17th November 2005

Tears for a fallen friend

Dismas Nkunda

November 12, 2005 will remain a sad day for me. That is the day I lost a very dear friend. At about 5 p.m. a message came in from JT - James Tumusiime of The Weekly Observer. I was on my way to the airport to catch an evening flight to Banjul, Gambia.

The message said: Kevin is dying. Minutes later, I confirmed that my very good friend John Ogen Kevin Aliro had passed away.

As I recollected myself and cancelled the trip, I did not know how to react. I had last seen Kevin at International Hospital. He looked to be in a fine shape. We talked for about one hour, the subject mainly on the upcoming elections in March 2006 and the army reshuffles. He told me how he wanted to return to office very soon and prepare “the mother of all coverage of the elections”. How unfortunate he did not live to do what he cherished so much.

I had known Kevin since 1987. But our bond came to flourish in July 1992, when he and six others started The Monitor newspaper. Hired as a reporter, Kevin became my mentor. Like he later wrote about me, he helped me cut my journalism teeth.

We had a few things in common. We liked going for some hard stories. One of the strangest was when he asked whether I could go to look for a small girl in Hoima who had been partially swallowed by a python, and how the little girl fought off the python and later escaped from the jaws of death. With Hassan Badru Ziwa (then photographer at The Monitor), now at The Weekly Observer, we headed to the unknown in Hoima.

We got the story. It was a story that could make the most soul hardened individuals appreciate the heroine that the little girl had become. Such were the kind of assignments that made Kevin a class of his own. And in the process, he helped many cut their journalism teeth under him.

When changes came to The Monitor, I was to deputise Kevin. He was the Chief Sub Editor. But even in this role, which would ordinarily have bound him on the desk, he always had the knack for a story. In 1994, driving his personal vehicle, Kevin headed to the front lines of the Rwanda patriotic Front war during the genocide. No one who read newspapers then could forget his story of an infant suckling a mother who had been dead for four days. Two days later he dispatched me to cover the remainder of the war.

When a group of us left The Monitor to start The Crusader, Kevin against the set norms, remained close to us. He even asked me to be his best man when he wedded his wife Elizabeth Birabwa in 1997.
Kevin’s passion was journalism, but his next big thing was football and nothing could possibly be more important than supporting Sports Club Villa where he was a long time organizing secretary.

He did not hate the bottle like many of us, and his scintillating stories under the pen name of Baba Pajero were a few things that many readers looked forward to reading about the night life of Kampala without actually getting out of their beds.

Nothing though will I remember like when I went to visit him while he was admitted about a month ago. He was slowly coming out of a coma. I sat next to his bed with his wife Liz and one of his SC Villa colleagues, Sanyu. Kevin did not know what was happening around him. As the three of us chatted, he opened his eyes. I held his hand and asked him how he was. I wanted to elicit some response from him, as he looked he was on his way to recovery. I joked to him that I had brought him his favourite bu finger whisky. Of course I had not. Kevin smiled. His wife too smiled, for she had not seen him smile for a while.

So when last Saturday we headed for his home in Naalya, I did now know what to expect. I could no longer get him to smile. He was dead. As I bent over to greet Liz, she burst out crying. “Dis, Majambere is gone,” she said as she wailed. Majambere was a pet name that I called Kevin. And he too called me the same.

Kevin’s last story was his interview with General Salim Saleh at his home, in which the general said he would retire in 2006. It was a story that caused many in the political circles to question why Saleh can speak about politics while still active in the army and others not. It is a story he had agreed to make a follow up on.
Well, he will never do.

Kevin, rest in peace.


Adieu, dear Kevin
Kevin: what a loss!
A friend I will never meet
Observer, friends, media fraternity mourn Kevin
Kevin spirit will live on
Tears for a fallen friend