The Observer (Kampala)

Uganda: Deputy IGG Lives On His Dad's Principles

interview

George Bamugemereire is the deputy inspector general of government and the husband to Justice Catherine Bamugemereire, whose tribunal report recently condemned Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago. Bamugemereire spoke to Simon Kasyate on Capital radio's Desert Island Discs programme.

The Name Bamugemereire is more known to belong to the judicial corridors, any relationship with the more famous female namesake Lady Justice Catherine Bamugemereire?

Yes, there is a relationship. The lady justice has been my wife for the last twenty years.

One reason advanced for the failure to fully constitute the inspectorate was the absence of persons of integrity and other eminence to fully take on this task. But here you are! And so, who is George Bamugemereire?

Well, George Bamugemereire is a fourth child of the family of ten, son of the late Zadock and Joyce Wabulembo. They come from a little village called Ivukula. We people of Ivukula are very proud of that village; it's located in Namutumba district in the eastern part of the country.

My parents were both teachers and we grew up under the strong influence of our father, whose life was guided by three main principles and those define who Bamugemereire is today. The first was; my father believed that his children should have a form of faith. He called it religion in his time, but looking back, I think what he really meant is that he wanted his children to have the fear of God.

So he drilled this hard on us, he ensured that we said a prayer every evening after dinner as a family, he ensured that we sang a hymn after dinner. If he traveled from that little village to say Jinja, he woke us up as early as 5am to join him in prayer so that he has a safe journey to wherever he was traveling.

The second principle was a belief in education. In 1969, my father, who was a primary school teacher in a small town, was awarded a scholarship together with other teachers. So, they went to England and spent two years; two years then, where there was no telephone, no email and so we never heard from him for that long. But when he returned, he believed that education was a vehicle for human transformation.

He committed himself to educate all his children to the highest pinnacle that he could, he dedicated himself to educate his nephews, nieces, uncles and everybody around that Ivukula village within his realm of influence which was teaching. He forced everyone to go to school. The third value that describes our life is that he believed in a strong solid family and by family he meant one man, one wife and children if any and irrespective of the gender of the children.

He was very keen to ensure that he established a family, a very happy family. So, the little Bamugemereire you are asking about grew up in a very happy family. We were very needy; remember these are primary school teachers with ten children whom they committed to taking to very good schools.

So, he spent all his income, and borrowed, pledged and all but despite our financial limitations in the home, it was a happy family where we laughed. There was a lot of laughter in our home as children and even now when we meet as family members that happiness still goes on and it's something that I also carry on with my family today.

So, where did he send you to school?

Upon return, he shipped all of us to boarding school. I was just about six and a half coming to seven. He took me with my two elder brothers to Mwiri primary school and my elder sister was taken to another good school of the time Berkley High School. So I started my education at Mwiri primary school from P.1 to P.7. It was a very interesting experience.

Let me say this: as a child, I never wanted to go to school at all, but my parents were teachers and it so happened that [I attended the same school my parents were teaching]. But the school had very strict rules, in order for me to cross to our home, which was about 50 metres away, I needed permission and that was a very tough thing to get from the matron.

We formed a brotherhood and made friendships for life in this school over the seven years. But also my father only taught us in P.1 and after he was promoted to another school called Mpumudde, as head master and so I had the benefit of not having him in the school for the rest of the six years. Looking back, the school had groups and gangs.

We called them gangs, but they were essentially groups of friends. So there were some dominant characters that emerged in the school. I remember one of them was a cousin of mine, his dad was a captain in Idi Amin's army and he was a paymaster in the army. So this cousin had a lot of money in school and he appointed me his advisor so as a child I was an advisor. I used to give him advice and counsel.

He was not lucky to have a family situation like I had, so he was a boy who did not obey any rules. If we were hungry, he would mobilise his friends to jump the fence and go to the nearby village in Kakira and Wairaka where there were lots of mangoes. I joined him once and I was very unfortunate, the owner of the garden found us.

There was wire fencing around the school, so just before I made it past this wire fencing I raised my head and the wire dug right into my skull. But because we had done something wrong, I did not seek medical attention; I covered up the wound and lived with it until I recovered.

I was generally a good boy, I grew up with the consciousness to do the right thing from childhood and many of my friends would bear witness to that. So, I thought I would probably be a priest one day.

After Mwiri primary school, where did you proceed to?

In our final year, 1978, Mwiri was the best performing school at PLE and we produced the best candidate in the country Godfrey Mbaryohere, I think he is in Germany and I did not come very far from him. We had two streams, one was Blue the other was Yellow. So he was the best student in Blue throughout his time in Mwiri and I used to lead in Yellow.

I and some of my friends applied to join King's College Budo. The best boys in the previous year from Mwiri had joined Budo, so there was an unwritten understanding that the place to be was Budo. But by this time, the challenges of Idi Amin were now really biting, so my parents were struggling, we were now nine children but my parents were still bent on sending me to Budo.

I remember the biggest challenge to getting to Budo was raising the resources, a suitcase, a mattress, and clothes. So by the time I joined S.1, although I had very high marks at the time, we had to fundraise from uncles, aunties and all. The challenge with Budo was that when I joined, I found guys with everything: brains and money. So this notion that rich people's children did not perform well, did not apply because the rich kids were actually performing very well.

So I found Budo very intimidating on arrival. I complained to my father and said daddy, this is not fair to me you have plunged me into a life we really shouldn't be living in. We had two teacher parents, we knew how much they earned, we knew how much they spent; they were really strained and I thought I was being helpful to tell him not to struggle but, rather, take me to Mwiri where he could afford. But something worse happened.

In March-April 1979, the Idi Amin regime fell and the liberators as they were called were approaching Kampala on Masaka road. We left the school and upon return, I had suffered the loss of my mattress among the many things looted from the school. In Budo there was a group of rich kids who were Christians, these became my friends.

My elder brother, Dr Geoffrey Wabulembo, who had just completed his education in Ntare, had a little mattress which by the time he handed it over to me. It was about less than an inch, so I could roll it several times and place it in my suitcase.

I can tell you it was a tourist attraction to the students of Budo. But one day, I found a not-so-new but large mattress on my bed. To date I do not know who amongst my friends donated it. So I have a few friends I suspect like Simon Kisaka, Justice Chibita and others.

And how did you fare academically amidst it all?

That was a setback, to find so many clever kids in the same school. It is a school that respected people who excelled like in our time we had Dr Sebbaale of Case clinic and others who got only distinctions. We had my brother-in-law Mark Kayanja, who had come in with very high marks. So, I worked very hard but I lost momentum, I was sort of intimidated by the capacity of these kids.

They were really clever and some seemed to study effortlessly and excelled for example Nathan Bakyaita who spent most of his time reading novels but topped the class. But I did not lose hope, I wasn't the best, but I tried to maintain a position in the top ten.

We were basically studying for our parents; my father had wanted me to be a doctor, my elder brother already was and yet his prior records weren't as good as mine, so to my father I should have been a doctor and that was my dream. And at Budo, the general belief was that the best students did sciences, and end up as doctors and engineers. Up to the point of my mocks in O-level, all indicators were that I was a doctor case for sure, but then something happened that year.

They set a very difficult Chemistry exam and many in our class failed to secure even a credit and I was one of the casualties and that changed the course of my life. So for high school, I had very good grades except this game changer. In Budo, they graded students along academic prowess. So the cream, those meant to be doctors and engineer were in A, then there were the 'maybes' in B and there were certainly nots, those meant to be lawyers were in this stream C.

I was in A, but after the Chemistry exam, I had to go face my father and say the doctor thing could not work and I was going to pursue the legal profession. He said yes, but it was clearly a disappointment to him but he promised to give me full support. I felt humiliated in high school, sitting with the guys previously in C who had already made up their minds that they would not offer sciences.

Now I wouldn't settle for anything less, I was determined to succeed as a lawyer. I was involved in public speaking away from academics; I didn't do much in sports. Budo had very few girls and I sympathised with them, given the pressure they were under.

But of course I was not able to indulge for many reasons including the strictness of the Scripture Union which I belonged to, which completely outlawed relations of such nature in school. After Budo, I joined Makerere University's Law school.

University presents a level of unprecedented freedom [how did you cope]?

To me, Makerere was an extension of Budo. I didn't take risks even though I was in Complex hall, which was a mixed hall of girls and boys. I had no relationship through campus, no girlfriends no nothing. I kept on with Christian activities and studied very hard.

It was a very good safety net. After my graduation, I joined the Law development centre for a diploma in Legal practice then I did my clerkship. To try and find a lawyer who would guide me to the clerkship was such a challenge, I knew none. But somebody introduced me to the former Attorney General Ariko Omoding; Ariko was merciful to give me a desk in a law firm on Nkrumah road and that's where it all started.

So, take us down the path of career growth and development that you took as a lawyer.

Unfortunately, one year into working with Mr Ariko, he died. And that same year, my father also died. So those two losses were a big hit. They pushed me to the crossroads of life. We had the pressure of helping out our young brothers through school.

So, I joined the ministry of Justice as a state attorney in the department of Public Prosecutions in Kampala, worked for two years and then the DPP that time, Alfred Nasaba, decided to shift people around. So, there were people who were Senior Principal state Attorney who were stationed upcountry; those were brought to Kampala and we the juniors posted upcountry. I was posted to Arua in charge of Arua and Moyo.

But wait a minute, all this while you have not met a lady and talked her into a relationship?

No no no. While at LDC, a friend of mine with whom we had been at university together but who offered arts and already had a job and a car came and asked me to accompany him to the university to visit freshers. I think he wanted to show off and so the first room he took me was in CCE, starting with Catherine's room. Catherine was a first-year Music student.

So, we said hullo and went to other rooms. Subsequently, there are some coincidences that we kept meeting Catherine in different circumstances until one time she joined Law school later and somebody gave her my name saying if you need notes, go to LDC, you will find a person called so and so and obviously she had seen me before.

So she came to borrow notes from me, but my handwriting wasn't very good, so I referred her to, Mike Chibita, who was a very good notes taker, as well as Henry Kaweesa Isabirye. Apparently, they didn't help and so she came back to me. [laughter]

Apart from a desperate lady scavenging for notes, what did you see in this lady...?

I saw a partner, somebody with whom we could start a family, someone who had the other three principles that shaped our upbringing from home. So we started talking. We also realised in this notes exchange that we could make a professional partnership, which it turned out to be.

How was your dating in circumstances where you were in Arua working, she was at the university studying and there was no real-time mode of communication like today?

That was quite a challenge, remember that was 1992, there was a Kony war in the North, so driving from Karuma to Pakwach to Nebbi you needed to wait for a convoy. So indeed a person flying from Entebbe to London would arrive before a person driving from Kampala to Arua. Our communication was strictly as and when I had business in Kampala which was once in two months.

To cut the long story short, we agreed to work on a programme for marriage. So while she was doing clerkship in Mbale we arranged an introduction ceremony and three weeks after she completed her bar course at LDC, we wedded and went to Arua. Now we are blessed with two children. It was very interesting working in Arua.

They are very friendly people. On a professional side, there were a number of homicides there and being a Resident State Attorney, I was taking all the big decisions myself at age 26. What touched me most about Arua, there was a level of honesty I had never seen in other places. If, say a person killed another, typically the murderer would walk themselves to a police station and report themselves saying this person annoyed me and so I killed him for this reason.

So convictions were not difficult, many of such cases were reduced to manslaughter. From Arua, I was posted to Mbale as senior state attorney, worked for two years in Mbale and left Public Service. I was head-hunted to join Shell Uganda as Head of Legal/Company Secretary.

At Shell that's another long story and an illustrious career. Shell got into an expansion programme and I was in charge of this, through purchase of small players. The general manager then asked me what else I could do because the Company secretary job had lost most of its appeal to me.

So I was asked to be HR manager in addition to this. Then in 2000 the Shell group designed a policy to find young talent from small markets to be deployed across the world. I was selected and posted to Mexico city.

From working, at senior level, for a large multinational with a budget perhaps larger than the sovereign state of Uganda you come down as deputy Ombudsman? George, who does that?

Well, from Mexico, I was deployed in London as the Team leader for the Global employee purchase plan for Shell, so we stayed in England for nine-10 years. But Shell sold its business in Africa and so we were all recalled and that's how I returned to Uganda. But after sometime, I chose to leave Shell and got into consultancy from where I was called to serve as Deputy IGG.

What was your reaction when this call came through?

I didn't feel that I was lucky but, rather, an opportunity to serve. So we have a challenge to serve and deliver as required. I took this in with humility and a strong resolve to work.

I don't have baggage in this country, I don't have business, I am not rich, I really don't have any vested interests. For us, it's a very serious matter to fight corruption. I don't think the president knew me as George of Ivukula. If you ask me how the president appoints people, I really don't know. I guess everyone has their story.

And your biggest philosophy for this job?

Our experience shows that a lot of the thieves don't use their money properly. So they don't have it. By the time you parade them in court, many are already paupers. So we want to prevent this. We encourage everyone to join us in curbing the vice by reporting these corrupt people early so we can get it and return it to the coffers.

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