Obituary: Uganda’s John Nagenda – a terrific author and cricketer

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John Nagenda handed away in March, solely a month earlier than his 84th birthday. He will likely be mourned for his intelligence and generosity, however above all, for his glorious sense of humour. Cameron Duodo remembers his conferences with the celebrated Ugandan author, political determine and sportsman.

John Nagenda, who died in Kampala, Uganda, on 4 March 2023, aged 84, was one of many writers who emerged within the former British colonies in Africa, after their international locations had gained their independence from Britain.

I met him at an African Writers’ Convention – the primary of its type – organised at Makerere College, Kampala, in 1962.

From Ghana, the delegates have been myself, Efua Sutherland and Kofi Awoonor; from Nigeria got here Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and Chris Okigbo; whereas South Africa’s delegates included Ezekiel (later Iskiya) Mphahlele, Lewis Nkosi, Bloke Modisane and Bob Leshoai.  

As a result of colonial Africa had been arbitrarily divided into inflexible geographical “grids”, with Africans infrequently crossing the borders to fulfill each other in individual, the Makerere convention uniquely enabled African writers to find the actual individuals who have been behind the continent’s plethora of geographical labels. 

I personally bear in mind what a thrill it was to fulfill black South Africans for the primary time in my life. 

By the point I went to Kampala in 1962, I had been uncovered to studies about South Africa, via DRUM Journal (whose Ghana editor I had simply turn into.) DRUM had initially been born in South Africa, however had quickly sprouted a number of “offshoots”: in Ghana, Nigeria, East Africa and Central Africa. 

So, I used to be thrilled to fulfill in individual, Mphahlele (or “Zeke” as everybody referred to as him) and Bloke and Lewis (all of whose bylines I had come throughout within the “mom” South African version of DRUM. In actual fact, I’d secretly been hoping, after studying that South Africans can be on the convention, that the preferred author on DRUM (South Africa) Can Themba (whose very brave “Mr DRUM” collection of tales, had titillated the entire continent for years) would attend. However alas, he didn’t. I by no means met him as a result of he was quickly killed whereas pursuing considered one of his adventurous tales.

I used to be late in arriving in Kampala for the convention, however on arrival, my compatriot Kofi Awoonor handed on to me the delegates who welcomed friendship, as in opposition to those that have been considerably aloof. The previous included the sensible poet from Nigeria, Chris Okigbo, who bravely fought for his Ibo folks on the warfront, throughout the blood-soaked Biafran civil struggle (1967-70). However the friendliest man was a younger Ugandan author referred to as John Nagenda. 

Friendship with John Nagenda was simply essentially the most auspicious that I managed to domesticate on the Makerere Convention. It was to final a lifetime, although I didn’t know that on the time, in fact. 

Trademark humour

Nagenda, who was 26 years outdated, was studying English at Makerere. He was energetic and – enjoyable. Good-looking and athletic in construct, his trademark was to be extraordinarily extraordinarily humorous about all kinds of conditions. He was amused on the response of us West Africans to the way in which some Ugandans pronounced sure phrases in English. 

Usually, our feedback on the topic would have been resented by an East African, however Nagenda, who had largely been educated by academics from the UK in among the finest colleges in Uganda, understood the issue of these Ugandans who didn’t possess the command of spoken English that he had been capable of purchase. He defined to us that the ki-Swahili language,which was a type of East African lingua franca, had, perforce, taken over sure frequent English expressions fully.

As an illustration (he stated) what we and different English audio system referred to as “roundabouts”, have been referred to as kipileftis (“hold left right here!”) in Uganda! We laughed so much at that, and sought new phrases from him so as to add to our assortment. We thus discovered him to be one of the vital unprejudiced human beings to be related to. Certainly, when pressed about what he believed in, (in his later years) he outlined himself as a “humanist”.

On leaving Makerere with a great diploma in English, he was head-hunted by the Oxford College Press as its consultant in East Africa – a place that enabled him to advertise the writing careers of a few of East Africa’s writers.

Exile in Britain

I re-encountered John Nagenda in England within the Nineteen Eighties. Because it occurred, John had left Uganda for political causes, conscious as he was that his sharp tongue and haughty perspective in the direction of political ineptitude may make him a goal for imprisonment and even assassination, particularly throughout the time when the fearsome Basic Dr Idi Amin Dada was making Uganda the laughing inventory of the world.

“Good riddance!” Nagenda was quoted as having usually stated sarcastically of rulers he didn’t fancy, like Milton Obote, Idi Amin and Paulo Muwanga, all former “Heads of State” whose rule despatched Nagenda into exile at completely different occasions. 

In Obote’s case, he earned Nagenda’s anger by what Ofwono Opondo, writing within the Uganda Monitor newspaper, remembers as “the overthrow, destruction and abolition of [the] Buganda monarchy in Might 1966”. (Nagenda got here from Buganda aristocratic inventory.) 

As for Amin (Opondo information) “Nagenda as soon as wrote that Amin lived for much longer than he deserved as a result of, all through his life, Amin was a mannequin of a nasty profession. Idi Amin’s many hobbies included expediting the journeys of others to heaven, distinguished amongst them [being] Chief Justice Ben Kiwanuka, Vice Chancellor of Makerere College Frank Kalimuzo, Archbishop Janan Luwum, and several other ministers together with James Ochola, Alex Ojera, Kalema, Charles Oboth Ofumbi, and Erinayo Eryema.” 

Earlier than going to reside in exile in Britain, John had achieved fame as the one black African to play within the Cricket World Cup of 1975. (He bowled for East and Central Africa in a workforce made up of Ugandans, Kenyans and Tanganyikans.) His participation within the World Cup match earned him an invite to a reception in Buckingham Palace, London. 

Nagenda described his World Cup expertise as life-changing – “simply think about” (he stated) “rubbing wrists” in individual, because it have been, with the likes of Vivian Richards and Michael Holding [West Indies], Imran Khan [Pakistan] and the opposite cricket geniuses that one had been seeing on TV!”

Nice stylist

Ugandan obituarists haven’t been parsimonious in lauding Nagenda’s fashion of writing. One famous that Nagenda’s One Man’s Week column within the New Imaginative and prescient newspaper was “gone, and with it, the flourish fashion. Or, as he would say, ‘by no means throw away outdated pantyhose. Use the outdated ones to tie gutters, child-proof cupboards, tie rest room flappers, or hold Christmas ornaments….’”

He may have added “if a possum takes up residence in your shed, seize a barbecue brush to coax him out. If he doesn’t go away, brush him for twenty minutes and let him keep.”

It’s worthy of notice that John fulfilled our Makerere Convention expectations and printed a novel entitled The Seasons of Thomas Tebo. He additionally printed a kids’s guide entitled Mukasa. 

Throughout his days spent in exile in England, John helped to run a extremely esteemed cricket journal. I met him at a pub close to the journal’s places of work, one afternoon. He was surrounded by a bevy of fairly girl admirers, who made positive that he didn’t drink an excessive amount of white wine, and that the horses he fancied, have been value betting on! 

Adviser to Museveni

Round 1985, he referred to as me in London and launched me to a Ugandan politician, whom he needed me to interview for one of many papers I used to be writing for – Chief M Okay O Abiola’s African Harmony.

The Ugandan politician was Eriya Kategaya, and he was one of many high leaders of a motion that had been shaped by Ugandan exiles, referred to as the Nationwide Resistance Motion (NRM). 

Kategaya stated he belonged to the NRM military and that they needed to grab energy in Uganda via guerrilla warfare. I used to be sceptical, for I knew that Africa’s political panorama was plagued by all method of “revolutionary” actions, most of whom spent their time in European capitals and did little or no preventing on the bottom in Africa. 

However Eriya Kategaya’s modesty and obvious seriousness of function gained me over, and I gave the interview fairly a great play.

Inside months, the NRA had achieved battlefield victory in Uganda! And I used to be despatched by the London Observer to go to Kampala to cowl the story. The brand new Ugandan Prime Minister, Mr Samson Kisekka, gave me an unique interview, and two of his sons took me into the Ugandan countryside to learn the way a lot assist the NRM had within the rural areas.

I used to be astounded to seek out that at a highway junction, a few unarmed civilians have been guarding an individual who had offered to different folks, rationed items equipped to him for his household’s use. 

Stunned, I queried: “However he can run away, if he’s being guarded solely by unarmed males?” 

 The guards shot again: “Run away to the place?” I realised, then, that the NRM was a very revolutionary motion with grassroots assist. It had organised the countryside the countryside into parishes through which all choices have been taken collectively. There was nowhere for a felony suspect to run to!

John Nagenda turned Senior Adviser to the NRM chief, President Yoweri Museveni. Museveni has been ruling since 1986 – regardless of John generally going out on a limb and ribbiing him gently to retire. Ignored, he persistently says Museveni ought to retire after “coaching” another person to take over the management of the nation. “For if you happen to don’t search for a successor, you gained’t discover one!” he noticed in a TV interview. He laughed at the concept that he would possibly wish to do the job himself.

“I DO work for the person!” he retorted. “You may’t dictate to your boss, are you able to?”

John additionally had issues coping with the Kabaka of Buganda, Ronald Mutesi, whom he helped again into energy. Driving two headstrong horses in Uganda – Museveni and the Kabaka – will need to have tried his resourcefulness enormously.

John handed solely a month earlier than his 84th birthday. He will likely be mourned for his intelligence and generosity, however above all, for his glorious sense of humour. 

He positively had an excellent innings. However I’m inconsolable, however. My heartfelt condolences go to his spouse, Marion, and their kids.

Click on to learn articles by John Nagenda in New African.



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