I am writing this with a heavy and light heart. A heavy heart because I feel that James Mulwana, 10 years younger than me, to whom I had been getting closer, went when his numerous friends and admirers were shocked by his sudden departure. A heavy heart again because James, with whom I had chatted two Sundays before his permanent departure, was lowered into the grave without me witnessing the sad event.
A light heart because James, who selflessly avoided encumbering others, had told his Maker that he did not want a long-drawn-out illness that would overburden those caring for him in illness. God had heard his prayer and granted him a quick departure. I remember Bishop Misaeri Kawuma (RIP) preaching to us at the All Saints Cathedral. He said he did not crave a very old age when he would strain his family. He said the best time to die was in one’s seventies when he mutually enjoyed life with his family and friends. God granted his wish and he, like James, was summoned before his eighties.
Eulogies are a catalogue of the good deeds and qualities of the dead. The bad qualities, indeed the evils that they do, as Shakespeare betokened, are interred with their bones. Bishop Festo Lutaya (RIP), who had cut his priestly teeth in Ankole, is said to have conducted the funeral of one well-connected but notorious robber and shop breaker.
After enumerating a few of the man’s notorious exploits, he triumphantly declared that God had rid the community of an evil pestilence. This was too much for the relatives: three or four muscular men lifted him from where he stood, and thus his Bible, prayer book and him in his pastoral garb, were all thrown out of the circle. He was ordered to depart in haste. The ceremony was concluded by a humbler priest who sang praises. From what I have observed, been told and have recently read, there would be no such fears about what a candid priest, said about James at his funeral service. He was genuinely clean: A paragon of modesty, humility and integrity.
Business guru of own class
Many big business people are said to have something to hide. It is said, and not without good reason, that many such people have violated the eighth Commandment (Thou shalt not steal). From his contemporary, John Nagenda’s comment of Saturday, January 19, James had a very humble start. He has, over the years, progressed steadily and risen to be the grandfather, father, patron of Uganda’s African industry and humility; with roots in non-African industry.
I have heard, witnessed and read about many important events in this country, and in the world, during my life. I started consistently reading newspapers in 1944 when I joined S.4 in King’s College, Budo. Britain entered what was to be the Second World War in September 1939 (the year in which Sir Daudi Chwa, Kabaka of Buganda, died). I was in P.5 at Mbarara High School. It ended with the surrender of Germany, when I was in S.5 at Budo.
I was around when the liberal and popular Governor, Sir Andrew Cohen, with the best legacy in Uganda, in my view, made the dreadful error of sending Buganda’s King, Sir Fredrick Mutesa, into indigent exile in 1953. I was in Mbale when he returned in 1955 in glory and popularity in practically all parts of Uganda (he later visited us in Mbale). The Entebbe road was so congested by the slow movement of his vehicles that many cars remained on the roadside having burnt their clutches.
I was in Gulu in 1962, when Uganda was granted Independence. I was around (and experienced the intense firing into the bougainvillea bush in front of my house for two days) when the NRA army took Kampala on January 25, 1986. I have watched annual congratulations to the President from ministries, boards and corporations. But, believe you me, I had never seen and read so many (some very sentimental) messages, many mournful, as have been sent and published from companies, boards, academia and individuals in respect of the passing of James. Here I am subject to correction, but much as I have been interested in seeing what was said about the man I greatly admired, I have detected not a trace of charade. All have been sincere and genuine. Such was the man James Senkaali Mulwana.
Now, how and when did I begin to know James closely? Those who were around and aware in the late 1960s and early 1970 may remember Prudential Stores on the ground floor of Impala House, which I ran with my dear wife Princess Christine Birabwa Nakalema (bless her soul). It was the most outstanding grocery in the 1970s; the years when Amin, in his fancies, sent all his ministers “on leave” and made all of us, permanent secretaries, ministers in their place.
The reason one of the leading presidential praise-singers alleged that I had been given it by Amin. A guy who had run Chez Joseph, a dance hall and restaurant, on similar terms of rent with us had gone to Britain. He read it and refuted the allegation explaining that both we and they had been renting our shops from the Pan African Insurance. My wife and I had two ample cars and we would start hunting merchandise from early morning every day, except Sunday, from all suppliers.
We added not more than 20 per cent to the cost prices and prominently marked prices on all commodities. Governor Abdulla Nasur, whom I had never met, “invaded” our shop one mid-morning. We were scared. He looked at our prices (we had wholesale and retail stores) and later called me to his office. He had been told by some Bombo Nubians about Prudential Stores, its rich stocks and fair prices. He shook my hand and gave us agencies for beer, waragi, spirits and to sell cigarettes to diplomats and VIPs.
We owed our popularity, among others, mainly to James. He imported many items and sold to bulk buyers. We would list all the commodities we wanted and take the list to James, with the money (at very good prices). Within two weeks, at the longest, we would go to him and fill our cars with our purchases, which we would put in the two stores. We would wholesale at 10 – 15 per cent and retail at 15 – 20 per cent. Prudential Stores became very popular, thanks largely to James.
The okuhingira (give-away ceremony) of my youngest daughter, Samali Kiconco (the “baby of the family”) was in August, last year. In my speech I mentioned one prominent absentee among friends of the family: it was James, who had gone to Thailand on his diplomatic duties. The give-away ceremony, somewhat like in India, is similar to the dowry: it involves heavy expenditure by the bride’s family. You may have to furnish the whole house: bedroom, bathroom, dining and sitting room plus the kitchen. Thus the new tradition involves her family seeking contribution by appealing to friends and relatives. I mentioned James because he had made the very first contribution of Shs500,000.
James was a God-fearing Christian, attending the Eucharist (Communion) service starting at 7:30 am, every Sunday. It was after such a service two Sundays before his demise that he and I stood in the doorway of the church during a heavy downpour, and he was in fine fettle. Both of us were waiting for our respective transports. We had chatted for a time when my daughter, Margaret, came for me. James’s transport had yet to come. We said Bye.
That was the last time I saw my friend. Our church building originally accommodated the few colonial white Africans. It has become too small for the current numbers so that nearly half the congregation sits in tents outside the building; served by closed-circuit television. For some time now we are erecting a fully accommodating sanctuary a few metres from the present church building. I have been assured that James has been one of the pillars in the process of the contributions. And his, of course, was all clean money. And why not, as James has a significant and unique historical relationship with the All Saints Cathedral.
As I have just indicated, the All Saints Church, formerly part of a hospital, was a kind of “recluse” for the small white community. It was inevitably, if reluctantly, laid open to blacks as Independence approached. It was one fine Saturday, on March 3, 1962, that James Senkaali Mulwana and Sarah Nankabirwa Nyanzi, walked down the aisle of the All Saints Church to be the first ever blacks to be declared man and wife in this formerly only-whites sanctuary.
As I pointed out all along, Ugandans, including his family, indeed, part of the world, mourned the passing of James when he answered divine summons that Tuesday morning on January 15. President Museveni, among other mourners and commentators, is reported to have said that if there is a heaven, James is there. I agree! I am, in my sorrow, consoled by the certainty that the soul of James, this minute, reposes among those of God’s own elect.
Fare thee well, James Mulwana.
Mr Gureme is a senior citizen