Hadijah Nakitende, one of the founders of The Sunrise newspaper passed away a fortnight ago on June 21, after a year-long battle with cancer.
For the last twenty years of her 55 years of life, she breathed life into The Sunrise and dreamt about it, and sacrificed her last coin to sustain the publication.
In the following piece we pay tribute to her undying passion for The Sunrise, her contribution to growing the careers of many young men and women and her contribution to the development of journalism in Uganda in general.
I joined The Sunrise when it had just started in 2000. Nakitende had teamed up with colleagues from the former Uganda Airlines to start a weekly newspaper.
Their dream was to create an influential weekly newspaper targeting the political and business class of Uganda.
I was a young man fresh from university simply trying to find a place to practice my freshly acquired writing skills. I, along with a few others, were warmly received by Hajat as we baptized her.
Ms. Nakitende hadn’t trained in journalism but her ambition ensured she treated us the best way she could to give The Sunrise a strong start.
She also relied on a few tested hands in the industry to help her bring out the newspaper. People like Sam Sserwanga, then working with The New Vision, Musaazi Namiti who later moved to Aljazeera, Michael Wakabi, a renowned aviation industry writer she had known from her days in the airlines business, helped get the paper off the ground, but also tap needed skills and expertise in different sections of the newspaper.
For twenty years, I worked with Ms. Nakitende, I was privileged to share her generosity, kindness and witnessed her immense sacrifices for the publication, and for us as her staff other less privileged people.
Giving was in her DNA that she most times forsook her comfort to make others survive.
From using her own money to pay accommodation for her staff, to staking her assets to ensure the newspaper came out on schedule, are some of the many sacrifices she made for us and for The Sunrise.
I was particularly fortunate, to have been a recipient of her compassion, not because was the most deserving, but more perhaps because of the commitment we both shared, to ensuring the success of The Sunrise, against all odds. She gave me a two bedroom house she had built from earlier jobs, to live in, even when she was living in her sister’s house. And she didn’t sleep in hers, even a single night.
Nakitende the mentor
Although she wasn’t the editor, Ms. Nakitende helped very many young, talented and ambitious writers to find a place to hone their skills, before they could move to bigger publications.
As the Manager Human Resource for several years, Ms. Nakitende gave opportunity to as many budding writers as she could to try out their craft.
Many have testified to her open-mindedness as having proved a crucial stepping stone for their success in media and other fields.
Moses Walubiri, who went on to write for The New Vision, before joining the National Planning Authority (NPA), where he currently works as a planner in the Justice Law and Order Sector, remembers vividly how Ms. Nakitende helped him beat a path into journalism.
“I was working as a driver at Sports View Hotel in Kireka and I used to write letters to the Editor for The Monitor which were published the way I had written them. So I thought I could pursue writing as a career. I went to The Sunrise where I met Hajat. I asked if she could give me an opportunity to submit a regular column, she told me no problem. She asked for samples of my unpublished work which I submitted. I remember my first piece was on Charles Taylor’s indictment by the International Criminal Court. It came out the way I had written it.
Walubiri continues: “At the time, I had enrolled for a post-graduate diploma in journalism at Makerere and wanted to practice journalism. I was however worried how I would survive if I left Sports View who were providing everything from accommodation to meals.
“I told Hajat I wanted to take a leap of faith by leaving Sports View and join The Sunrise on a more permanent basis but I was worried about survival.
“She asked me to find a decent house near where I was living, which I did, on top of offering to pay my rent, transport and meals.
From this experience, Walubiri describes the late Ms. Nakitende as a really altruistic person.
“She was one of the most important persons I’ve met in my life. Someone who stuck her head above the parapet for me.
“If Hajat had not offered to pay my rent, I probably would not have left Sports view. She was beyond a professional and acted more like a mother to me,” adds Walubiri.
Edris Kiggundu, the Editor of The Nile Post – an online publication and sister entity to NBS TV, eulogized her as a motherly person to whoever she worked with.
“For some of us who started our journalism at The Sunrise, this is a big blow. She was motherly, and gave journalists advice about life. She gave opportunity to many upcoming journalists to hone their writing skills,” recalls Kiggundu.
Mike Ssegawa, the founder of Watchdog Media, also eulogized Nakitende as the kindest person one could ever meet.
He said: “The Sunrise and all Journalists that went through the weekly newspaper, have lost a matriarch.
“Hajat’s energy and positivity infused hope in anyone who entered the doors of Sunrise. Hajat is the kindest person one could ever meet. She gave us all a chance to practice journalism, and was always ready to teach or ask her editors to teach anyone with promise.
Steven Bwire, the Editor of The Public Lens, an NRM-leaning publication, remembers how Ms. Nakitende helped him transit from a struggling teacher into a successful journalist that he is today.
“Hadijah Nakitende opened doors for me as a budding journalist. She published my first article in The Sunrise newspaper in 2007. She mentored me and inspired me into the journalist I am today. She opened her arms and took me in at the time I was a struggling teacher in Kampala trying to make ends meet.
“Gradually, when I finally settled in at The Sunrise as a full-time writer, specializing in special projects and features, life kept moving on; The Sunrise had become one strong family. Haddy kept us moving even in the most difficult of situations. The Sunrise wasn’t making a lot of money as a publication, but ‘Haddy’ would find a way of motivating her staff by scrapping from other means to make things work out . We would sit and work while having hearty laughs. We would talk a lot of things, and sip our tea which was always available.
“She was a mentor. She kept telling me that I was a great writer and had potential to do better. From Sunrise, other opportunities opened up for me and I moved on other media houses. The last time I had a quality encounter with Haddy was at my wedding ceremony on December 8th 2019. Haddy surprisingly showed up and spoke life into our new found marriage. That was Haddy. Kind. Gentle. Generous. Chatty. Full of laughter. Beautiful,” remembers Bwire.
Not only was she kind to humanity, Ms. Nakitende was a staunch believer and defender of her Islamic faith. She made it her duty to spread the gospel of Allah and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) to as many online and private platforms as she could.
As The Sunrise, we cherish the foundation she laid, the friends she made and the many sacrifices she made in her life to ensure the success of this organization – and for that we say thank, posthumously.
We wish to pledge our unwavering commitment to pursue her mission to Build The Sunrise into Uganda’s Leading Weekly Newspaper.
On my behalf and on behalf of The Sunrise Team, we feel an even bigger obligation and duty to ensure that this publication grows bigger and better to serve our country Uganda as a development-oriented news organization of choice.