Remembering Uganda’s ‘Aids Face’, Philly Lutaaya!

On August 26, 1989, Lutaaya faced the largest live audience in Uganda. This was when he saw and heard their opinion towards him. As he laboured to fight ignorance about HIV/Aids existing among Ugandans, some of the people inside Nakivubo Stadium in Kampala, who had come to attend his free music concert, instead booed him.

Remembering Uganda’s ‘Aids face’, Philly Lutaaya


Ugandan Aids activist Philly Bongoley Lutaaya died. Every December, Lutaaya spiritually “returns” to rejoice with Ugandans. He comes in two hats; first as an HIV/Aids activist, and second as a musician.

Every December 1, on Worlds Aids Day, as Ugandans join the world to commemorate the lives of Aids victims, our own Philly Lutaaya comes atop as eulogies about him are re-echoed by guest speakers, pupils and students across the country.

For, not only was he the first African ever to publicly declare that he was HI-positive, but also as an HIV victim, he championed the fight against HIV/Aids and the stigmatisation of HIV/Aids patients by their own relatives, colleagues and friends.
His activism aside, Ugandans celebrate Lutaaya’s legacy as an artiste during the Christmas season, when he visits almost every (Christian) home through his music that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas carols such as Tumusiinze, Gloria, Merry Christmas, Oh Happy New Year, Azzaalidwa and Zukuka, among others fill the air waves giving the famous Boney M and other Western carols a run for their money.

Facing criticism

On April 14, 1989, when Lutaaya declared that he was HIV positive, his purpose was to educate Ugandans and the world about the disease.
But, in spite of his openness, he was criticised and castigated by some for being open and public about his HIV status.

On August 26, 1989, Lutaaya faced the largest live audience in Uganda. This was when he saw and heard their opinion towards him. As he laboured to fight ignorance about HIV/Aids existing among Ugandans, some of the people inside Nakivubo Stadium in Kampala, who had come to attend his free music concert, instead booed him.

Under the title: “Nakivubo cries, laughs and mocks Lutaaya” the Weekly Topic of November 8, 1989 wrote that while Lutaaya was singing the famous Born in Africa hit, which had caused ecstasy, some people in the ‘Kirussian’ terrace mocked him. The paper wrote: “As Lutaaya swung his body from side to side next to the seven female vocalists from Gayaza High school, the ‘Kirussian’ side yelled back, ‘Elyo taka’, (that is soil). “Banange omukazi akola,” meaning (the woman heals).

These were people who believed that it was the strength of Nanyonga’s ‘magic soil’ that Lutaaya could afford to live to this day”. Yowerina Nanyonga, a catholic woman of Rwandan origin from Sembabule in Masaka, had claimed to have got a heavenly vision instructing her to give people soil from her compound, which would heal those suffering from all ailments, including HIV/Aids.

Many people, even those from abroad, fell prey to the hoax. As such, some people at Nakivubo stadium religiously believed that indeed Lutaaya too had eaten Nanyonga’s soil.

The paper further wrote: “There was another group which thought Lutaaya was not at all an Aids patient. As he sung, some people cursed, saying, ‘Akasajja katulimba mbu kalina silimu’, (this man is just lying about being HIV-positive). And others said, ‘Akasajja kajja kukola sente’ (The man came to make money).

The reporter, Patrick Mugizi, who was in that audience, heard and wrote: “This group, though small, believed that Lutaaya was simply given money by imperialists, who wanted to make a film on positive people in Uganda. He added, “They said Lutaaya had used drugs to reduce his weight and that he would do likewise to gain it [weight] after completing his film”.

The reporter also remarked: “Many of those present had come to see Philly Lutaaya as a renowned musician and enjoy the performance. Others had come to confirm with their eyes whether it was true Lutaaya had Aids; they had not come to mourn”.

He further wrote, “Philly Lutaaya, the patient never understood this day to be a difficult one. He did not even consider it a farewell to the world or anybody”. He quoted Lutaaya on seeing a crying audience in his sympathy, saying: “Keep calm. Everything will be alright”. In his parting words from the stage, Lutaaya promised: “I am going back to Sweden on Saturday. I will stage a better concert at Lugogo stadium in December this year”.

Unfortunately, his wish to stage a better show was never to be. He was returned from Sweden bed-ridden on December 4, and on December 15, 1989, he died at Nsambya Hospital in Kampala.
Lutaaya was born on October 19, 1951. As a divorced-single parent, Lutaaya was able to raise his three children. They were at the time Tina 14, Tez 12 and the boy John Lenon 8, the last born and also his heir.

All his children live in Europe. Although Lutaaya was mocked, criticised and castigated by some, today, his openness is the light for Uganda and the world in fighting HIV/Aids and stigmatisation of Aids victims and their families – although it has not been achieved to the fullest.

And since many families in Uganda are affected by HIV/Aids, the light Lutaaya lit 25 years ago, is a true testimony that “Lutaaya’s spirit” lives on. For, today, Ugandans know that HIV/Aids patients need love, care and understanding – and that is what Lutaaya cherished and that is what he wanted most in his legacy.


Though long gone, Lutaaya still lives with us; at least spirituality. For, his public declaration of HIV status was an eye-opener to the world about living positively with HIV/Aids.

As such, October 16, was declared Philly Lutaaya Day; although it has less publicity and commemoration in Uganda.
Nonetheless, the Lutaaya spirit keeps burning to date.
On December 16, 2007, leading Ugandan artistes, including Juliana Kanyomozi, Bebe Cool, Chameleone, Bobi Wine, all who had done renditions of Lutaaya’s numerous hits, converged at Nakivubo Stadium in Kampala in a music concert in memory of the music icon. Earlier, Juliana had done a rendition of Lutaaya’s Diana, Iryn Namubiru did the same on Lutaaya’s Empisazo, while Bebe Cool did the rendition of the famous Born in Africa.

In 2008, Bebe Cool performed arendition of this song at London’s Hyde Park to an audience of 50,000 people on the occasion of Mandela’s 90th birthday.
In 2004, at the Pearl of Africa Music Awards (PAM) in Kampala, Lutaaya was posthumously awarded the Life time Achievement Award.
And in October 2014, the Philly Lutaaya Foundation received more than Shs25 million from a one Philly Lutaaya Golf Competition held in Entebbe in which more than 100 golfers participated. The tournament attracted 28 sponsors, as well as 26 teams each comprising of four golfers.

The tournament was about spreading HIV/Aids public awareness; all in memory of the gallant Ugandan musician turned Aids activist.

His Famous quotes

From April 14, 1989, when Philly Lutaaya, at a press conference hosted at Kampala Sheraton Hotel Kampala, declared that he was HIV-positive, he made several public appearances and lectures at Makerere University, Gayaza High School and Nakivibo Stadium, among others; trying to educate Ugandans and the world about HIV/Aids and his life.

“Judging from the reaction in the streets of Kampala, a lot of you probably wonder why I disclosed such sensitive truth and risk humiliation by the community at large. The reason I brought my Aids issue out of the closet is my personal concern that Ugandans particularly young people are not taking Aids as a serious issue in their daily lives.”

“My mission is to give Aids a face”
“I must expose AIDS to the maximum”
“Aids is not a disease that only affects the other person, or a particular class of people. Every one can get it”
Aids is a real threat to Uganda and it is killing many people everyday.”
“Remember, if you don’t take care, you too may be joining the ranks of Aids victims.”

October 6, 1989, while launching his famous musical album, “Alone” at Sheraton Kampala Hotel, Lutaaya made his appeal to the public. The short but great appeal was about HIV/Aids and Aids patients especially in Uganda. His appeal was made in a short speech. The abridged version read:

His appeal on HIV

‘There is no sense in looking for the guilty or origin when it comes to Aids. What matters is that it can affect anyone of us; you, your best friend, your neighbour and your children.

What makes it so difficult to master this dreadful disease, for which there is no cure, is that it is so closely related to one of our most important desires, our sexuality. My message to all of you and especially the youth, is therefore to learn as much as possible about Aids and to love responsibly. Those who have already contracted Aids are the other side of the coin.

Very often we are rejected and left alone with our disease, our needs, fears and suffering. Don’t desert us. We need and are entitled to as much care, compassion and understanding as any one of you. Finally, Aids should not be fought by just a few, to be able to overcome it; we have to fight it together’.


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