Renowned stage and movie drama actor Charles James Ssenkubuge aka Siasa is cocky, with a loud laugh, and a natural suaveness – what is sometimes called swag. It is, therefore, not surprising that he is a dominant figure in Uganda’s entertainment industry circles. That he has spent 35 years in the limelight merely adds to his clout.
Kampala, Uganda | AGNES E NANATABA | Although he had for years been on stage with plays like “Ndiwulira” and TV with the 1990s series “Kigenya Agenya”, Ssenkubuge became a true household name when he took the radio airwaves by storm as part of the Radio Simba FM early morning show, `Binsangawano’ crew. His acting career is so powerful that even his contesting as a presidential candidate in 2001 – which many would highlight as a peak of their life, is a mere blip for Ssenkubuge. Today, he works as the General manager and Special Programmes Director for Salt Media.
“Pastor Bujingo had heard about me and loved my radio work but he also knew that I had accepted the Lord Jesus as my personal savior in 2007 so he called encouraged me to work with him,” says Ssenkubuge.
It all started at Kampala High School where Ssenkubuge and colleagues like Aloysius Matovu and Andrew Benon Kibuuka started acting to pass exams rather than make money. As students of literature, Ssenkubuge says they chose to live the characters in one of the plays, `The road’ by Wole Soyinka for an easier understanding.
The acting was a success and Ssenkubuge soon joined Kampala Dramactors. He recalls first foray was with a play titled ‘Mr. Kateete’; a political theme which did not please then-president Milton Obote and the group was disbanded and in 1982. It morphed into Bakayimbira Drammactors.
Ssenkubuge started writing his own scripts kicking off with ‘Agaali amakula’ that would later be picked on as a set book for A-level literature. It depicts a home suffering loss of one parent. Ssenkubuge says it had hints of autobiography.
“I lost my mother, Evan Norah Nakintu Mugambe in primary seven and the environment changed,” he says, “We got detached from our father.” He says play was a massive hit because many identified with the sorrow and tribulations depicted.
Ssenkubuge has maintained that trait of observing real life experiences keenly and arranging them into plays or performances.
Even at Makerere University as a student of Literature and Philosophy, Ssenkubuge still juggled school and acting. Four years after graduation and working with a clearing and forwarding company, Ssenkubuge was awarded a contract with ministry of health to write a play on HIV/AIDS. This was during the scourge’s peak. It was also personal as he had lost four siblings to AIDs. He came up with ‘Ndiwulira’ cautioning people about HIV/AIDS. It was so successful it was was commissioned by President Yoweri Museveni and toured the whole country.
“It was Bakayimbira’s greatest achievement,” Ssenkubuge says. Today, he boasts of writing over 50 plays/ scripts. He says he has retired from stage acting.
Born on December 2, 1962, Ssenkubuge is the last of 23 children of the late Fenenkasi Mugambe. He recalls fighting and killing snakes from as early as eight years as the home was located in the middle of the forest. But he says they are fond memories.
He went to Ssanda Primary school, where his fondest memory was when two helicopters landed in the neighborhood followed by truckloads of soldiers. He would later learn they were searching for of a British High Commissioner who had reportedly gone missing and was later discovered in hiding with an African girl. He went on to Uganda Air Force Primary School Entebbe, Old Kampala Senior Secondary School, Kampala High school and Makerere High School from where he joined Makerere University to pursue bachelors in Literature and Philosophy and later Masters in Drama.
Ssenkubuge is married to Agnes Lillian Ssenkubuge whom he met at Makerere University and they have four children. Ssenkubuge says although theatre seems to be fading, TV could be the savior as it is on the lookout for local content.
Charles James Ssenkubuge’s Liteside
Any three things we don’t know about you?
It’s now ten years since I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior. I did it silently for not wanting to be overwhelmed and indeed, it has worked as people can tell the changed personality in me. I am a pastor at Gospel Lite Independent Baptist church in Kansanga. I am also a very kind person.
What is your greatest fear?
The fear of sin; I fear for if the Lord returns now, will he find me ready. As human beings, we make so many mistakes but repent less and that worries me a lot.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I am a very shy person which many people can refute. However, being shy is one of the ingredients of a good actor.