Jinja — Christopher Nambago has lived a life of hard work and adventure. He was the first black traffic Police officer in the colonial era, goalkeeper of the national team and, at the same time, a member of the national cricket team. He is also a fine musician and politician.
Christopher Brown Nambago, 91, has been playing one violin for 73 years. In 1938, while studying at Busoga College Mwiri, Nambago ordered for the violin from Lenard's Company in Britain, through his teacher, Rev. F.G. Coates.
To-date, he has not only kept the violin, but also the school uniform he wore the first day he played the instrument. He has also kept copies of the school magazine.
Love for music
Back then, Nambago admired his music teacher, Rev. Coates, who was a good violinist. A number of times, he asked Rev. Coates to teach him how to play the violin, but the expatriate told him that no African was capable of learning the instrument.
Although the statement irked Nambago, he swallowed his pride and kept going back to ask to be taught due to his love for the violin. Eventually, Rev. Coates said whoever wanted to learn how to play the violin had to buy their own. It cost sh150 in 1938.
"Since my father loved music, he gave me the money," says Nambago. A total of eight students showed interest in playing the violin, but five dropped out. The remaining three practised three times a week for two years.
Rev. Coates must have done a good job. Today, with his violin, Nambago adds colour to the church service, so much that whenever he fails to turn up, his absence is greatly felt. Fred Magala, Nambago's church choir master, says whereas they have an organist, singing without the violin feels like taking tea without sugar.
But like Rev. Coates, Nambago is accused of being stingy with his violin. He says he tells anyone who wants to learn how to play the violin to buy their own. As a result, he is the only one who can play the instrument at the church. While people think Nambago is mean, he insists that it is only fair and reasonable to insist that everyone plays their own instrument.
In fact, he is concerned that nobody has bought the instrument since he started telling them to "buy your own violin".
"Who is going to play the violin at my funeral? I am unfortunate. My son who had learnt to play it passed on," Nambago says. His love for the instrument is so big that he wants to be buried with it when he dies.
Last year, during Mwiri College's centenary celebrations, Nambago excited students when he turned up in his old uniform, a blue pair of shorts, a long-sleeved light-blue shirt and a striped neck tie to relive memories of the great institution that shaped him.
Carrying his violin, Nambago played the instrument to the excitement of students and old boys. Many wondered how he had managed to keep the violin and the uniform in good shape for so long. Students and old boys rushed to take pictures with him.
Born on April 9, 1921 to the late Eseri Nyanzi and Eriya Waiswa Bamutire, Nambago, who belongs to the Baise Kayima clan, studied at Busoga College Mwiri from February 28, 1933 to 1939 when he completed S3. Nambago says his education was not attained on a silver platter because his mother was not the official wife to his father, who was a sub-county chief in Kanankamba in Kaliro district.
Much as all Nambago's step brothers studied at Kings College Budo, he remained at home. He did not even get a chance to enrol at the nearby schools in the village.
His luck came when the then Busoga leader, Ezekeri Tenywa Wako (RIP), father to the late Busoga Kyabazinga Henry Wako Muloki, paid a visit to his home and was concerned that Nambago, despite his young age, was in the village playing instead of going to school.
Nambago says Tenywa was his mother's stepbrother. Following Tenywa's intervention, Nambago was able to start school at the age of 11. He enrolled at Kamuli High School in 1932, before joining Mwiri in 1933. He recalls that education in the 1930s was thorough.
"You cannot compare me with an S5 student of today. It would be an insult," Nambago says in fluent English.
Joining the Police
One day after leaving Mwiri, Nambago walked from Namasiga village, Busedde sub-county in Jinja district to the Jinja Central Police Station in order to meet the senior superintendent of Police he only remembers as Ralph.
He wanted to try his luck at joining the Police force. Nambago recalls that he set off from Namasiga at 5:00am and arrived in Jinja town at 8:00am (approximately 35km). He met Ralph, who subjected him to an oral interview and noticed that he was capable.
"After informing the Uganda commissioner of Police of my intention to join the Police, Ralph gave me sh30 for transport to Kampala to meet the commissioner," he says. Without any knowledge of the capital city, Nambago boarded a train to Kampala, where he arrived at 3:00pm.
Fortunately, he found someone waiting for him at the railway station. From there, he was taken to the commissioner's office.
"The commissioner was overwhelmed by my smartness. Right away, he sanctioned my training at Nakasero," says Nambago. "The commandant at the Nakasero Police Training School, C.V. Catis, had already been informed by the commissioner about me, so I immediately started training," he says.
First African traffic officer
After completing his Police training course between 1939 and 1940, Nambago was retained at Nakasero, where he was in charge of discipline and later deployed as a traffic boss in charge of Mengo district. "I was the first African traffic officer in charge of Mengo district," Nambago says.
He adds that he served in the Police force for six years and retired in 1946. He was awarded a Second World War medal for his distinguished service.
Change of jobs
Upon leaving the Police, Nambago worked as the clerk and interpreter to the Busoga district commissioner, T.R.F. Cox, from 1946 to 1949. Thereafter, he joined British American Tobacco (BAT), where he worked as the personnel manager at the Jinja factory from 1949 to1955.
It was at BAT that he was struck by the beauty of Jeuleni, a pretty girl who was working in Soroti district as a nurse. He made efforts to ensure that she was employed at BAT as a nurse.
"I was impressed by her beauty and fell in love at first sight. I wanted to keep her next to me by employing her at BAT. In 1950, she accepted to introduce me to her parents," says Nambago.
Sixteen years after their introduction, the Nambagos legalised their marriage in a lavish wedding ceremony at St. James Church in Jinja, on December 10, 1966.
The wedding was presided over by Rev. N'gurwegi. "My wife thought I was under the influence of alcohol when I suggested the wedding. She did not take me seriously," Nambago says.Soon, Madhivani group poached him from BAT.
They gave him a job as manager in the sweets factory. "They offered me free accommodation and a telephone in my house, in addition to paying 50% of the school fees for all my children. They also offered me a bag of sugar and 12 bars of soap monthly, in addition to firewood.
Nambago and wife on their wedding day in 1966
I did not have such benefits at BAT," Nambago says. He held this job for 26 years from 1955 to 1981. From 1983 to 1987, he worked as the assistant diocesan secretary at Busoga Diocese. Throughout his years as a student and employee, Nambago knew one could not excel without play.
He was a cricketer, a goalkeeper with the national soccer team and a musician. He played in the national cricket team from 1953 to 1956. He was among the only three blacks in the Uganda cricket team. Others were Okello Oryem and Blick.
He was also the goalkeeper of the national soccer team for five years, including in 1944, when Uganda took the Gossage Cup, now the equivalent of CECAFA. "We had a motto at Mwiri that what a man has done, a man can do.
I worked hard to be a national goalkeeper. I was Uganda's goalkeeper in the East and Central African football competition , Gossage Cup where the country reached the finals with Kenya both in 1943 and 1944," Nambago says.
He recalls that in 1944, the late Kakungulu, the grandfather to Kabaka Mutesa II, was slated to lead the Uganda team in the Gossage Cup in Nairobi. Mutesa, who was then an influential young man travelling as a supporter, threatened to boycott the championships if Nambago was not made the goalkeeper.
"I knew Mutesa from Budo when we went to play football, but he had refused to go to Nairobi if I was not included on the team. When his demand was adhered to, we won the trophy," Nambago says.