On the day of her birth in Igara, Ankole in 1918, the odds that a little girl named Rosa Kanakubona would live into the next century were very low. Available data show that a female’s life expectancy at birth in Canada and the United States of America in 1918 was 60 years and 42 years, respectively. It is a fair guess that little Kanakubona’s expected life expectancy was probably lower than that of her North American “birthday twins.”
That she would live to join the small club of centenarians was something that would have probably been inconceivable to Esta Batoorwa Kitaragabirwe and Samwiri Butsya, her parents.
In the event, Kanakubona beat the odds and outlived three British kings, two Ankole kings, 10 British colonial governors, nine Ugandan presidents and a “million” other rulers that she encountered on a journey that ended with her death last week on January 28. She was 103 years old. What have her eyes not seen! What has she not heard! And what battles has she not witnessed, some of them at very close quarters!
As the wife of Rev Eriakimu Katembeeka Kamuzhanduzi, whom she married on February 23, 1936, Kanakubona was the closest person to one of the most passionate leaders in Ankole’s power struggles that pitted Abairu against Abahima subsets of Abanyankore.
These contests, which began in earnest in the late 1940s and reached their peak in the late 1960s, were some of the most consequential political battles in Uganda. It is impossible to think of Abairu-Abahima conflicts without the name Kamuzhanduzi popping up.
His willingness to use the pulpit to argue the case for Abairu turned him into arguably the most famous among the leaders of his group that was known as Kumanyana.
Written accounts of Kamuzhanduzi’s fights within the Anglican Church in Ankole and Kigyezi, at the time led by Bishop Kosiya Shalita, a naturalized Ugandan-Mututsi, offer a fascinating portrait of what happens when secular and religious politics reach a convergence.
Such was his towering stature in Ankole’s politics that Rev. Kamuzhanduzi, who died on December 26, 1990, was (and remains) a leader about whom few politically alert Banyankore of his time held a neutral opinion. He was a larger than life figure in whose shadow his wife could have easily disappeared.
However, Kanakubona was a woman whose own character and accomplishments placed her in the category of great Ugandan women that deserve thorough study and documentation. First, she was among the first Banyankore girls to attend formal school.
Noted to be among the brightest in her class at Bweranyangi Girls’ School, she was sent a boarding school in Mbarara at the age of fourteen. Upon graduation, she returned to Bweranyangi as a teacher, where she met her future husband.
Second, she produced and raised twelve children. Motherhood is a job that remains underappreciated even in the most liberal societies in the world. The adverse physical impact of multiple pregnancies and births on a woman is well-documented.
The emotional burden of raising and worrying about children and grandchildren, even in their adulthood, is enough to disable the most courageous among us. To do this during a time of political upheaval that disrupted her world, especially after the military coup of 1971, had the potential to break one’s strongest psychological defences.
However, succeed she did, and gave Uganda fine citizens that have had a significant impact on our national story. Among them are Ms. Hilda Mpairwe, Ms. Maria Baryamujura, Mr. Enoka Bainomugisha and Justice Kenneth Kakuru of Uganda’s Court of Appeal.
From everything I have heard about Mrs Kanakubona Kamuzhanduzi, it is evident that the secret of her success as a teacher, wife, mother and leader among the women of Ankole was her faith and commitment to Jesus Christ.
My wife, who knew her fairly well, described her as “patient, strong and prayerful.” This is a theme that Laura Kiconco Baryamujura, one of her granddaughters, highlighted when I asked her to tell me about her grandmother.
“I am grateful to her for many things,” Kiconco wrote, “the most precious being that she taught me how to pray; how to have a conversation with God. When she lived with us after my grandfather passed away, we shared a room and every morning and every night, without fail she knelt and prayed for her children and their children and she named them one by one! Everyday!
“I cannot tell you how many times I fell asleep while she was just on child number seven. I would wake up in the morning and she would be at it again.... on grandchild number fifteen!
“Her prayers were true conversations with God. She thanked him, praised him, petitioned him, negotiated with him and sometimes told him how unfair he was! It was eye opening for me, the beginning of understanding of a real relationship with God, not viewing him as a distant mystery seated on a throne but as a father, a friend, a confidant and a savior. And I cannot tell you what joy this has brought to my life.”
In addition to being widowed for 29 years, Ms. Kamuzhanduzi’s last years were darkened by the deaths of several of her children and the usual struggles and labours of those who exceed our allotted time of three score years and ten. Yet, even then, she was sustained by the joy that comes to those who trust in the Lord. She remained a prayer warrior to the end.
What else then can we say except to join her family in giving thanks to the Lord for her journey and service, and her elevation to eternal glory that is the assurance of those who choose to be reconciled to God while they are still on Earth, through acceptance of salvation through Jesus Christ?
One final act on her Earthly journey that invites serious reflection is her burial place.
On Friday, January 31, she was laid in a grave next to her husband in the small cemetery on the south side of the grounds at St James Cathederal, Ruharo, Mburara. Next to the Kamujanduzis is the grave of Bishop Kosiya Shalita, with whom Rev. Kamujanduzi engaged in some of the fiercest verbal battles.
It is a fitting reminder to the living about the shared destiny of all humanity, the futility of our conflicts and an invitation to forge a better path towards peaceful coexistence.