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Ofwono Opondo

PERSPECTIVE: John Nagenda, Paulo Muwanga, Amin and Milton Obote at a Graveyard

Only one month since his burial in a relatively remote village in Wakiso, and the world is fast forgetting Nagenda. Good riddance, Nagenda often said sarcastically of those he didn’t fancy like Milton Obote, Idi Amin and Paulo Muwanga-all former Heads of State whose rule sent Nagenda into exile at different times.
posted onApril 3, 2023
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By Ofwono Opondo

John Nagenda of One Man’s Week column is gone and with him, the flourish style. Nagenda died on March 4, 2023, aged 84, and as he would say “never throw away old pantyhose. Use the old ones to tie gutters, child-proof cabinets, tie toilet flappers, or hang Christmas ornaments.” He could have added “if a possum takes up residence in your shed, grab a barbecue brush to coax him out. If he doesn’t leave, brush him for twenty minutes and let him stay.” Beginning today, I will replace his column. [Nagenda wrote for the New Vision.]

Since the first open presidential election campaigns in 1996 during which Nagenda demonstrated his mastery and arrogant confidence in media relations to effectively smear Paul Ssemogerere as a soft door for Milton Obote’s re-entry into Uganda’s politics, Nagenda became a permanent fixture around President Museveni’s entrails. Loved and loathed in equal amounts, he had ways with words measured and deployed to maximum effect, often you laughed only to realise it was at your expense.

Only one month since his burial in a relatively remote village in Wakiso, and the world is fast forgetting Nagenda. Good riddance, Nagenda often said sarcastically of those he didn’t fancy like Milton Obote, Idi Amin and Paulo Muwanga-all former Heads of State whose rule sent Nagenda into exile at different times. In Obote’s case the overthrow, destruction and abolition of Buganda monarchy in May 1966, and the Luwero war were painstaking for Nagenda.

As for Amin, who claimed that he was born at the present-day Serena conference center site, Nagenda once wrote that Amin lived much longer than he deserved because, throughout his life, Amin was a model of a bad career. Of Idi Amin’s many hobbies included expediting the trips of others to heaven, prominent among them were Chief Justice Ben Kiwanuka, Vice Chancellor Makerere University Frank Kalimuzo, Archbishop Janan Luwum, and several ministers including James Ochola, Alex Ojera, Kalema, Charles Oboth Ofumbi, and Erinayo Eryema. 

In his July 15, 2020 column titled “Mao not yet Museveni successor,”  Nagenda wrote thus “Mao seems to me head and shoulders above the opposition, especially from the Northern corners”  and postulated that Mao would join NRM, possibly become its Chairman and president of Uganda. Today Mao is Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister in NRM government, and so we watch the space.

Months before his death, Nagenda had stopped writing his no-holds barrel column to defend either country or President Yoweri Museveni. Sometimes he would softly rebuke Museveni. By the time his bell tolled, Nagenda went off quietly unable to fight for the feudal reactionary monarchy and king, where he had inserted himself, seen by some insiders as an opportunistic acquaintance because of his exile relationship in London with Ronald Muwenda Mutebi. As with Mengo and NRM, Nagenda was overrated.

Just how Nagenda would treat the unfolding bubbling of disquiet over Nabagereka Sylvia Nagginda’s revelations mid this month that she had twins back in 2010 will never be known since the dead don’t talk, although in Buganda tradition it’s said that they do. The revelations are causing heads to turn because according to culture, only one title-holder, Kasujju Lubinga is supposed to know and publicly talk about the Kabaka’s off-springs. In my view, Nagenda represented the modernity of Buganda monarchy as he often publicly disdained what he described coarse and radical elements who in his view have captured Kabaka Mutebi turning him against NRM and President Museveni who restored that institution.

That revelation and book launch shunned by Mengo officialdom, it’s clear that Nagginda has been going through trials and tribulations to find her fit of modernity in archaic tradition and institution, and the timing when Kabaka Mutebi is thin on the ground has left many tongues wagging. In the Buganda brutal palace tradition, a Kabaka’s wife without a son apparently has no official role post that Kabaka. Many opine that by this book, Nagginda could be plotting her steps early enough. Others even go further as to suggest a possible divorce.

Looking back to between 1986 and 1994, when Prof. Apolo Nsibambi now dead, was the most eloquent agitator and defender of the return of Buganda feudalism, coached as monarchy and political federalism, and how Mengo later treated him as a sellout and outcast, nothing is beyond its realms.

It was Nsibambi, Nagenda and group that blackmailed NRM government to return and entrench the archaic feudal land tenure system where they as so-called ‘royals’ and colonial collaborators continue to hold the Baganda in bondage, dispossession and expropriation. 

It’s interesting that Nagenda who was ill for a considerable length of time didn’t write his obituary to reflect what he wished to be said in his death. Probably he was terrified of leaving the good things of the world among them cricket, good wine, good company and trappings of power. The man from Namutamba lived a life molded around a lot of Uganda’s colonial and post-independence journey of ups, down and upwards again, and now meets Muwanga, Amin and Obote at a quiet graveyard. Fare-thee-well John Nagenda.  

The writer is the executive director of Uganda Media centre

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