These days if you get news that a Ugandan friend has died, don't start mourning until you see the corpse with your own eyes.
Announcing the death of living people has become our favourite pastime. It's not new though, and our ancestors have several sayings about this morbid tendency. When you hear an announcement of your death, you are supposed say, "May the announcer always be the one to announce my death."
Before the liberalisation of radio broadcasting and the onset of mobile phones with mass SMS services, deaths were announced over the state broadcaster, Radio Uganda.
The fastest reader of death announcements in the 1970s, ‘80s and 90s was Ssalongo John, who was as popular as he was feared. What if he decided to announce your death! Then the digital revolution eroded Ssalongo’s power and Ugandan Millennials wouldn’t even recognise his name.
Favourite candidates for death announcements have often been political opponents.
The Baganda community announced ex-president Milton Obote's death many times while he was still alive, because he abolished their kingdom in 1966.
Then when Dr Kizza Besigye emerged to run for president in 2001, some people (certainly not in opposition) announced the death of his infant child, saying the baby's body had been stored in a Nairobi Hospital fridge so as not to disturb his campaigns. The said baby is now in his late teens, attending university at Harvard.
Two weeks back, an illustrious public servant and Uganda’s longest serving prime minister, Professor Apolo Nsibambi died. He actually died. But Kampala’s rumour mill prefers deaths of living persons. So they looked around for another person with a luminous record and zeroed in on Dr Bulayimu Muwanga Kibirige, popularly known as BMK.
Now BMK is a 65-year-old businessman known for his honesty, charity and being a trail blazer in several sectors. He avoids politics and controversy. A perfect candidate to accompany Prof Nsibambi. The rumour machine released news of BMK’s death at his home in Naguru.
ALIVE AND WELL
The usually private BMK recorded a video of himself in Houston, Texas, where he was celebrating Idd-ul-Fitr with his family and posted it. He didn't look dead…
With BMK denying his death, they needed to replace him with another prominent Muslim and picked Hajji Engineer Dr Badru Kiggundu, former chairman of the Electoral Commission, and announced his death. The engineer, too busy overseeing a huge power dam construction, ignored his death and it fizzled out.
Before BMK and Kiggundu, death announcements of popular comedian Anne Kansiime were made, that she had drowned in Canada. Kansiime spiritedly denied her death.
Now these death announcements of living people are getting too many and may soon become boring.
I think the next step by these death news creators will be Russian roulette, where a person puts a half-loaded revolver on their head and pulls the trigger with a 50-50 chance of discharging a bullet. Foreign journalists would pay top dollar to witness this death gamble in Beirut during the 1980s when life there was a gamble, literally.
When a Kampala rumourmonger blows his brains out, you will believe that he is dead, won't you?
Joachim Buwembo is a political and social commentator based in Kampala. E-mail: [email protected]