THE LAST WORD | ANDREW MWENDA | And so it was that on the morning of December 24th, while going through Instagram, I saw a post on the wall of Lucy Bunyenyezi (Smize) announcing the death of her uncle Ezra Bunyenyezi.
For a brief moment I lost my balance. What? How? When? Why? I just could not believe it! How can Ezra, a man of boundless love and and an abounding generosity, die? He was so full of life and zest, the world needed more and more of him.
There was something special about Ezra and all my life I could never put a finger on it. Perhaps it was the completeness of his character. Ezra was a free spirit in the full meaning of that word. He lived his life without petty squabbles. He was a person of the world blessed with an abounding generosity which he showered on friends and even strangers.
At one point, Ezra suffered a reversal of fortune when his businesses fell apart. Many people gossiped and wondered why his many friends, whom he has selflessly helped in many ways, did not come to his rescue. But Ezra did not seem bothered that those he had given so much and helped a great deal did not return the favor. Again it was vintage Ezra, he gave without asking or expecting any reward because he found meaning and fulfillment from helping others.
He never hated anyone and equally he was a difficult man to hate
He was so loving, so friendly, so open and welcoming: that made him a friend to all and an enemy to none. He never hated anyone and equally he was a difficult man to hate. I think this was perhaps because he never took offense of slights to him; nature blessed him with plentiful kindness and a forgiving heart. This allowed him to easily repair injuries that could have turned into permanent hostilities.
I remember vividly when I first met Ezra in 1998. I was a young journalist, a no body in the class-conscious circles of the rich and famous of Uganda, and he belonged to that class. But even on the first day we met; me in my mid twenties, him in his mid fifties, it was as if we were age mates and belong the same class; and it was as if we had known each other for decades. It was a friendship at first sight.
I was immediately struck by the warmth of his heart, the friendliness of his character, the openness of his mind, the freeness of his spirit, his boundless energy and self confidence and of course his infectious smile, good laugh and big tight hugs. How could someone so rich and famous be so friendly and down to earth! But then again it was Ezra, he just didn’t see class and age differences. He saw human beings.
That is how we became friends. Whenever I met him, my heart would be filled with joy. We talked about everything under the sun: business, politics, diplomacy, culture, and much more. Yet in the many long hours I spent talking to Ezra, I never heard him, even once, talk ill of anyone. He was a man who was above all pettiness.
Through him I met his wife Chantal: tall, elegant, exceptionally beautiful, friendly and loving who talks with grace and a sophistication that endears her to all who met her; and of course their kids, who inherited their parents’ attributes. To you Chantal and the kids, Ezra lived a life of meaning and fulfillment and now he has retired to the next world where he will rest in eternal peace. Be comforted that he has gone to paradise, even though I know you will miss him dearly.
Back to Ezra. I love to give my friends a big hug when I meet them but Ezra bested me at this. His hug was always warm and genuine. The idea that I cannot meet him again and get that hug leaves me feeling empty, at a big loss. Where else does someone find an Ezra, this giant among dwarfs, a cyclopes among men, a Kilimanjaro in a big sea of anti hills?
Ezra’s love of people knew no boundaries and it served him well. He dealt with the young and old, rich and poor, powerful and powerless almost the same way. His last years on earth were bountiful because of his love of young people whom he took seriously. Let me illustrate.
An insurance scheme
He once told me a story of how his kids brought their young friends to him and proposed arranging an insurance scheme on mobile phones for small loans. The idea was that a subscriber could overdraw their airtime or mobile money, essentially getting an overdraft or micro loan off their phone. But the problem was risk to the telecoms.
The insurance scheme was the solution to incentivize telecom companies to allow their subscribers to overdraw their accounts. Because of his love for and faith in young people, Ezra bought their idea and went to work. He activated his very large social network of friends and allies. It worked.
In his sixties Ezra became a business partner with kids in their twenties, a third his age. Who does that? But the business succeeded beyond all imagination, with turnover in excess of $600m in 2015, if I remember the details well. But whatever the figure, Ezra’s faith in the young made him a rich man again.
I have searched my mind to find someone to equal Ezra, to match his self confidence, his openness, his generosity, his friendliness and I am yet to find one.
He has died a fulfilled man because he had a loving family, made many friends, allowed no enemies, succeeded in business, cared for his community, gave generously and lived and loved without fear or regret.
Ezra, my friend, you made the world a happy place. Let us all follow your example.