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Godfrey Mwene Kalimugogo: giant of the writing jungle goes to sleep

In one of its latest swoops last Sunday, the cruel harvester that is death made off with Godfrey Orikiranga Mwene Kalimugogo.

I learnt of Kalimugogo’s passing late on Sunday, via an SMS from my cousin Prof Jassy Kwesiga, who knew how close the two of us were. Although troubled by the news, I thanked God for the gift of the fine gentleman, decent diplomat and great writer He gave us. That, to me, was Kalimugogo.

Although I met him in his advanced age, he struck me as a humorous, humble and open man, willing to share whatever he knew. It is still hard for me to accept that the accomplished retired career diplomat has gone.

I mourn him because he shared what he had with whoever cared to read. He proved his worth by providing wonderful diplomatic services and writing so many novels.

“He has gone back to his creator empty because he vented”. This was the response from my dear friend Paulo Kyama, also an admirer of Godfrey from his works, when I sent him the sad news on Sunday night.

First encounter

My first encounter with Kalimugogo was through his novel, A Pilgrimage To Nowhere, which I read in my early years at Kigezi high school. Much as the book was so fascinating to me, I was taken up more by the fact that he came from Kyokyezo, a village which we used to despise as students. We made fun of the few students from there and most times referred to them by the village name, insinuating “backwardness”.

We were later to meet about 18 years ago at the home of my cousin who happened to be his brother-in-law. About ten years later, we met again and had enough time together.  When I told him my home village, he said he could only recognised one man from that village, whom he met during his early years at Kigezi high school and admired.

He mentioned his name, only to find out that the man was my father. Since that time, we have hardly been out of touch for more than a month. Whenever it became difficult to meet, we talked on phone. I always cherished his deep pleasant voice in response to my calls, “Hello Maurice, it has been a while!” he would say.

I told him how I appreciated his book which I read during my youth and cited a few phrases, which excited him.

“But that is old stuff, Maurice,” he chuckled. “I have since written many more”.

He enumerated them as follows: Dare To Die, one of his early works; Trials And Tribulations In Sandu’s Home, A Visitor Without A Mission, A Murky River,  Bury Me In A Simple Grave, The Honourable MP Who Resigned,  and A Gang Of Traitors.  He invited me to his house in Kansanga to collect a copy of each.

Towards the end of 2012, he invited me to his house for a brief chat and before I left, he handed me a novel that he had just published – A Sacred Letter Of Love. This was a true testimony to what he had earlier confided in me that he would do some tribute to the womenfolk.

I was captivated not only by the cover, which bore a photograph of his dear wife, Dr Grace Mafigiri Kalimugogo, in her early years of life, but also by the content which was very well-thought-out.

Early last December, I made a routine phone call to say hi! As we concluded the long discussion, he asked me if I had visited the bookshops lately, to which I responded in the negative. He then said without bragging that if I did, I would find The Billionaires’ Disease, his fifteenth publication.

Naked shall return

Eventually, I found the book in Aristoc, having failed to get it elsewhere. I like the quote at the beginning of this book, which is from Ecclesiastes 5:15: “As he came from his mother’s womb, naked shall he return. To go as he came; and he shall take nothing from his labour which he can carry away in his hand.”

For me this is testimony that he clearly understood what happens when one finally completes his tour of duty on earth. I am sure that the understanding that he would, after all, go to the house of his final rest with nothing, was his motivation to write more and more.

One time, as he was writing the Sacred Letter Of Love, we sat together for about two hours and shared ideas ranging from politics to civil service, to education and the kind of life the affluent and the poor live in this country. As we talked, a fleet of vehicles passed with sirens making the noise we in Kampala experience every time a big person is passing.

I remember him say: “It must be [so and so]; he was meant to open a function at Munyonyo. But why do they carry so many vehicles of soldiers making so much unwarranted noises? What do they fear if indeed they are popular with their electorate? Do the noises and the soldiers stop them from dying, anyway? That is vanity and a waste of taxpayers’ money”.

In all his novels, he tackles issues of moral turpitude, failure to do what is right by those in power, neglect of society and issues that affect the society. I sought to know from him where he gets the material to write from.

His answer was very simple. The material is rife in Uganda. You don’t need to go anywhere else. Indeed, I understood this when I read The Gang Of Traitors and later issues of fraud in the Office of the Prime Minister began to hit headlines in the press.

It looked like he was walking with the people whose names were frequently mentioned in the press. He also told me how someone had asked him if he had worked with the person who was the major character in the OPM financial scandal.

To write, not to market

For a long time I wondered why very few people seemed to know about his books. He, in his characteristic modesty, replied: “My job is to write and not to market. Those who care to read will find the books”.

Much as I agreed that his job was not to market, I thought it was not only important for people to access his works but also to support him by paying for them. I took up that role for some time and distributed a number of copies to some schools.

I also went with him to the National Curriculum Development Centre to meet the director, who appreciated the works. I am happy that as a result, one of them has been put on the secondary school syllabus. We had agreed that he would find ways of reproducing A Pilgrimage To Nowhere and the others, but this has not happened before his demise.

I learnt from his wife, though, that Godfrey was in the process of editing Trials and Tribulations in Sandu’s Home. I hope someone will continue with this noble task.

I will join his family, relatives and friends to bid farewell to the giant of the writing jungle on Friday in Noozi, but I am satisfied that he lived a full life as a husband, father, friend and a faithful civil servant. He has given all he had and gone away empty, with no apology at all. He lived a simple but extremely dignified life. May his soul rest in eternal peace.

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