Iculi and the making of name, enemies with fiery tongue

President Museveni (right) meets Ibrahim Tusuubira, alias Jajja Iculi. FILE PHOTO/PPU

What you need to know:

  • Popularly known by the aliases Isma Olaxess and Jajja Iculi, the 53-year-old courted love and controversy with his combative diatribes, growing following by leaps and bounds on Youtube, Facebook and TikTok. 

Ibrahim Tusuubira spotted a neatly-trimmed grey beard and looked dapper in varying fashions that his debonair look contrasted with his fiery tongue-lashing on social media. 
Popularly known by the aliases Isma Olaxess and Jajja Iculi, the 53-year-old courted love and controversy with his combative diatribes, growing following by leaps and bounds on Youtube, Facebook and TikTok. 
He held no one prisoner and his no-holds-barred blurts included slicing through taboo-subjects. 
Jajja Iculi vilified the dead, asked security forces to kill more of Opposition supporters and excoriated officials of Buganda Kingdom where he was a subject --- all rancorous deeds to please those who buttered his bread. 

It was a for-hire job he confessed he embraced for survival after a failed fortune-seeking abroad that ended in frustration, bitterness and pennilessness. 
In 2005, Jajja Iculi took a leap of faith and a rocky trip to Sweden in quest for employment, a revelation he made in a YouTube interview with radio journalist Kakalaamu. 
He spoke of getting a visa, but lacking the money for air ticket until friends and relatives bailed him out and salvaged his overseas prospects. 
By his own confession, Jajja Iculi said he in the first place had stage-managed a marriage to a Ugandan-Swedish citizen to get the visa following unsuccessful attempts to swing to the United Kingdom. 
With a Bachelor of Commerce degree from Makerere University, the future painter in Sweden had tried his hand on different businesses in downtown Kampala, only to fail. 

He had ears of friends in whom he confided about his frustrations of being denied visas to fly abroad yet he was using his father’s cash to apply for the travel document. Things changed when Sweden granted him a visa. 
Once in the Nordic country, Jajja Iculi immersed in menial jobs in Stockholm before trying his luck in other cities. While eulogising him on Facebook, his close friend in Sweden, Raymond Soulfah, alias Peng Peng, noted Ichuli’s life there staggered. 
He revealed that debts and unpaid taxes saddled Ichuli despite years of hard work, leaving him a frustrated man. 
It was unsurprising, therefore, to hear the popular social media influencer and combative critic profess that he returned to Uganda in the run up to the 2021 elections almost penniless. 
It is not clear whether or not he was deported. 
But once back in Uganda, he spent a night at a friend’s residence in a Kampala suburb before a politician in Kampala took him in. 
“He has been a poor boy who was looking for ways to survive but people failed to understand him,” Kampala Central Division Member of Parliament Muhammad Nsereko said at the burial of his friend yesterday. 

Left to right: Comedian Hannington Bugingo, musician Moses Ssali, alias Bebe Cool, and Kampala Central Division MP Muhammad Nsereko during Jajja Iculi’s  burial ceremony on May 7, 2023. PHOTO/JESSICA SABANO

Inducted to fame on social media, Jajja Iculi grew his following exponentially by live-streaming on Facebook, mainly in the morning, and regularly featuring on television and radio talk shows in Kampala. 
He got a coating of celebrity status as his short videos gained traction on social media and artistes, entertainers, notable national leaders enlisted among his followers --- often hiring him to tackle an opponent --- despite his preference for combative language and invectives. 
In moments preceding his death last Saturday, he was buoyant to proclaim that he had become a lead commentator on current affairs to his 178,000 followers on Facebook and several thousand more on YouTube and TikTok, both in Uganda and abroad. 
Jajja Iculi recorded his first vlog on January 6, 2020 which he posted on YouTube channel, Ugandan Allstar, showing his revisit to his former hang-out places in Uganda before flying to Sweden. 

He juggled life as a social media influencer and a house painter, a job he immersed in most during the Covid-induced lockdown. 
The quinquagenarian first attempted vlogging while in Stockholm, but his efforts remained we in the wings. 
It was not until he returned to Uganda and the heating campaigns for 2021 general elections created market for social media influencers that ancestors returned favour on Jajja Iculi. He seized the opportunity with his body and soul, trading loyalty to the highest bidder.    
With a larger-than-life celebrity status, he was in 2021 elected President of the Uganda Bloggers Association (UBA), a grouping he co-founded with bloggers Ashburg Kato and Wisdom Kaye. 
It was while glued in this job and attacking others on social media that he had multiple run-ins with the law, leading to arrests, time on remand in prison and exit on bail. The indictments: promoting hate speech and offensive communication. Some found his foul language despicable.  

Luck often cancelled his travails. For instance, in the election year 2021, businessman Hamis Kiggundu, or Ham, gifted Iculi with a new Toyota Hiace commonly known as ‘Drone’. 
But the vlogger who kept less secrets almost immediately confided in friends that the vehicle was a reward from an army general for his support for the ruling party. And the soldier deployed him a driver too, although it remained unclear if he was the one chauffeuring him home when killed on Saturday. 
The social media influencer had gained notoriety by celebrating the shooting dead, by state security forces, of at least 54 people on Kampala streets in demonstrations sparked by the arrest on campaign trail of National Unity Platform (NUP) party presidential flag bearer Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine. 
Iculi had been a NUP supporter before switching to back the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) whose candidate Yoweri Museveni was re-elected. 
He continued with his diatribe and pilloried all and sundry. His cocky disposition and gravitation towards power and money made him vulnerable to fall-outs from rival political and security camps. 

Confidants believe he was a good man of succour who attacked an individual publicly, but telephoned them promptly once off-air to apologise and explain that his fulmination was for money, not motivated by hatred. 
Not many agree, with critics calling him out for contemptible blackmail and unprovoked derision such as when he mocked junior Labour minister Col (rtd) Charles Engola shot dead by assailants on May 2. 
In a vlog, Jajja Iculi called the murder a good riddance and blew the minister off to a grave. As fate would have it, within four days, unknown hitmen gunned him on Saturday night in a fashion that held a striking similarity to the elimination of Engola. In line with Islamic practice, Jajja Iculi was promptly buried yesterday ahead of Engola whose interment is planned for Saturday.

Last moments 
Jajja Iculi was a soccer fanatic, with playing football having made him popular at his alma mater, according to veteran entertainment journalist Jenkins Mukasa. 
He had recently resumed playing the game and captained Uganda Bloggers Association team. 
Every Saturday he, friends and musicians trained at an enclosed football pitch in Mulungu. 
On the fateful day, he had trained with his friends before catching up with a group of young reggae musicians and former members of a dancehall crew where Iculi did a free-style on Jamaican singer Beenie Man’s song, Dude together with his friend. 
Exhausted by what appeared a fun day, the vlogger was chauffeured home by Mathias Waswa. It is while approaching his place of abode in Kyanja, a Kampala suburb, that all hell broke loose in a secluded area. 
Unknown to them, armed attackers had been trailing them. They opened fire and shot Iculi multiple times with a pistol, the deceased’s friend and fellow blogger Wisdom Kaye said, quoting the driver who said he dived onto the ground upon hearing the first shot. 
The unhurt chauffeur said the assailants physically inspected Iculi’s body at close range to confirm that he was dead before they rode away.