Keturah Kamugasa: Fashion journalist whose body-positive approach to womenswear made her a role model

“Fashion is a passion I was born with,” claimed the Ugandan newspaper fashion editor Keturah Kamugasa, who has died aged 50. Even as a child, Kamugasa had an eye for colour and fabric.

She credited her fashion sense to her parents, whom she said knew the importance of image. Her father took her to have her hair styled every morning. Her dolls were the best dressed in town. 

As a young adult, Kamugasa left Uganda for the UK, where she attended Bible college and later gained a degree in sociology from Leicester University. On her return to Africa in the mid-Nineties, Kamugasa began work as a freelance writer for New Vision, a leading English-language newspaper in Uganda. 

She quickly became a staff writer, specialising in education, health and gender issues though fashion remained her area of special interest. She was New Vision’s first education editor and later headed its Sunday magazine Flair.

Kamugasa was also a pioneer in Uganda’s wedding industry. 

She launched Uganda’s first wedding magazine, Bride and Groom, and in 2006 she inaugurated the country’s first wedding expo. At the same time, she continued to write a column for New Vision. “Style with Keturah Kamugasa” celebrated all Uganda’s women, including new mothers, plus-size women and professional women dressing to stand out in a sea of corporate grey. 

Her writing was always warm if occasionally waspish. In 2016, Kasugama wrote, “As we celebrate Women’s Day today, let us spare a thought for parts of the female anatomy that are not yet emancipated (ahem!). Apparently, the breast and her nipple are among those parts.”

She added: “And so we are bombarded with pictures of buttock like cleavages; some tantalising and others downright ugly. We are expected to follow suit in the spirit of sisterhood. In any case, how empowering of women is breast exposure? In Uganda, most of us see breasts on a daily basis, whether we like it or not.”

Kamugasa’s own style was always colourful and sumptuous. She counted many of Uganda’s best designers as friends. Santa Anzo, chief designer and MD of fashion label Arapapa, wrote of Kamugasa’s sudden death, “I can never tell my life journey without Kamugasa… She exuded so much life and we looked forward to a future that was looking so bright.”

The warmth and wisdom of Kamugasa’s columns reflect the support she showed her fellow women in day-to-day life. Kamugasa held voluntary positions on the boards of several NGOs. She mentored many young women, frequently visiting schools to give talks on career advice and self-esteem. She was an enthusiastic advocate for women’s rights.

While the Uganda constitution prohibits discrimination against women, inequality is still widespread. FGM is still common as is the practice of dowries. Women are still unable to inherit ahead of male relatives. Against this background, Kamugasa entered a male-dominated profession.

Kamugasa’s colleague Cathy Mwesigwa, deputy editor of New Vision, has said: “She stood up against the subtle forms of sexual harassment in the newsroom in the 1990s, when there were really few female journalists.”

John Kakande, editor of New Vision, wrote, “She has been a very interesting person who never covered up anything that she believed wasn’t right.”

Kamugasa never married – she broke off an engagement in 2006 to a man she claimed “wanted to tame me”. A single mother who is survived by her daughter, she advised others to “follow your heart. Don’t get married because of pressure.”

The journalist was sustained throughout her life by a strong Christian faith. In an interview for Saturday Vision in 2011, she said, “Celebrate life when you can. Life is either a funeral or a celebration. I choose to make it a celebration.”

Keturah Lydia Kamugasa, born 8 December 1967, died 20 December 2017

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