It is regrettable for Ssalongo Geoffrey Kibuuka. He was one of many who initially believed that Covid-19 was a disease Africans were immune to. When his close friend, John Ssentongo first reported general body weakness, the current pandemic was immediately ruled out as a possible ailment.
How heartbreaking it was for his friends to learn that he had been suffering from Covid-19 and his health had deteriorated by the day until he breathed his last.
“When John fell sick, we did not expect he would succumb to Covid-19. The lockdown had kept us out of touch. I last met him at the end of March,” Ssalongo Kibuuka recounts.
Ssentongo passed away on May 28, 2020 at St George Hospital in South London where he had been admitted in intensive care for a fortnight.
With his wife, Rebecca, they have four children. He was common in the community of Ugandans living in Manchester, UK owing to his passion for culture and norms of Buganda Kingdom.
If he could say any last word to his friend, Ssalongo would bid him a proper farewell.
“Thank you for living a good life, for loving Buganda and being a people person. The fruits of what you stood for are clear. We continue to mourn you.”
Vincent Mukiibi, a close friend, describes Ssentongo as a good person, who with a one Ssewanonda, started Entanda Ya Buganda- Diaspora, as a participant and initial winner.
“He eventually became one of the organisers. He would ask participants questions geared towards building Buganda as a cultural entity. He was pivotal in organising visits for Buganda officials under the leadership of Ssalongo Kibuuka. He will be dearly missed as someone who taught Luganda on one of the community platforms,” Mukiibi says.
The two met every morning on a bus to work. His last communication was to Mukiibi, informing him of his weak immunity owing to the sickness that had led to him being bed-ridden.
Chatty and counsel
Papa Jasper Ntege, a community activist and journalist met Ssentongo about eight years ago. They used to go to the same church and got working together when John was trying to bring the community together as he founded Entanda Ya Buganda-Diaspora.
“Despite the fact that John came to the UK when he was young, he spent more time in Uganda than in the UK. I realised that John loved being home and he always told me about how he was busy setting up projects,” Papa Jasper recalls.
“We always met at the train station every morning. I would be on my way to university while John would be going to work. He loved talking about development projects and emphasized how we should work smart and set up our own projects soon,” he adds. Papa Jasper cannot come to terms with the fact that his comrade is gone. “Because of the nature of work which he did with enthusiasm, I still think John lives with us.”
Enock Kiyaga will remember John as a selfless being who always put service to the community and his culture above self.
“He was very friendly, sociable, down-to-earth person. I spoke to him a few weeks ago and was optimistic about coming to Manchester this summer to conduct Entanda ya Buganda. But obviously he has not lived long enough to accomplish this project. May his soul rest in peace,” he explains.
His love for Luganda
“My dear friend John RIP. May your family find comfort in the memories that you share,” Sophia Nakayiza, a friend says.
Ssalongo Kibuuka adds that lessons Ssentongo taught in native language in the diaspora were a cornerstone of unifying and fortifying a bond in their community because they are elated every time, any of them meets someone speaking Luganda.
“Whereas finding people communicating in Luganda in Kampala is normal, it is different meeting someone speaking it here because it is an appreciated part of our culture, so it is valuable. In the diaspora, we always want to contribute to our heritage,” Ssalongo further explains.
He will also remember Ssentongo as a son of a canon who loved culture, a humble and welcoming person who loved games and used them to strengthen inter-clan togetherness.
“As a community, it is hard and hurtful to lose one of us. As African culture, we are not satisfied by reaching out to each other and simply speak on phone but that is how we communicate nowadays owing to the uncertainty the pandemic has brought,” Ssalongo Kibuuka adds.
To Judith Katasi, the deceased will be greatly missed by all whose life he touched from far and near.
“Condolences to the bereaved families and in-laws. My prayers especially for the young ones you have left behind asking so many questions. My deepest prayer for my sweet sister Rebecca who needs all her strength and wisdom to raise them up single handed henceforth. RIP John!” writes one of the friends and supporters who contributed to a fundraiser started by Kiyaga on gofundme.com
Ssentongo, 53, the heir to the Rev Canon George Wilson Sekitooleko was of the Nkima clan. He was the representative of the head of the clan- Mugema and an active member of Olukiiko Lwa Bataka in the UK. He attended National Teacher’s College Nkozi, Mpigi.
Ssentongo briefly taught Geography and Luganda at Makerere College School in Kampala. He cut his teeth in journalism as a reporter at Ngabo newspaper. After, he relocated to UK. He attended Middlesex University and was working as housing officer for the Borough of Hackney at the time of his death.