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David Bakibinga’s unique autobiography belongs on the reference shelf

David Bakibinga’s unique autobiography belongs on the reference shelf
I have completed my second reading of “Administrator and Scholar: The autobiography of Professor David J. Bakibinga,” which was published in 2021. When I first read this book following its release in 2022, my impression was that this was two books in one. Half of it was a summary of Bakibinga’s remarkable and interesting journey since his birth in 1953. The other half was a summary of legal topics that provided a starting point for one who sought understanding of commercial and other business laws that govern our interaction and transactions in that area of our lives. I quickly realised that this was not a book for one casual reading and setting aside, but one that warranted a second visit and serious study. I am very glad that I did.


Bakibinga, a former Dean of the Faculty of Law, and former Deputy Vice Chancellor (Finance and Administration) at Makerere University, offers us a peek into his personal life with a refreshing frankness that many autobiographies tend to lack. He shares the highs and lows, and the joys and pains of normal life with an openness that keep one looking forward to the next paragraph. He tells us his parents’ story and siblings’ stories with sensitivity, but without sugar coating events that some might have buried under a carpet of pretence to perfection. 


A 1975 graduate of Makerere University’s prestigious law school, Bakibinga arrives in the United Kingdom two years later, in pursuit of postgraduate education in law. Whereas his academic journey is straightforward, capped with a Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of London in 1981, Bakibinga deals with challenges that many who have been foreign students in Britain will find very familiar. He also deals with the challenge of an inter-racial friendship at a time when there was less understanding of Africans by many foreigners than there is today. 


Bakibinga’s hopes of returning to Uganda are dashed by the political instability in the country in 1981. He travels to Nigeria to take up an appointment as a university lecturer, and spends the next nine years teaching, writing, leading, and learning about that country. Why does he end up teaching at four universities in such a relatively short time? Bakibinga explains it very well. 


He returns to Uganda in 1990, and embarks on a journey of great professional accomplishments, but peppered with challenges that would have probably broken people with lesser inner strength and patience. After a very brief stint as lecturer in law at Makerere University, Bakibinga is appointed as Founding Head of Legal Services of the newly created Uganda Revenue Authority (URA). Notwithstanding many positive achievements in this role, it is probably his most difficult assignment in his long career of public service. He must deal with high level intrigues, and with politicians, including a case that brings him on a collision course with some of the top leaders of the ruling National Resistance Movement. One of the politicians is Jehoash Mayanja-Nkangi, a former Katikkiro (Prime Minister) of Buganda, whose “tendency to ingratiation with some businessmen of Asian origin sometimes threatened to undermine rigorous revenue collection measures.” 


In 1997, Bakibinga oversees the prosecution of the famous case of Danze vs URA, in which a company called Danze, owned by the National Resistance Movement, has allegedly evaded payment of taxes. Before the matter is resolved, Mayanja-Nkangi terminates the appointments of Bakibinga and Patrick Iga-Magero, the Financial and Administration Commissioner of the URA. 


Bakibinga returns to Makerere, where his career as a teacher, academic writer, and administrator bloom. However, he deals with a number of controversies, including the false allegations that he was responsible for the shoddy construction of the university’s perimeter wall (he was not); Makerere’s loss of a major research project, sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation, that was to study ways of adding value to bananas and banana production, (it became the Presidential Initiative on Banana Industrial Development funded by the Government of Uganda); and the threat to amend the Universities and Tertiary Institutions Act with a view to  stopping the re-appointment of top administrators, including Bakibinga. 


He also summarises his work on committees of inquiry, giving us a glimpse into some cases where there was clear abuse of power and or university resources. These include a conflict between lower cadre staff and Professor Mukwanason Hyuha, the head of the Academic Registrar’s Department; a turf war between the faculties of agriculture and veterinary medicine; alleged sexual harassment and sex-for-marks in the Institute of Psychology; and the conflict between Professor Mahmood Mamdani and Dr. Stella Nyanzi at the Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR). One gets to peep into Makerere through an insider’s lenses, although he just whets the reader’s appetite without going into too much detail. 


 Bakibinga’s personal story alone is an enjoyable read. His interaction with his family as his father’s heir, and his detailed descriptions of his extended family and ancestry, enrich his beautiful account that should serve future generations of the Bakibingas very well.  However, it is his summary of his publications that, I believe, will invite repeated visits to his book. As a person with interest in how the world in which I live and operate functions, I found his synopses of his publications on the various laws that govern partnerships, equity, trusts, companies, and other commercial and business matters to be very instructive and accessible to my layman’s understanding. His description of company control and the role of boards of directors was of special interest to me. A job well done.


There are two minor shortcomings that I hope Bakibinga will rectify in a subsequent edition of this otherwise excellent book. First, the quality of many of the photographs in my copy sabotages the reader’s ability to identify the people. The publisher should have taken care to use readily available software to get high quality reproduction of the author’s images. Second, the index needs expansion to include key subjects and periods that are covered. This is a book that invites repeated visits for reference, and an expanded index would aid one in finding specific information.


This is a book that I highly recommend to the general reader, and to students interested in an introduction to the legal framework in which our commercial and business world operates. It is a book that should inspire high school students to purposefully pursue their careers with focus, patience, and determination to overcome normal obstacles that get thrown in one’s path. For that reason alone, Bakibinga’s autobiography belongs on the shelves of book lovers, libraries in high schools and other institutions of learning.




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