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Remembering John Nagenda: A Remarkable Writer and Cricketer from Uganda

John Nagenda, a celebrated Ugandan writer, political figure, and sportsman, passed away in March, just before his 84th birthday. He will be remembered for his intelligence, generosity, and, above all, his excellent sense of humor. Cameron Duodo recounts his encounters with Nagenda, whom he first met at an African Writers’ Conference in Kampala in 1962. At the conference, African writers from various countries had the opportunity to meet and interact, breaking the geographical barriers that had kept them apart. For Duodo, meeting South African delegates, such as Ezekiel Mphahlele, Lewis Nkosi, Bloke Modisane, and Bob Leshoai, was particularly thrilling. However, Can Themba, the most popular writer from DRUM Magazine, was absent, having been killed while pursuing one of his adventurous stories.

Duodo describes Nagenda as a friendly and humorous person. He recalls how Nagenda, educated by British teachers, understood the difficulties some Ugandans faced in speaking English correctly. Nagenda explained that ki-Swahili, a common language in East Africa, had influenced the pronunciation of English words. For example, Ugandans referred to “roundabouts” as “kipileftis.” This revelation amused the conference participants, who eagerly gathered more words from Nagenda. Duodo emphasizes Nagenda’s lack of prejudice and how, in later years, he defined himself as a “humanist.”

After completing his English degree at Makerere University, Nagenda became the representative of Oxford University Press in East Africa. However, political circumstances later forced him into exile in Britain. Nagenda was critical of political leaders like Milton Obote, Idi Amin, and Paulo Muwanga, all of whom played a role in his decision to leave Uganda. In England, Nagenda became known as the only black African to participate in the Cricket World Cup of 1975, which also granted him the opportunity to meet renowned cricket players.

Nagenda’s writing style was highly regarded, particularly his column “One Man’s Week” in the New Vision newspaper. He published a novel titled “The Seasons of Thomas Tebo” and a children’s book called “Mukasa.” In England, he was involved in running a respected cricket magazine. Duodo recalls meeting Nagenda in a pub surrounded by admirers and discusses how Nagenda introduced him to Eriya Kategaya, a Ugandan politician, during his exile. Duodo initially had doubts about Kategaya’s revolutionary movement, but after interviewing him, he was convinced and gave the interview significant coverage. Eventually, Kategaya’s movement, the National Resistance Movement, achieved victory in Uganda, leading to Duodo’s assignment to cover the story for the London Observer.

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