During the early days of Bukedde Television, Side Mirror was one of the programmes that made the channel appealing to its fresh viewership. It was a platform used by Amarula Family, arguably the country’s oldest comedy outfit to give viewers a weekly dose of laughter. To show you how hilarious he could be, I shall take you back to a skit that was broadcast sometime in 2010.
Paddy Ssali alias Bitama is dressed in an ill-fitting tank top and short skirt. Instead of the usual eye – candy cleavage, the top reveals a flat hairy chest. The make-up on his face is a joke itself. Bitama is a naïve hotel proprietor and is at its premises to observe the progress of business. When he gets to the swimming pool, he is angry with its attendant. He asks while pointing at a fat man in the pool, “Why did you let that buffalo swim from the sharon [instead of shallow] end? Do you know the kilograms of water that splashes out of the pool when he is swimming?
Such ga men infect our water with water porn [instead of borne] diseases like headache and the water’s temperature rises.” Bitama dips a finger in the water and asks the attendant, “How many kilometers of chloroquine [instead of chlorine] have you injected in this water?” Even before he answers, you can tell that the attendant is fighting a losing battle to laugh out loud.
Bitama really was funny
When he appeared on stage, his costumes invoked mirth. If he was not clad in the feminine revealing clothes or anything clownish, he was in a gomesi. The memorable performances in the gomesi were when he was acting the role of seasoned politician Beti Kamya. No wonder she was one of the first politicians who visited Bitama’s home, when news started making rounds that Bitama had died.
Suits were also part of his stage wardrobe. He often wore them to imitate male politicians, especially the President and his former vice – president Gilbert Bukenya. He was actually the first to tread this path of political satire.
The start of imitating politicians
Nicholas Mpeirwe alias Messe, a long time friend of the deceased, says that Bitama gave the recent generation of comedians, confidence to make use of events and persons in the world of politics as comedy material. “There was always that fear of the politicians’ reactions upon seeing the skits in which we made fun of their actions. I am talking of big people like Museveni himself.
Only he was bold enough to give it a try. His strategy was that he made it a point not to be abusive. All he did was imitate them and add a few hilarious exaggerations. When the feedback came in, it was encouraging. Actually he became friends with most of these people,” says Messe in a sombre tone.
His widely publicised depiction of Museveni was in their 2008 play titled Akaama ka Chogm. The sunhat, loose suit, eye rolling and stutter akin to the President’s left many ribs cracking.
Faith Kabasindi, his sister, says that it was evident at an early age that Bitama was slated to be a comedian. She states that his company was the most sought for in the family because he was hardly short of hilarious tales. “Surprisingly, he did not know that he was a talented comedian.
It was after making impressive performances during the early days of his comedy journey, at Jenina Bar in Nansana, that he realised that the art was his calling. Our deceased mum was his number one fan. When Bitama had a show, she would ask all the people in the neighbourhood to attend and support her son,” says Kabasindi, tears rolling down her cheeks. Hours before his death, she says, Bitama was still his comical self. He was mocking the eating habits of one of his aunties who was attending to him. He remarked that she could gulp a bucket of porridge and still ask for more.
His siblings defined him as a lovely and generous man. They say that he paid tuition for many and the amount he would give them for pocket money was hefty. “Sometimes, he would call you suddenly. Then he would inquire of your whereabouts and ask you to meet him somewhere so he could give you money. Just like that,” Kabasindi states. If Bitama’s life was filmed it would play out well as a series whereby, in season one, there is Bitama, the chubby comedian and then in season two, Bitama the lean political activist comes out.
His first attempt at politics was in 2005 and 2010 where he attempted and failed to contest for the country’s presidency. Different colleagues of the deceased have different opinions of his early political ambitions. Messe says that he was serious much as they thought he it was a comical stunt. On the other hand, George Mulindwa alias Afande Kerekere says that he was joking and gives his reason.
“One of the promises in his manifesto was that he would construct a swimming pool at Constitutional Square which would be open to all Ugandans. He added that a free bottle of soda would be given to everyone who entered,” says Afande Kerekere.
Serious about politics
However, in 2011, he proved to his doubters that he was taking his political ambitions seriously. Asuman Basalirwa, Justice Forum (JEEMA) Party president narrates that in that year, Ssemujju Nganda had organised a rally in Kireka, a city suburb, where Bitama was in attendance. “After a couple of speakers had addressed the audience, he came forth and requested to say something.
Semujju was reluctant to avail him the opportunity. After some cajoling, we granted him his wish. We could not believe his eloquence and informed arguments about the dictatorship in the country,” says Basalirwa.