A tribute to Kevin Aliro
LONDON – We’d planned to spend a week in London and another in Paris. Kevin would bring the money. I would provide the company. Things didn’t go as planned. Kevin was still unwell when he turned up, having spent a week in hospital in Kampala; he ended up spending his vacation bed-ridden in a north London flat.
In fact, although he was supposed to be recuperating, Kevin could not switch-off. The first night I went to see him, he insisted on checking his e-mail off my laptop and then, when I had to leave, made me configure his so he could read the news and check mail at will. When I went back the next day, he’d set up a mini office next to his bed, with a laptop, printer, fax machine and three cellphones next to his medicines! And he claimed to be on leave.
He was irritated that he was not in the office to co-ordinate the Weekly Observer’s coverage of Dr Kizza Besigye’s return and that of former president Milton Obote.
John Ogen Kevin Aliro was a workaholic. At the Daily Monitor, where he worked since the paper started in July 1992 until December 2003, he was often the last person out at night. At the Observer, he often left in the wee hours of the morning, turning his green Prado, which he parked along Clement Hill road, a soft target for side-mirror thieves.
It was not that Kevin had no other interests; he was loyal to his family, passionate about SC Villa football club and a regular at Kampala Casino where he was to be found on many nights either feeding the insatiable slot machines or entertaining his sources at the bar.
But it was in journalism that Kevin found meaning. He brought a passion and intensity to the profession that was breathtaking and inspiring. His coverage of the 1990-94 war in Rwanda and the Uganda-Rwanda invasion of the DR Congo – a story he broke to the world, despite initial denials by both governments – earned him a place as one of the finest journalists in the country. His ‘Baba Pajero’ humour column mirrored Kevin’s light-hearted side and was so popular, the moniker stayed with him long after the column ended.
As an editor, Kevin was a bit of a bully. He’d walk down the stairs to the newsroom, holding a steaming cup of coffee and look over people’s shoulders, criticising errant reporters and subs. The criticism, like his praise for good work, was fair and honest. Both were delivered openly.
He seemed to enjoy this intimidation but it never lasted long; in a few moments he would be exchanging jokes or mild insults with the very people he’d been criticising. With Kevin the carrot was always bigger than the stick.
At the Monitor he had a reputation as a reporters’ editor, and was often the first to complain to management when he felt that his charges did not have proper or adequate resources to do the job. The very strong and public nature of this criticism meant that he was often at loggerheads with management and contributed to his earlier-than-expected departure.
A small, shortish man, Kevin often punched above his weight and gave as good as he got in any argument. Notably, he had public spats with Lt. Gen. David Tinyefuza as well as President Museveni’s spin doctor John Nagenda, whom he famously ridiculed as a “bloated spring chicken.” He later made up with Nagenda and privately admitted that he’d gone a bit over the top during the exchange.
Kevin’s love for the devil’s drink was his Achilles heel, although it never stopped him from coming to work. About two weeks ago, when I spoke to Kevin on the phone, he said the doctor had told him to stop drinking. We both laughed when I said he’d probably told her he’d rather kick the bucket than kick the bottle. It was the last time I spoke to him, and how the words return to haunt me!
In mourning Kevin, we celebrate the good things he brought to our lives; his friendship, his courage, his brilliance, his sense of justice, his humour, his humility and his passion. Thank you Kevin, and I hope wherever you are is better than Paris. ENDS