Kampala, Uganda | AGNES E NANTABA | Kennedy Zziwa Katebalirwe, popularly known as HairbyZziwa, is a celebrity hairstylist who has traded the control panel for clippers, blow dryers, and curlers. Zziwa runs a high-end salon that attracts many celebrities, especially from the music and fashion industry. But he has an even more powerful story; about beating a drug and alcohol addiction. It has been a six-year long journey from which he is still recovering. He thus prefers to focus more on the chronicles of the journey and the recovery path. He calls it “a battle” and his new life “a great push factor”. He likes to talk about both.
“Opening up to people that I was in rehab is therapy for me,” he says, “that also keeps me going on the new journey and helps me keep the promise that I made to myself, my mother and doctors.”
His addiction was a blend of binge drinking (beer, wine and whiskey) and smoking hard stuff such as cocaine. And it all was sparked off by a single bottle of beer he drank during his first year as a student of Computer Science at Makerere University.
Although the bitter taste of beer was not that inviting, Zziwa says he kept sipping under peer influence. Eventually, he was craving the feeling of being drunk every other day. He had been granted all supervision rights for a family construction project and this meant being the financial controller.
“I graduated from one bottle to many,” he says, “After all I could afford it.”
His drinking got worse when he did a short term project in Liberia that gave him even more money. He flew to China to vacation but ended up staying longer, hustling, plaiting women’s hair, earning more money and drinking more. He was building on training from Tiner International School of Beauty in Kampala.
Two years after, Zziwa relocated from Guangzhou to Beijing where he set up as a professional hair stylist. He also upgraded from beer to dry wine and was introduced to cocaine.
“I yearned for the heights and became addicted,” he says.
Zziwa was torment because he knew from his humble family upbringing that he shouldn’t be doing drugs. So he decided to return to Uganda thinking he would not access them. But he was wrong.
He re-opened HairbyZziwa but soon got in touch with drug dealers through the different networks. He would then spend at least Shs300, 000 a night to service his addiction and was soon pawning his property for just a gram of cocaine costing Shs100, 000. One night, Zziwa nearly died of an overdose.
He was taken to Butabika Mental Hospital for rehabilitation for 30 days. That journey changed his life.
“I fight every single day to keep going and never relapse after witnessing my family happy again around me,” Zziwa says, “I fight to keep sober because even with just one shot, I may crave for cocaine.”
Born on May 1987, Zziwa had acting stints with Ebonies which he joined in 1998. Zziwa says drugs and alcohol are not worth his life or anyone else’s.