By Elvis Kintu Nsonyi and Johnmary Ssebuwufu.
KAMPALA-UGANDA. Towards the end of last year 2021, Paul Ssemakula one of the sons of Dr. Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere contacted us that Mzee would be turning 90 next year (2022) in February. This is when I knew that it was not business as usual. The usual business was to go on Facebook or Twitter and post a birthday message then call him later in the day. It was proposed that we constitute an organizing committee for the same Chaired by JohnMary Ssebuwufu, Secretary – Elvis Kintu Nsonyi, Treasurer – Paul Joseph Semakula, Mobilization & Liasion – @Aggy Namakula and Anna Namakula, Agent with New York life as a Committee member. Later we co-opted Patrick Ssekamatte and Timothy Muwonge to handle Protocol.
We were set to have our first meeeting and Mr. Johnmary Ssebuwufu hosted us in his office of Executive Secretary Finance and Administration at Level 4, City Hall, KCCA. In the first meeting we factored in all the pros and cons of holding a surprise birthday party including the choice of guests that would make him happy that day. We discussed the 100 guest list, proposed the programme, budget, media and fundraising strategies among others. The item that took the longest time on our agenda was how to hold this surprise birthday party without necessarily causing any life threatening abnormalities. We know the repercussions of happy heart syndrome!
Among the first persons to respond positively to this cause was Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago and he responded financially. I will treat the second person as we usually say in Latin “ingnotus” because I don’t have permission from Ssemakula to disclose him. We reached out to Rt.Hon. Mathias Mpuuga, and Dr. Kizza Besigye who also did the same. Meanwhile, as we coordinated friends especially those in the political line, Paul Ssemakula committed to coordinating family and close personal friends and he executed his assignment very well.
Whereas we had communicated in advance to our guests that this was a surprise birthday party, we forgot to inform the office of the Katikkiro. And guess what, when the invitation reached his desk, the Katikkiro Charles Peter Mayiga immediately called Dr. Ssemogerere with apologies that he had already committed himself elsewhere and therefore he was to turn up abit late. Precisely, I would say; “Katikkiro yabyonoona”, this is because he broke the news to our birthday boy before Ssemakula deployed the strategy that we had hitherto agreed on. But I think it was a blessing in disguise, who knows? God works in different ways. We chose to embrace it and moved on because it was our fault.
We agreed that since this celebration had an historical aspect, we had to have a documentary for the same and accordingly, we contracted Mr. Tonny Owana to put together a video documentary for the political journey of Dr. Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere. We also recommended Simon Kaggwa Njala to be the MC, only that he turned up towards the end of the event and Johnmary Ssebuwufu had to play the role of emceeing the event too.
I was assigned to receive recordings from some people who would have a word or two about him. We got these from Hon. Henry Bazira Ssewanyana who was his Personal Assistant and member of Parliament in 1980, Dr. Kiiza Besigye who had worked with him as a Junior Minister, Hon. Robert Kyagulanyi Bobi Wine, Leader of the Opposition Mathias Mpuuga Nsamba, Hon. Nabukenya Brenda, Anna Namakula, Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago who is a Personal friend and one of those he had groomed and mentored in the aspect of rule of law, constitutionalism and good governance as a young lawyer.
Lastly it was his son, the Archbishop of Kampala Archdiocese Paul Ssemogerere. Due to his very tight schedule, I called him and managed to schedule his interview for Friday morning but only managed to record him as he was moving to join the celebrations at Lubaga Hospital. I would like to thank John Paul Agaba of Kampala Capital City Authority – KCCA and Mulongo Wasswa of Sacred Heart Cathedral Lubaga Parish who helped us to put these recordings together and in a very short time.
We didn’t convene so many meetings but throughout all this, the remaining three of us realised that Ssemakula was too meticulous, so we had to take some decisions behind his back for the success of the event. He will only get to learn this if he reads this because in his presence, we had to follow the blueprint. But in all, we did that for the righteousness and success of the event. His paying attention to detail continued upto the D-Day and I recall one invitation that the Chairman sanctioned without his notice and the attention of the meeting, but that is a discussion for another day.
On the D-Day, at one time Ssemakula called me and told me that Mr. Ssebuwufu is moving around yet he has no mask. I was shocked! And as a sign of humor and mental toughness, I turned around and laughed at myself when he showed me his back. I never expected him to take that serious. To make matters worse, he went and brought a box of masks so that no one had an excuse. Actually now this brings me to a post I read from Lukyamuzi Yozefu on Facebook about him while he was still at Kabojja, I concluded that yes, that is the man of his principles, no compromise!
That aside, we got the modest financial support for our limited Guests and by Friday morning, we had finished paying all the service providers. The invited Guests came right in time and the Archbishop Paul Ssemogerere led us in this glorious Eucharistic Celebration with several co-celebrants led by the Cathedral Administrator, Fr. Achilles Mayanja. The angelic voices were from the Lubaga Choir led by Joseph Ssendawula. The Katikkiro Charles Peter Mayiga and our guests especially politicians from all shades of opinion turned up including; Gen. Mugisha Muntu, Gen. Katumba Wamala, Dr. Kiiza Besigye, Hon. Muwanga Muhammad Kivumbi and Dr. Bayigga Lulume led the MPs from the Buganda Caucus among others. The Hon. Mary Babirye Kabanda led the Democratic Party delegation to celebrate with their former Party President.
I must say people gave us time that day, the speeches were glamorous. They’re exhilarating and personal to Dr. Ssemogerere’s role in the political trajectory of this nation which has been recorded in indelible ink for posterity. The path he took in 1980 after winning the Presidential elections, the court battles he fought and won after the 1996 elections and thereafter.
He was praised for being a peacemaker, an icon of rule of law, constitutionalism and being resilient even in advanced age. Our guests presented several gifts including a green recliner chair from the Lord Mayor. All these gifts were presented in appreciating him for dedicating his award from Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II towards rescuing, safeguarding and strengthening democracy and constitutionalism in Uganda by galvanizing forces of change through the Hotel Africana “Unity in Diversity” engagements.
During his speech, Dr. Ssemogerere greatly appreciated the organizing committee for conceptualizing this brilliant idea behind his back. He said he was also shocked by some of the interviews, videos, photos and newspaper excerpts in his own documentary. He appreciated everyone who had sacrificed their time to celebrate his new age with him. He committed to carry on the struggle for the liberation of this country for as long as he was still alive. I am happy that he did, up to the time of his peaceful death. The climax of this all was treating his guests to a pleasant meal, cake and as usual, wining.
The following day, he called us all appreciating all that we had sacrificed to make sense out of his 90 years and invited us to meet him home. He was also amused by the Committee’s gift, a drawing by Dr. Jimmy Spire Ssentongo as recommended by Mr. Lawrence Kiwanuka. I am happy that we put a smile on his face when we could.
The day was indeed splendid and we thank all those who embraced our idea plus the guests who turned up for the same. The trust and support that we received from the family. All media houses including Ghetto TV which covered this event live.
All in all, we were privileged to be Dr. Ssemogerere’s friends and cannot take that for granted. Even in the evening of his life, his leadership remained unchallenged and was always willing to share his vast knowledge. Surprisingly, his mind was still very clear and his voice powerful, there was no need to remind him anything. Whereas Dr. Ssemogerere was 90 years, his death was sudden and it remains a shock to us! What a loss! Karoli Ssemogerere
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