only a matter of time before he met Joyce and the two became etwined.

On 15th December 1962, these love birds were wedded at Namirembe Cathedral and hosted their guests at Makerere University Arts quadrangle. Joyce’s matron was Eunice Lubega Posnansky (RIP) while Sylvester’s best man was his first cousin Erisa Kironde (RIP). They were deeply committed to each other as a couple and greeted each other as “Darling!” Fifty years later together with all the children around we met at the same wedding venue to celebrate what was a happy most productive union.

If there was a couple that was agreed on one thing this couple was decided on raising a big family. First had come Deborah (Debbie), quickly followed by Samson, Samuel (RIP), Mark, Micheal, Brenda ( Nina) and then finally Peter.

The 1970s were not a very easy time to raise a family of a nearly dozen children- families those days would open the door to extended family and both came from big families. Following Idi Amin’s Economic war the “magendo” economy wiped out much of salaried income due to galloping inflation. To survive most salary earning families had to find a “side hassle” and for the Kaddus it meant starting and running a restaurant, among others. At some point Joyce also decided to switch career and join the more stable teaching fraternity. Joyce would go on to teach at Aggrey Memorial School, Old Kampala Secondary School, Shimoni Teacher Training College culminating as Principal of Nalinya Lwantale, Ndejje.

In between she also found time for community work. Founded in 1902 as the first girls secondary school, she realised a need to have an umbrella alumni organisation for her alma matter. Joyce was a co founder and first Chairperson of Gayaza Old Girls Associaton. In 1977 when Uganda celebrated 100 years of Christianity Joyce was Secretary of Centenary celebrations. She went on to represent the church of Uganda at the World Council of Churches.

Here we must pause and ask ourselves where did Joyce pick her work ethic that enabled her juggle so many roles. Was it in born or it had to do with her upbringing- environment! I would argue the latter. Joyce had grown up under an enterprising coffee farmer. Any who knows about coffee cultivation, which involves hand pruning, harvesting, drying and bagging, will testify that this system would spare no lazy child who grew up under such a household. In fact children of coffee farmers so often were required to pick coffee berries themselves for their school fees. They had to get up early and work in fields late in the day. Such children came out with a work ethic that would enable them thrive in all adverse situations.

Joyce’s father loved preaching “hard work pays!” which became a life motto. Indeed it is these transferable life skills that Joyce passed on to her children. Life in her household was clockwork routine of scrubbing, washing, mopping and cooking meals. “She woke us up before dawn,” shared the children at the funeral, “and we were up on our feet doing all sorts of chores through the day!” There was hardly any work for house hold helpers, indeed she discouraged the culture of having domestic help .

For Debbie, being the eldest, she sometimes found herself preparing a meal for nearly 20 mouths as the Kaddu home was open to all. At one point she stepped back, confused if this was her “real mother” as she assigned her one task after the other!

Parents of today who have been let on to popular liberal jargons about “child abuse” may here whish to reflect on their style especially if they observe the fruits of this upbringing on her children. In latter life, all would graduate with university degrees and go on to excel in their professions.

Both Joyce and Sylvester had been raised in church and were always active, with Joyce as a strong member of Mothers Union. In the early 1970’s the late Bishop Dunstan Nsubuga started seeking out career professionals to join the “collar” as tent makers. Sylvester who had since progressed as a career civil servant was approached. The couple prayerfully considered and decided to take the leap. It was a carageous decision of faith as it meant giving up on their house tucked in Nakasero leafy suburb. Sylvester had been the first African Clerk to Parliament and rose to Parmanent Secretary of Ministry of Agriculture and Animal husbandry. But they never looked back.

I had grown up much in Joyce’s shadow. At Budo I studied with three of Kaddu boys ( famed for piano playing) who became close buddies, particularly Sam (RIP). At Makerere University I was among steady “benchers” in Debbie’s room in CCE hall, till we heard there was a certain Doctor firmly locked in, and then deflated, we all scattered. Then while living in Chicago, US, I met flight Captain Gad Gasaatura, who introduced me to the Prayer Breakfast movement. When Hon Balaki Kirya was abducted by Obote 2 regime forces in Nairobi in the 1980s and imprisoned for the second time ( he was one of the five ministers detained during Obote I regime), while locked up in Luzira prison he gave his life to Jesus as a personal Saviour. After the Museveni government took over he decided to reach out to fellow leaders with a message of salvation in Christ through prayer breakfast outreaches.

This is where I met Joyce who, of course, was a commited believer, upon return to the country. Yes, she knew me well, as her family and mine had been close, due to our common inheritance as children of Balya Nnaka- those who originate from Bulemezi. In getting to know her I found a late friend and where had I been all along!

We hit it off from go and she gently urged me to get settled with a family as fast. When I met someone it is her I had to call upon to accompany me for kwanjula. Without waste she complied and along the way as was typical of her mentored me in all the grand cultural norms.

Almost immediately after our wedding the calls started. Her request was simple but direct- “Kati muzaale abaana musirike” ( Now start having as many children as you must). She expected numbers to rival her near dozen troop. When I slowed down I knew I had to explain myself. I argued that these were days of much smaller families. “No!” She waved me off. “It is God who gives and raises children!”

As she advanced in age Joyce’s robust health started to ebb. Once she had a long stay in hospital but with her courage to live she pulled through. During the lockdown, she called me as she would every once in a while. On this occasion I felt quite embarrassed for I should have been the one searching her out. But here she was minding about her friends. Characteristic of her she asked about her grand children, name by name. Her voice was breaking and I sensed she was struggling with her health, which I later confirmed with Debbie.

I must here thank all her children who circled around her and gave her the best care including protectiing her from sudden intrusions. Early on the morning of October 17th 2022, Joyce quietly slipped away.

About two decades ago I had a pressing family matter over someone mean. I shared my concern with Prof William Senteza- Kajubi, the old Vice Chancellor of Makerere and Nkumba universities, a mutual friend, known for his sagacious wisdom. In counseling the Professor told me a story of a very wealthy lady whom he had just attended her funeral but then “hardly anybody showed up”! When Joyce passed on a troop of the hundreds of thousands of those her life had touched rushed to her home in Mutundwe, attended her farewell service at Namirembe, and accompanied her gratefully to her country home at Luyobyo and final resting place deep in Bulemezi. It was a fitting farewell for a true General of grace.

In life I had many long chats with Joyce. I can’t recall once where we talked politics. But if anything everything about Joyce was political. In the way she dressed in that immaculate Busuuti and carried herself with matchless grace- there was a political statement on personal conduct. In the way she handled her affairs with meticulous care and duty above self – there was a political statement on work. In the way she fullfiled her duties at the Public Service Commission without abusing office- there was a political statement on how a nation should be run. In the way she groomed her children to grow into responsible citizens of our commonwealth- there was a political statement on the importance of a family. In the way she cared for her friends and so often went out of her way to cater for their welfare – there was a political statement on what matters most in life.

When Sylvester passed on in 2015 for some reason I had not been able to progress on to the burial place at Kiwumpa. Yet this time I rushed ahead to dig in the moment. It’s a beautiful place I found, where the three, together with Sam now all rest, with an air of tranquility, all around, of a life welll lived that brought so much joy and meaning to all who were touched by these good and gentle people, and their sweet memory will live for ages on.


The Manager and staff deployment

Manager and staff deployment

Central Credit Company (CCC) had a niche business of collecting bad debts from institutions- particularly delinquent schools and hospitals. They had perfected a near 90% performance rate through a combination of aggressive tactics involving absolute persistence and direct threats. This business model had over time generated a number of copycats and business had started to ebb. Then, after an audit, it was found there had been an internal fraud, and the contract of the General Manager was canceled.

This is how Moses was brought in as the new General Manager. He came in at a time when CCC’s performance had dipped to less than 20 percent of her debt collection dues, and the owners were thinking of closing it down. Moses started by perusing through the company operations and discovered two things. First the number of branches especially those upcountry struck him as excessive. He noted debt collectors were even spread out in those scattered branches.

This was despite the fact that almost three quarters of the money generated was from the central region! Moses knew something had to be done.
“Why all these non performing branches with debt collectors all over the country?” he asked the Operations Manager.
“Well, because our debtors are spread all over the country,” the Operations Manager explained.
“But is there business in those centers!”
They bring in some, still!” argued the Manager. “Besides we hope they will one day catch up with the rest of the regions!”
“No you can’t do that, “Moses observed. “Branch opening must be guided by where the business is. In fact, if there is no business in certain places then we should consider shutting down operations there.”
“But Sir, some of the owners want us to have those branches there!” the Operations Manager cautioned.

Indeed, when Moses inquired he found the reasons why CCC had opened so many branches upcountry, even in places with no business, it had to do with a certain Board member who had real estate upcountry and wanted to tap into further income. Moses quickly brought to the Board’s attention that this was at the expense of developing a viable business since a majority of these branches were loss-making. Fortunately, the member saw the point; he agreed, and the nonperforming branches were subsequently shut down.
Following this, these staffs were brought back and deployed in the most productive region. Here they started exerting effort amongst the target market. This new strategy worked and CCC’s fortunes recovered.

In this case, we come across a familiar problem of an organization where branches and staff have been opened nationwide regardless of revenue performance. The idea could have been motivated on the ground that those branches and staff would help spur income. Unfortunately, for various reasons, this hasn’t materialized. But while it has been easy for CCC to close nonperforming branches and shift redundant staff back to headquarters, as we noted above, there are cases where that is not easy. For some organizations, political reasons override business sense. Yet even then this is a risk especially when it comes to business sustenance.

The Manager and Leading Change

“To meet our budget we are also expecting income from our privatized parking lot,” so said Enoch, the Finance Manager. He was discussing this pressing matter with the newly appointed Principal, Mr. Mugerwa. “However, the problem is we can’t easily track payments!”

“How come?” asked Mr. Mugerwa.

“Our sources of income are quite erratic, Sir!” Enoch admitted.

“You mean you don’t have any way of tracking them?” Mr. Mugerwa interrupted.

“No!” Enoch confessed. “But is there a way!”

Mr. Mugerwa had just assumed the position of Principal. What had shocked him was to find that the Institute which he had looked at from afar with admiration was stuck in the past where almost every facet of its work could be described as “manual”! In the office, he found they were even using old electric typewriters. Whenever he made a request for some information it had to be delivered in person, and time was lost.

“We need to move the Institute into the information age,” in his first meeting with top management, he urged. He noticed almost all were gray-haired and dressed in dark suits. The reception was quite muted with some insisting there was no need. “We have always done well in the past and why worry!”

In spite of this apparent lack of enthusiasm, Mr. Mugerwa was convinced the organization had to change. He couldn’t think of any other way about it given the new drivers of the business. Soon after, therefore, one of his first major decision was to purchase a Management Information System (MIS). Challenged by his Top Management elderly staff why he had to spend so much, he offered, “It will help us collect, process, and store data. Once information is processed it will be disseminated at the key of the button for the required purpose.”

“But how?” one of the older staff sleepily wondered, genuinely puzzled.

“For example, payment of fees,” the principal explained, “could all be tracked by the MIS. This will help us save time and increase our productivity!”

Now that the MIS had been installed the opposition grew into fierce resistance. “No one knows how to use these things!” This became ever the convenient excuse.

“Well, let’s organize training!” Mr. Mugerwa countered.

A meeting to educate staff on MIS use was organized. But at the scheduled meeting, which was well advertised, there was a no-show. The department’s elderly heads had conveniently failed to pass on the information for their subordinates to attend. Noticing the absence, Mr. Mugerwa decided to walk down the office bloc and move from door to door directing staff to attend.

The opposition moved to yet another level. Occasionally reports came that the MIS was “permanently down” though on checking it was something minor and easily rectified. Once Mr. Mugerwa got a call from a prospective parent who had paid fees but yet the student had not been admitted. The Institute was not responding. When Mr. Mugerwa called up the Registrar, she quickly offered. “We have a volume of applications and I need to sort through the paperwork!”

“I thought all prospective students were now logging on to the MIS!” he queried.

“But some parents do not know how to use the system!” explained the Registrar.

“You could take them through the system,” he advised. “The trouble is you have left an alternative. What I want to see is we remove any alternative course of action.”

Here, in this case, we see the complexities of leading change in a modern organization. The new principal has rightly noted that the Institute needs to embrace new technologies to manage better. He comes from a younger age group that is well abreast with these changes and feels they will drive the business forward. However, once he moves ahead to share his ideas, predictably, opposition mounts. This resistance is driven by fear ( real or imaginary) and nervousness at loss of power. The resistance manifests itself both passively (failure to attend meetings) and actively (disruption of the new system).

To carry through this change initiative the Principal will need a communication and advocacy plan to woo the reluctant on board. He may also need to generate quick wins, so as to show and hopefully convince the skeptics that his change initiatives work. If resistance does not abate, he might have to isolate the resistors, champion the early adopters, which is vital for her survival and growth.

The Problem with Insecurity

There are certain early encounters in life whose true meaning only unfolds with time. Years ago while an undergraduate student at Makerere university, I happened to call upon a teacher-friend, Prof Rose Mbowa. She was a dramatist, and then Head of Department of Music, Dance, and Drama. Sometime back we had talked about staging a Shakespeare play, me acting as Macbeth. On that visit, I bumped into a famous face which would have made my day. Except something else happened.

There is a play “The Burdens” which some here may argue is the best to ever come out of the continent. On this occasion, Prof Mbowa suddenly introduced me to the author who was visiting- John Ruganda! Of course, I could hardly contain my excitement to meet a famous author. However, the playwright was in no mood to entertain strangers. He hardly took note of me as I offered to greet him, for something else was deeply troubling him.

Ruganda was one of many qualified Ugandans who had fled into exile in the wake of the atrocious Idi Amin regime, a period of blight that was followed by the anarchy of the 1980s. Out, through sheer hard work, many prospered with glittering qualifications and excelled in their professions. After the Museveni government took power in 1986, a great number finally saw an opportunity to return home and make their contribution.

Only to be greeted by a rude surprise. You see not everyone was comfortable, particularly when it came to their taking up jobs in certain coveted institutions. There was tussle of sorts between “stayees” and “returnees”, as the foster group feared the “returnees” had come to get their jobs or say, supplant them! Suddenly terms of entering certain institutions were revised; exorbitant papers were now demanded along with heaven knows! In other words for qualified “returnees” getting a job back home had become like going through the needle.

The famous author was one of those locked out. Here he was now crying foul when we accidentally met. I do not know what happened after. I think Prof Mbowa advised him to try elsewhere, but what options were there in such a squeezed economy. Maybe he picked up his bags and made his way back to exile, as I never met him in life again.

When a poor country that is short of manpower slams its door against its own people who are qualified, then you know you have one big problem. You would imagine that arms would be spread out for such a well-qualified person as was Ruganda, eager to be engaged, yet here he was being put to task.

Perhaps you think this is a Ugandan thing where someone qualified is denied entrance or pushed out of a job. There was this Ugandan buddy of mine in the US who after graduating with an Economics degree (Honors) applied and got a job in a leading bank in Oklahoma. Brilliant, he settled to work. Soon he found not everyone was excited about having him there. Incidentally, he was the only black in his Department. Discouraged, I urged him to stay on. But the racism was brutal. Early one morning he drove up to my door. “I can’t take it no more,” he sighed. “I have decided to quit.”

You would think that organizations exist to welcome eager and enthusiastic performers like him. After all, this is what we were taught in school- go and do your best. Well, here was someone of a wrong race, and a group had closed in and decided he didn’t belong. But I must give you some cheer, for when Enoch moved out of state, he came across a smaller financial organization down in neighboring Texas. It gave him a chance. And here, though still the only black, his skills were appreciated and he prospered.

A few years ago I happened to visit a cousin, a medic currently based in the US. He has indeed prospered in the land of honey, as we are told, and his beautiful house is nestled in a picturesque wealthy zip code where properties go for over a million dollar bucks. Throughout my visit he kept fielding consultative calls. Somewhere along I noticed a collection of his advanced degrees all stuck in an old box. Normally you would expect these raised up in someone’s office. Not so fast. “I used to hang all these qualification in my company office,” he shared “Then my supervisor started having issues with me. The day I removed them that is when peace returned.”

So, it is about insecurity! A supervisor feeling threatened by a well-qualified staff! You would expect any good supervisor to desire and boast of an excellently qualified subordinate. But man, that’s not how the world works

But am I being too mournful here? Personally, I have had three or four supervisors/mentors who took my arm and led me the way. They were characters with large hearts willing to give me a chance. You are lucky when in life you find those, as I have been. But there were also those moments I choose to forget when some small persons stood in the way and raged, blocking me all the way. Those are always there.

Just this week I noticed a newspaper story with a headline, “Kyambogo in the final push to recruit nine Cuban professors” Oh, is it so? Out there I know literally thousands of qualified Ugandans, like Enoch and my cousin, who would wish to return home and serve their country, just as the playwright Rugunda. Yet since when did you hear of “Billions of Shillings saved to welcome back qualified Ugandan diaspora.” That would be one storm. Of course, it is far easier to open up the gates to Cuban Professors, since, apparently they pose no threat and comfort our inferiority complexes. The problem with insecurity.

The Manager and Leading Change

“To meet our budget we are also expecting income from our privatized parking lot,” so said Enoch, the Finance Manager.  He was discussing this pressing matter with the newly appointed Principal, Mr. Mugerwa. “However, the problem is we can’t easily truck payments!”

“How come?” asked Mr Mugerwa.

“Our sources of income are quite erratic, Sir!”  Enoch admitted.

“You mean you don’t have any way of tracking them?” Mr Mugerwa interrupted.

“No!” Enoch confessed. “How could we!”

Mr. Mugerwa had just assumed the position of Principal.  What had shocked him was to find that the  Institute which he had looked at from afar with admiration was stuck in the past where almost every facet of its work could be described as “manual”!  In the office he found they were even using old electric typewriters. Whenever he made a request for some information it had all to be delivered in person.

“We need to move the Institute into the information age,” in his first meeting with top management, he urged. He noticed almost all were gray-haired and dressed in dark suits. The reception was quite muted with some insisting there was no need. “We have always done well in the  past  and why  worry!”

In spite of this apparent lack of enthusiasm, Mr. Mugerwa was convinced the organization had to change. He couldn’t think of any other way about it given the new drivers of the business.  Soon after, therefore, one of his first major decision was to purchase a Management Information System (MIS). Challenged by his Top Management and elderly staff on why he had to spend so much, he offered, “It will help us collect, process, and store data. Once information is processed it will be disseminated at the key of the button for the required purpose.”

“But how?” one of the older staff wondered, genuinely puzzled.

“For example, payment of fees,” the principal explained, “could all be tracked by the MIS. This will help us save time and increase our productivity!”

Now that the MIS had been installed the opposition grew into fierce resistance.  “No one knows how to use these things!”  This became the convenient excuse.

“Well, let’s organize training!”  Mr Mugerwa countered.

A meeting to educate staff on MIS use was organized.  But at the scheduled meeting, which was well advertised, there was a no-show.  The department elderly heads had conveniently failed to pass on the information for their subordinates to attend. Noticing the absence, Mr. Mugerwa decided to walk down the office bloc and move from door to door directing staff to attend.

The opposition moved to yet another level. Occasionally reports came that the MIS was “permanently down” though on checking it was minor easily rectified blockages.  Once Mr. Mugerwa got a call from a prospective parent who had paid fees but yet the student had not been admitted. The Institute was not responding. When Mr Mugerwa called up the Registrar, she quickly offered.  “We have a volume of applications and I need to sort  through the paperwork!”

“I thought all prospective students were now logging on the MIS!”  he queried.

“But some parents do not know how to use the system!” explained the registrar.

“You could take them through the system,”  he advised. “The trouble is you have left an alternative to avoid usage.  What I want to see is we remove any  alternative  course  of  action.”

Here, in this case, we see the complexities of leading change in a modern organization. The new principal has rightly noted that the Institute needs to embrace new technologies to manage better. He comes from a  younger age group that is well abreast with these changes and feels they will drive the business forward. However, once he moves ahead to share his ideas, opposition rises. This resistance is driven by fear  ( real or imaginary) and nervousness at the loss of power.  The resistance manifests itself both passively (failure to attend meetings)  and actively (disruption of the new system).

To carry through this change initiative the  Principal will need a communication and advocacy plan to woo the reluctant on board.  He may also need to generate quick wins, so as to show and hopefully convince the skeptics that it all works. If resistance does not abate,  he might have to isolate the resistors and help the organization adopt new trends, which is vital for its survival and growth.

Who is my friend?

He was the embattled CEO of the nation’s premier pension fund, who had joined my former high school, Kings College Budo when I was just leaving in the early 1980s. We, therefore, crossed paths but I had no recollection of him till he was appointed to head a national pension savings fund and some of his classmates aptly reminded me that he had been a schoolmate! They talked of him in awe: a straight ‘A’ student, perennially at the top of his class, who after graduating with a B Com honors degree from Makerere University joined the international audit firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. He had been a star performer right down the line.

As a saver with the fund, long tired of scandals related to mismanagement, I welcomed his appointment with anticipation, happy for his meteoric rise and the energy he brought to the lumbering regulator. There was a new excitement in the air as his brilliance permeated the innovations he rapidly put in place.

Now, extremely brilliant people (there was no doubt about this in his case) have always the danger of moving ahead of their team. Coming from an entrepreneurial background, this CEO made certain decisions contrary to policy, but which were genuinely intended to increase company profit. Decisions always carry the risk of unintended consequences. In most corporate organizations he would at the most have suffered only caution, if any, in the light of being a bright, zealous manager. But then he was managing a government organization with many stakeholders with diverse agendas. He was promptly fired, accused of fraud, and, after a failed court appeal, found himself out of work for almost six years, having been given a new address at Luzira Maximum Security Prison!

Friends in need!

Once he lost his appeal, social media went into overdrive almost immediately. Some commenters applauded the fight against corruption that could lead to the jailing of a once big man. For others, this occurrence presented an opportunity to take on the hypocritical government, which had not apprehended other big shots who were known to be well-connected.

As I pored over all the comments, I noticed that the man was now being discussed in the abstract, or, well, in terms that would befit a roadside carcass, that had done its pitiful part and that it was no longer very relevant to discuss. It was now time to move on! It is then that a question occurred to me, rather forcefully: Where are his classmates? Surely, at this low point in one’s life, one needs friends to come over and throw their arms around one – without judging.

Today, social media platforms, which at best are businesses looking at numbers, have reconfigured – to use a cold, inanimate word – the meaning of being a friend. One person recently told me he had stopped ‘accepting new friends’ as he had ‘too many friends’ on Facebook. He needed to apply to Facebook to ‘accept more friends!

WhatsApp chat rooms have birthed a new space where ‘friends’ can chat throughout the day and wait for that positive affirming feedback in colorful emoji. A number of chat rooms I happen to be enrolled on can’t ‘accept more friends’ because they are filled to capacity. The debate is migrating to Telegram, which has features that accept more ‘friends’!

But, think of it, are these friends? What is the true meaning of a ‘friend’? If you may permit me to say, I have found that we value many of these social media platform ‘friends’ because they are not in our physical space. The comfortable thing about such ‘friendships’ is that we interact in a virtual world where we are in control. But if we find ourselves in a heated disagreement with these ‘friends’ it is time to exit. They are make-me-feel-good ‘friends’. We value them for the jokes and for forwarding self-affirming messages. However, should they raise a discussion on, say, contributing money to ‘one friend in need’, there is disquiet and a loss of interest. This will last until the jokes and self-affirming messages crowd out those ‘friends’ who disturb the peace.

The meaning of friendship

‘Who are your friends?’ I remember that question being asked whenever I was in trouble with my ever ‘complex parents’ when I was still in school. My perennially boring parents often counselled me in terms of ‘tell me your friends and I tell who you are!’ Their advice was to pick friends carefully. I thought they were stressing me.

In the Bible we find another idea of being a friend. A rich tycoon named Job once fell on hard times. It so happened that there were only three companions who took time off to visit and console him. Unfortunately, some of their advice was critical rather than uplifting. When one is down, one needs friends who make time to stand with one, not to condemn one. Jesus, as well, is recorded as having fed thousands of people at one point. But when misfortune befell him, he had only three to pray with, and one later betrayed knowledge of him in the heat of battle.

All of which brings me to a story that has stayed with me all my life. A man once had a son who always complained that he was not good because he was not popular like some kids who boasted of having a classroom of friends. The father sat the young man down and advised: ‘Son, if you can get enough pair of arms in life that you can trust to lift your casket, you would have done well, for those are all the friends you need. And six people can do a pretty good job.’

In 1966 the King of Buganda, Ssekabaka Edward Mutesa II, had his palace attacked by Uganda central government soldiers. He and my family were ‘close friends’ and the king had, in fact, entrusted a number of his children, of both sexes, to my uncle, who was one of his chiefs, to raise them. In order to escape, Mutesa had to scale the high palace fence and flee in the dark. The story is this: As the fallen king ran for his life he turned to his ‘close friends’ to come to his aid. So he stopped somewhere and called a certain house. But when ‘the friends’ heard that it was the embattled Mutesa calling, well, they started laughing, while sipping cognac, and jeered: ‘Mutesa is on the line.’ He heard. He hung up. He moved on. Alone in the dark.

Where were all the king’s friends, now that he was on the run? Have you ever realized that lots of ‘our friends’ are valued only while ‘the friends’ are still at the top and have the means to influence things in our favour. How we like associating ourselves with that ‘friend’ whom everyone is dying to be ‘friends’ with! And have you seen how people desert the ‘friend’ who no longer has anything they can benefit from? If you think you have friends, get into trouble one day!

True friends to the end!

A ‘friend’ of mine had a rich father who was rather prematurely diagnosed of prostate cancer and given only so many days to live. As his health worsened, the father gave up his mansion and took up a small hospital room, where he spent most days alone with his best friend. His wife would bathe him, shave, dress him in neat pajamas, and then prop up his head on snow-white pillows. Both waited for what would happen next. Almost every day, at about 2 p.m., two of his old classmates would walk into the private hospital room. There they would tease each other, laugh, crack jokes and reminisce about the good old days when they were young and full of life. And then sleep came over the patient. The friends stood up, bowed and gently walked away. ‘My Dad died with a smile on his lips,’ I was told.

May God help us find friends such as those!

How a Genocide Starts

The drums of war had been screaming ever since news that an army primarily formed of refugees had attacked. Bosco was an Aid worker based in the capital. He frequently traveled around the country. At first, he didn’t feel threatened by the attack. He was though aware of how divided this particular country was. Led by a President from one ethnic group, who was clearly dominating, many in the minority population had been forced out as refugees. It is these who were now fighting back.

On occasion, Bosco had a moment to sit down with either ethnic group for banter. The way each group described the other would leave him numb. “Those people are cockroaches!” so labeled one against the other. “Those dirty creatures are lower than us!” The other rebutted, casually.

The war slowly sneaked its way to the capital. Bosco was based at an office and residential complex where both ethnic communities freely mixed. He felt quite protected as his was an international port. Besides, he was not aware of any serious friction between the two major tribes beyond disparaging remarks against each other. “It will all end well,” he thought.

However, as the fighting approached the capital, suddenly vicious gangs belonging to one group, armed with machete, started attacking their nemesis. Soon the gangs descended on to his office complex. When they came up they asked for his ID to prove he was not a member of the hated tribe, whose members were being targeted. And then, what completely blew his mind, was that these gangs were largely formed by teens who had grown up in the same neighborhood. These had now gathered to unleash terror on their fellow countrymen, just that they belonged to different ethnicity.

It took a while to be rescued by his international organization. On the way out to the airport back home, Bosco was shocked beyond belief on sporting bodies of victims scattered all over the streets. He saw a church with a mountain of corpses at the doorsteps. People had taken refuge in the house of  God only to be butchered there.  A genocide had taken place – and would within a space of 90 days claim over one million lives!

After he had settled back home, Bosco did a lot of soul searching. How could people who used to live next to each other turn in a moment so violently against one another? At his office, they employed nationals without asking for one’s ethnicity, and all along these people had seemed to get along. But what he was not aware of was how deep they resented each other.

Recalling the way either side used to speak of each other, Bosco concluded that it was all due to ignorance. “I suspect these people all grew up in environments where they were fed on a diet that poisoned their minds,” he reasoned. “By the time they became of age each held the other in low esteem.” Bosco, who was still single decided that when he married and started a family he would do everything to expose his children to a diversity of ethnic and racial groups. “This would kill prejudice against any other different group before it is too late.”

After marrying and once his kids started school, Bosco deliberately decided to go out of his way to look for a school with a diverse ethnic community. His wife, Anne, though found it a bit odd- especially when during one holiday Bosco asked that their son, John, goes out to live with a family in the Western part of the country.

“Why do you want to send my son to live with these people we don’t know much about!” Anne wondered. “What good have you seen  in them .!”

“It is exactly for that reason,” Bosco interjected. “You have grown up hearing a lot of negative vibe about them. Let John go out and get exposed before that poison clouds the rest of his life.”

Anne let John go reluctantly but with a warning to him. “Be careful of those greedy people!”

Next holiday Bosco sent John to live with a family based in the Northern region. Again Anne was bothered. Upon return from his holiday, Anne sat John down. “I hear those people eat babies!”

“Mom, what are you talking about!” John expressed mild disgust at the accusation. “There are people just like us and some of my best friends are from that region.”

Bosco did not stop sending John on holiday in homes of different ethnic members, but he also took every opportunity to host diverse races. Once he heard of a student from Netherlands looking for a short-term boarding, he made available a room. The young lady came fearfully with all kinds of notions she had heard about black Africans. At the end of her stay, she confessed, “My parents were very afraid of me coming to live with an African family. I too had some doubts. But now I can see we are all the same people.”

Later in life John joined politics and was appointed a Minister of Education. Over the years unlike him who had been freed of ethnic and racial prejudices early in life, John observed that many were still locked up with mythical beliefs about how special their tribes were. Occasionally he would come across comments like “those people are all thieves!”  Or, where one tribe was described as  “lazy”!  Another was written off as having “unstable women. There are all prostitutes.”

Recalling the way his father, Bosco, had raised him, John decided to push a proposal to Cabinet. “Can we  have all children after secondary school is posted to different regions nationwide!” He was asked why. “Well, this will help them become familiar with other  tribes whom they  might  be harboring prejudice before this blooms into full hatred!”

“You mean you want to force our children on other people,” scoffed one member from a bigger tribe. “Are you here to play God who created us different?”

“For us we know we are special,”  argued another aloof cabinet member. His tribe was known to forbid its daughters from intermarrying.

“The reason you say so,” John fought back, “is because your minds and attitudes were long hardened as children with myths about how special you are. Also, I know of some people who have never traveled out of their birthplace. Only exposure will make them revisit their hardened beliefs. You ought to give the generation a chance before their minds are also poisoned. You saw what happened to our neighbors and how they slaughtered each other, including  in the church.”

“But we are okay here,” came one response.

“My father who lived through a genocide told me that’s what everybody thought,” John said, folding his  papers. “Till one day when something very ugly happened!”

Gifted and Special

“Those marks can’t take him anywhere!” Nambi felt as she took the result slip of her son, Ntambi, disappointed. He was in a school where kids were forced through a regime of caning and haranguing them to excel through nonstop reading. But this trick had failed to work on her boy. She called up her trusted friend Eliza, who was a retired educationist. “Where can I find another good school that can beat Ntambi to make the right grades, particularly maths. All the beating and 24/7 reading is not getting him anywhere.”

Eliza took a while before responding. From the little she knew about Ntambi there was no doubt he was a gifted kid, but who seemed a bit demotivated for some reason. The trick might be in finding the right environment, she thought. Although most of everyone believed in the cane, there were schools she knew of that had started using other non-conventional methods, emphasizing a more holistic approach. Just then one school with a certain foreign teacher crossed her mind. “Have you heard of Booker College School,” Eliza asked.

“No,” Nambi said. “Why, would you ask, do kids there make the right score!”

“Mostly,” said Eliza. “It has a Japanese teacher from the Japanese Overseas Development Network. I hear she is doing wonders with kids like Ntambi who seem not motivated, yet not for lack of talent.”

Nambi trusted Eliza’s instincts and decided to give it a shot. Next Monday without much explaining she told Ntambi to jump in the car. “I want us to try another school that can help you get the right grades for Engineering School. Isn’t it what you said you want!”

“Hmm,” Ntambi shrugged. “So, which school are you talking about. I am happy where I am.”

“Booker College School,” his mother shared. “There are doing amazing things with kids everyone had given up on but who then pass with flying distinction.”

Ntambi shrugged and stepped into the car, not in the least keen. Eliza had warned Nambi that the school had a tight admission policy. “The point is even if the Headmaster lets you in,” she cautioned her, “It is Miss Morita, the Japanese woman, to allow you in her class.”

Indeed once they got to the school the Head Master, Mr Jack Male, after perusing through Ntambi’s grades directed Nambi to see Miss Morita. “I believe we can help him but it will all depend on what she says.”

When they got to Miss Morita’s class they had to wait as she finished seeing some of her students. They could hear her talk excitedly explaining certain numerical concepts. After the class was through she then called in the prospective parent and student. She asked for Ntambi’s last grade.

“Why have you chosen to come here?” She queried while going through his results slip.

“He wasn’t doing well but I was told you can help him here,” said his mother.

“I want him to speak!” Miss Morita cut Nambi short. “Sir, why do you want to come here?”

“I don’t know,” Ntambi confessed. “They just told me to come!”

“Come on Ntambi!” Nambi turned to her son astonished and embarrassed.

There was a moment of silence.

“I shall take him on!” Miss Morita said shocking both.

Nambi turned to her, quite incredulous. “Thank you so much,” she said after going over her surprise.

Meanwhile, Ntambi was not enthused. Once he joined the school he sat at the back of the class, quite aloof. Whenever he was asked to contribute to anything he seemed like waking out of a deep slumber. However, she noticed that Miss Morita had a rather interesting way of teaching. Her class was pinned with posters that read “I can do it!” or “Yes I can!” She always started her class with some inspirational story and for every problem, she gave a local example. “Think of yourself as a banker and you need to raise so much funds for your business,” she would relate to various aspects that caught Ntambi’s imagination. “What kind of interest rate would you afford?” This sounded so real. He would wake from his slumber and try to figure the right answer.

On certain occasions, Miss Morita would invite students to her single flat, which was a story up on one of the dormitories. Whenever Ntambi visited, he was captivated as it was filled with paintings and all kinds of artifacts. During one visit there, Ntambi was struck when he noticed a picture of a little girl doing gymnastics. “Is that you?” He asked after discerning a certain resemblance.

“Yes,” Miss Morita nodded, inviting Ntambi to sit down for a cup of tea. Ntambi was rather hesitant. He had grown up in awe of teachers, whom he generally feared because of the cane. But there was something disarming about this light-skinned petite woman from overseas. He sat and took a tea cup. “How far did you go as a gymnast?” He asked, still curious.

“Actually I made it to the national team and even went for the Olympics,” Miss Morita confessed, with a bright smile.

“Did you win?” Ntambi asked. He loved athletic competitions. “Did you get any medal?”

“No, something happened,” Miss Morita said, her voice filled with a tinge of sadness.

“What happened!” Ntambi pressed her.

“I had a coach who believed in me,” Miss Morita went on to explain. “She taught and led me through all the jumps. I had lost my parents early in life and she was everything to me. I adored her and wouldn’t think of letting her down. But during the qualifying event I woke with a fever and while leaping for a triple jump I suddenly lost concentration and faltered. I could not progress to the next round…”

“Oh!” Ntambi mumbled, quite sorry. “What did your coach do!”

“She just run over and hugged me” Miss Morita said. “She didn’t say anything, just wrapped her arms all around me. She didn’t blame or scream at me. She just held me tight! The rest of the team went on to win medals.”

“Did you compete again?” Ntambi asked. “Since it was just a bad turn!”

“No,” Miss Morita said. “I could not see myself letting her down again. After that fall I run to the locker room and cried myself out. I had let down the only person who believed in me and my team. I then decided to take a break and that is how I ended up here to help nurture gifted and special kids like you.”

Something hit Ntambi now. This teacher had said he was gifted and special. No one had ever told him that. He had already observed how Miss Morita was giving her all to all her students. She would call on her students anytime to see how they were doing. Never would she miss a class. Above all to every child she would say she believed in him, even with the worst performance. “You are gifted and special and can do better!”

That night Ntambi picked up his books, he normally ignored. He started reading with a relish that if there was anything he could not afford to, was to let down this petite woman, who believed in him. Whenever he had any problem Ntambi would call Miss Morita and she was available. In fact, she constantly came up to the classes late during Prep time to help any students with a problem. Together they would crunch out solutions.

On the eve of the final exam Miss Morita set up an extra class and took it through a number of “the most difficult problems” and how to tackle them. After she was done she put her chalk down. “My part is done,” she said with confidence. “It is all yours now.”

Next day as Ntambi started at his exam paper, he first browsed through all numbers. Initially he could not recognize any familiar. His started sweating. He could feel his knees knocking. He was going to fail. But just then he remembered Miss Morita and how she had said he was gifted and special. How could he let her down! No, he couldn’t. At that point something took over him. He went through the numbers again. Suddenly they were all familiar and with renewed confidence found he could work out the right answers. He bent, and went for each, furiously working out solutions. When the final bell rung he had completed all.

The results came out after a month of marking by the national exam body. Ntambi went to pick up his results with his mother found he had scored a distinction. Before heading back home he asked his mother to see one teacher. “Stay here while I bring her up to you.”

He sprinted off to Miss Morita’s flat. He stepped to the door and knocked. There was no response. He knocked hard again. No response.

He started walking to the staff room, hoping to find her there. But just then a car approached and soon drove past him. He thought he had seen someone inside of a familiar face. He looked back and there was Miss Morita waving back at him. She was off back to Japan, her mission done. The entire class had passed with distinction. And soon the car was gone, leaving behind a dusty trail.

“She has gone,” Ntambi shared with his mother. “Miss Morita who believed in me and has made me pass.”

“I see that!” Nambi agreed.

“Before I met her I just had no interest in school work and didn’t believe in myself,” he confessed. “But when I saw how she wanted me to succeed I knew I could not afford to let her down. I am gifted and special.”

The Power of a Name

“The Minister wants to see you!” Mr. Herbert Kiwa, the Permanent Secretary (PS), of the Ministry of Infrastructure was informed by his personal assistant, Anne, early one morning once he reported to office. Kiwa was used to these abrupt summons from his Minister. They were often concerned about him clarifying policy to Mr. Ali Abacha. But this time he was a bit apprehensive. Lately, there had been a fight in the ministry with an attempt to falsify procurement results and award a multi-billion dollar contract to a dubious firm to construct a certain expensive highway, funded by World Bank. It was rumored that the firm was connected to big shots in the government.

“I have called you about that recommendation note concerning whom to award that highway construction,” started Abacha. “I think you should ask the committee to revise the results and award this one.”

Kiwa saw that the Minister was pointing to the very suspect firm, and yet it had scored the least during evaluation. It had never proved any capacity or was it known to have the required expertise.

“Sir, I went through the criteria of the Procurement committee and there is no way we can award that one!”

“What are you saying!” the Minister swung back in his chair, visibly annoyed. “It is a directive from above.”

“But how can I falsify those results,” objected Kiwa. “I have a name to protect in this town and wouldn’t bring myself there.”

“What did you say!” The Minister snapped. “You mean for me I don’t have a name to protect. Are you looking down on me because I came from a poor district?”

“It is not what I meant, Sir,” Kiwa explained, calmly, shifting in his seat. “It has to do with something personal”

“You are dismissed,” declared the Minister, boiling. “We shall see what to do!”

As he saw his PS step out of office, the Minister, Abacha, felt all the rage at him. “What does this man Kiwa mean to say he has a name to protect as if I have none and like I am from the streets!” He fumed. A long time ago the Minister had heard there were certain families which always promoted “the name thing” to signify how special they were. He had long observed that these so-called families with names were using that as a pretext to make other people feel inferior. “Yet,” observed the Minister, “these so-called elite families were also land thieves and now use the “name thing” as a cover-up smokescreen for their past crimes!”

But for the PS, Mr. Kiwa it was a different experience through; in fact, while he was aware how certain people fronted their names like nobles, he was hardly any of that. There was a story to this. It all had started when his father, Mr Kiwa Sr, terminally sick, suddenly gathered all his three sons and two daughters around his bed. Whereas in life Sr had been very hesitant to share his life story, he had finally decided to let out all.

“I have long wanted to tell you how I ended up as a headteacher in a primary school” he began, “for as you know I was one of the first students to be admitted to university to study medicine. I was set on becoming one of the first medical doctors in the country. But because of a strike, I was involved in demanding a better diet the whites expelled me. I struggled to find someplace to resume my education but finally, a man who knew my father enrolled me in a teacher training Institute!”

The room was deathly quiet.

“Because of this as you know,” went on Kiwa Sr, “I have ended up training almost all the important people in this nation. As my children, you will never lack anything because of this good name I have made for you. If you meet any roadblock in life all you have to say is you are my children with the name of Kiwa. We the Kiwa are not landowners and there are no buildings you can point to us to as owners. But the name I have left you will open doors for you and make you live secure and happy lives.”

After these words, Kiwa Sr never uttered a single word again. He died three days later. Kiwa Jr succeeded him as the heir. At first, he struggled to appreciate the meaning of his father’s last deathbed message. But after a while, it sunk in. Once he got out of school he was always surprised by how quickly almost any person he met in an important office would rush to open a door for him upon discovering who his father was. “I am who I am because of your father!” This had enabled him to accelerate as a public servant with almost everyone assured he would do a good job. “We knew your father and we know you wont fail his good name.”

It is this sense of obligation to protect the family name which now governed and consumed KiwaJr all his life. Whenever his own children were found at fault his first mention was, “you are letting down the Kiwa name. People are watching you and expect you to behave in a certain manner. We have a name to protect!”

And now as PS of a ministry managing multimillion-dollar contracts, he was always being put to test, always being pulled left and right by those wanting a piece of those huge contacts. “I will give you any percentage you name” was a common offer. But Mr Kiwa Jr would never hear of it, pointing such to follow the right procedure. “I can’t do otherwise because if word was to get out how will I defend the Kiwa name”!

That night after meeting the Minister he got a call. “We understand that you are hesitant to change the scores,” the anonymous caller started. “But I have instructions to wire 1 $ million to an offshore account of yours. If you don’t have one we can help you open one and there is no way one will be able to trace this juicy offer! Mr. Kiwa Jr hung up immediately.

Things did not go well soon after. One day he came to the office and found a letter of interdiction on his desk. “There are allegations you are funding guerrillas,” read the letter signed by Minister Abacha. “You are asked to vacate your office and go on an indefinite leave of absence to pave way for investigations!”

Life was hard after the suspension of Kiwa Jr. For one thing he quickly observed that his former government colleagues no longer wanted to relate with him. He also heard from the streets that the job eventually was given to the firm he had objected to by a new Acting PS. Even when its performance proved so shoddy that the World Bank held bank funding no one attempted to call him back. He was blacklisted. Once Ann met him at a function and told him that the Minister had swore, ” as long as we are in government that man called Kiwa will never hold a job here. Let him go eat his name.”

But just as for his father after his expulsion from medical school, something beautiful came through. There was a small but influential group of friends who would give Mr. Kiwa Jr jobs, small as they were. They were not many but enough to put food on the table and see all his three kids through school.

Over time the government of Abacha fell through competitive General elections where even after massive rigging the gap was so huge, forcing it to concede. Once his government fell Abacha fled into exile, along with his family, leaving behind all the properties he had accumulated as a minister. A commission of Inquiry was put up and found he had accumulated his vast wealth through corruption. The new government decided to confiscate everything under his name. Abacha would die in exile, fearing to step back home after being convicted in absentia, as a looter.

And as for Kiwa Jr the new government was aware of the circumstances of how he had lost his job, he was recalled and appointed as Head of Public Service. The new government also compensated him for all his loss of pay with interest.

As a last twist to this story, soon after the death of Abacha his now grown-up children returned to the country. They wanted to claim back their father’s property. But everywhere they went doors were slammed right in their faces. “Your father was a terrible man who caused a lot of misery,” said one government official. “Go back to where he took all our country’s money and no one wants to see you here for you remind us of all the misery that man caused.”

The Abacha children left-back for forced exile, very saddened. They could not even find a job in their country. And that was because of a bad name left behind by their deceased father, Abacha. This was unlike Kiwa Jr, whose children once they got out of school quickly found people in town eager to give them a hand. And that was because of a good name left by their grandfather, a good man called Kiwa!