26 October 2012

Uganda: Mike Chibita's Story of Honesty and Courage

To say that Justice Mike Chibita's autobiography, Loved by the Best, is 'honest' might seem strange, but to me it is the very essence of the book.

And to an extent it is also a challenge to the rest of us Ugandans that it is what we need to be - honest to ourselves, honest with each other, and honest with what we do to and for our country.

It might be stretching it a bit how the story of a boy child from deep in rural Eastern Uganda (couldn't find Buwesa, where Chibita grew up, on Google Maps) who got to the top echelons of Government might be important to this country. After all he did not fight any wars, or take part in political protests; but reading this book make me feel we need more people like Chibita in Uganda than those going to the bush or leading riots in the streets. Honest people who will do honest to this country

It might also seem somehow presumptuous for a relatively young, freshly-called-to-the-bench justice (he was appointed in 2010) to be writing about his life while older, longer serving justices have not. But the fact that he has done so might convince others that they, too, need to write.

Chibita's first achievement is that he actually wrote about his life. Many older people who were at the centre of so much that has happened in Uganda are dying off, without writing about what they saw or experienced. So one up to Justice Chibita for actually putting his life story, what it is so far, on paper.

His story is like that of many people who grew up in rural Uganda, but as long as they were good at academics, could go to the best schools, get to university, and stand a chance at climbing to the top of Uganda society. Although with the increasing divide between rural and the more privileged schools, however, the chances of that happening are increasingly rare. So maybe he could be one of a disappearing breed.

Chibita moved from that place you still can't find on the map to join King's College, Budo for secondary school. It is a tribute to the metropolitan nature of Budo that this bigger-than-his-age lad, who had to walk the 3 or so kilometres from Masaka Road to the school carrying his mattress and bag on his first day of school, could grow to a position of leadership in a school which had children from some of the country's finest families.

Lots of stuff happened to him in Budo, and as he writes "I had come to secondary school as a timid and protected teenager and I was leaving as a confident, exposed and well informed young man." The village lad was finally ready to take on the world.

During the six years at Budo Chibita was to make friendships that would last a lifetime, but mostly he would cement his faith and belief in God. Spiritual things had always appealed to him, although his first stint as a born again was not very successful as he failed to 'speak in tongues'. But here he would find fellowship with kindred spirits, and he would indeed grow in his belief.

Chibita would eventually find his place in the Baptist Church during his university days, although worship had to struggle mightily with his involvement in sports, notably football and rugby.

I've known 'Big Mike' for more than 20 years, but didn't know quite what to make of him. He is a big intimidating guy with a gentle smile, but I had this sneaky feeling he was measuring me up, figuring how to take me apart if I crossed him. At university we were in different circles, and what I knew of the Baptist guys is that they played a mean game of basketball, but would make great burgers afterwards. So reading this book has been a major revelation for me.

Mike Chibita is a great story-teller, and makes the life of a 'savedee' law student falling in love read like a thriller. You don't want to put the book down as he pursues Monica, meeting his father-in-law by accident on a bus, and eventually quitting his very first job and following her to America, where they got married.

While Chibita is very liberal with stories and anecdotes from his early life, there are few and far in between when it comes from the time he started working for Government (he worked as Legal Assistant to two Attorney Generals, and later as the President's Legal Secretary). For example the Felix Odoi I've met is seemingly always cool, calm and collected, but Chibita tells how he would go through the President's office every morning shouting greetings to everybody.

The author also gives us a few tit bits of working with the President, but nothing specific or ground breaking. Those will understandably come in a latter book when he completes his life's story.

The narrative is at once humorous and courageous (he tells of being naked with his wife for the first time), but mostly honest. Here is a man who lives by his principles, and his faith, but does not use that as an advantage over others.

It is difficult for many Ugandans to tell an honest story, which is probably why we don't write that many books. So it takes a person of great courage to do what Justice Chibita has done. And tonight, at the Grand Imperial Hotel, we shall celebrate this courage as the book is launched by two equally courageous people - Jennifer Musisi and Allen Kagina. Maybe it is this kind of courage that this country needs.

Title: Loved by the Best: The Journey of One African Judge

Author: Justice Mike J. Chibita

Publisher: World of Inspiration

Pages: 191

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