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Obituary: Zikusoka - A life well lived

When James Owaraga, an engineer, showed up at All Saints cathedral on February 1 to attend Rev Canon James Zikusoka’s funeral service, those who knew him were shocked.

See, Owaraga had been in a coma for about 24 hours a few days earlier and many thought he would die before his long-time friend. But God’s ways are not our ways. The master of ceremonies Robert Kisubi kept repeating: “We should be grateful to have engineer Owaraga here.” So close were the two engineers, whose friendship had developed from Busoga College Mwiri where they were students in the 1940s, that Zikusoka offered the 26 cows Owaraga paid as bride price for his wife back then.

“Zikusoka was a black man with a white heart. His house was for everybody’s convenience; he was helpful and such a fast thinker,” said Owaraga, who built Zikusoka’s house in Namungalwe. Owaraga, who walked with the help of his son, told of how Zikusoka escaped being imprisoned or even killed by Idi Amin because of his witty nature.

“I was Permanent Secretary in the ministry of Works when Amin sacked Zikusoka, then minister [of Works]. Among all sacked ministers, he is the only one who wrote to the President thanking him for the opportunity he had given him to work under him. The letter excited Amin so much that he called for him, and while Amin’s men travelled to Namungalwe to get him, the engineer was sneaking into Kenya through Malaba.”

Born on November 11, 1926 in Namungalwe, Iganga district, Dhikusooka, whose name was corrupted to Zikusoka, its Luganda version, went to Busoga College Mwiri and was among 26 old students honoured last year, during the school’s centenary celebrations. He was honoured for fronting the idea of Ugandans sitting the Senior Four Cambridge School Examinations.

The first engineer to be registered in Uganda, Zikusoka touched many lives, including that of former Chief Justice, Wako Wambuzi, also an old boy of Mwiri. Wambuzi led old boys at the funeral service in their song, Ti tuli bunhonhi bulya mpindi, before paying tribute to a man he said was the school timekeeper in 1945, a prefect and member of Hannington house. Wambuzi said Zikusoka played tennis, a bit of football and also loved singing.

“He crafted a song, Kabombo, and it became his nickname at school,” Wambuzi told mourners.

Zikusoka was an influential figure in Busoga. Eng Zikusoka road in Jinja town is named after him. Rev Dr Sam Luboga, a professor of anatomy at Mulago medical school and clergyman at Namirembe cathedral, grew up under Zikusoka. Although a maternal uncle, Zikusoka brought Luboga up like his own son after the latter’s father passed away early in life.

“He taught me the importance of parenting beyond biological children, and I have emulated him in many ways,” Luboga said.

Zikusoka, a founding member of Busoga diocese and chairman of the construction committee for Christ cathedral Bugembe, was ordained deacon in 1988 and, a year later, he was made reverend canon and dean of Christ’s cathedral, Busoga diocese, a feat that greatly amazed Bishop Zac Niringiye who delivered the sermon at the funeral service.

“This man was appointed deacon and in just one year, had been made reverend and dean. I will one day ask Bishop Cyprian Bamwoze how that was made possible,” he said.

Zikusoka was quite instrumental in the wrangles that hit Busoga diocese, then under the stewardship of Bishop Bamwoze. The chief mourner, second deputy Prime Minister, and minister of Public Service, Henry Muganwa Kajura, said Zikusoka once toyed with the idea of becoming bishop of Busoga, but it was not clear where that ambition ended. During the Godfrey Binaisa era (1979), Zikusoka, served as Uganda’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. He also chaired the Public Service Commission from 1993 to 1997.

His wife, Anita, said although he was not a dictator, Zikusoka, had a way of making people do things he wanted them to do, without offending them. Anita, who met the engineer in Hawaii, USA, said on marrying him, she found herself having to adjust to his lifestyle. This girl from California had to change her dress sense and turn into a seasoned African man’s wife, in many ways, and quickly too.

“I once asked him if he expected me to kneel and he said no, but when Kyabazinga Wako Muloki visited our home, he called me on the side and said, ‘Muna, fukamira’ (my dear kneel before him),” she said.

Anita said her husband was generous, kind and loving, and showered her with gifts even in his final days. Anita Kacici and Zikusoka were married on December 12, 1991, after the death of his first wife, Kekulina, also mother of his children Aggrey, Sarah, Irene, Erinah, Paul, Moses and the late Peter Zikusoka. Mama Anita, as she is popularly known, said Zikusoka loved football and had such a passion for English football club Arsenal.

“When his team did well, you would ask for anything and he would give it without blinking,” she said.

Anita’s brother and former minister, Richard Kaijuka, said he credits Zikusoka for many things, but mainly for his sharp dress sense.
“I had a relationship with him as my brother-in-law, but I came to appreciate his high quality of life. He really cared what he dressed like; he was neat and classy, and that drew us closer,” said Kaijuka, himself famous for his tasteful nature.

He said he was shocked that Zikusoka insisted on having his barber go to Nakasero hospital where he was under intensive care, to groom him.
“He died remarkably smart,” Kaijuka said.
Zikusoka is remembered for being positively proud, although quite humble, considering his many achievements. His son Moses said his father almost always started sentences with his signature “Omusoga akoba” (the Basoga say), before richly expressing himself using proverbs from his motherland.

Zikusoka was widely travelled and by the time of his death had visited 62 countries. Referred to as the father of engineering in Uganda, he founded the Uganda Institute of Professional Engineers in 1972. Zikusoka also executed major public projects, including construction of Entebbe International Airport, Kampala International Conference Centre, all major highways in western and eastern Uganda, the Mount Kenya Tea Roads, and the Bristol/Birmingham motorway in the United Kingdom in 1960, among others.

He died of low blood pressure at Nakasero hospital on January 29 and was buried on February 3 at Bulanga, Namungalwe.


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