Bitama, 34, died last Saturday at Mulago hospital, after a long battle with cancer.
Bitama, whose first stage name was Menton Paddy, started out as an emcee at Jenina nightclub in Nansana with Allan ‘Amooti’ Mujuni, who was then called Boogie Woogie, and Eddie Kigere. After emceeing in various nightclubs, the three teamed up in 1998 to start The Amarula Family, the pioneers of stand-up comedy in Uganda.
“We became public rejects but Bitama encouraged us to push on and his lion’s heart is the reason we managed to manoeuvre,” Amooti said, adding that at 34 years Bitama still had a lot to offer.
Bitama told them they had planted a seed many called silly and useless, but soon their ‘stupidity’ would change the country. Bitama, who went to Nansana, Bat Valley and Nakasero primary schools, ended his studies in S.3 at Pride Academy.
“I remember Bitama as a student who always jumped the fence to go to town during class hours, but he was very talented,” said actor Aloysius Matovu Joy who was his principal at Pride Academy.
According to playwright/actor John Ssegawa who, always referred to Bitama as his brother because they both belong to the Ganda nkima clan, the comedian was a simple guy with a great heart.
“Bitama has been a uniting figure, that is why today a person like the lord mayor, Mubarak Munyagwa, Ingrid Turinawe and Kizza Besigye have been allowed to move from their homes without police interference,” said Ssegawa.
Super FM’s Joel Isabirye, who worked with Bitama at Dembe FM, said: “He was very aggressive as an artiste and politician. I once found him and Ronald Mayinja wondering why high school students still studied European history.”
UK-based singer Denis Mugagga said Bitama paved a way for comedy in Uganda. Daniel Kanyerezi, aka Kyebandula Irish, who was discovered by Bitama in 2005 as a student at Makerere High School, praised him as a disciplinarian who always wanted things done in a straight way.
“I met three men [Bitama, Amooti and Nicholas ‘Messe’ Mpeirwe] at a garage opposite Chez Johnson in Nakulabye. I told them I had a talent of mimicking various people. They asked me to think of a character that hadn’t been tried and I chose [UBC news reader] Bbaale Francis, hence the birth of Kyebandula Irish on WBS’ Side Mirror,” he said. “Words cannot express how I feel losing a man who gave me a chance to start out my craft as a comedian.”
Battle for body
All said, one would expect to see Bitama rest in peace, but just as his life was action-packed, life-threatening exchanges ruled the vigil at his Nansana home and at National Theatre. After his death, Bitama, who has been known to belong to the nkima clan, ‘got’ a new ‘father’ in the name of Peter Njegula of ngabi clan, who said the actor was in fact called Kasozi.
This battle that started on Saturday evening ceased temporarily on Monday morning when police took the body to Mulago mortuary after Njegula demanded for a DNA test to prove paternity. He even presented Bitama’s children’s birth certificates, baptism certificates and photos of him with Bitama when he was sick.
“Even if Paddy had a storeyed building in the heart of Kampala I don’t want to know; I only want my blood, period,” said Njegula.
Not all this evidence could move Bitama’s nkima relatives who vowed to even spill blood should they be denied the chance to bury their brother.
“Mummy showed us Uncle Peter but because he was of ngabi clan like her, we thought he was her brother and we kept on referring to him as Uncle Peter…,” said Bitama’s brother.
Relatives spoken to claim Bitama’s deceased mother, Nalukwata, had in fact taken him at a much younger age and formally introduced him to his alleged biological father, Njegula. That in fact, Bitama’s children were given both nkima and ngabi clan names, in an apparent bid to keep both families happy.
A neighbour also claims that when the father who raised him, Sam Tamale, died, a distraught Bitama was allegedly told by his mother not to mourn, for his father was still alive. Well, for whatever it is worth, the truth can only be known at the weekend; by press time the hospital had promised the warring parties DNA results within five days (from Monday).
Those who knew him well will agree, the drama shrouding his death is truly signature-Bitama. He is survived by a widow and several children.
Bitama quick facts
- He tried singing and had three singles; Eryenvu, Wololo and Kifeefe.
- In 2012 he left Amarula Family and formed Amazon Family and also declared he was joining politics, but rejoined Amarula late last year.
- During the teachers’ strike last year, together with his artiste colleagues he went to Namirembe Infants School and taught children.
- Died a born-again Christian, having joined Pastor Wilson Bugembe’s church.
- He was planning to dislodge MP Kasule Ssebunya from Kyadondo North.
- In 1999 he bought a mobile phone that almost split the young group because the rest felt their priority was not a phone.
- Formed a political party called Focus party though he failed to register it.