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Joseph Ndugwa: The craftsman of theatre creatives

Omugave Joseph Ndugwa

Jolly Joseph Ndugwa alias Omugave is not the mastermind behind Uganda’s theatre but he is the craftsman of many of the celebrated playwrights and theatre performers in the country today.

Like the hero he was, Ndugwa made his final curtain call on June 9, at Kaiser Permanente Sunset hospital in Boulevard California. He had been suffering from Prostate Cancer which had spread to most parts of his body. Ndugwa died aged 66.

On June 15, playwrights, theatre performers, politicians and entrepreneurs gathered at the Uganda National Cultural Center (UNCC) to remember the great ‘Ugandan Shakespeare’ as Kato Lubwama titles him. They shared anecdotes on how Omugave Ndugwa made theatre the best entertainment ground.

Politician Ali Ndawula, a veteran stage performer credited Ndugwa for taking the first group of stage performers to perform outside the country in 1986. “It was in Kenya and the entire performance was done in Luganda. He was the mastermind behind theatre competitions, something that made drama more popular.

He praised his spirit of generosity revealing that at the time, there were many competing theatre groups but Ndugwa made sure they all lived. For instance, he would help them get back on their feet purposely for a healthy competition.

He had the aptitude for identifying talent. Nobody was nurtured by Ndugwa and is living miserably. He is the father of many theatre groups like Nabugabo theatre stars, Diamond ensemble, and Afri talent among others.

Ndugwa was highly favored. According to Ali’s research, he never attended any tertiary institution yet he always hung around educated people like prof. Rose Mbowa. “He never ousted public information without documenting it and all his 34 plays are scripted. Through riverside theatre, Ndugwa was the first person to award George William Kakoma with a medal,” He said.

Dramatist Kato Lubwama said he joined Ndugwa’s black pearls in 1986 after they had just returned from Kenya. “At the time, Ndugwa had 50 powerful performers and football was my profession and his group was more of a learning institution. His work can only be compared to that of Shakespeare. He for example narrowed down Amin’s regime in a play titled ‘Wasajja Mu Bizinga Byesesse’. I always wonder how he survived getting assassinated because it was during the same period when Byron Kawadwa was killed. I think his choice of words saved him. He will forever be one of Uganda’s Shakespeares.” He said

Mr. Kiyimba Musisi, Chairman of Art and culture on the UNCC board of directors shared how Ndugwa’s black pearls came to have a home at Riverside theatre.

“I was in Akezimbira dramactors when we asked for Riverside theatre from the Women’s Association. Because Akezimbira was not that powerful, when we received the letter of authorisation from the association, we took it to Ndugwa and that’s how black pearls came from Biwologoma to the Riverside theatre.

Veteran musician Halima Namakula revealed that she first met Ndugwa when she was 16 years in Kampala Negro Angels.

“We were both young when we met. He was only three years older than me. Since then, we became a family and he introduced me to the father of my children. We always made the decisions together. One day as we sat on the bus together, he told us that he wanted to leave Negro Angels and start his own. He chose the name Black Pearls and I didn’t like it. He however explained the logic behind it and we said goodbye to the Negro Angels,” she narrated

Screenwriter, actress, and director Mariam Ndagire through her eulogy shared how the late Ndugwa spotted her and fellow members of Kampala high drama club after they performed a theatre drama dubbed the coincidence.

“Omugave nurtured and mentored us at no cost. He also helped further our education in MDD. He welcomed all my ideas. He identified my musical talent and was the first person to tell me that I could sing. He was also the first person to take me to a professional studio of the Afrigo band.” She revealed.

Omugave Nduggwa was laid to rest on July 20 in Kimaanya, Masaka.

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