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Mutebile was a worthy successor to Kigyezi’s selfless leaders

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Mutebile was a worthy successor to Kigyezi’s selfless leaders

Photo: (Front left) Lawrence Kiondo, Kigyezi District Education Officer; John Bikangaga, Rutakirwa Engage ya Kigyezi (second right);  Rev. Abraham Zaaribugire (with clerical collar), Ishmael Bamwangiraki, Headmaster (centre, sunglasses); and other leaders at Karukaata Primary School, Nyarushanje, Rukiga County. Circa 1965. Photographer unknown. Photo courtesy of Rev. Benjamin Twinamaani wa Bamwangiraki.



 As school going youth in the 1960s, we took it for granted that our academic efforts would yield great career and financial dividends. It did not matter which district one came from, for there was a nationwide agenda to enable young minds to excel and sprint to the finish line. Not even partisan politics distracted our elders from their shared objective. 


So, when we entered secondary school, we met our peers from every corner of the country. The broad mix of backgrounds afforded us priceless learning and opportunities to form lifelong intertribal friendships and networks. 


How did our parents or guardians manage to send us to very good schools far away from Kigyezi? First, the standard of primary and junior high school education in Kigyezi District was at par with that in other schools across the country, including those in the Kampala/Entebbe area. 


Second, our upkeep was not as onerous as that of today’s child. The cost of high school uniforms, beds and mattresses, textbooks and other scholastic tools was included in the modest school fees. 


Third, there were financial subsidies that enabled parents or guardians to support their older children at A-level, freeing limited resources to pay for younger children’s education. My A-level boarding school fees were paid by society, not by my parents.


Fourth, our parents’ modest salaries, combined with revenue from the sale of their farm produce, were sufficient to meet basic needs, including our education. Furthermore, they were spared the need to pay for health care services, and to subsidize teachers’ salaries, and to pay for sundry items that today’s students are expected to buy. 


Underlying all this was very good local leadership, and a collective determination by many adults to enable us to be part of an educated next generation. It is this foresighted leadership that paved the way for people like Tumusiime Mutebile and hundreds of boys and girls who went on to occupy key positions in public and private sectors at home and abroad. 


It was partly our recognition of the benefits of such unity in serving the common good that prompted several of us to form the International Community of Banyakigezi (ICOB) in 2003. ICOB was the brainchild of many who had entertained and discussed the idea over several years. Among the most enthusiastic advocates of this idea was Tumusiime Mutebile.


During a visit to Kampala, my wife and I, together with our friend Jane Stanley Bayenda of Texas, USA, attended a brainstorming meeting on Wednesday January 4, 2001. We had requested our friend Robert Kyamureesire Rutaagi to facilitate that meeting, for we wanted to share with our compatriots in Kampala some of the ideas of Banyakigyezi in North America. 


Among those present at that meeting was Tumusiime Mutebile, newly appointed Governor of the Bank of Uganda.  I recall that he did not speak much. He listened and took notes. We agreed to formally create a non-partisan organization with worldwide membership. The purpose would be to harness the community's intellectual and material resources for the benefit of Kigyezi and Banyakigyezi. 


At the end of the meeting, Tumusiime took me aside and told me: “Count me fully on board. I will support you.”  I knew he meant it for he was a man whose word and promises one trusted without reservation.


Mutebile went on to become one of the most committed members and leaders of the organization.  He was steadfast in his support, encouragement, counsel, and defense of the organisation’s agenda. He donated a lot of his personal money to the Kigezi Education Fund and steered the process that led to the formation of the Uganda chapter of ICOB in 2009.  


In this regard, he was imbued with the characteristics of Kigyezi’s great leaders that had laid the foundation upon which we had stood on our journeys to our present stations. In my view, these great leaders included Paulo Ngorogoza, Paulo Rukeribuga, Michael Mukombe, Surumaani Karegyesa, Philemon Kitaburaaza, Kosiya Kikira, John Bikangaga, John Wycliffe Lwamafa, Seperiya Mukombe Mpambara, Karisti Semiriho, Festo Kivengere, Tereza Kabahita Mbire, Irene Bisamunyu and John Bitunguramye. 


Their ethnicity, party politics and religion were irrelevant to their shared vision. They put Kigyezi above self and did not seek to undermine their collective interests. They pursued an agenda to fast-track their people’s education and give us competitive advantage. 


Tumusiime Mutebile was a worthy successor to this generation of selfless leaders. He did not see Kigyezi as a steppingstone for his personal advancement. Like his elders, he saw himself as a steppingstone for his people. Without compromising his contract with the Ugandan people, he did not forget the proverbial breast on which he had suckled in his formative years.


At the time of his death, Kigyezi was still too far behind what Mutebile and many of us had envisioned in 2001.  While the visitor to Kigyezi today should be impressed by the number of houses with corrugated iron or tile roofs; the growth of urban centres like Kabale, Kisoro and Rukungiri; the increased number of primary and secondary schools; new tertiary education centres; and other visible manifestations of our people's hard work, the place remains an anomaly in Uganda’s much celebrated economic success of the last three decades. 


Kigezi's challenges remain enormous, including a high population density; environment degradation; suboptimal academic performance in national examinations; a poorly skilled labour force; very inadequate and unaffordable healthcare; poor road transportation, with untarmacked major roads that become impassable during the rainy season; and lack of major central government-funded projects since the late 1960s. 


Above all, the political and other opinion leaders are yet to build a united and strong non-partisan coalition to advocate for the shared interests of Abanyakigyezi. Our brother’s death is a rude awakening that forces us to regroup and renew our commitment to a collective effort to uplift our community. 


Our elders did. Tumusiime Mutebile did. We can. But first, we need leaders like him and those that came before him.


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