Ssemwanga, Mukiibi And Carol Atuhirwe: A tale of Three Lives And Deaths

By Norbert Mao

In the space of hardly a week, the insatiable earth will receive the bodies of three people that Ugandans have become familiar with under circumstances poles apart.

Prof. Lawrence Mukiibi renowned founder of the St. Lawrence Colleges and St. Lawrence University succumbed to a heart condition. No less a person that the First Lady and Minister of Education eulogized her in the Cathedral.

Thousands of students have been nurtured by Prof. Mukiibi and he leaves an indelible mark as a trailblazing teacher, educationist and entrepreneur. Close associates praised his humility, generosity and strong work ethic. In a society bent on raising mediocrity to cult status, the departure of a man of Mukiibi’s qualities is a big loss.

Ivan Ssemwanga captured the imagination of Ugandans with his lifestyle revolving around big spending. Dubbed Don Ivan, he was indeed the doyen nay patron saint of Kampala’s leisure class. The controversy that dogged him in life followed him to the grave with the rumour mills spewing news of a feigned departure from earth. But that is Kampala. A place Binaisa called “a city of seven hills and seven rumour a day”. The funeral was a mixture of solemnity and celebration. The grave was showered with champagne and banknotes. A befitting send off in the opinion of the Rich Gang. The bereaved Zari carried herself with dignity in speech and gait showing a side many have never seen. May that better angel of her nature bloom.

And now Carol Atuhirwe! The news of her death hit me like a thunderbolt. “Our Atuhirwe Carol has finally gone to be with the Lord. Thanks all Ye for the fight. Details will be communicated later”, ran the terse announcement Save Carol Campaign Coordinator Muhereza Kyamutetera posted on social media last Thursday night. It was appropriate to refer to Atuhirwe Carol as “our Carol”, because for one reason or another she belonged to multitudes.

I can’t get the picture of a smiling Carol arriving at Panamera in a convertible car last year out of my mind. This was during the car wash fundraiser organized by family and friends. A spirited fundraising effort bagged 270 million shillings. For the past one year she has been in India for specialized cancer treatment. It is bad enough to have one type of cancer. For one to smile through a combination of throat cancer and lung cancer requires extraordinary courage and resilience.

Cancer ravaged her body but her mind remained agile and crystal clear. The online blog she kept as a kind of journal attests to that. Writing that blog gave her a powerful voice. She may have lost her ability to utter words due to the infirmity imposed by cancer but not even the fearsome affliction could silence the indomitable fighting spirit of Carol.

“Courage is grace under pressure”, wrote Ernest Hemingway. That is what Carol personified. When she breathed her last, her family said they feel that she has finally rested from the excruciating pain that came with her condition. The wonder is that she never showed any fear or anxiety. She bore the pain without bitterness. Whatever agony she was experiencing was enveloped in a bright smile that defied any fear of death.

True to her generous spirit, after setting aside what was needed for her treatment, Carol donated the balance, a hefty 54 million shillings, to Uganda Cancer Institute. It is almost as if she felt that there were those who were suffering more than her and they required a helping hand. Only a heart of gold can spur a person on a hospital bed to think not of herself but of others who suffer. No wonder the outpourings of grief have flooded social media from all corners of the globe. All of us had hoped against hope that after India, she would emerge from the airport walking, wearing that infectious smile, her health fully restored. Alas it was not to be. All we shall have now is the memory of a fearless young lady who stared cancer in the face, suffering without bitterness – a fruit fallen unripe. She lost the battle of the body but triumphed spiritually. I am sure our greatest praise will not match the praise awaiting her from the heavenly hosts.

But again, we are all on the same path. As the poet William Knox wrote: “‘Tis the wink of an eye — ’tis the draught of a breath–/From the blossom of health to the paleness of death,/From the gilded saloon to the bier and the shroud:–Oh! why should the spirit of mortal be proud?”

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