The Observer (Kampala)

Ugandans Unite in Celebrating Mulwana's Life

The warning of a busy day ahead on Hoima road started from the Nansana roundabout where sirens and the sound of speeding cars blazed past bewildered pedestrians.

This was the route leading mourners to the home of businessman Dr James Mulwana who died at the age of 76. Mulwana is known to nearly every Ugandan and it is difficult, if not impossible, to find a handful of people who did not mourn the loss of the entrepreneur.

Every other time, a convey sped by: Vice President Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi, Nnaabagereka of Buganda Sylvia Nagginda and other royals, the queen of Tooro Best Kemigisha, Police chief Kale Kayihura, FDC president Mugisha Muntu, former FDC president Kizza Besigye, ministers, MPs, religious leaders, businessmen and UPDF Chief of Defence Forces Aronda Nyakairima.

From Nansana all the way through the 75-kilometre stretch to Masiriba, people mourned. Children, women and men stood by the roadside amused by the traffic and the class of cars they had never seen on this road. Police deployment to direct traffic and watch for safety was evident every few kilometres on Hoima road.

But what lay ahead was even more astonishing. Old women walked under the sweltering sun with the aid of walking sticks to Mulwana's home. Children ran along and motorists had to park their cars some kilometres away and brave the foot traffic. To be on time for the requiem services, President Yoweri Museveni arrived in Masiriba aboard his presidential chopper.

It was also a day for brisk business - astute traders set up small businesses near Mulwana's home and sold foodstuff, water, umbrellas, sweets and memorabilia. It is probably the one thing the enterprising and hardworking Mulwana would have approved of. By midday, Mulwana's modest home was filled with mourners. His is a simple iron roof bungalow that had many wondering why a man of his riches did not paint his village with an expansive mansion. But that was Mulwana.

Even his Kampala home is modest by Uganda's standards. Mulwana's funeral service at his home in Masiriba, Kiboga, was more about celebrating the life of a man who touched many Ugandans, if not through his products from Uganda Batteries, Nice House of Plastics or Jesa Farm Diary, then through his friendship, advice and support.

While a sombre mood hang over the place, this was a rare funeral service. Every speaker brought a smile on mourners' faces and sometimes even unsolicited bouts of laughter with a few jokes. The best icebreaker came from Museveni, who had even the widow Sarah Mulwana, the supreme Mufti Zubairi Kayongo, the Catholic Archbishop Cyrpain Kizito Lwanga and the former Archbishop

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of the Church of Uganda Livingstone Mpalanyi Nkoyoyo laughing out loud, when he told people to emulate Mulwana by working with everyone and not segregate as "ffe Abanyankole, ffe Abaganda" (we the Banyankole or we the Baganda).

The requiem service brought all religious affiliations, political parties, political rivals, tribes and all social classes together to celebrate the life of a man who they all referred to as hardworking but with a lot of humility. The organisers who had organised for 2,500 people found themselves with over 4,000 mourners, including more than 500 VIP guests. Every leader in Uganda was stationed at Mulwana's home and they were all speaking the same language - they all agreed that Mulwana had touched their lives.

"When I was appointed Katikkiro, I was worried that I was going to meet a lot of criticism. Mulwana called me and told me 'You came to serve Buganda, you do what you feel is right," John Baptist Walusimbi, the Katikkiro of Buganda, who was among the only four people allowed to give speeches, told mourners. It was how Mulwana had willed it. That nothing fancy be done for his funeral.

He had requested that only four wreaths be laid on his coffin - the president's, the Kabaka's, his family's and his close friends' because he believed that this was not part of his culture. He preferred bark cloth or that the money be given to other causes like feeding the poor. There were no portraits on his coffin and his grave was not tiled.

All the other wreaths were taken to the back of the house to be placed on the grave after burial. The family also promised to send a thank you note to everyone who honoured Mulwana. Nkoyoyo said that his choice to be prayed for at his home reflected the religious life of a man who gave his life to God, not just for the show, but because his spirituality starts right at home.

When he spoke, Museveni said that as a mover, Mulwana had started a project in Busunju where he distributed dairy cows to villagers and they paid him back by supplying his factory with milk. Busunju is dotted with small dairy farms that supply the milk factory.

"Mulwana saw wealth in Uganda, he saw wealth in farming and processing farm produce. He was a worker who got money but he was never selfish. He benefited everyone... When I left the bush, I saw that he knows business and how to make use of Uganda's resources," Museveni told mourners.

The two have worked closely together and Museveni has often consulted Mulwana on investment projects in Uganda. They have occasionally travelled together abroad working on ways to attract investment to Uganda.

"I came to witness the pioneer role of Mulwana who is one of the pioneer business people in Uganda. He was producing 4,000 batteries a year but he recently told me his capacity had grown to 170,000," Museveni said.

In a speech read for him by Prince David Wasajja, the Kabaka of Buganda Ronald Muwenda Mutebi said: "Your husband's death has brought a lot of sorrow to Buganda. We have lost one of the pillars of the kingdom, he was a friend, hardworking and loved his country."

He could not attend the burial because Buganda culture does not allow for the Kabaka to go to funerals.

Wasajja reminded mourners that Mulwana had been married to Sarah for over 50 years. He said that on his way for his introduction to his fiancée Marion Nankya, Mulwana and his wife looked so much in love. Mulwana had asked him to take his marriage as an example. Sarah Mulwana couldn't agree more.

"He was my friend, he loved me very much, he trusted me with his secrets. He put me in his businesses and I will continue running them with your help," she said.

Ms Mulwana, who was humbled by the turnout of guests, said that despite not going far in formal education, her husband worked hard.

"What you see here is who James has been to everyone. When he wanted to learn something, he pursued it. That's why you see people from different nations here. If he saw something nice even if it was small like a toothbrush, he carried it back home to learn," Ms Mulwana said.

His son, Geoffrey Mulwana gave the most moving speech.

"His passing is a very painful loss but the outpouring of love has comforted us. Most of you are here because he touched your lives. Join us in celebrating his life. We all still wanted a piece of dad but by the will of God, he fell in his sleep. Dad has served his generation well, we will try with your support to carry forward his legacy.

We cannot fill his shoes because they were his alone but we will carry forward his humility and respect for all. Good bye daddy, thank you for the lessons you taught us. We will remember you as the best dad anyone could ever have," he told a sobbing crowd. Geoffrey was also named as Mulwana's heir before Mulwana's body was laid to rest.

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