It is still difficult to believe that comrade Hajat Shakira Nabagesera is no longer with us. She passed on a few days ago, after several weeks of illness.
On 5th June, I visited her at Busabala Nursing Home, where she was first admitted before being referred to Naguru hospital. We spoke for some time and she seemed very sure she would make it. At that time, she was not on oxygen and her condition seemed regular. I thought she would soon rejoin us on the frontline for this, our liberation struggle.
It happened so fast. She was put on oxygen. On some days, she woke up strong while on other she woke up weak. On one day, I called and her daughter picked the call crying. She said words which no one would want to hear- “Mummy is going to die.” Even when I felt so broken, I consoled her and encouraged her that things would be fine. On another day Hon. Kyagulanyi attempted to speak with her over the phone, but she was too weak to speak. I must say that we expected anything else but death. I was too shocked when I called her number early morning on 17th June to send in further support from the Party and her daughter picked the call- inconsolably crying from the other side. “Mummy has died.” Those words sounded like a thunderbolt. It was impossible to believe that Shakira was gone.
Those who did not know Shakira closely are both lucky and unlucky. Lucky because they won’t have to deal with the kind of grief we are dealing with; unlucky because they missed an opportunity to meet the most kind, hard working and resolved individual. Those who only knew her through the live videos will never appreciate what kind of a good human being she was.
We were introduced to Shakira a few days after launching the National Unity Platform. It is Chairman Nyanzi who introduced her to the rest of us. She was previously in NRM but left it on principle and joined NUP. Like many of us who previously supported NRM, she was initially misunderstood and even not trusted by some.
But she set out to prove them wrong. She settled into the party very quickly and became very outspoken about the oppression, repression and exploitation of the Museveni regime. Speaking from her experience as someone who had mobilised for the regime in the previous elections, she warned the artistes and other people who sold us out, that they would be used during the election season, and thrown out as soon as the election ended. As a young woman, she said it was time for this generation to get one of its own.
Shakira quickly became friends with the foot soldiers of the People Power Movement. She connected very well with both ladies and gents and became a pillar of our revolution. Many comrades far and wide benefited from her generosity. She often drove long distances to deliver food relief and other items to comrades.
During the election period, we set out looking for volunteers who were not running for MP to help out with vote protection, distribution of voting materials, and other assignments. When we called her, Shakira was readily available. She was ready to go to any area, regardless of the problems there. She set out with voting materials to distribute them in some districts of Lango sub-region and connected with our comrades there. The persons who were charged with distributing materials in the other parts of that sub-region were both arrested and detained until elections ended. Shakira quickly took charge and started distributing items to our coordinators in the whole sub-region. Given her character, she found it easy to work efficiently with the comrades on the ground.
She was hunted down day and night for several days. Security operatives raided the places she was staying twice or thrice, but she was able to escape- at one time jumping over the fence. She drove the bad roads but made sure she went from district to district, carrying out her assignment with great devotion. She was disappointed with some comrades who turned out to be double agents. She told me about one of our registrars who ran away with money meant to facilitate polling agents and threw away the appointment letters for the agents. She witnessed the crude forms of vote rigging that took place in that region, and at some point was scared to the teeth to confront soldiers who spent the night at a hotel pre-ticking ballot papers. She returned to Kampala with a substantial number of DR forms.
Despite the challenges she encountered on her first tour to the North, I called her at the time when we were collecting evidence to challenge the election in the Supreme Court. You would think she would be scared to return to a place where she nearly lost her life. But that was not her. She quickly agreed to go back to the North and connected with several polling agents, supervisors and ordinary voters who were willing to swear affidavits in support of the case. She worked hard with the lawyers and secured relevant affidavits. The authorities soon learnt that she was back to the sub-region and set out to arrest her. She eluded them and returned to Kampala. We changed the strategy and started inviting the witnesses to Kampala to swear their affidavits there, since it had become very insecure to do it within their regions. Shakira was there every day, making sure the exercise went smoothly. When we wanted someone to prepare food for these comrades who were coming from afar, she offered to help. All we did was buy the food, and she would deal with the rest! She had a team of devoted comrades who seemed very happy to work with her.
It was in part because she was never around to do her own campaigns that she did not make it as a Councillor. Most people become bitter or depressed when they don’t win elections. But that was not her. She understood the reasons why she didn’t make it, and even said perhaps it was for the greater good that she did not win, because then she would focus her energies on building NUP.
I have met fewer people as determined as comrade Shakira. You could see that her actions were driven by conviction and her love for our President. As we embark on building party structures and other activities, her name featured in all discussions as a reliable comrade who would assist in these efforts. It is very, very unfortunate that she passed on under the circumstances she did. It is very painful that we did not have an opportunity to mourn her and give her a befitting farewell. She was stolen from us when we all needed her most.
It did not have to be Shakira, but that is life. Someone said the best people die most because God also wants to be surrounded by good people. I hope she is in a better place, rested from the pain she experienced in her last days on earth.
Her loss was was such a blow to NUP and the struggle for change generally. The only thing those who are alive can do is continue and finish this work for which she made incredible sacrifices.
May her gentle soul rest in peace.
Till we meet again, dear friend.