President Museveni’s senior advisor on the media, John Nagenda, who died at 84 years in Kampala on Friday, set his own rules. He was a stickler for excellence and we will find it hard to meet his standards. I would compare him to Kenya’s late illustrious attorney general Charles Njonjo in the way he lived; a lifestyle that we will find hard to match, writes EDMOND KIZITO.
KAMPALA. I have several anecdotes regarding now departed John Nagenda, the senior presidential advisor on media matters.
Once, while I worked for Reuters, the Nairobi bureau, dispatched one of my seniors to Kampala.
Once here, my colleague called Mr Nagenda. He chided: “Why do you guys waste time sending people here when you have Edmond [Kizito}?”
Mr Nagenda made it extremely difficult even for a face-to-face meeting, eventually allowing one, out of courtesy, at the Sheraton Kampala Hotel.
Mr Nagenda repeated the chiding.
He eventually disallowed any requests to interview our President.
But to my utter delight, I secured a sit-down exclusive for President Museveni to announce for the first time he would contest in the 1996 presidential elections.
In the more recent past, I’ve been in touch with Mr Nagenda through a proxy.
When I sent the proxy to deliver a message, Mr Nagenda took him on a tour of one of his forestry projects around Namutamba, his countryside abode.
“That one I planted around 28 years ago,” he told my envoy.
I was at a lunch meeting with Mr Nagenda at the Sheraton when he was beginning to establish that forest. He was with his wife, who drove him away to go and visit the then nascent project.
Oh, yes. I was on the Reuters Entertainment Budget. So, I ask him out for lunch.
He wanted to know to which restaurant. I said Namata’s, on Entebbe Road, the highway that links Uganda’s capital city Kampala and its international airport town, Entebbe.
In those days, Namata was patronised by the high and mighty, including State House security operatives and the likes of city property magnate Sudhir Ruparelia.
He turned it down. “I can only eat at the Sheraton,” or words to that effect, Mr Nagenda said.
I picked him up from his President’s Office next to Parliament Buildings and he chided me about the dust on the dashboard of my white Toyota Starlet.
I had just returned from seeing the Madhvanis, the sugar industrialists at Kakira Sugar Works, but Mr Nagenda brought it all down to a youthful mind.
Later at lunch, he insisted he would only be chaperoned by Kaddumukasa Kironde himself. Kaddumukasa was the veteran head chef at the Sheraton and was still fresh from the United States of America.
Mobile phones had just come and Mr Nagenda called the British Airways Kampala office to book a flight to London. He refused to have his order taken by a junior.
“Only the Manager can take my flight order,” he insisted. The man was out but later returned and promptly called back.
After mentioning the suburb, he lived in while in London, he added: “And I travel by limousine.”
I had set aside a tidy Uganda Shillings sixty thousand for lunch. I knew we would spend about Shs30,000. The buffet lunch cost only Shs7,500 a plate at the time.
So, we sit down and all was okay with the food. Then it came to the drinks.
He ordered for Nile Breweries’ Chairman’s Extra Strong Brew, which was being introduced at the time. He drank two of these. Still, no problem.
Then he felt it was time to up his game. He ordered for two tots or a certain vintage whiskey, which was pricey. He took two servings.
Then came the big one. And remember this was lunch in the gardens.
Mr Nagenda asked a waitress if they had Black Port wine. She said, yes.
Incidentally, each time he raised his hand for attention, all the girls flocked to our table, if only to hear what he had to order.
He asks how much and the girl says a bottle is Shs90,000. I sat up in shock. And he noticed.
He looked at me and laughed loud and long.
“Kooyige okutwala abakulu ku lunch”, or “May this be a lesson to you when you take out senior leaders to lunch”.
Then he asked, who is paying: you or the office?
I said the office pays but only to a reasonable limit.
Then he said don’t worry. Pay what you can, I will pay the rest.
Then, as his wife, seated nearby nodded in agreement, he said I was lucky for him to accept my lunch invite.
That’s because he liked me a lot. His wife was in full agreement.
“I wouldn’t go out for lunch with ….”, then he mentioned two senior editors who worked for a leading independent newspaper at the time.
That was John Nagenda; he set his own rules. He was a stickler for excellence and we will find it hard to meet his standards. I would compare him to Kenya’s late illustrious attorney general Charles Njonjo in the way he lived. He mentored some of us to carry forward his style and attitude.
He had a class that we will find hard to match.
Fare-thee-well Mr John Nagenda.
Edmond Kizito is a journalist, former correspondent for Reuters, and Voice of America in the 1990s and founding Uganda Bureau Chief for the East African, and now CEO of Kizito Group of Companies.