Life is a wily conundrum. Within its seeming bustle, stalks an unwelcome phenomenon we call death. By the harshness and finality of this said death, we are once again confronted with a sad reality. Jack Maumbe Mukwana, with whom we were accustomed to share every weal and woe of living, is now no more.
I have for some time been circumspect about continuing writing obituaries of departed colleagues. There have been so many losses of them, following each other in a row, that each time authoring eulogies of them created fear in me of getting blacklisted as being a possible bird of ill-omen, for always announcing the departure of our precious ones in the same way the appearance of vultures in a vicinity heralds the existence of fleshy remains.
How I wish that the words of eulogy we make of colleagues upon their death could be read and heard by them so that they would appreciate or deprecate the strength of our feelings towards them. As I scribble these lines, I am pained that Maumbe whom I speak of is past commenting on any fine words I may write about his life. Such is the irony of life itself; the obituary we make can only be made after life has matured in final moments of death. It is not meant for the hearing of those who have already passed on. It is exclusively for those who are yet alive in a bid to navigate their lives when the deceased is past any communication with.
In our traditions, too, we offer “amabugo” (clan burial tithes) only upon the occurrence of death. Because some material collections are always made to send off the dead, I happen to have asked President Museveni during one of our meetings to consider offering “amabugo” to me while still living to enable me fend for myself rather than sending it after the last hours.
He must have taken me for simply being facetious. No one undertakes making “amabugo” to the other as there can be no way of determining who might precede the other in the calendar of dying.
Even though life in general is full of many uncertainties, there are features which make for probabilities. Some people, haggard and ill-looking from waste in health, are less likely to live longer than the sprite, youthful robust ones. This is why our grandparents would never fail to express their Will upon their demise to their grandchildren, never fearing to speak about such imminence despite the instances when even their grandchildren turned out to precede them.
I went to visit Maumbe at his village home on Sunday 26th last month.In January he had been admitted at Mount Elgon hospital while I was in Mulago Hospital. We maintained regular phone conversation promising each other that whoever came out of the hospital bed first would visit the other. Despite his being discharged earlier because he remained weak. It therefore became my turn to visit him because I was in better condition.
Victor Wanyoto and I were led to see him in his bedroom. He greeted us from his bed chattily. He informed us that he was dying as he had no money to meet any cost of medical up-keep.
I got a bit disconcerted by his easy reference to death. I deliberately moved the conversation from the horrifying subject to what could be done about his life. In the course of this discussion, he accepted our suggestions on the way forward.
I tried to call the Prime Minister on his private line. He is one of the few of the top officials in Government whom I trusted could take urgent calls. He was officiating in a function in Arua. But ,he called me back shortly. He offered that Maumbebe taken to Nakasero Hospital and arranged for an ambulance to come for him. Hesaid that the NRM could not fail to find money for Maumbe’s life.
On Monday morning, I got the distressing news. Maumbe died on the way as there was attempt to rush him to Nakasero. With his death, a whole period of our association with him also became closed.
I first met MaumbeMukwana after the debacles of the UPC delegates’ conference ofGulu in 1964 which we representing Bukedi District walked away from in protest. A section of the UPC youths from Bugisu, organized by Dani Nabudere, Natolo Masaba, Kisolo Makanya, Maumbe Mukwana and others remained adamant and vociferous over the same Gulu events after the stormy conference. We happily joined to work together.
By then, Maumbe was a dashing young man. He was driving a diesel Mercedes Benz car. His eagerness to be part of this struggle enabled him to put all his resources, car, house and time at the disposal of our activities.
We would flock from across the whole country to meet frequently in Mbale, making his house in Maluku full of people, eating all the food in the house or occupying every room, bed, chair or crevice for sleeping. The overflow would be transferred to Kisolo Makanya’s place, Nabudere’s house at Gowers Avenue or stream in the night to Natolo Masaba’s Bududa village home.
The hive of these activities drew the wrath of the UPC hierarchy. Maumbe was one amongst those summarily announced expelled from the UPC. He became economically harassed and strangled by the regime.
This did not deter his resolve and continued association with us. It only deepened it. The network against the UPC found home in Maumbe’s resilience, tightening the noose around the neck of the regime.
After Obote lost power to Idi Amin, we got involved in identifying and recruiting operatives for clandestine military training. As we prepared an intake which included younger people like Charles Chemasuet of Kapchorwa, Ouma Musoni then a teacher in Bufumbo, Mbale and others, I asked Maumbe, who was senior to me in age, whether he could manage to go. He enthusiastically left all his family responsibilities and went to train where he met Museveni, Ruzindana and more others.
When he came back from the training, he camouflaged as a driver for NatoloMasaba’s vehicle while working on many FRONASA missions. This is when his house was raided by the Amin military. He escaped narrowly, wearing an incongruous and ill-fitting gomasi lent to him by my wife. His started a new frontier of exile in Tanzania.
Upon the assumption of power by the UNLF after the Moshi conference, he served as a member of the UNLF NCC. The 1980 elections saw him participate as a Parliamentary contestant for UPM. With the assumption of power by the UPC-Obote II, he was picked up and detained in Luzira Prison all the years Obote was in power.
He has lived a life of struggle without attention to himself. The property of his life is measured only in disruption of his family duties and the sacrifices he made for all of us rather than in any of the things he has left for his children and family.
As we say farewell to him, it is only appropriate that those who value his time should extend a hand and hoist his example high in the expectation that what he sought in his life must come to fruition. AMEN,
3rd March 2017