Aponye rescued govt during Covid lockdown, says Dr Rugunda

Some of Aponye’s friends lay a wreath on the casket bearing the remains of Aponye on July 10, 2023. PHOTOS/ ABUBAKER LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • Apollo was born in Muhanga Town Council, Rukiga District, where he grew up and started engaging in business in the early 80s as a young man before turning into a billionaire.
  • His business ventures, managed through company name, Aponye Uganda Limited, include Aponye Mall in Kampala, Mega Standard Supermarket as well as Aponye Hotel located at Ben Kiwanuka Street, among others.

If you arrived at Rubaga Cathedral yesterday mid-morning with no knowledge of current affairs, you would think a beloved king had died and the whole nation was mourning. 

All the three roads that intersect at the church were jam packed with mostly sleek SUVs and hundreds of other motor vehicles by 10am. Some were already parked on the pavements while others were driving in all directions looking for parking space.

Dozens were arriving on boda boda while some arrived on foot, probably having parked half a kilometre away. And almost an hour into the funeral mass, hundreds more vehicles were still streaming in from across Kampala city, creating massive traffic jam on every road in a 500-meter radius from the church.

The people were here to say their goodbyes to businessman Apollo Nyegamehe, aka Aponye, and many more were still arriving. In the church yard, dozens of street vendors were selling key holders and posters with images of the deceased gentleman, in a way communicating that this was a date to remember.

Inside the large church, every seat was taken as soon as the mass began and 45 minutes into the mass, all the empty corners were filled, with mourners standing on their feet for lack of where to sit.

At the vigil the previous night, one of the older friends had said at his ripe age, he, instead of Aponye, should have died and given more life to such a great man. Now seeing the mammoth crowd of mourners at the church, one can’t help but feel that the 65-year-old man should have lived a lot longer. He clearly had not only impacted millions of people, he still had more people to uplift. He had more work to do.

As the choir sang a solemn dirge that accompanied the rite of blessing and honouring Aponye’s body, the silence of the congregation was simply overpowering. It was surreal. It was as if a loved king had died at such a tender age that the citizens were absolutely dejected.

In a way, Aponye was a king in the business world that died a lot sooner than he should have. Clearly, many looked up to him for leadership and direction and sustenance.

Left-Right: State Minister of Trade David Bahati, former Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, and his wife Jocelyn during the requiem mass. 

As the priest sprinkled holy water on the casket, a work of art in its own right, and applied incense during the rite of Commendation of the Dying, one couldn’t help but hope that the man that had been so loved and respected by men would equally be loved and received by his creator in heaven. 

The children were resplendent in their white apparel, both men and women as they went up to give their speech. This was a very welcome sight, different from the all black that we usually see at funerals, which tends to make the death darker than it already is.
Former Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, who eulogised him on behalf of all friends, praised Aponye for his humility, tenacity and love, just like everybody else that spoke both at the funeral mass and the vigil on Sunday evening.

Dr Rugunda said in his humility, Aponye was a man that loved to empower not only those below him but even those above him.
“Aponye was focused on empowering. It’s visible from how his children are empowered and how they have appreciated his boundless ability to push them forward. He was very good at building relations across communities, nationalities, and countries. But even more importantly, he loved his country,” he said. 

“During Covid, Aponye rescued the government. Government promised to supply food to the people that had been impoverished by the lockdowns but the suppliers failed to work without first getting paid. Aponye arrived on the scene and offered to provide all the food without first being paid. He used his own money to make the government look good,” he added.

Mr David Bahati, the Minister of State for Trade, Industry and Cooperatives (Industry) who spoke on behalf of the NRM, praised Aponye for not only impacting the politics of the country positively, but also impacting the economy tremendously. Aponye was the NRM chairman of Rukiga District from its birth till he died.

“One time, Ugandan traders had supplied products to South Sudan but the government [South Sudan] failed to pay them. At the time I was the minister of finance so at the bidding of Aponye, I travelled to Juba with him on a chopper together with President Museveni and Anita Among to negotiate for their payment. The businessmen had sent an able leader because their payments were made soon after,” Mr Bahati said.
He added that Aponye had become a personal close friend who not only supported his eight political campaigns but also his personal business.

Rev Fr Silvester Arinaitwe lays a cross on the casket containing the remains of Aponye during the requiem mass at Rubaga Cathedral on July 10, 2023. PHOTOs/abubaker LUBOWA

Deputy Speaker of Parliament Thomas Tayebwa eulogized Aponye for being like a father to him, a mentor.
“We met in 2008. He guided me on how to use money. He showed me the value of money. ‘It’s not just about accumulating it but using it to help others,’ he told me. You know at burials, we tend to embellish words as we honour the dead. Not in this case. He’s been a great man,” he said.

Mr Tayebwa castigated those complaining about the Covid beans and those that claim that the wealth wasn’t his. “People complaining about rotten beans during Covid. Did he farm the beans? You sold them to him, how is that his fault? Those saying that the wealth is not his, are they yours?” he wondered.

How he died
His wife, Evangelist Nyegamehe, thanked God for the 45 years he spent with him and for the love that they shared. They were so close that every time he traveled to the village, the two would talk on the phone four times until the journey ended. As a matter of fact, the accident happened while the two were on the phone.

 “I want to thank God for creating him and giving him to me. His mother used to tell me that she breast fed him for six years and I believe that is why he was such a great human being. He had all the telephone numbers of his workers, his drivers off his head, over and above those of his family members. He was a truly special person,” she said.

“He has built places of worship of every kind. He has helped different types of people. He has educated over 60 people to the highest possible level. He loved people. He did his job and finished it. All we do is wish that he rests in peace,” she said.
Aponye is survived by 12 children and 29 grandchildren. His burial will take place on Wednesday. The ceremony starts at 10am in Muhanga, Rukiga.