We retired to bed early in readiness for the celebration of African Liberation Day with the Pan African Parliament, on May 25.
Then shortly after 4.30a.m., a text message came in. Dr. Tajudeen is dead in a car accident. My answer to the message was, ‘please this is not April Fools day!’ But another text came in, ‘yes he is dead!’
That is how my Monday morning began. A group of us were gathered to meet with the Pan African Parliament (PAP), a body that Tajudeen had so much wanted to have legislative powers so that it could speed up the integration of Africa; a continent that was so close to Taju’s heart.
Twice, the Parliament gave a minute’s silence in remembrance of an African icon; a man who knew every single leader on the continent; a man who never minced his words, even in the face of the most ruthless dictators, like his former President Sani Abacha who had wanted to kill him.
Many people thought that Taju was Ugandan. So when word came through that his remains were being flown to Funtua, in Katsina State, north-western Nigeria, that is when it dawned that he actually was more Ugandan than Nigerian. And that was precisely because he had lived most of his life in Uganda as Secretary General of the Pan African Movement.
A man bigger than his size, he was the only man who knew everything about this continent. Each day he had a new idea and for many his charm, deep laughter and humour that weathered the souls of even the most stone-hardened individuals, made Taju a man of all people.
Taju was supposed to travel to Midrand, South Africa, with us. But at the last minute, he decided to travel to Kigali, Rwanda. He was a close friend of President Paul Kagame. Kagame preferred to call him Dakitari.
Taju was the only person I know who could walk up to any president and tell them off about the messes in their countries. One time he walked up to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and demanded to know why his country was denying Africans visas to visit that country. Speaking loudly, as he always did, he told Zenawi that Ethiopia was not his garden and for sure the next day visa restrictions were lifted.
On our way back to Uganda Tuesday night, I asked Taju’s best friend, Brian Kagoro (Advocacy Director ActionAid), who was himself looking like a shell after getting the sad news, what he would say about Taju. A distant look in his eyes, Kagoro said Taju was for Africa what Che Guevara was for South America. He was involved in liberation struggles in Namibia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, South Sudan and Nigeria.
And his last statement before he left for the airport was, according to his workmate Thomas Debe, was question, “Whose responsibility is it to liberate Africa?” We might never know the answer.
As the procession headed to Taju’s final resting place, Taju’s youngest daughter, Aisha who is nine, asked to have the last ride in the same vehicle with her father. It was a teary moment for those who knew how much Taju loved his family.
Taju is survived by a wife, Mounira who is Tunisian, and two daughters; Aida 12 and Aisha 9.