Uganda: Media Icons Laud Hope Kivengere

20 October 2021

President Museveni's longest-serving spokesperson, Hope Kivengere, died yesterday at Nakasero Hospital in Kampala after a short illness, State House said.

She was 72.

"Ms Hope Kivengere has passed on... She always checked in on the [Presidential Press Unit or PPU] whenever she was back home. We have lost a great civil servant. RIP Hope Kivengere," tweeted Ms Lindah Nabusayi, the current senior presidential press secretary, who described the deceased as an "assertive woman".

News of her death, just after a week in hospital following her admission last Tuesday, struck like a thunderbolt and was met with shock, disbelief and an outpouring of love, from across the political and media spectrum.

In the early days of his government, President Museveni, who shot his way to power in 1986, required a suave spokesperson to polish his image and project a reciprocal love of, and by, Ugandans.

Thus, in Hope, she found a high-calibre individual refined through class parenting by her widely admired father, Bishop Festo Kivengere of Kigezi Diocese, likened by some Christians as Uganda's equivalent of American tele-evangelist Billy Graham.

Amiable, principled and genuine, Hope Kivengere not only founded the President Press Unit (PPU) as a pipeline to burnish his image, but also cut with peace and love into the steely hearts of usually dispassionate journalists and rallied the top editors in town for a round-table discussion with President Museveni every two months.

It was such a record that Senior Presidential Adviser on Media, Ms Mary Karooro Okurut, yesterday said she found herself regularly consulting "guardian angel" Hope when she succeeded her in 2001.

"Hope was a presidential spokesperson of substance, not just rhetoric. She was very principled, honest and a peace-maker," Ms Karooro said, adding: "Even after I had stepped into her shoes, I kept on going back to her for guidance. She would say, 'Maria, take this path'. She had a personal relationship with the media. She was not just for Uganda, but for Africa. We have lost a pillar." Likewise, Mr Phillip Wafula Oguttu, the co-founder and former managing director of Monitor Publications Ltd, publisher of the Daily Monitor, expressed shock at the news of the passing on of Kivengere whom he credited for cultivating a good relationship between the President and the media in the past.

Hope, he said, used to organise regular media engagements with President Museveni during which journalists raised fundamental governance and development issues and shared confidential information for the President's direct attention.

"She was very crucial in ensuring that President Museveni met the editors after every two months. We used this forum to tell the President everything off-the-record. We would switch off our cameras, leave behind our phones and have an informal chat. She handled that docket very well," Mr Oguttu, also a former Leader of Opposition in Parliament, said of Hope Kivengere yesterday.

Journalists who were active practitioners in the 1980s and 1990s, when Hope was in-charge the president's communication, yesterday fondly remember her as a calm, respectful, objective and humble person.

To Mr Joachim Buwembo, a former managing editor of this newspaper, Hope was distinctly "a meticulous, confident woman" who had high pedigree.

"She was very confident and I believe her confidence had to do with her pedigree that [in turn] had to do with her strong father (Bishop Festo Kivengere), a human rights crusader. Hope was not made by [President Museveni's] National Resistance Movement [government], but by her father. She didn't fall in things, but she was born in things," Mr Buwembo said rather poetically.

She served for 15 years.

When she hanged the spokesperson's boots, Hope made a foray into international civil service, once serving as Uganda's Representative on the nine-member Committee of Elders of the Common Markets for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa).

Between 2016 and 2017, she worked with the regional bloc, the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (Igad) and before that, with the African Union Mission in Sudan and the African Union Peacekeeping Mission in Somalia (Amisom).

In 2018, Hope was selected by Comesa to head its team to observe Egypt's presidential elections which President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi won to retain his seat.

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