The death of Yona Namawa, the managing partner at WMC Africa, a public relations firm, took many by surprise. Namawa, who has left a more than 20 year trail of success in the public relations world, succumbed to a bacterial infection (infective endocarditis) on August 6, 2018.
For many of those who worked with him, such as Primrose Kiberu, the chief operating officer of WMC Africa, his team spirit stood out.
“Yona was very hardworking and forward looking. He never dwelt on the past. In every interview he conducted, he would always ask the interviewee what their future plans were and where they wanted to go,” she says.
Probably, Namawa’s dwelling on the future of his potential employees had a lot to do with his own experiences when he founded the firm.
“I joined the agency in 2001, three years after it had begun. At that time, people did not know much about advertising. We had to do a lot of explaining to clients every time we went out to make a pitch. We went together with Yona and many times, we were turned down. However, Yona’s leadership skills were good, he never gave up. Eventually, we analysed why we were being turned down and when we got the missing piece, we changed tactic,” Kiberu recalls.
As a policy, Namawa always had a meeting with his team before he went out to make a pitch to a client. However, much as they worked as a team, with a house style, every member had the freedom to be creative. With each member’s unique creativeness, Namawa was able to assemble a strong team that is today, at the top of strategic corporate communications.
“He did not believe in micro-managing the team though he personally recruited most of us. He trusted us to do our jobs the best way we could but never settled for less. His mantra was always to go for the best or second best and nothing lower.”
Some WMC Africa’s clients include, Qaala Holdings, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, MultiChoice Uganda and Stanbic Bank.
Down to earth
In the office, Namawa was simply referred to as ‘Yona’ by his team members. The title of ‘managing partner’ was only on paper as the communications guru did not have personal hang-ups about being accorded the reverence that his official title demanded.
His team members speak of a man who was usually the first person in the office, arriving at 6pm. He was also the most likely to leave last; usually late in the night.
They talk about his intellect and his willingness to share his wide experience in public relations, marketing, public advocacy and banking, to anyone of the team. One only had to ask.
Regarding beliefs, integrity was the cornerstone of all his relationships; clients, employees, and business partners. “Yona was also a stickler for detail. There were some unguarded moments when you would see him biting his nails, but that was probably an important part of his thinking process,” one of the WMC employees shares.
Stepping into his shoes
At the end of the year, WMC Africa will celebrate its 20th anniversary. Unfortunately, Namawa will not be there to celebrate and share in that milestone. For his team, though, it will be all about trying to uphold the legacy of a man who gave his best to the public relations sector.
The communications guru also made it clear to his team that their public relations work was a lot about the client and not WMC Africa. The client had to take credit for the work that the public relations agency had done. “There was nothing that he went out to share with the client that the team did not know about.
For us, it will be so much about missing him, but not about not knowing what to do. For all of us at WMC Africa, it has been an absolute honour to have worked with Yona. We will no longer hear the distinct shuffle of his shoes coming and going, but he loved and lived life to the fullest,” Kiberu says.
Namawa, a consummate cricketer, is survived by a wife and three children.
Yona Namawa Wapakhabulo was born on January 8,1972 to James Francis Waphakabulo and Ambassador Angelina Wapakhabulo. He attended Arusha school, Boroko East Primary School, Port Moresby High School, Kings College Buddo ,Makerere College School and Viterbo University.
By the time of his death, Yona was a managing partner at WMC Africa, a Public Relations firm. He was laid to rest on Saturday at Mafudu in Sironko District.