Star. From a humble beginning, Herbert Ssegujja, aka Mendo, has gone on to build himself a name in the Ugandan comedy scene, writes Edgar R. Batte.
I go by the stage names Teacher Mpamiire, Sevo or Museveni. I am a stand-up comedian and a teacher by profession. I am 34-years-old. I was born in Mukono District but grew up in Luweero District.
From childhood, the star of my life has been my grandmother. She is the one who nurtured and brought me up. Her name is Nnalongo Namuleme. I rate her as a five-star because I owe it to her for the person I have become. She was an ardent listener of Central Broadcasting Service (CBS) radio on which people such as Ssalongo John, the announcement reader, worked.
As she listened to radio, I would be washing cassava, sorting beans or doing chores at home. Jajja, as I call her, was keen on mentoring me into a responsible grandson. My parents separated in the 1980s and they took me to my jajja’s place. I was one year old. In 1989, we went to Luweero. The war had just ended and Luweero was recovering. We fed on pumpkins for breakfast, lunch, and supper.
She saved money to take me to school. I started school at Bowa Primary School. It was hard to raise the Shs20,000 school fees. My father was a mechanic and was said to be a drunkard.
Going through school
We would go to the forests with my grandmother to collect firewood which we took to school and asked the headmaster to accept it as part of school fees. She also laboured in people’s gardens in exchange for pay, which would go towards our upkeep.
We had a cow which I had to feed every morning before going to school, so I would go out and look for grass to feed it, go down to the well and fetch water for it to drink and do other home chores before preparing myself to go to school. As I did this, my grandmother prepared my meal for school. Many times, I was sent home to collect school dues. We dug in people’s gardens to raise the fees. I am thankful that I am a hardworking person because of her.
She was very prayerful and served as an usher at Bowa Church of Uganda. By the time I sat for my Senior Four examinations, Jajja did not have money. She spoke to my uncle, Daniel Nsibambi, who worked with Stanbic Bank at the time, to support me. That is how I ended up leaving Luweero to live with him in Zzana.
But before Jajja sent me to stay with him, she sat me down and asked me to be respectful and continue working hard. When I reached Zzana, I started working on construction sites to raise money for scholastic materials. The best moment was when I offered labour during the construction of the dining hall of Standard High School, where I currently teach. The site at which it was erected had a big rock.
At home, I would wake up early, wash my uncle’s car, slash the compound and clean the house. My uncle appreciated my hard work and asked me to look for a school for my A-Level.
I got placement at Greenlight High School. The guiding principles of life from my grandmother still applied in my life. I continued to work hard. My uncle one day told me that he would not be able to support me beyond A-Level, and I understood because he has supported many of his siblings’ children in school.
I knew I had to read very hard in order to get government sponsorship and surely, I did.
My uncle took me to Kololo Airstrip during the swearing-in ceremony of President Museveni in 2001. It is there that I met Zambian comedian Ben Phiri, who mastered the art of mimicking President Museveni. I admired him. I had never seen someone invited to mimic a president.
‘Inspired a great deal’
I would have considered Phiri my star but I consider the person who took me there to see him my actual star. I was inspired a great deal.
In 2002, I joined drama groups at Omega Healing Centre where I started mimicry. At the time, veteran actor Alex Mukulu was canvasing churches for talent. He found me at Omega and liked my act. He included me in his cast for a play titled ‘Mercy- Akatambwa’ which was staged at Uganda National Cultural Centre (National Theatre).
In the play, Mukulu brought on Philip Luswata and some members of Theatre Factory. After the play, I did my mimicry of the president. After my act, I went backstage to change clothes. It is there that I met Hannington Bugingo who commended me for the good acting and asked me to start acting with Theatre Factory. I am grateful to Bugingo for introducing me to a wider audience because our weekly shows were screened on television.
That is why I say that I have had different stars in my life. I have also got mentorship from Pablo (Kenneth Kimuli). Each of them has made a contribution in building me into something. Nonetheless, my grandmother remains the biggest star.”