Rosemary Nankabirwa’s Candle Burns Out At 37 [analysis]

She anchored news on NTV, ushering then-young viewers like myself – who were only beginning to become interested in the world around them – into the world of news, but when the curtain was about to fall on her life, she did not enjoy the news.

“News is negative it can depress you,” Diana Kagere Mugerwa says 37-year-old Rosemary Nankabirwa, who passed away on Sunday, told her. Kagere, also a former news anchor at WBS TV, was Nankabirwa’s friend.

Certainly, Nankabirwa’s reported sentiments are ironical, but perhaps not, considering that the journalist’s world had been dimmed by a diagnosis of the rare adrenocortical cancer. Tuning out negativity-laced news, Nankabirwa searched for positivity and light-heartedness in Christian-centred programmes and in children’s programming.

“She watched Club 700 and gospel channels such as GOD TV. She also watched Disney Junior,” Kagere says.

Her views on news might have been coloured by her illness, but her attitude towards journalism wasn’t. Nankabirwa kept records of her visitors in hospital and even took photographs, hoping to write a memoir.

“She kept a [Samsung Galaxy] tab and recorded moments. She wanted to write a book on her journey with cancer,” Kagere says.

The book won’t be written because a few minutes to 4pm on Sunday April 12, Nankabirwa passed away at the Aga Khan hospital in Nairobi.


Saturday April 11 saw Nankabirwa being flown to Nairobi. She was in a poor condition and one doctor at the Uganda Cancer Institute was of the view that she was not fit for travel. But because her caretakers wanted the best for her, they asked that she be allowed to travel to Nairobi. The doctor waived responsibility over her.

At the hospital in Nairobi, it was reportedly found that the cancer had spread to Nankabirwa’s liver, intestines and bones, and she was in a lot of pain. This pain continued to plague her on Sunday, so much that she asked that she be let go. Eventually, she passed away.


The let-me-go attitude was a new one, according to those who visited her in the hospital. In an online New Vision article, Nankabirwa: Jesus Will Heal Me, Nankabirwa’s mother, Rebecca Kibirige, is reported to have said that Nankabirwa had faith in Jesus.

She believed He would heal her. Her documentation and hopes of writing a book are also evidence that she was sure she would beat the cancer. Nankabirwa was no ordinary patient.

“You wouldn’t find her in her bed during the day. She made sure that her bed was laid and she sat in a chair watching TV. If the chair got uncomfortable, she asked to be propped up with pillows,” Kagere says.

She could not walk, her bones having been affected by cancer but being the ramrod-straight, strict, principled woman that she was, she abided by the code of conduct she had set for herself: she would not sleep during the day and let life pass her by.

Nankabirwa did not allow her visitors to cry before her. Characteristically honest – even brutally blunt sometimes – she asked emotional visitors to step out of the room, compose themselves and then return. Her mother told the media Nankabirwa thought people who cried lacked faith in God.

She also wouldn’t let herself go. Forget that picture where she looked like she was suffering a ton of pain.

“Of course she had her bad days but she did not let herself go. She had a love of nice-smelling lotions and perfumes and even when she was sick, she would wear some lip balm,” Kagere, who says Nankabirwa introduced her to these nice-smelling beauty products when they met and became friends at WBS, says.


Nankabirwa was aptly named at least Wendy, who used to watch Nankabirwa when she anchored news, thinks so. She looked like a beautiful rose with her light skin and long hair. Her looks did not occur coincidentally.

Granted, her mixed-race maternal grandmother – who is called Nalulungi by Nabuti Mukono residents because of her beauty – and her mother passed down their good genes to her. However, she also worked to maintain them.

“She visited the salon often,” Simon Kasyate, who anchored news with her at WBS TV and also worked with her at NTV, says.

Emma Mutaizibwa, who also worked with Nankabirwa at NTV, remembers her for her keenness for fashion.

“She liked to look good and was keen on fashion,” Mutaizibwa says.

Additionally, she went to the gym and was of the view that every woman should belong to a health club. She reportedly did not drink, smoke or party.


Pious is a resounding adjective ascribed to Nankabirwa by Kagere, Kasyate and Mutaizibwa. Vincent Kagaba, an usher at Christ the King church, does not strike you as a man who fraternises with English-speaking news anchors. His face is lined with wrinkles, he walks with a limp and looks like a man who would care less about English-spitting beauties.

However, he fraternised with Nankabirwa because of her routine attendance of church. She was also a member of the Lectors, people who take readings at church, and she often took readings.

“When she would come here [Christ the King] at say about 9pm, she would take my cup of tea and say: ‘Chai bw’aba aweddeyo kannywe ono (Let me drink this if there is no more tea left)’,” Kagaba says.

She would do the same with his chicken.

“She would grab a piece and say that that’s all she would eat,” Kagaba recalls.

Playfulness aside, her articulate manner of taking the readings was noted. Her religiousness is reported to have continued into her illness.

“She recited the rosary [which is named after a rose] with her mother. But she was also open to people of other faiths praying for her,” Kagere says.

In her blog from 2013 when she was studying for her master’s in journalism in London, she posted about the oddity of walking around London with a big cross painted on her forehead on Ash Wednesday. Despite the stares she attracted, she refused to wipe the cross off.


Nankabirwa’s former colleagues who were talked to for this article say she was a principled, professional employee who prepared for news by going through scripts before going on air.

She is also as a woman who was unafraid to voice her opinions, a fact that did not endear her to many of her peers especially from the opposite sex.

She was often described as arrogant, but she was really simply not one for cheap talk and took her principles very seriously.

NTV’s Luganda news anchor Farida Nakazibwe told Bukedde TV Nankabirwa loved children and often asked to babysit her friends’ kids it is a shame she did not live to have her own, or marry that good Catholic man of her dreams.

Nankabirwa’s remains were flown in from Nairobi on Monday evening. A requiem mass was said at Christ the King church today, and she will be laid to rest at Masaka Kanoni at 2pm today (Wednesday), according to the family.

Source : The Observer


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