OBITUARY: How Hope Kivengere will be remembered

RIP Hope Kivengere

RIP Hope Kivengere

By Paul Nantulya- USA

Hope Kivengere, a dedicated, principled, and selfless servant of Uganda and Africa has left us. After many years of distinguished service to Uganda, she served humanity in many capacities. Among them, the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) to the UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur, and the COMESA Committee of Elders. She will receive accolades for her work long after she is laid to eternal rest. However, there was a side to her that was not always in the public eye, but part of the legacy she lives behind. It is this aspect I will reflect on.
Charity Kivengere, or Miss Kivengere as she was known to my classmates and I, was Hope’s younger sister, and my classroom teacher from fourth grade at Rusinga House, then a small private school in the suburbs of Nairobi. Hope taught at Braeburn House– across the road from Rusinga and archrival in sports and other activities. The two sisters shared a light brown Audi which they drove interchangeably—sometimes it was parked in Rusinga and other times across Gitanga Road in Braeburn. In an end-of-year school magazine, Miss Kivengere (Charity) revealed that she and Hope constantly fought over their turn to drive that Audi! Incidentally, they shared signature Afros, the same sense of elegant fashion, and a striking resemblance. They were like twins. Their two other sisters are Peace and Joy.
Hope and Charity’s students from both schools describe them in exactly the same way, both eponymously named. Charity expected us to always model the values of charity, honesty, and uprightness, the same values Hope demanded of her students at Braeburn. Many students, like myself, were Ugandan, and those were sad years of exile for many, including the Kivengeres. However, as children we didn’t feel it because Hope and Charity Kivengere brought Joy and Peace to the classroom every day on both sides of Gitanga Road. And they did it with elegance, grace, dignity, poise, and humility.
This was all the more remarkable given everything their family endured after fleeing Uganda. Their father needs no introduction, the late Right Reverend Festo Kivengere, Bishop of Kigezi, was one of the most remarkable Christians of the 20th Century and easily the best-loved evangelist to have come out of the Global South. Never afraid to speak the truth as he saw it, he was a powerful voice of Ugandans’ plight and led the moral crusade against dictatorship. Hope, like her father, saw the need for personal sacrifice in the struggle for a better Uganda. She was part of the resistance and later participated in the 1985 Nairobi Peace Talks on Uganda, all while keeping her teaching job.
She and I reconnected many years later in Kampala where she was serving as the President’s Press Secretary. My parents sent me to Uganda to gain some experience before going away for postgraduate training. My guardians, the Kagimba family, arranged a Foreign Service internship to instill in me a sense of public service and appreciation for a country I barely knew, having been born in exile. On one afternoon, I accompanied Dr. Jesse Kagimba, whom I know simply as Uncle Jesse, to his office in Nakasero and it was there that I spotted Hope Kivengere getting out of her white Pajero and walking into the building. I immediately mistook her for Charity and was eager to re-introduce myself.
I must confess I was quite the rascal in Charity’s class, ever at the receiving end of her punishments. Moments later I stood before Hope in her office as she put her calls on hold, closed the door, and began an animated conversation for about 40 minutes. It took me a while to figure out that I was talking to Hope, not Charity, but it didn’t really matter. As I explained earlier, Hope and Charity’s former students are very much like one big class. I think she excused the confusion; it happens to many others. A 2017 series in the New Vision chronicles Hope’s experiences in a story titled: “I comforted wives of combatants.” However, the large center-spread photo they used is of Charity Kivengere!
I returned to Hope’s office, alone and at times in the company of a childhood friend, several times. We mostly showed up unannounced, but she always made time. There was no agenda beyond debating international and African affairs, and Pan-Africanism. Eventually we started meeting in the early evenings to give us more time, with each engagement lasting 2-3 hours.
All this was unscripted. We thought of a topic, prepared a write-up, and went to Hope’s office to discuss, with the naïve belief that we were rendering to the State, service of the utmost importance. It was a dizzying feeling. Anyone else would have brushed us aside as juvenile and certainly delusional. Not Hope. She loved reading and at the end of each meeting, always asked if we had a memo for her. My colleague and I would fall over each other to submit yet another “important contribution.”
Kivengere: The Pan Africanist Hope for young Africans

Hope was a fastidious record keeper, who, I imagine, must have shook her head in amusement every time she retrieved those documents. But herein lies that kind of person she was. Despite being at the very top of the Senior Executive Service, she never once dismissed nor made us feel silly. She made time for us, always. She nurtured, engaged, and encouraged as we grew into the professionals we would become.
Those early discussions eventually led to the creation of a monthly journal called the Pan Africanist, with Hope as Chief Sub Editor and regular contributor. But what the public doesn’t know is that Hope was not a figurehead. She was part of the daily hustle, involved in every stage of preparation, planning, and design. We were in and out of her office every day for hours and hours, working with her to choose storylines, select photos, and prepare interviews.
Notably, we didn’t hire anyone and never even paid ourselves or our editorial board. We did everything on our own, and everyone, Hope included, chipped in. We walked up and down the dusty Kampala streets in the sweltering heat looking for advertisers. We sat in the printing rooms on Nasser Road until all copies had been printed and we set up our own countrywide distribution network. Hope played her part in all these efforts, sharing in our toils and joys. To make life a little easier, our tiny team of no more than five was moved to the same office complex where she worked, and she was now just a few steps away, accessible to us anytime we needed to see her.
And how excited she was every time an issue came out! When Hope was excited, she spoke very fast, and laughed a lot. We had a tradition of giving her the first five copies off the press of every issue for the historical record. This was always done in her office. Despite her hard and fastidious work, Hope never received overtime pay for the humongous amounts of time she spent every day working on the Pan Africanist.
Hope was also regularly in contact with numerous youth groups and young professionals, another side of her that the public doesn’t know. She connected us to quite a few who eventually joined the Pan Africanist. We were a great team. Some of the strongest friendships I have forged over the years have been with people who were shaped by Hope one way or the other. These include my childhood buddy, Stephen Othieno Jr, with whom I shared many of these experiences from day one, Okei Rukogota, and K David Mafabi. Later on, I met Pamela Ankunda, Arinaitwe Rugyendo, Kwame Rugunda, Shadrack Muzinguzi, and Patricia Magara. The list is long.
Why did Hope surround herself with young professionals?
The simple answer is that she had a natural affinity for young people, an excellent quality for a teacher. Above all, she was the ultimate team player and mentor. Constantly endearing herself to others, she always talked about “we,” “us,” and “our.” She did not create any distance between herself and us. It was truly humbling for us to see.
Hope: The Revolutionary Peace Maker
Hope is not just cherished in Uganda. A South Sudanese colleague calls her “the mother of the Revolutionary Movement for New Africa (REMNA).” This was a coalition of African students that my colleagues and I were part of to agitate for freedom in South Sudan at the height of the war. It undertook visits to the liberated areas to create awareness, mobilize scholastic materials, and focus diplomatic pressure. Hope was just about the only senior leader in the region prepared to embrace this movement and she advised and guided its members on several occasions. She was a Pan Africanist, humanist, and internationalist of the highest caliber.
Eventually our work with Hope branched in different directions.
With her strong encouragement, we threw ourselves into a project to rehabilitate disabled war veterans, something very close to her heart. Florence Naiga Sekabira, Hope’s personal friend and the then Minister for Disabilities, was trying to organize an event to showcase the contributions of war veterans. Hope, elated by our offer of support, was beaming during the press conference: “Paul and team, please step forward and introduce yourselves to the press.”
From there, we set off to Mubende Rehabilitation Center and spent several weeks getting to know the war veterans, working with them to exhibit their produce, stories, experiences, and artefacts to the nation. They mounted two exhibitions, one for the senior leadership, held at Mubende Barracks and a public one at the National Theater in Kampala. Hope came for both exhibitions and was visibly moved when we were singled out for special acknowledgement.
In later years we teamed up with Hope to set up an academic think tank on peace and security studies. This had always been on the radar as an outlet for the long discussions we had in her office all those years and some of the topics covered by the Pan Africanist. To our surprise, she decided to go back to school to pursue a master’s degree in Peace and Conflict Studies at Makerere University. “We must prepare ourselves academically if we are to set up an institution of this nature.”
We followed her lead, and I am proud to say that all of us received post-graduate qualifications in relevant fields over the years. From time to time, Hope also shared key insights on her experiences. Some were funny, like when she drove the late Dr. John Garang to the airport after meeting President Museveni. He was ushered to his motorcade only to find there were no drivers. Hope promptly stepped in to save the day without skipping a beat!
Our work with Hope continued long after we established our Institute. We worked on East Africa, the Northern Uganda and Burundi Peace Talks, and many other issues. Eventually a few of us—Hope included—ended up working outside Uganda, but we still found the time to conspire and invite each other to conferences and meetings in South Africa, Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, and elsewhere.
We used these platforms to catch up and caucus on the side while preparing coordinated responses to the issues at hand. We wanted to build a body of practice for our small Institute.
Eventually, Hope went into high-level peace-making on a full-time basis. However, we kept in close contact, and continued our collaborations. Whenever we were in Uganda, her house remained a warm meeting place for our unscripted conversations.
One other thing the public doesn’t quite get about Hope is how she balanced her deep religious convictions with revolutionary beliefs. She idolized Fidel Castro. A huge mural of Che Guevara hung in her study, which provided a suitable backdrop for many of our revolutionary engagements. Hope deeply believed in Che’s statement that, “true revolutionaries are guided by great feelings of love.” These become the driving force for creating justice in the world, something Hope deeply subscribed to even though she may not have voiced it publicly. Coincidentally, “Revolutionary Love” is the title of Bishop Festo Kivengere’s book that tells the story of how he learned to freely receive Christ’s love and share it with others. Here again we see how his daughters—angels—lived up to their names, and to his legacy.

Let me end by speaking to the Kivengere family.
To my class teacher Charity Kivengere, I am no longer the rascal I was. My start was not promising but you never gave up on me. That baton was handed to Hope when I became a young adult. I would not be the professional I am today had it not been for you and Hope and I will never forget you.

To the larger family, I wish there was a way we could ease your grief and pain. The closing moments of Hope’s life have been very hard, but we trust that in the coming weeks, months, and years, you will find the strength that you need, and the Peace you so much deserve. You are treasures of Uganda, Africa, and the World. We mourn and stand alongside you at this time of need. We can never thank you enough for the sacrifices you made and for the teachings you instilled in us. Your dearly departed parents, Festo and Merab are glowing with pride. Their dreams of peace and healing continued through you, and through the work that Hope did for her country and Africa.

And now we lay Hope Kishande Kivengere, beautiful, dignified, principled, and brave daughter of Africa to eternal rest. You fought well, dear senior Comrade Hope. You join the company of the cream of Africa’s departed giants, Mandela, Garang, Machel, Sisulu, Nyerere, your maternal grandfather the great warrior Rwaibabiro, and your parents Festo and Merab. You leave behind a beautiful family, and countless professionals whom you nurtured and guided over so many years. They should pledge to continue perpetuating your legacy and the beliefs you instilled in them for the rest of our lives.
Our dearest, dearest, dearest Hope Kivengere. Our sky has fallen. We are nothing without you. Our hearts are filled with grief, broken in a thousand pieces. We have nowhere to turn to.

The writer was taught by Charity Kivengere as a child. As a young adult, he worked with the late Hope Kivengere from 1999, shortly after graduating from college, and throughout most of his career.

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