An Autobiography of Justice Samuel William Wako Wambuzi, Three time Chief Justice of Uganda.
The Odyssey of A Judicial Career In Precarious Times.
By Samuel William Wako Wambuzi.
Illustrated. 244. pp. Cross House Books Christian Book Publishers 245 Midstoket Road Aberdeen.
This is a book that every Judicial officer in the third world, Must read. And for any judicial officer planning to attain the position of Principal Judge, Deputy Chief Justice, and Chief Justice, the spite of heavens rage shall befall you, not to comb the book cover to cover.
Let alone Advocates and lawyers are not exempted from imbuing the niceties of the book, they should learn that, their contribution to Justice in Uganda depends on how easy they make work simple to judicial officers.
A firsthand journey through the judicial affairs and shenanigans of a country beleaguered by military coups and cultural conflicts. With historical accuracy and personal precision, readers are taken on an odyssey filled with all the intrigue and interloping that comes with being intimately involved in the top-level judicial arm of the government—a government that experienced a variety of take-over turmoil
In this comprehensive treatise, three-time Chief Justice Samuel Wako Wambuzi sets the record straight regarding the events of a country shaken to its cultural, military, political, and legal core. As a distinguished scholar and judicial genius, he presents the facts in a way that people of all walks of life will appreciate the historical significance of Uganda’s struggles while enjoying the everyday life of a man with strong family ties.
The book covers the social, political and economic life of a Chief Justice in Tumultuous times of Ugandans’ young democracy, punctuated by coups, revolts and rebellion. You will also find in the book achievements and challenges of administration of the judiciary in those same times. The book illustrates best, the relationship between the Judiciary and the executive then, and inspires such relationship today, marking the enactment of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda.
The book opened with a high-striking note of the fall of President Milton Obote from power and the rise of Field Martial Iddi Amin Dada, the book ended on a very low heartrending note of the death of a beloved one Gladys Wambuzi.
In one of the few first paragraphs, the author stated how close he came in contact with the then former Ugandan dictator, Amin on the brink of the 1971 coup. He stated; “One day in January 1971, I was at the Entebbe Airport to see off President Milton Obote who was going to Singapore to attend a Commonwealth Conference ….I was astonished to see Army Commander Idi Amin Dada, a close associate of President Obote, in short sleeves, not in uniform. On such occassions serving officers in the forces appeared in uniform.”
It was like there was much that crossed the eyes of the authour hours to Amin grabbing power.
The author was a three time Chief Justice of Uganda, a position he held, in preference to other better jobs in England, and other parts of the world and a fete that shows his unwaivering patriotism for Uganda.
The first time the author played the role of a Chief Justice was upon the disappearance (Alleged of death), of the then Chief Justice, Benedicto Kiwanuka. The unfortunate Justice was once the Leader of opposition in Obote I. He got himself imprisoned, but later when Amin grabbed power, he released him from Luzira prison and immediately appointed him Chief Justice.
It wasn’t long till the rift between the two kissers would bust. And eventually, it did, and the Justice was disposed and his body was never found again.
In the words of the author, “I cannot recollect any official communication as to the fate of Chief Justice Kiwanuka. But, word went round that he was pulled from his chambers in the High Court around 8 a.m., by armed, plain clothed men, presumably handcaffed, and bundled into a small car with a civilian registration number that drove away…other rumors suggested Amin had Kiwanuka murdered.”
The author was then given a taste of the responsibilities of a Chief Justice as he said, “In a highly tense atmosphere, I was requested to carry out the responsibilities of Chief Justice for the time being. I was very uncomfortable. There were more senior judges, but I thought maybe because I was the most senior of the Ugandan judges, I was chosen.”
He was then called to swear in as acting Chief Justice. During such tenure, the Judiciary experienced very sharp understaffing, lack of resources, corruption, and lack of office space.
At one time, the author was drawn to the anger of the President, It was put to him that Justice Wilson Kityo called him an “idle talker” as the author narrated that, ” A number of laws were introduced by decrees issued by the president as Parliament had been dissolved. At that time, Uganda was in what was sometimes referred to as the ‘mini skirt era’…In one case, three girls were convicted by a chief magistrate on their own pleas of guilty to being idle and disorderly.
The prosecutor, after conviction, informed the Court that the offence was rampant and that he had orders from “on high” that all offenders must be sent to prison without the option of a fine. ‘On high’ meant a highly placed member of the executive office. The Chief Magistrate, then his Worship Wilson Kityo retorted, “That will remain idle talk until a law is made to that effect.” The President got furious with thoughts that he was insulted by the Magistrate. The author quickly held discussion with the president, and the matter was settled bloodless.
What would be the difference between swimming in a shark infested water and swimming with Iddi Amin Dada? The author gives us the answer when, “On one occassion I met President Amin at the pool. I pretended I did not know how to swim. He gave me a quick lesson and then proposed we race to the end of the pool. I made sure I did not win the race as it was evident by that time that anyone who ‘upset’ the president, could be easily disposed of. I remember what had happened to my predecessor. Shortly after he left, I stated swimming normally. Unfortunately he came back and I didn’t notice him. He saw me swimming and said, Oh, so you can swim Mr. Chief Justice!….that was the end of the matter I didn’t go swimming after that incidence”
The Author attended Kaliro Primary school, which was 14 kms from his home. He describes his academic performance as ‘mediocre’, though he was particularly interested and the best student in singing at the School, the skill he carried to Busoga College Mwiri. He was a leader at Mwiri, rising through ranks of Tennis Captain, School Lamper, Timekeeper and head prefect.
Getting into Makerere University College was not an easy thing by the time. From Mwiri, only two students were able to join from the school based on the grades at school. He was among the them.
The author joined the Science Department, intending to study medicine. He kept on engagements with a beautiful girl known as Gladys Nsibirwa, a girl he met and targeted from Kings College Budo. He only managed to crack her resistence at college.
The author didn’t perform well at college and didn’t get the required pass mark to offer medicine, so he was referred to a veterinary School in Kabete in Kenya. The author then got married to Gladys and bore four children who are Phillip, Samuel, Marion and Veronica Wambuzi.
Then he got a flight ticket to U.K by help if his brothers-In-Law. Did few jobs to get money to pay for his tuition in the University of London and, later of Kingston Upon Hull to study law.
The author landed in Uganda as a Crown prosecutor, at a time signicant Constitutional events were taking place. After gaining seniority in the Attorney Generals office, he was sent back to the U.K for further studies on legislative drafting. The reason a some like sinister idea; to draft the 1967 Constitution.
Being involved in the start of Law Development Centre in Kampala, on his way back after the training, he decided to pass by Nigeria where the country was starting its own law school. He passed by and looked at how they were doing it, came and started law development centre.
Once the 1962 Independence Constitution was displaced, the 1966 Constitution was enacted by the Parliament and his first major legislative work was to draft the 1967 Constitution.
Becoming a judge was sweet drama as he wrote in his book. “Very often my daughter, Veronica, then aged 6 years, asked me, “Dad, where have you been?” My reply, “With the president.”. One day Veronica asked me, “What is president?” I told her he was the head of state and was responsible for ruling the Country. How much of that she understood, I do not know. But she wore a grin and said, “I want to see the president.” “What for”? I asked. But she simply smiled and repeated her demand.
At the meeting, with the President, who sought to convince the author, against his will to accept appointment as a Judge, did the author disclose to the president that, his daughter wanted to meet her. The author never wanted to become a judge at all. In the presidents’ effort to Africanise the bench, President Obote tried much to convince him and stated that, you don’t need to give me your answer now. Later today I will come and see your daughter, then you can whisper your answer to me.
Precisely at three O’clock, the president’s limousine descended a short distance from the then Stanley road (Now Aki Bua Road), into the residence of the first parliamentary counsel, ostensibly to meet Princess Veronica. She was visbly excited to see her guest.”He then served as a judge of the High Court.
Later in December 1975, the author received a letter of appointment as a President Court of Appeal for East Africa.
There was a welcome party and at the party he said, “most guests found us there. During the evening I moved around chatting with the various guests. I stopped at a small group and I was chatting with an elderly lady who kept on looking at the entrance to the hall as if she was expecting someone. At some stage she said, looking at the entrance, “I wonder when the president will come in” I said to her, “Haven’t you seen him yet?”. A quick ‘no’ followed. Jokingly, I said to her, “Maybe you prefer to talk to him before meeting him…”The group burst into laughter as I shook the lady’s hand.”
The Court executed its duties by circuits all over East Africa. Unfortunately its work was grounded to a halt, two years after the authors appointment, by the collapse of the East African Airways and lack of funding.
The author was then appointed Judge of the Court of Appeal Kenya. He still served for two years and was invited by Yusuf Lule to return, and serve as Chief Justice in Uganda for the second time.
It appears that, because of his past methods of administration of the Judiciary, he gathered himself enough enemies, both within and without the judicature (Executive), that he was viewed a threat rather than a solution to Ugandans problems.
A logical conclusion could be drawn that, because it was Obote who promoted the author to the bench, and the author went on to serve the Government in Iddi Amins regime, Obote II looked at him as a traitor.
The author was subsequently stripped of his position as a Chief Justice, by legislation using the Judicature Act (Amendment) Statute 1980, effectively establishing the Court of Appeal, making the President of the Court of appeal administrator of Court while demoting the Chief Justice to admiminister and control the High Court.The law was said to be unconstitutional by the author.
The doors were not closed yet, as Paulo Sebalu and Godfrey Lule invited the author to join their newly established firm Sebalu, Lule & Co Advocates in East African Development Bank building.
After the overthrow of the Tito Okello Junta by the NRA rebels, it was Joseph Kazoora who invited the author back as a Chief Justice of Uganda for the third time.
The author went on to explain how he solicited for donations from DANIDA, U.K and the U.S to establish the judiciar’s library and construct the judicial estate that were fully furnished and they included Masaka Mbarara, Fortportal, Jinja, and Nakawa.
He further discusses the aspect of Community service, he was impressed by its application in Denmark. The Denmark community service policies stated that, if an inmate was a person skilled in any field, he should be allowed to go practice his/her profession in exchange of some freedom, this would allow the maximum utilisation of human resources.
There was this very unfortunate story, where the Chief Justice clashed with the principal judge, over control and supervision of the High Court and Courts below. And in a report by the Inspector General of Government, it was found that the Chief Justice was wrong to interfere in the functions of the Chief registrar, of distribution of the cars, and it further critised the Principal Judge for refusing to take a used car.
The author commented briefly on the reappointment of his successor, Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki. He said that there were problems in his appointment as Chief Justice, (1) He was not recommended by the Judicial Service Commission, (2) The president has no power to appoint a Chief Justice who has already retired, on a two year contract. He could only appoint him to a position of a Justice of the Supreme Court or Court of appeal. He concluded that it was illegal and unconstitutional to appoint Justice Odoki back to the position.
In the making of the 1995 Constitution, the learned author expressed disapproval in a step. He said that it was wrong for the Government to leave all enacting powers to the people, it should have guided the people using a publication of a Government white paper. That is what he did when he drafted the 1967 Constitution. He made “The Government Proposals for a new Constitution” which was later debated by the Constituent assembly and later adopted.
Chapter 14 can be described in one sentence that, “All the world is a stage, and all men and women merely players. They have their exists and entries” (Shakespeare). The author had now clocked the mandatory retirement age of 70, it was time to retire. He was sent off with a fairwell party which was nonetheless surmarised by a poem by an anonymous, “My Get Up and Go has Went”.
President Museveni is a person who never lets go of proffessionals who retire before or after the mandatory retirement age. He has been seen calling them back to work. The author was called back to serve as the Chairman Judicial Service Commission. He said that “In a petition to the speaker of Parliament by a former official in the judiciary who nursed woes, that I had been responsible for his failure to climb higher on the judicial ladder, it was alleged that I was not qualified to be chairman” claiming that the author was not qualified as he had already retired from the judiciary. He let it be, and went on with his life. He has now
Chapter 15 is a sad chapter and celebratory one, of the fruitful life of Gladys Wambuzi, wife to the author. Towards the end of 2004 Gladys would work long hours. Leaving home at 7am coming back late evening. “First she complained of aches in her joints, which she attributed to fatigue due to her work schedule. Reluctantly she agreed to see a bone specialist in town. She attended few sessions with him, then complained of some chest pains. The doctor referred her to a physician at Mulago Hospital.
At the hospital some tests were done. As a result of the preliminary tests, the doctors suspected cancer. Further tests were required and an expert (Dr. X) was identified in Nairobi Kenya. Accordingly, arrangements were made to take Gladys to Nairobi Hospital.”
The author was shaken when he ” visited Dr. Y at his invitation. He had all the information he required about Gladys. She had cancer of the thyroid gland, it was malignant of a type not established.” Unfortunately, ” It had spread to the lungs and pelvic bones. There was no cure, but the doctors could try to slow it down using radio and chemotherapy.
Her condition detoriorated further that it inevitably led to her death. This was a total emotional and physchological blow to the author, a person he stay with for his entire adult life, was no long around for him to feel her love and care, it was very heavy that it left him abandoned to the world. To him, a world without a best friend was one empty, void filled with light years of darkness, that only Gods love and protection could alleviate. Nontheless he has picked up and moved on to today where he still lives and stays in close contact with his sons and daughters.
The authors judicious style of writing is simple, it leaves you thinking, alas! could all judges in Uganda and the world at large adopt this? We are tired of their bombastic legalese and jargon that complicates the process of justice.
The tools and techniques he adopted are simple, to give you a practical sense of the social economic life of a judge at the bench, and his relationship to the bar, Court and Ugandans at large. As Professor J. Oloka-Onyango put it in the foreword, that “It is as if one is engaged in a casual but animated chat on the veranda of his beloved farmhouse at Namalemba Nabikooli over a glass of fine red wine.”
Chief Justice Samuel William Wako Wambuzi earned the coveted position of the highest judicial judge in the country of Uganda before, during, and after the treacherous reign of Idi Amin. His ever-faithful commitment to justice, loyalty to his homeland, and devotion to his family led him worldwide in pursuit of fulfilling his destiny. He and his wife, Rose Marion, live in Kampala, Uganda
The book costs Ug.sh. 50,000.
By Kampala Law Monthly Magazine Team.