By Dr. Martin M. Lwanga
Mr David Jamwa the former CEO of NSSF joined Kings College Budo when I was just leaving in the early 1980s. We therefore crossed paths but I had no recollection of him till he was appointed to head NSSF and some of his classmates aptly reminded me so! They talked of him in awe: a straight A student, perennially at the top of his class, who after graduating with a B Com honors degree from Makerere University joined the international audit firm Price water house Coopers. Easily he excelled as a star performer.
I greeted his appointment with anticipation, happy for his meteoric rise and the energy he brought to the lumbering regulator. There was a new excitement in the air as his brilliance permeated through the innovations he rapidly put in place.
Now, extremely brilliant people (of which no one doubts in his case) have always the danger of moving ahead of their team. In his case, coming from an entrepreneurial background, he made certain decisions contrary to policy, but which were well intended to increase company profit. Decisions have always the risk of unintended consequences. In most corporate organizations Mr Jamwa would at the most have suffered only a caution, if any, for a zealous manager. But then he was managing a government organization with many stakeholders of diverse agendas. Quickly he was booked and after a failed appeal, out of work for almost six years, given a new address at Luzira Maximum Security prison!
Almost immediately social media went into a riot. Some commentators applauded the fight against corruption; many it was an opportunity to take on the hypocritical government. I noticed in some of the comments Mr Jamwa was being discussed in the abstract, or, well, a roadside carcass, that had done its pitiful part and it was now time to move on. It is then that a thought occurred to me, forcefully: where are David Jamwa’s classmates! Surely, at this low point, one needs friends to come over and throw their arms around him – without judging.
Today, social media platforms, which at best are businesses looking at numbers, have confused the meaning of being a friend. One person recently told me he has stopped “accepting new friends” as he has “too many friends” on Face book. He needs to apply to Face book to “accept more friends!” Whatsup chat rooms have birthed a new space where “friends” can chat through the day and wait for that positive affirming feedback in colorful emoji.
But, think of it, are these friends! If you may permit me to say, I have found that we value many of these social media platform “friends” because there are not in our physical space. The comfort is we interact in a virtual world where we are in control. If we find ourselves in a heated disagreement with these “friends” it is time to exit. There are make me feel good “friends.” We value them for jokes and forwarding self-affirming messages. However, should they raise a discussion of say contributing money to “one friend in need” there is a disquiet and a loss of interest. Until the jokes and self-affirming messages crowd out those who disturb the peace.
“Who are your friends?” I remember that question whenever in trouble from “complex parents” back in school. Our boring parents often counseled us that your friends tell who you are. Their advice was to pick friends carefully.
In the Bible we find another idea of being a friend. A rich tycoon Job once fell on hard times. It so happened there were only three companions who took time and came over to console with him. Unfortunately some of their advice was too critical rather than uplifting. When down one needs friends who make time not to condemn but stand with one. Jesus, as well, is recorded as having fed thousands of people at one point. But when he fell into misfortune, he had only three to pray with, one who later betrayed knowledge of him in the heat of the battle….
All which brings me to a story that has stayed with me. A father once had a son who always complained that he was not good because he was not popular like some kids who boasted of a classroom of friends. The father sat down his son and offered: “Son, if you can get enough arms to lift your casket – those are all the friends you need. And six people can do a pretty good job.”
In 1966 the King of Buganda, Kabaka Edward Mutesa had his palace attacked by Uganda Central government soldiers. To escape he had to jump the high fence of the palace and flee in the dark. The story is this: As Mutesa run for life he turned to his “close friends” to come to his aide. So he stopped somewhere and called a certain house. But when “the friends” heard that it was the embattled Mutesa calling, well, they started laughing, while sipping cognac, jeering: “Mutesa is on the line.” He heard. He hung up. He moved on.
Have you ever realized that lots of “our friends” are valued only while “the friend” is still at the top and has the means to influence favor for us. How we like associating ourselves with that “friend” whom everyone is dying to be “friends” with! And have you seen how people desert the “friend” who no longer has the throne to sit on? You think you have friends how about this story.
A “friend” of mine had a father who rather prematurely was diagnosed of prostate cancer and given so many days to live. As his health worsened the father gave up his mansion and took up a small hospital room, where he spent most days alone with one best friend. His wife would bathe, dress him, and then pop up his head on the pillows. Both waited. Then almost every day, at about 2pm, two of the father’s old classmates would walk in the private hospital room. They would tease, laugh, slap jokes and talk about the old days. And then sleep came. The two friends would walk away quietly. “My Dad died with a smile on his lips,” I was told. May God in this journey help us find friends such as these.
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