KAMPALA — Tycoon Regina Naluyima Mukiibi Mugongo who ran the country’s first ever funeral homes, the Uganda Funeral Services, has died.
Mrs. Mukiibi died on Tuesday June 29, according to the family.
A close family member said the businessman died on Tuesday at Entebbe International Airport as she was being taken abroad for specialized Covid-19 treatment.
Her death comes as Uganda sees an unprecedented surge in COVID-19 cases.
In the last three days, 144 people have succumbed to the virus — the highest number since the start of the pandemic. Experts say many COVID deaths were likely not recorded.
The huge increase in coronavirus cases has resulted in Uganda’s public hospitals reporting countless challenges as they strive to cope.
Reports from the capital Kampala highlight the main challenges: lack of beds for new patients, shortage of oxygen equipment, and personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves and masks, for those on the frontlines.
Mukiibi rose through the ranks from a banking assistant to an accountant.
She sought early retirement to enter into the travel business. But her request was turned down by her employers, who increased her salary, for they thought it was all about the money.
Barely a year later, they learned that they were wrong when she submitted a second retirement request, this one was granted.
Mukiibi joined her brother’s travel bureau and it was on one of her numerous trips abroad that she discovered a business idea that would see her forge a new way.
Little did she know that it would take years before they would see a cent.
In 1994, they registered the Uganda Funeral Services (UFS) and pioneered its service across the African Great Lakes region.
It took three years before operations kicked off in 1997, mainly due to differing cultural beliefs and practices within the region.
Traditionally, nobody left the responsibility to handle and prepare the dead for burial to people not from the deceased’s clan and family.
Sadly, things would become harder before they became easier.
Her brother, who was also a renowned lawyer in Kampala, passed away on a year after the company started operations, leaving her the mantle to carry on with the challenge of undertaking.
At the time, the communities around Bweyogerere, a Kampala city suburb on the eastern flank, were up in arms against the new funeral home she had established using part of her retirement package.
It was the first of its kind in the country and a cultural shock to most.
Nothing seemed to petrify residents more than learning that the funeral parlor was used for the embalmment of bodies, keeping vigil for the deceased and as a preservation room for cadavers.
She sought refuge by joining numerous national investor networks.
Besides the support and protection the organizations offered her, they also held several events during which Mukibi created awareness for and marketed her services.
Mukiibi was forced to take on several jobs at no cost for demonstrational purposes and as a survival tactic.
It was with relief that Mukiibi learned that similar services were being introduced by the Catholic Church in Uganda.
Church leaders gave her hope and counseled her against giving up.
When a priest passed on, the church enlisted her services. Soon after, elite citizens and the state also joined her list of clientele, as did foreign embassies in Kampala that need to repatriate bodies of the deceased.
Soon her business took off and she applied for a credit facility from a local commercial bank to boost it.
This came easily given her good track record in the banking service.
The funds helped her procure a permanent home within the precincts of Kampala.
Today, UFS’s offices are abuzz. Clients are constantly seen walking in and out.
It was at Salisbury College of Funeral Sciences and Embalming in London that Mukiibi undertook professional training.
Mukiibi was also a council member of the International Federation of Thanatologists Association (IFTA) and FIAT-IFTA – the world organization of funeral operators headquartered in the Netherlands.
Until, her death, she had won various international and local accolades in recognition of her outstanding service, the latest being the 2013 Phenomenal Woman of Funeral Services Trailblazer Award, which she picked up from the US-based 100 Black Women of Funeral Service, during their convention in Austin, Texas in October.
Other accolades include the Best Ugandan Innovator in the senior category for the year 2004, Best Woman Entrepreneur 2007 and Regional Entrepreneur.
She was also recognized as one of the top 50 brands when Uganda celebrated 50 years of independence in 2012.