East Africa

Fare-thee-well Dr Namulondo, a great editor, selfless mentor

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Kampala

A month earlier, on February 7, Dr Sarah Nantaba Namulondo posted on her Facebook page: “It’s official, I have kidney trouble and the rough journey ahead has just started, not to mention the pain I’ve gone through and I’m still going through.”

Although it was a Thursday and a working day, the post indicated that Dr Namulondo, a lecturer at Makerere University and an associate editor at The Observer newspaper, was at home near Kireka. The rough journey turned to physical and emotional pain and soon her hospital visits surpassed those to her office. That journey ended on Sunday afternoon at Mulago, the same hospital where Namulondo was born. She was 41.

For some people, news of her passing came via social media, carrying with it the dark grief that soon engulfed those whose lives she touched in journalism, including this newspaper, where she worked for many years as an editor.

Many had learnt of her illness but few expected it to be terminal or to come so soon.
As the news sunk in, they recalled the precious moments they shared with her, and the small but important ways in which they had been touched by her infectious enthusiasm and the simplicity and generosity of her friendship.

“I first met Sarah at The Monitor in 1997 when I was an intern,” a tearful Carolyn Nakazibwe recalled over the telephone yesterday. “She was a sub editor of upcountry stories. We worked together for years and later became partners when we started Weekly Observer. We knew she was sick but we decided to be positive about the situation.”

Dr Namulondo had recently acquired a doctorate degree in Literature from the University of South Florida in America but she remained humble and down-to-earth, as she had always been helping many journalists up the career ladder.

In 1997 Richard Kavuma, now The Observer’s managing editor and also a former Monitor journalist, was cutting his teeth in journalism. Back then, budding journalists would write and type out their stories and submit them at The Monitor reception. They were not allowed in the newsroom except on special invitation.

Mixing humility with professionalism
“So one time, the receptionist was not around and I requested to pass through to the newsroom. When I reached there, the faces I saw were intimidating but among them was one of a lady that smiled and welcomed me. It was Sarah Namulondo who listened and encouraged me,” he recollects.

The Daily Monitor’s managing editor, Mr Daniel Kalinaki, also recalled Dr Namulondo’s nurturing hand. “I benefitted from her generosity and kindness when I joined the Monitor 15 years ago,” Mr Kalinaki said yesterday. “She will be greatly missed and forever cherished. Sarah was the consummate professional; always eager to help younger journalists but persistent in demanding for results. In a journalistic world of big egos, she was humble yet very competent. She always let her work do the talking and avoided the limelight yet she was a star,” he added.

Mr Alex Atuhaire, the Daily Monitor’s news editor, was one of Dr Namulondo’s mentees.
“I was a junior correspondent, straight out of high school, when I first met Sarah. In every sense, she was my first editor. She was a very simple yet a firm editor and very intelligent,” he says.

In a world where women are seen not to be fans of politics, Dr Namulondo was an all-round person and in mentoring Mr Atuhaire, taught him to give a human- interest angle to his stories.

“It was the story about the final pull-out of UPDF from Congo and she told me to take the angle – talking to one of the soldiers about the women our soldiers had supposedly got as wives in DR Congo. It turned out a popular beautiful story, based on an interview with the current UPDF Chief Political Commissar, Col. Felix Kulayigye, then still a captain. Until today, Col. Kulayigye publicly talks about the story every time we meet – such was the impact of the angle to the story,” says Mr Atuhaire.

Sarah’s generosity
Others, like the Observer’s journalist Abubaker Wakasanke, recall her generosity: “When I recently got an accident she offered to pay school fees for one of my children until I was fine. She followed through with her promise, for a year. She was that editor, who always helped interns, lent them her cameras and made sure they were helped.”

Dr Namulondo’s brother, playwright and broadcaster Abu Kawenja described his sister as a jolly person who encouraged her siblings to read. He says he last visited Dr Namulondo last Wednesday at Mulago Hospital where he felt she had lost hope. “She told me she did not want to see so many visitors, perhaps because she was not feeling any improvement,” he recounts.

Dr Namulondo had earlier posted that she had, for the last three years, done everything to shed off a few pounds with little success. “But with this pain, I’ve achieved that feat in two months without even trying!” She wrote on her Facebook wall.

Unfortunately, the illness did not just reduce her weight. On Sunday, it took her soul. Doctors were yesterday still conducting a post-mortem investigation as to the cause of death.
Dr Namulondo will be buried today at 2pm at Nganjo, Bulemezi, on the Luweero highway.

rbatte@ug.nationmedia.com

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