The Observer (Kampala)

Uganda: And Now, Here Comes Sir Gordon Wavamunno

Businessman Gordon Wavamunno has been admitted to the British royal order of chivalvry as a knight. He becomes one of a few Africans, among them former South African presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, and Bishop Desmond Tutu, who have achieved this knighthood.

In a colourful investiture ceremony held at All Saints cathedral, Nakasero on Friday afternoon, Prof Anthony Mellows OBE TD, the Lord Prior of the Order of St John, on behalf of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen of the UK, passed over the prestigious honour to Wavamunno. It was a private function with the media relegated to watching the proceedings from outside the church.

However, those who watched from inside say Wavamunno was touched on the shoulder by Prof Mellows who later handed him his robes and insignia to signify that he had been admitted to the rank of a knight. And soon after the sermon that was led by retired Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi, Prof Mellows, in the company of five other Queen's delegates all smartly dressed in black tunics with a white star-like label, bestowed the honours.

Knighthood (or damehood, its female equivalent) is one of the highest honours the Queen can confer upon an individual. In the past, it was solely for military merit, but now recognises significant contribution to national life. Knighthood is normally awarded to the British and a few people outside Britain, mainly in the Commonwealth member states.

According to the British royal website, knighthood cannot be bought and it carries no military obligations to the sovereign. For British citizins, it comes with the use of the title "Sir", although some non-Britons have been known to carry the "Sir" title. Wavamunno was honoured for his philanthropic work with St John Association of Uganda, where he has been a member for the last 30 years, and currently serves as chairman.

According to Christine Nandyose Kasirye, the Secretary General of the association, Wavamunno has been giving generously to the association. Among other things, he has donated two ambulances to the association, renovated their offices on Buganda road and offered bursaries to orphans.

"As an individual, he deserves the honour because without him, it would have been hard for us. He has recruited many members into the association," said Kasirye.

St John Uganda is a charitable organization established in 1930 as part of the Order of St John, an international organization which provides first aid, health care and support services in over 40 countries around the world. The Order of St John is accredited to the United Nations. The order of St John is an order of chivalry of the British Crown which was first granted in 1888, a year after the establishment of its well-known St John Ambulance Brigade in the UK.

The queen, the sovereign head of the order, honours individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the work of St John. According to Kasirye, St John's activities entirely depend on generous donations. Membership is by invitation only and those chosen as knights are expected to help focus attention on the betterment of living conditions of poor and disadvantaged communities.

The news of Wavamunno's knighthood was published in The London Gazette of January 17, 2012 as the only Ugandan among nine people who were promoted by the queen from the level of Officer Brother to the prestigious honour of Knight of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem. The queen had also honoured three other Ugandans who appeared in The London Gazette of November 7, 2011, but also received their honours on Friday.

Among them is Rt Rev Bishop Wilson Mutebi, a retired bishop from Mityana diocese who joined St John Ambulance in 1954 as a student at Makerere College School. The bishop emeritus who currently serves as the vice chairman of the association, was admitted as a Commander for his great contribution to the association. Mutebi recalls how they used to go to Nakivubo stadium with ambulances to provide first aid to players and fans.

Christine Nandyose Kasirye was admitted as Officer-Sister while George William Katatumba, a long-serving treasurer of the association, was admitted as Serving Brother.

"It is difficult to imagine a more important event in my life in the Order of St John than this occasion when Her Majesty the Queen of the UK publically recognizes my services to the community by investing on me the grade of Knight of Justice in the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem," Wavamunno told The Observer.

"I thank God for granting me life and endowing me with the means to serve humanity. I pray that guided by the ancient orders of chivalry - courage, compassion and courtesy - my work in St John will continue to prosper."

Wavamunno pledged to continue serving the association by building an office block of seven floors to provide office space for the association, but also generate finances for the association through rent. When asked how they zeroed down on Wavamunno of all the great men on the African continent, Mellows said: "He has been in a very quiet way very generous to many of the communities that St John serves.

He has been the chairman of St John in Uganda -showing great leadership by encouraging other members to use their skills and attributes to the fullest extent, and it's those characteristics that made him stand out."

"[People like Wavamunno] are not seeking recognition, but when we admit them, they become members of the Order of St John to recognize outstanding achievement and service in the support of community - usually members of the community who are poor, sick or disabled," he said.

History of Knighthood

The origins of knighthood are obscure, but they are said to date back to ancient Rome, where there was a knightly class Ordo Equestris (an order of mounted nobles). Knighthood became an established military guild in many European countries, and it had certain characteristics: a would-be knight would undertake strict military training from boyhood, including some time as an assistant (an esquire) to a knight with whom he rode to war.

He would also have to prove himself worthy according to rules of chivalrous behaviour, such as 'faithfulness to his Saviour and his Sovereign', generosity, self-denial, bravery and skill at arms. In addition, he would be expected to have the financial ability to support the honour of knighthood, so that he could provide himself with arms, horses and the required number of armed followers to render military service to his Sovereign for a minimum period each year.

No person could be born a knight: even monarchs and their heirs had to be made knights. The conferment of knighthood involved strict religious rites (encouraged by bishops who saw the necessity of protecting the church, and of emphasising Christian ideals in order to temper the knights' ferocity), which included fasting, a vigil, bathing, confession and absolution before the ceremony took place.

The first and simplest method of knighting was that used on battlefields, when the candidate knelt before the royal commander of the army and was 'stricken with the sword upon his back and shoulder' with some words such as 'Advances Chevalier au nom de Dieu'.

The action of touching the sword on the recipient's shoulder is known as dubbing. The second method involved greater ceremony, which could include the offering by the knight of his sword on the altar.Although the monarch's 'lieutenants in the wars' and a few others of high birth could knight others, over the years successive sovereigns began drastically to limit the power to confer knighthood.

Eventually, it became the custom for monarchs to confer all knighthoods personally. In ceremony of knighting, the knight-elect kneels on a knighting-stool in front of the queen, who then lays the sword blade on the knight's right and then left shoulder.

After he has been dubbed, the new knight stands up, and the queen invests the knight with the insignia of the order to which he has been appointed, or the badge of a knight bachelor.

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