In the world of communication and marketing, Yona Namawa Wapakhabulo was an enigma of sorts. He always preferred to operate behind the scenes yet he was a big force in several key projects, something that won him the nickname ‘Mr Fix It’ among peers, writes MOSES MUGALU.
The late Yona, who died August 7 aged 46, was best known as the son of James Wapakhabulo, the former speaker of parliament. However, he did enough to overcome the shadow of his father after carving out a successful career as a cricketer, marketer and communication specialist.
My first encounter with Yona, as he was commonly known, was during the 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) in Kampala. There was a buzz of activity as different leaders and their delegations held series of meetings across the city. It was quite difficult for journalists to cover the various aspects of the meeting.
But there was this one man every journalist ran to for information on how best to attend what event, depending on one’s choice of preference.
Charming but soft-spoken, Yona was the man. I don’t exactly remember his official role but Yona was one of the people in charge of coordinating journalists to ensure the media house covers every aspect of the event.
He provided expert information, background, context and even story approach. It was as if he had spent years preparing for Chogm. Yet, as I later learnt, local organisers sought out his assistance on the eve of the event after foreseeing a looming public relations disaster.
Over the years, I met Yona numerous times, mostly for purposes of publicity for clients of his firm WMC Africa, where he was managing partner.
I had widely read about his exploits in the sport of cricket, where he remains one of the best ever for Uganda. But Yona hardly talked cricket; instead, he was consumed by marketing and communication.
He was sleek, exuded great confidence in everything he did and had an uncanny character of making one feel at home. He always had an idea for anything and was never scared of failure.
He always said: “Never fear to try out something new and there is an answer to every problem.”
There were several tales of how Yona would spend a whole day resting only to wake up and work throughout the night on a project. Dennis Mbidde, a marketer with Prime Media, worked with Yona on several projects and says he put his heart on everything he did.
“When Yona wanted something, he was aggressive. He never took no for an answer and he would amend his proposal until it suits your priorities,” Mbidde says.
In corporate circles, there was a popular saying that if a company wanted to introduce a new product or to manage a business crisis, Yona was the go-to man.
He had links among top decision makers in the economy as well as in the media and, most importantly, he always came up with creativity.
Such was the demand for Yona’s services that even in the last few days of his life when he didn’t feel well, top honchos of corporate organisations would visit him at home for advice on the way forward. Ironically, Yona always preferred to operate behind the scenes. Even when some of his projects became huge successes, he never took credit.
Among his top clients was leading pay TV company MultiChoice and Stanbic bank, the biggest financial institution in Uganda. And that’s not all; Yona cut across as an all-round media consultant for companies in the sectors of telecom, oil and manufacturing.
On the social scene, Yona was one of the most recognised figures and freely went about his night life with abandon. Wherever we met, Yona would not hide his excitement.
Keith Kalyegira, the Capital Markets Authority executive director, remembers Yona’s soft side. “He had a great sense of humour and was a sound advisor on public affairs,” he says.
Yona succumbed to a bacterial infection called infective endocarditis.