Owekitiibwa GODFREY KAAYA KAVUMA, one of the most influential people in Buganda kingdom structures, passed on last Saturday after kidney failure. He was 82. A successful businessman, he was also an amiable but very strict person. Kavuma has been known as one of the Kabaka’s most trusted men, often tasked with overseeing several kingdom projects.
Denis Jjuuko looks back at his life.
On Saturday June 22, 1996, a sizeable crowd turned up in front of the majestic Bulange building, the administrative headquarters of the kingdom of Buganda. The crowd had come to witness the launch of the kingdom’s radio station, Central Broadcasting Service (CBS FM). The crowd went wild when the radio went on air.
The station is still loved and listened to a lot and its radio presenters have become household names. What CBS’ legion of fans may never know are the people behind the scenes who make things happen.
They never become celebrities because they rarely interact with the fans. Owek Godfrey Kaaya Kavuma who died on Saturday of kidney-related illnesses was one such person. He was the first chairman of the board of directors and managing director (though previously Rev Dan Kajumba worked as general manager before the position of managing director was created).
After 18 years, he relinquished the managing director role to his protégé, Michael Kawooya Mwebe, but he remained chairman of the board. In fact on Saturday, Kawooya Mwebe drove to his home in Mutungo, a Kampala suburb, on a scheduled appointment to discuss a matter related to CBS and to check on him. He was told he had just returned from Nakasero hospital for dialysis.
Kawooya Mwebe decided to give him space to recuperate and was called a few hours later that his boss had died. He served beyond CBS FM, rising up to the position of deputy Katikkiro after ex-Ssaabalangira Besweri Mulondo resigned following his turnaround not to support the federalism cause in parliament.
The Kabaka had also bestowed on him the greatest honor in Buganda because of his service and dedication to the kingdom. With his distinctive broad smile and proudly wearing the official regalia of the Buganda Lukiiko (Parliament), Owek Kavuma received the honors in August 2017.
Although apart from chairing the board of CBS, Owek Kavuma had retired from Mengo, he remained an advisor on many issues.
“It is him and Owek John W. Katende that have kept me going since my appointment as Katikkiro. Whenever I have had a challenge, he has been there to support me, to advise me,” Katikkiro Charles Peter Mayiga says.
In his book King on the Throne; the Story of the Restoration of the Kingdom of Buganda, current Katikkiro Mayiga writes fondly of Owek Godfrey Kaaaya Kavuma, or GKK as he loved to abbreviate his name.
“Long before it was expected that the Kingdom of Buganda would be restored, Kavuma had met Prince Mutebi in exile, in Nairobi, Kenya and in London. Kavuma knew the future Kabaka early.
After a spell of 25 years abroad, Kavuma returned to Uganda in 1992 and carried on with the lucrative coffee export business, which had engaged him in Kenya, Ethiopia and England. As the Ssaabataka’s Supreme Council (SSC) commenced the mobilization of the people of Buganda to the cause of the kingdom, cultural representations (CRs) were appointed as its linkmen and linkwomen in the different areas of Buganda.
Since Kavuma hails from Busiro county, he was named the SSC’s CR for that county in 1992,” Katikkiro Mayiga writes.
He further says that Owek Kavuma was “an affable man who perennially attires in dark suits with impeccably matched shirts and neckties and golden cufflinks carved in shapes of coffee beans.
His disposition leads a bystander to the conclusion that this Kabaka’s man had been places, and had tasted the good things that comfortable living can bring.”
Talking of a good taste, he had a penchant for Land Rover Discovery vehicles. He always seemed to replace one Land Rover Discovery with a newer model. Owek Robert Waggwa Nsibirwa, the Second Deputy Katikkiro who also serves as Finance and Investment minister, says that he had last spoken to him on Wednesday.
“When he called me last Wednesday, he was joking as usual. The voice was strong and he sounded very jovial. He was very witty; full of jokes and always smiling,” Nsibirwa said.
“He was such a nice person, most times all you had to talk about was Nvuma clan; coffee business; Mwiri; Buganda or his Anglican Church and he would lighten up. If you spiced it with the knowledge that you knew his Mwiri roots; he would go an extra mile to give you his ear and pour his heart out,” Nsibirwa added.
Nsibirwa and Kavuma shared a father-son relationship given that they both hailed from the Nvuma clan.
“I was always his Mutabani [son] with whom we shared the great clan of Nvuma; we went to the same college of Mwiri; our passion for the coffee industry was great; our love for the kingdom of Buganda and our church of Namirembe cathedral, among others, always drew us near each other,” he added. No wonder Katikkiro Mayiga appointed Owek Nsibirwa to chair the committee that is organizing the burial.
To his peers, GKK was a reminder of the duty to inspire the next generation with humility. He was an entrepreneur, a manager, cultural conservationist, unifier and a God-fearing person.
“At the time of Kavuma’s arrival, Mengo used to welcome (and still does even today) people who seemed ready to give without being asked for, or without expecting returns or rewards. The CR for Busiro county formally joined Mengo with a most valuable asset: the ability or willingness to find time for everyone,” Katikkiro Mayiga further writes.
He adds that in the events leading to the restoration of the kingdom, in Kaaya Kavuma, Buganda had a mature person who could appreciate Muteesa I’s legacy. “Even under stressful moments, he would always try hard to maintain his geniality,” Katikkiro Mayiga further writes.
And when the kingdom needed somebody who could raise $350,000 in 1993 for the coronation ceremony, it turned to only one person — Owek Godfrey Kaaya Kavuma. But life is strange. GKK died three days to Kabaka Mutebi’s 26th coronation anniversary.
As Kabaka Mutebi is lifted shoulder high for the 26th time today at Nkumba University, Owek Kaaya Kavuma must be looking down at the whole ceremony with his broad smile, satisfied that his contribution to the restoration of the kingdom was never in vain.