On Tuesday, June 23 this year, I wrote a brief note to my friend Harold Acemah in Arua, to ask for a favour. Could he, please, find my high school classmate who might be retired in Arua or somewhere in West Nile?
I shared my classmate’s approximate age, our years in high school and a description that summarised the character of a man I had last seen and communicated with more than 45 years earlier. “He is a wonderful gentleman with a terrific sense of humour.” Less than two hours later, Harold, a retired career diplomat and a columnist for the Sunday Monitor, sent me my classmate’s telephone numbers. I immediately called him.
The voice at the other end was unmistakably that of Crispus Mundua, full of life and laughter, just as I had known him in his teenage. He was happy to remind me of our youthful dreams and fantasies we had shared as naïve teenagers even as the early symptoms of a failing post-colonial experiment were all around us.
We had met in Senior One at King’s College Budo in 1967, at an age where my political consciousness was in its embryonic stage. I had been fascinated by his evident understanding of the political tensions that lay beneath the thin surface of tranquility at our school and in the country. Mundua was one of our go-to experts to help us understand the turmoil that was at home and abroad.
He often spoke of leading a revolution, a concept that was more foreign to me than the scientific theories that I was beginning to learn.
As we reminisced last month, Mundua roared with laughter when I reminded him of his self-assigned nickname: “The Terrorist.” He had modelled himself after some of the fashionable “revolutionaries” of the day, among them Che Guevarra, about whom I knew nothing, and Pierre Mulele and Christophe Gbenye, the leaders of the Simba Rebellion in the Congo Free State, who had unintentionally played a side role in the Uganda Crisis of 1966.
It was during this conversation that I discovered why Mundua had been so much better informed about our world than I was. He was older than most of his classmates by at least two years.
Mundua, son of Oji, was born in Yivu, Maracha, West Nile on June 1, 1950. He grew up in Aringa County, at the Ugandan border with Sudan to the north and close to the border with Congo to the west.
He received his formal education at Wolo Primary School before joining King’s College, Budo for O-Level. After his A-Level education at St Peter’s College Tororo, he joined Makerere University where he read English, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Concurrent Diploma in Education.
He taught at Lugazi Secondary School for one year before quitting to join the Ugandan Ministry of Information to pursue his passion for journalism. He rose through the ranks to become the Commissioner, Uganda News Agency, his final posting in the public service.
On his way up the ladder, Mundua worked in the Presidential Press Unit during the immediate post-Idi Amin period, then became head of the Prime Minister’s Press Unit during Obote II and head of the Presidential Press Unit during the government of Gen Tito Okello Lutwa and the first three months of Yoweri Museveni’s rule. He called those seven years of bloody chaos “the most-energy sapping” period of his life.
He promised to tell me the stories of what he had seen and heard, and how he rated the men that had taken their turns at governing our country. However, that would have to wait until we could sit down in his home in Kampala, hopefully within the next year or so.
Over the years, Mundua had kept his brilliant mind academically nourished, including studying at the Central Office of Information in London, England where he obtained certification in news and feature writing, and at the University of Leicester where he was awarded a Master of Arts degree in Mass Communication.
He taught journalism at the Institute of Public Administration in Kampala and, following his retirement from government service in 2000, he served as a pioneer lecturer in Mass Communication at Gulu University. He joined the Faculty of St Lawrence University in 2007 where he became the head of the Department of Mass Communication.
Our reminiscence turned to our deceased schoolmates, people whose lives we had shared, whose memories brought us smiles even as we felt a deep sense of loss.
We brought each other up to speed regarding the whereabouts of our classmates now scattered all over the world. Like all people in their afternoon of life, we talked about the need to get together before our eyes began to fail and our joints sabotaged our mobility.
I assured him that, God willing, my wife and I would be his guests as soon as the war against Covid-19 was won. Happily, he assured me, that he was in very good health and he intended to keep it that way. In the meantime, we would keep in touch and promised to write his story.
On Sunday, July 12, Ambassador Acemah wrote to inform me that Mundua had been admitted to Old Mulago Hospital with a critical illness. He put me in touch with Dr Geoffrey Buwa, Mundua’s sister’s son-in-law, who confirmed the grave nature of my friend’s condition.
Mundua was no longer able to talk. He was transferred to Kiruddu Hospital for palliative care. He died at 4 am on Wednesday, July 15, exactly three weeks after our telephone reunion. He was buried at Onduparaka, Arua on Saturday, July 18.
After years of longing to communicate with Mundua, I found him in Kampala of all places. Unknown to the two of us, it was hello and goodbye. Forever. The mystery of life. His apparently robust health camouflaged a terminal cancer that was about to freeze his beautiful smile and silence his laughter forever. What did it all mean?
My heart and thoughts go out to his widow Proscovia Nalwoga Mundua, their daughters Dorcus, Phoebe and Claire, and their sons Crispus Jr and Nelson Oji. May it comfort them to know that their grief is shared by many people they have never met. May the Lord comfort them and hold their hands as they continue their journey without him. It is well.