Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba United Kingdom

Writing about my grandfather would be like writing about all my life in this world because he has been part of it since I was i was a baby. That’s why I started writing about him even before his death on 22nd November, 2015.

I started living with him after the death of my father when I was just 7 months old. At first, I thought that him and my grand mum(Hajjati Mayimuna Kibirige) were my biological parents as I used to spend some nights in their bed. As I started growing up a little bit, they understandably started making a bed for me on the floor in their bedroom such that I don’t sleep in their bed.He helped keep a roof over my head when I was a child/ an orphan.

Of all the forces exerted in our short lifetimes, love is the most powerful of all. This man loved almost everybody in his family(in and outside Uganda), and cared for all those he met in his life. Though I was nicknamed ‘SUKALI WA HAJJI'(Hajji’s sugar) by our grand mum, I believe Hajji loved all of us equally. I only had a special connection with him because i saw him as my model in everything.

We grand kids relished every single minute.He’d tell us stories about himself, some of our aunties and uncles. He knew each and every weakness and strengths of his sons and daughters.For instance, there’s one auntie(name withheld) who he jokingly said would have made a good lawyer because she sometimes tells lies.And he never had to tell us anything twice.He was a man you could always take at his word,and he never had to speak loud to be heard.

His speeches and stories after the morning prayers(Subuhi) were so educative. Everybody had to be awake by 05:30 a.m whether you liked it or not.His practical advice was always grounded in experience. He always stated his case without embellishment or obfuscation. Everything he argued was the product of reasoning, much of it moral. His instructions, too, were moral.

I learned a very valuable lesson from him when I ,one time, asked him if he had any enemies he’s aware of in his life. His answer was always simple:’I’m a human being; as defined by God.You cannot be liked by everybody however much you try’, and then he went on to narrate a story about a man(whose name he never revealed ) who maliciously accused him of something nasty that kept him in prison overnight, only for the police to find out the following morning that he was so innocent.

He then concluded this bit of our conversation by saying:’there are many ways to live life on this earth, just as there are many people in this world, but you must always have trust in Allah to protect you against your enemies…………..’.

His story of how him and a group of friends founded Kamuli UMEA primary school is a valuable lesson to us, young Muslims, about community development and involvement.Basically, they didnt wait for government help or donor funds to start up something. All they needed was commitment and determination(C &M) to get things started. One of his friends, Ali Musisi(R.I.P) provided the land; Hajji Asuman Machie Adam agreed to give them cement and iron sheets on credit,and then bang—-a primary school was built……a school that educated almost all his children and grand children.

The same formula(C &M) was used to start up the technical school,Seguya Memorial, some years later in the same place, and Kangulumira Coffee Growers(KCG). He worked as the managing Director for 35 years at KCG. Among other directors included: Mr.Nakumanyanga, Dr.Chris Kiwanuka, Mr.Katweere, Mr.Semakula, and several others. These were outstanding men as I met all of them, and Muslims and Non-Muslims got along fine in Kangulumira. Nobody was suspicious of the other as it is today in most parts of the world.We used to have our lunches at the KCG factory from school(Kamuli), and I used to sometimes eat with the directors.

He was a Muslim and never shied away from it privately or publicly. He went for Hajji to Mecca in 1950 when he was just 32 years old. Most of the people that shaped his life were mainly fellow Muslims, and that included: All-Hajji Musa Kasule(Wandegeya); Sheikh Kasim Ssemwanje(who was his best man at his first wedding in 1943), Prince Badru Kakungulu(who donated land to him in Kawempe after winning quranic competitions), Sheikh Islam Kulumba(arguably his best friend), Hajji Ramandhan Gava(worked together on issues of education); Eriasafi Kiguba( his brother-in-law who influenced him to educate his children in formal education), and Hajji Sherali Bandaali Jaffer( fellow co- guardian of the Kasule Wandegeya family).

One other thing: he used to sit at the front in every car because he liked directing drivers on how to drive safely to avoid accidents. He also believed that was the probable way of avoiding catching colds and flu. I remember he onetime got off from taxi at Bwaise on our way to the city, because the woman who had sat in the middle at the front had a strong cold. He told me:’Omukyala gwembade ntude naye abade nekasenyiga munange. kasita driver tumusasude. Naye senyiga bwakukwata osasula nezisingawo awo.‘ meaning ‘the woman I have been seated with had a cold.So, I had to get off but we have paid the driver. If you catch the cold, you pay more money to treat it yet you would have prevented it in the first place’

To those who know and love him like we still do,his memory will warm our hearts till we go to join him in the next life too.He was a man who gave constantly to his children and grandchildren: his sweat, his knowledge(taught us Islam), his patience, his time, his morals and his considerable expertise. A man who loved us and whom we loved back, through joy and difficulty and time and pain.

As for me, I have lost three people in one: my grandfather, my ‘father’, and my best friend. His last phone call to me was about 6 months ago. He called me in the morning here in the UK to say hello and ask about my kids. I never got a chance to bury him but he will always be in my prayers,God willing!

May Allah forgive him for whatever that went wrong,bless him with light and grant him paradise. To Allah we come and to Him we shall return!

*Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba*
Stalk my blog at:
"These days, I spend a lot of time thinking about death and the hereafter... I go somewhere to get something and then wonder what I'm here after."

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Articles by Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba