Reviews & Profiles
Tamale Mirundi: Ripping open the motor-mouthed politician
Posted Monday, January 7 2013 at 02:00
The President’s spokesperson is a former journalist and he intends to return to the trade in the future. The man who has two wives, loves his job and calls himself a man of the ordinary people, talks about his climb up the ladder
It is amazing how a young John Tamale Mirundi’s desire to become a journalist was tickled. During his Senior Three in 1980, a literature teacher at Rubaga SS told Mirundi’s class to write an imaginary story. He imagined himself as a love letter being written by a lover and sent through the post office.
“In my story, the love letter was collected by my teacher; she put it in her bra, went home, stripped herself naked and began reading the love letter as I was peeping between her legs,” recollects Mirundi. Little did he know that the assignment would throw the whole school into pandemonium after his literature teacher sent his story to the head teacher.
“The headmaster asked if I had understood the assignment,” narrates Mirundi. The school administrators were all undecided as to what they should do to this teenager. However, after days of deliberations, Tamale was forgiven but on one condition.
“I am forgiving you for one thing, that you can make a good journalist,” said the headmaster to Mirundi. This was a turning point of sorts. After this incident, he never looked back; he began off as a part time writer at Munno newspaper. He further supplemented his income by vending newspapers.
Mirundi’s mother is not sure of his age but she thinks he was born between 1960 and 1964 in Matale village, Rakai District.
He is the ninth child of his mother. His parents are Molly Mirundi and the late Tamale Mirundi.
When tasked to explain the events that shaped him, Tamale is quick to give credit to his village. “We had cannibals and witchdoctors in our village, these are all things I witnessed firsthand,” he proudly remarks. His was a unique family in a much disciplined village. He recounts a day when nine people were killed for stealing bananas and chicken.
“Our village never tolerated indiscipline, we had no village courts but justice still prevailed.” Mirundi talks about the various men in his village that formed the core of the values he believes in. He talks of men like Petero Nswa who was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. Nswa was a tailor. One Christmas morning, he woke up expecting to find breakfast on the table only to find out that his wife had left for prayers. Welding a stick in his hand, he headed for the church where he found his wife kneeling infront of a St Joseph statue. He hit it and broke it into pieces. He was thus summarily excommunicated.
“I would go to Nswa’s house when it rained to find out whether his home used to receive rain. Even though he was deserted by the villagers, Nswa got even stronger and more authoritative.”
Mirundi also remembers men like Kasumba who many thought would die after subjecting a Catholic priest to a thorough beating having caught him red-handed with his wife. There was also Rwabuchocho who slapped his mother-in-law. Rwabuchocho gained popularity because he did not suffer for his actions.
“Because of such people, I am able to comment on many things that people fear to comment on.” Mirundi explains things with clarity. Complex issues he breaks down for the peasants. You can’t help but welcome his pithy analogies – concise and full of meaning.
Mirundi says he gets his arrogance from his mother.
“I inherited my mother’s arrogance. She always had a low opinion of many people,” says Mirundi. He adds that unlike women in Matale, his mother was not involved in rumour mongering. “My mother was a bit aloof and that’s me,” Mirundi proudly explains.
Even when he stood for MP, he rejected certain things like going to a witchdoctor or paying Catholic priests to praise him in church. The constituency voters all agreed that he was a wise young man but he seemed so detached. Perhaps, that’s why he lost the elections.
A man without close friends
Mirundi grew up differently because he claims he talked very early in his life. Many people thought his mother had produced a musambwa. He grew up a loner.
“I only befriend someone when our interests meet,” says Mirundi. Like the man for whom he has served as spokesperson for 10 years, Mirundi has no close friends and he takes independent decisions.
“There is nobody who can claim to be a close friend of mine,” he explains. He speaks in a folksy style, so characteristic of the countryside, where he was groomed.
Even though he once lost two children on the same day, this for him was not the saddest day of his life. “The day my father died hit me so hard. I admired him so much,” he says rather sadly. However, like many village bred men, his happiest day was the first time he came to Kampala in 1979.
In 1981, Mirundi impregnated a fellow student. His first son was born in the same year. This first partner of Mirundi was taken to London immediately after she delivered. Her family was very rich and to them, Mirundi was a poor person who had no future. He wishes, the same family that despised him could look where he is today and see how he has fought through all odds and finally made it.