What you need to know:
- Hailed as one of the most popular Ugandans on TikTok, a short-form video hosting service app, Asia’s career and life was cut short by a chronic stomach illness that claimed her life last week at Mulago hospital.
In her over 30 years of life, Asia Namirembe, Alias Asia Wa Charles, was not known beyond Mulimira Zone—the dusty locality in the Kampala suburb of Kamwokya. That was until 2021 when she became a TikTok sensation.
Her rise to fame may have come as a surprise to those who knew her back in the day.
Rogers Ssebunya, alias SB4, however, saw a talent in Asia that was primed to sprout forth.
“When I saw a rare video of Asia posted by someone on TikTok two years back, I knew there was something unique about her that everyone else had not noticed,” SB4 says.
After months of searching with no success, SB4 would later trace Asia at her home in Kamwokya. And, like they say, the rest was history.
Hailed as one of the most popular Ugandans on TikTok, a short-form video hosting service App, Asia’s career and life was cut short by a chronic stomach illness that claimed her life last week at Mulago hospital.
This left a cloud of sorrow above several Ugandans who enjoyed watching her skits.
The fourth child from a family of seven, Asia was born on November 10, 1988 in Conte Africa Zone Kamwokya, Kampala, to Jesica Nakonde, a shop attendant, and Muliki Kalanda, a farmer.
Ms Nakonde says Asia was a breech baby (born in a feet-first position).
Upon birth, Asia was named “Babirye”--a name for the elder of female twins in Buganda. Although she was not born with her other half, she received the name anyway.
The Kiganda culture stipulates that a breech baby automatically becomes a twin.
Asia suffered a mental disorder that reflected in the way she expressed herself.
As per her mother, this sad fact about her life was only discovered when she joined school at St Maria-Goretti Nursery and Primary School in Kamwokya.
“While in Top Class during her nursery school, her teacher raised the concern to me after monitoring her situation for some time,” Ms Nakonde told Sunday Monitor, adding that her situation was later medically diagnosed and she was informed that it would be managed with special care.
Her situation deterred her from learning and grasping at the same pace as her peers.
Her parents and teachers, nevertheless, managed to see her through Primary One at the same school.
As she moved to Primary Two, she was identified by a charity organisation run by Whites.
They took her to Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) Primary School in Kamwokya, a school where they were managing other children with mental disorders.
She studied there until Primary Four when her mum fell critically ill, being forced to move back to the village in Kyotera District. Ms Nakonde took Asia with her, convinced that no one could properly handle her.
“While in the village, Asia missed the chance of being taken abroad by the charity organisation that supported her education,” her mother told us, adding that her daughter only learnt of the opportunity after her return from the village.
Gaining life skills
For a very long time, Asia was a stay home child because her situation deterred her from receiving education in the normal education system.
Her last chance to education came several years later—in 2018—when another team of well-wishers enrolled her for a hands-on training at Shimoni Demonstration School in Kira, Wakiso District.
The training that was specifically for people with special needs required parents of the affected children to be present, as well during the skilling sessions.
“Since our children required special attention, as parents, we were advised to attend the sessions together with our children so as to keep reminding them on what to do when they are doing their assignments from home,” Ms Nakonde recalls.
The skilling that took one month saw Asia graduate with a certificate after gaining a mastery over sewing clothes and beads, making soap and candles, among others.
She would later start making beads and necklaces from home, before selling to various people in the community. This put some money in her pocket, and it was what kept a roof above her head before her death two Fridays ago.
Identifying Asia’s talent
According to SB4, the first video of Asia that he watched on TikTok was recorded in a seemingly mocking manner because of her illness.
This was the very reason he embarked on a search to find her.
He had a burning desire to amplify the silent talent he had observed in her amid her mental disorder.
“My search for Asia took quite a while. [It was] not until I learnt that she lived in Kamwokya that I finally located her,” he says, adding that he “asked her mother to allow me to do an interview with her.”
SB4 proceeds to note that after his first interview with Asia, he uploaded the video to his YouTube channel, SB4 Media. His team was, however, not impressed by the idea. They didn’t see a wow factor in Asia.
To compound matters, the reviews about the video from the viewers were negative.
“At the very start, no one saw anything unique about Asia. I only knew something about her was about to take social media by storm,” SB4 says.
To bring out the best in Asia, SB4 says he got an idea of pairing her with a one Charles, who had a mental illness that wasn’t dissimilar to hers. SB4 had earlier located Charles in his home area in Kakiri, Wakiso District.
He identified Charles’ talent and he was at the time trending on social media, mostly TikTok, with his funny words like the famous phrase: “Ooh my Lord, I wonder!”
By pairing Asia and Charles, SB4 wanted to create a dramatic love affair between the duo.
The combination would later catch the attention of many social media users.
A Tik-Tok sensation
Although most people chanced at Asia’s skits from TikTok, her full comic appearances were cut out from SB4 media YouTube channel, where her unscripted skits with Charles were always uploaded.
As the duo’s comic bond grew stronger, the more their skits became more real. This was, thanks to their humorous and open-minded personalities.
Over time, Asia’s territorial nature towards Charles grew stronger and visible hence the nickname “Asia wa Charles” from her fans. When it came to her man, there was nothing she would not do that always tickled her fans.
The “love birds” relationship was further cemented when their initially funny display of affection turned into a beautiful wedding.
The fabricated wedding took social media by storm. A look at their funny pictures and videos from their wedding gave the public a good laugh since they were highly shared on TikTok and other social platforms.
Although SB4 maintains that Asia and Charles’ relationship was an affair set up for comical reasons, the realness the duo portrayed while at their role proved otherwise. Theirs was a character played perfectly well.
Bobi Wine link
In one of her famous skits, Asia assumed closeness to singer-cum-politician, Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine. Having both originated from Kamwokya, Asia did pride in having studied with the former presidential candidate.
The skit went viral, given Bobi Wine’s status in the country. Bobi Wine further fuelled the talk, confirming that he is Asia’s OB (Old Boy) with whom they studied back in the day.
All this further increased Asia’s popularity on the TikTok App.
Her mother confirms that Asia and Bobi Wine attended the same school—St Maria-Goretti Nursery and Primary School—but at different times. Asia’s elder sister, Patricia Namulindwa, also told Sunday Monitor that it is her who studied with Bobi Wine in the same class and the latter knew Asia and their family well even before Asia became famous.
A strong Bobi Wine supporter, Asia was a regular at the National Unity Platform (NUP) offices in Kamwokya where she often met with her OB.
Her short-lived career raised her status, earned her some money and saw her make big appearances on big stages and platforms to showcase her talent.
A people person
According to Asia’s mother, even when her daughter was born a socially active child, her mental disorder deterred her from association with peers and other people because they always isolated her.
Owing to this, one had to show her much love and closeness for her to open up.
“Sometimes, all it took was a hug and giving her audience,” Ms Nakonde says.
Ms Nakonde reminisces of an incident during Ramadhan period when Asia went for prayers at a mosque but was later denied food at the time of breaking the fast.
This forced Asia to convert from Islam to the Born Again faith, citing favouritism.
Her mother describes her breakthrough into the limelight as a huge turning point in her life.
Ms Nakonde says for the first time her daughter found very many people who always appreciated her and were willing to associate with her.
“When I started using Asia in the skits and interviews, very many people attacked me, saying I was taking advantage of her because of her situation. I, however, persevered with the insults to keep Asia happy,” SB4 says.
The local officials in Asia’s locality eulogised her as a disciplined, peaceful and religious woman, whose values could not be compromised.
During her shine time, Asia garnered lots of fans from within and outside Uganda.
Notable among them were Bobi Wine and popular traditional herbalist Sofia Namutebi, alias Sylvia Namutebi, alias Maama Fiina.
Asia’s fans from all corners started extending both financial and materialistic support to her, which was always delivered to her through her mother, according to SB4.
He adds that when asked for what special thing she would love to be done for her, Asia asked that they build her a house for better accommodation.
With support from Maama Fattie and Maama Fiina, a new house was put up for Asia next to her mother’s in Kamwokya.
According to SB4, after Christmas, he embarked on obtaining a passport for Asia, her mother and Charles.
He says Maama Fattie had offered to sponsor their planned visit to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where they had many of fans.
Her siblings remember Asia as a truthful, sociable and God-loving person, who was a stress killer and a signal of hope amid hard times.
According to her mother, Asia’s illness ordeal lasted close to a week before she died. What started as a stomach complication last week on Tuesday morning turned more serious when Asia started experiencing a running stomach and later vomiting.
“I realised her situation was not normal when she started sweating profusely. I rushed her to a nearby hospital and she was put on a drip,” Ms Jesica Nakonde, her mother, says.
They later did blood tests and a scan, which showed that her liver had a problem. They were consequently referred to Mulago National Referral Hospital for further management.
Last Thursday morning, Asia was transferred to Mulago hospital. Her caretakers were asked to buy some medicine before she could go for an operation.
“Amid the calm situation because of the public holiday (Liberation Day), medics attended to us so fast because they had recognised Asia, who they referred to as their stress killer,” Ms Nakonde remembers.
After an operation was carried out, it was discovered that Asia’s intestines were damaged. Unfortunately, her situation worsened and soon she had to be admitted to the intensive care unit.
The doctors recommended some medicine that Asia was to take.
“Maama Fiina sent all the required money for the medicine and we purchased it. Asia stabilised and seemed energised,” Ms Nakonde says.
In the wee hours of last Friday morning, Asia was seemingly stabilising and could recognise almost everyone.
“To our dismay, at around 2.30am, Asia’s situation worsened again with blood flowing from her mouth, and complaining of a lot of pain in the stomach,” a teary Ms Nakonde says, adding that her daughter died at 3am that Friday morning.
Post-mortem results further revealed that Asia died of poisoning.
A vigil was held in Kamwokya, Mulimira Zone playground last Friday before Asia’s body was taken to her ancestral grounds in Nakasoga Village, Kirumba Sub-county in Kyotera District where she was buried last Sunday.
She is survived by her parents and five siblings.