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The country is preparing to fully open up next month, after almost 10 million Ugandans getting a dose of the coronavirus vaccine. A lockdown  was instituted in March last year to curb the spread of coronavirus. As 2021 draws to a close, glimmers of optimism spark inside many of us who survived. Some people died due to COVID-19, others from different causes in the almost two years of the lockdown. As we prepare to battle Omicron and any other strains that may come after it, Ahumuza Muhumuza takes a look back on the ones we have lost 

The coronavirus pandemic started off like a surreal nightmare. A despicable horror movie, scary, but contained behind our screens. Images of it were transmitted onto our television screens, ominous, yet so far away.

We gawked at scenes on network news channels, of cruise ships stuck in far off harbours, quarantined as the virus spread between passengers. Men in alien suits fumigating the streets of Japan and Korea’s cities, hurriedly burying victims. February 2020 and still it all did not sink in quite yet in our dusty streets of Kampala, it was all so… exotic.

It started to dawn on us that it might hit home as the first cases were reported in Egypt and South Africa. Still, we did not think much of it, safely isolated in the dark heart of Africa. The President instituted a lockdown in March of the same year, an unprecedented move, which probably slowed the spread of the virus into the Pearl.

The first wave spared many souls, and at this point deaths were only a statistic we saw in the news at prime time at the end of each day. Many Ugandans started to feel invincible, immortal. “This ‘common flu virus’ could only claim bazungu who are weak,” we arrogantly proclaimed.

As 2020 drew to a close however, the grim reaper turned his attention to Uganda. With the second wave, it was raw carnage – death descended on the country with a vengeance. It finally struck home as we started to lose loved ones, as well as prominent personalities.

Scenes, similar to those we had seen in Italy and China, unveiled right before our very own eyes – overcrowded hospitals with no more room to take in the patients in the rows of ambulances that clogged the parking lots. Oxygen run out, concurrently leading to morgues running out of space.

We watched the men in alien suits bury our loved ones methodically overnight, not even giving us room to properly mourn them like our culture requires. The lockdown bit even harder and we watched desperate members of our community trek to far flung corners of Uganda, rather than die of hunger in the city.

As 2021 draws to a close, glimmers of optimism spark inside many of us who survived – hope is a hard thing to kill. We dust ourselves up and reflect on the lessons we have learnt – how little control we have over circumstances including our loved ones, the careers we fussed so much over and our children’s education. The realisation that tomorrow is never promised, neatly summed up in the now popular pedestrian quote, “Enjoy life, eat that money, do not see a bag of cement in every expenditure.” As we prepare to battle Omicron and any other strains that may come after it, we look back on the ones we have lost.

In the last two years, Uganda has lost thousands to coronavirus, and thousands more to other causes, including election violence, trigger-happy Local Defence Unit soldiers enforcing curfew, pregnant mothers who died as a result of not being able to make it to health facilities during lockdown and terror attacks.

According to the Uganda Medical Association, more than 100 health workers have succumbed to coronavirus in the line of duty. There is not enough space here to list all of them, but may they all be remembered in our hearts.

Ivan Kakooza

Ivan Kakooza

Kakooza’s was one of the first high profile victims of coronavirus. His death was a blow, not just to his family, but to Kampala’s large party animal demographic. He succumbed to coronavirus in October last year at Mulago Hospital at only 37 years old. Kakooza was the proprietor of Nexus Lounge, a popular bar and hangout in Najjera that drew revellers from all over Kampala and its environs.

At his vigil, the chairperson of Uganda’s Bar Owners Association, Tesfalem Gherathu, blamed the Government for Kakooza’s death, saying the prolonged lockdown of bars had worsened the woes of bar owners by depriving them of a livelihood.

Kakooza was sinking under the weight of loans from banks and moneylenders. He had taken a gamble on Uganda’s vibrant entertainment industry, but the coronavirus lockdown cruelly cut short his aspirations.

Kakooza passed away two days before his 38th birthday and his bar’s fourth anniversary. According to Gherathu, Kakooza’s bar was his only source of income and its closure and the consequent losses raised his stress and pressure.

His brother, Swaliki Mutebi, told mourners that Kakooza had plans of being introduced by his fiancée days after being discharged from the hospital.

Kakooza was also part of an entourage of Events Association members that were supposed to meet the President to discuss a stimulus package for members of the entertainment industry affected by the lockdown. He died a week to the meeting.

Bulaimu Muwanga Kibirige and Sheikh Nuhu Muzaata

Bulaimu Muwanga Kibirige
Muzaata

Death is hard for anyone to accept and denial is usually the first step in the grieving process. When the news of Bulaimu Muwanga Kibirige (September 10, 2021) and religious leader Sheikh Nuhu Muzaata’s (December 4, 2020) deaths were first announced, their families quickly rebuffed these claims, blasting those who were spreading the news and saying the respective patriarchs were still alive.

Kibirige, commonly known as BMK, went ahead and released a video of himself on the balcony of a penthouse in the US, saying he was still alive. Sheikh Ndirangwa, the head of the Kibuli Muslim sect, said Muzaata was responding to treatment and would be discharged. Unfortunately, the two personalities eventually passed on. Kibirige was one of the wealthiest Ugandans. He served as the chairman of Uganda Hotel Owners Association.

His hotel Africana, on Kololo hill, is one of the landmarks of Kampala’s central business district. His second hotel was built in Zambia’s capital Lusaka and the third opened last year on the outskirts of Karamoja’s capital Moroto.

BMK also had businesses across East Africa’s other capitals, Nairobi, Kigali and Dar es Salaam. The tabloids did not let him rest so easy though, as Bukedde newspaper reported that he had left the administering of his estate to Susan Muhwezi, leading to the emergence of all sorts of conspiracy theories.

Muzaata was known for not mincing words. The head of Dawa in Uganda, Muzaata did not shy away from the murky waters of the country’s entertainment and politics. In 2019, while speaking at celebrations leading up to the highly anticipated wedding of singer Rema Namakula, Muzaata blasted her ex-boyfriend and father of her daughter, calling him a ‘love nigga’ and ‘semyekozo’, words which subsequently made their way into urban parlance.

Eddy Kenzo, the object of his attacks, vowed not to perform in Uganda again unless the sheikh apologised. These attacks were not unprecedented; in 2015, Muzaata had turned his guns on Buganda Kingdom Prime Minister Katikkiro Charles Peter Mayiga’s fundraising efforts dubbed Ettofaali. Muzaata said Mayiga was exploiting the loyalty of poor Baganda to build luxurious plazas that they would not benefit from.

Pastor Augustine Yiga

Augustine Yiga

Another outspoken religious leader who did not live to see the end of 2020 is Augustine Yiga. Reports of his death started surfacing on October 23, 2020, but his son Andrew Jjengo dismissed them. Yiga finally breathed his last at Nsambya Hospital.

Commonly known as Abizaayo, the charismatic leader was the founder of Christian Revival Church Kawaala and ABS TV. He earned the name Abizaayo because his followers believed he had the power to send evil spirits and witchcraft back to whoever had sent them. Toward the end of his life, Yiga fell afoul of the law when he claimed coronavirus was not in Africa.

Controversy followed Yiga throughout his career. A number of women accused him of sexual assault and he was dragged to Kawempe Police Headquarters on accusations of rape, defilement and child neglect. Rather than lose followers, members of Yiga’s church stormed the Police station demanding for his release.

Even beyond his flock, Yiga had a following, he was a hit on social media courtesy of his humour – several clips from his Ki Kyolifa Towerabidde programme went viral.

Nasser Ntege Sebaggala

Nasser Ntege Sebaggala

Former Kampala mayor, presidential candidate and businessman Nasser Sebaggala also did not live to see the end of 2020. He was one of those who benefitted from the expulsion of Asians in 1972, acquiring property on Kampala’s main streets, including a supermarket, an electronics shop and a clothes store. As his business empire grew, so did his influence on the political scene.

He was equally a force on the social scene, being linked with a wide range of celebrities from Sylvia Owori to Desire Luzinda. He did not let his poor command of Uganda’s official language get in the way of his relations with the ladies, instead infusing his broken English with self-deprecating humour that weakened the knees of his targets.

Kasirye Gwanga

This obituary reads like a list of nonconformists, but perhaps the most eccentric of them all is Major General Kasirye Gwanga. On his deathbed, Gwanga asked for his dog to be brought to his hospital room. He then bade the sad pooch a heartfelt farewell, urging it to be strong in his absence.

Dogs and guns were the two constants in Gwanga’s life; he shared his bedroom with both. He was not afraid to use his guns either and he gained notoriety as the most trigger happy General in Uganda’s army. His final violent confrontation was with fellow presidential adviser Catherine Kusasira. He accused her of driving recklessly and blasting loud music therefore disturbing the peace of his children who had come to visit him from the US. During the confrontation, he shot the tyres from beneath her car. The public had grown to despise Kusasira whom they regarded as a sycophant and show off and so they cheered Gwanga on.

Kasirye Gwanga

His was a larger than life persona and Gwanga’s admirers liked to portray him as a man of the people. In 2017, while intervening in a land wrangle, he burnt a tractor that tycoons had hired to evict squatters. Though he was a supporter of the President, Gwanga was vocal and did not cower from speaking his mind where he felt things were not being done right. For example, he bitterly opposed the so-called ‘Muhoozi project’ an alleged conspiracy to have the First Son replace his father as president.

Allan Masengere aka Shortkut 

Shortkut

Singer Shortkut, real name Allan Masengere, survived gunshots during a bar brawl in 2010, only for his life to be cut short by coronavirus 10 years later. Shortkut, who Bebe Cool referred to as ‘son’, was with the singer at Centenary Park after an R Kelly concert, when they got into a confrontation with security personnel. A policeman opened fire, shooting Shortkut, Bebe Cool and his bodyguard. Fortunately, all three eventually recovered.

Other Ugandans whose lives were cut short during the lockdown include second deputy prime minister Ali Kirunda Kivejinja, former deputy prime minister Paul Etiang,  as well as Faith Alupo, who was the Woman MP representative Pallisa district at the time of her death.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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