As a teenager, my late father William Sengoba asked me to read a story in Munno newspaper because he was concerned that the children of this generation had neglected ‘our’ language in favour of English.
Those days there was an idiotic ‘colonial’ policy that made the speaking of indigenous languages, aka vernacular, punishable at school.
It was a huge test as there were elders around listening intently and correcting the intonation and mispronunciation at every opportunity. I soldiered on very well until I misread omusaale, which means pioneer as omusale – the one who was cut! They laughed and that shook me.
The story was about the researcher, Dr Charles Ssali of the Mariandina Clinic, a pioneer researcher in the field of HIV/Aids. When the old man asked me for the meaning of the word omusaale, I tried to cleverly put it into context and told him it meant a clever person. I was scolded and told to read more stories in the paper. There was a story about a man named ‘Kaaya,’ which saved me from that reading exam. The conversation went to someone I had not heard of called Kaaya Kavuma, of whom they spoke very fondly and forgot all about me. I remember them describing him as omujagujagu (enterprising). I did not ask for the meaning as I was still recovering.
Many years later, when my paternal auntie Mary Nabukeera -popularly known as Ssenga Meere,- passed on, one of the people who gave a very interesting eulogy was former Buganda deputy Katikkiro, Oweekitibwa Kaaya Kavuma.
Owek Kavuma, a very smart eloquent gentleman, on that day he was absolutely dapper (at a funeral) in a blue blazer with grey trousers and a light blue shirt. He told the mourners of his time growing up in the village called Kibooba in Namutamba, from where I hail.
When this son of Mwami Yosamu Musoke and his wife Bukyeela was enrolled at Busoga College Mwiri, travelling across the Nile to boarding school and back solidified a relationship his father had with my grandfather, who stayed in Kitemu, also in Namutamba. My late uncles Joseph Ssembuya and David Benjamin Kyegombe were Kavuma’s contemporaries at the same school. Their father – my late grandfather Eriya Ssajabi Kuleekana, instructed one of his sons, my late uncle Eriya Ssenjobe to make sure he took his good friend’s son, the young Kavuma, to school at the beginning and end of term in his Mercedes Benz, Kijambia.
The road to Kavuma’s father’s home was not easily accessible by car as it was in a rather thickly wooded area. So Kavuma had to make the trip to Kitemu on foot with his belongings a day or two prior to going to school, and stayed at Ssajabi’s. Same thing happened when he returned for holidays. It was a few days at Kitemu then home. His contemporaries also occasionally stayed over at Kibooba during the holidays.
Ssajabi who left his father Sengoba in Naama in Mityana Singo and decided to start his own life in Namutamba, was a very industrious man who started off as a penniless labourer.
With time, Ssajabi became a big land owner and planted a huge tea estate, farmed and kept cattle. He immersed himself into the cooperative movement and took advantage of the benefits of pooling resources together with other farmers. He was soon to become one of the first indigenous treasures of a cooperative society in Uganda.
When Kavuma finished school and embarked on working life, he too like Ssajabi wandered away from the place where he grew up. He left Namutamba, but with time returned and took his parents along to a place called Buwaya, Ssagala near the ‘headquarters’ of the Ganda Mamba (Gabunga) clan.
He worked so hard that he became a very successful, wealthy businessman and a man of influence. His footprints in the coffee trade, insurance and broadcasting and many other areas are visible and without query. Yet with his money, he remained humble and dedicated to service above self.
When men like Owek. Kaaya Kavuma die, you can’t help but wonder about what really happened to Uganda. The stories of the Kavumas of this world attest to the fact that at some point in Uganda, a humble background was not an automatic ticket to an eternal life of struggle for survival or poverty. There was actually a time when all a man needed was the will to do honest hard work. That was his opportunity. After that, financial success was almost assured. And when such men died, you did not get to hear stories of what or whom they robbed in order to get wealthy. It was just their sweat and persistence; stories that are visibly corroborated.
Today, billionaires just spring out like a connected bolt out of the blue and when most wealth is put to the test of hard work, it will be found wanting. Many can only tell others how to get wealthy and successful as motivational speakers but can’t and won’t dare practice what we preach, for it does not seem to work anymore. More often than not, cutting the corner is the real deal.
The passing of the generation of the Kavumas is as depressing a story as it is one of hope. A society that once had upright hardworking women and men still has the capacity to produce them as a norm and not as an exception. When this will happen is still a mystery but you can be optimistic it will.
May the Lord rest Owek. Kaaya Kavuma’s soul in eternal peace and may his loved ones find fortitude as they come to terms with his passing.
Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues.