Kato Lubwama bows out before grand show

Stuart Mutebi (L) with his Kaliisoliiso crew of Kato Lubwama (C) and Abbey Mukiibi. Photo | Courtesy

What you need to know:

  • The name Kato Lubwama is almost instantly recognisable in Uganda’s creatives industry. Over more than two decades, Paul Kato Lubwama contributed immensely to theatre, music and film. He died early yesterday morning, leaving the industry in shock. Renowned as an accomplished comedian, even when he joined Parliament as a one-term MP, probably surprising even himself, his infectious humour was never far behind writes Gabriel Buule

Fans and the entertainment fraternity went into mourning in the wee hours of Wednesday when the artiste was suddenly pronounced dead on social media.

The former MP,52, representing Rubaga South constituency in the 10th Parliament died at Stana Medical Centre in Bunamwaya, a suburb outside Kampala city.

Preliminary information is that he succumbed to a heart attack. The late Lubwama had been in and out of hospitals because of a heart condition for some time now.

News of his passing was broken by his business associate and events promoter Bajjo, real name Andrew Mukasa, via TikTok. It was later confirmed through his social media platforms by the page administrator.

Lubwama was not only very good at getting into character in the many plays and films he featured in, but the man was an artistic character himself.

His friend and theatre director, Mr John Ssegawa describes him as having been the very human face of comedy and art – an actor who would take art off stage and into real life.

“Everything about him was artistic; he fancied using his body, voice, and facial expressions to pull off an artistic role,” Mr Ssegawa says.

Mr Ssegawa says that audiences would simply burst out into bouts of laughter just by looking at Lubwama on stage, even when he did not say a word.

He says that Lubwama was born a comedian, his character would be equated to Uganda’s other famous comedian, John Johns.

His character Bidugu in one of his first plays, Kanyoola bikya – a ‘90s local language (Luganda) production -- exposed him to theatre enthusiasts and became quite the talk of the town in parts of Kampala.

The popular play sold out in theatres. It became a miniseries on television, telling the story of his humble life beginnings in extreme poverty on Old Kampala’s Martin Road.

The play became part of Lubwama’s life, forcing people to liken him to the character and hence the nickname Bidugu. Mr Ssegawa says that most theatre directors who wanted comedy in a play, would opt for Lubwama. “His comic character was always natural, it was never scripted,” he adds.

His comedy would manifest everywhere, including on television and online in YouTube interviews where he used humour to respond to questions.

His talent gave him a job on radio as a presenter where his theatrics would introduce him to the unexplored world of voicing popular radio jingles, and advertising a wide range of products.

For many years, Lubwama worked as a presenter on the famous Kaliisoliiso morning radio programme on Buganda Kingdom’s CBS FM.

His talent was nurtured and grew in the popular theatre group, The Black Pearls. He would eventually become the proprietor of Diamonds Ensemble, a theatre group he started in 1994 and also ran Royal Theatre since 2010. Along the way, in 1999, Lubwama became a director at Image Africa.

Close friend and fellow artiste Abby Mukiibi Nkaaga remembers when Lubwama entered the fast world of performing arts as a youth together with Ms Mariam Ndagire and Mr Ssegawa. The three made a name for themselves in the fine company of Joseph Semakula, popularly known as Omugave Ndugwa.

The late Omugave Ndugwa shaped modern-day theatre by grooming young artistes like Lubwama and Mr Mukiibi, who turned into stars under The Black Pearls.

By the time of his death, Lubwama had just completed the screenplay of his Uganda at 60 play, which was due for launch in the theatre soon.

As a businessman, Lubwama has long dealt in the maize flour trade but he also had an interest in several other businesses, including a media house called B24TV in Uganda.

An uncelebrated musician

Lubwama’s contribution to Uganda’s music industry is also worthy a mention. He recorded his own songs and also wrote songs which jumpstarted many careers.

His song Kirabe ebiiso featuring the late vocalist Immaculate Nabiryo is among his most popular works ever recorded. The ballad was released in 2001 off a six-track album and enjoyed much airplay on radio. It was part of a project he did under Diamond Productions’ band.

His repertoire of songs include; Dimitiria, Bank Yebyama, Abantu Bazibu, Ekisoro Kyebayita Omuntu among others. His latest songs were Magado and Have Mercy, both released this year.

Mr Ssegawa confirms that Lubwama wrote music for theatre before he started writing for musicians, including Ms Mariam Ndagire whose career started with Lubwama’s songs.

 Accidental politician

Ahead of the 2016 general elections, Lubwama was quoted asking voters to send him to Parliament so that he can also “eat” that money given to MPs. What sounded like a typical Lubwama joke, would later become the slogan of an astonishing electoral campaign.

A member of the Democratic Party (DP), the artiste contested as an independent candidate after forming a loose coalition of like-minded party enthusiasts known as ‘Solida’ derived from the word solidarity.

Their declared mission was to restore the former glory of DP. Many did not initially take them very seriously. But with the unexpected backing of an electorate disillusioned by the uninspiring nature of conventional politics, Lubwama shocked many and won the Rubaga South seat.

However, unfortunately, Lubwama did not retain his seat in the 2021 election, losing to National Unity Platform candidate, Mr Aloysius Charlton Mukasa.

 Heart problem

In 2014, Lubwama revealed to the media that he had been diagnosed with a heart-related illness at Mulago National Referral Hospital.

Later in 2015, Lubwama underwent successful heart surgery in India after medics at Uganda Heart Institute recommended him for coronary artery bypass treatment.  He was hospitalised for three weeks at the Fotse Esctots Heart Institute in New Dehli, India. In July 2020, he underwent surgery to remove a tumour at Medipal International Hospital in Kampala.  His son, Mr Conrad Lubwama, said he underwent colostomy reversal surgery.

about kato lubwama

  •He   was born on August 16, 1970, sat his Primary Leaving Examinations in 1983 at Nabagereka Primary School. •In 1988, Lubwama sat for his Uganda Certificate of Education at Old Kampala Secondary School.

•Between 1991-1992, Lubwama obtained his Special University Entry Examination Certificate Other at Makerere University. •In 1994, Lubwama obtained a Diploma in Music, Dance and Drama, also from Makerere University.


Anita Annet Among. Speaker of Parliament.

His sense of humour brought life to the 10th Parliament and he built bridges across the political divide. He also leaves a solid legacy in the entertainment world where he spent most of his life.

Mathias Mpuuga, Leader of Opposition in Parliament.

Uganda’s Theatre and arts industry has lost a Gem in Hon Kato Lubwama!... His coming to Parliament was a surprise to many because he was not known to be into the political spaces! …We shall miss him.

Phillip Luswata, actor.

 Finding someone as talented as Kato Lubwama is difficult. He was an actor,  playwright, producer, singer, and songwriter. You can imagine the kind of loss we in the arts are facing right now.

Joseph Kabuleta, Political activist.

One of the funniest men I ever met...The first time I met Kato Lubwama, nearly 25 years ago, I was interviewing him about a play. He was making a serious point but I was laughing so hard.