Ssebaana Kizito – A Man for All Seasons

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It was until the casket carrying the remains of Hon. Dr. John Ssebaana Kizito left Namirembe Cathedral as the organist played Handel’s Dead March that it dawned on us that this indeed is the final earthly journey of a man both revered and loved.

Ssebaana Kizito has left an indelible mark on Uganda’s socio-economic and political landscape. His achievements alone speak for him. All praises pale in comparison to his solid record of achievement.

What attributes do we celebrate? A lofty intellect and kind heart. He was serious but affectionate. Ssebaana never acknowledged limitations. He only acknowledged possibilities. He was a genuine entrepreneur. He built his business empire by the sweat of his brow. He believed in teamwork. Even in his Statewide Insurance Company (SWICO), he worked with long term partners. In a country where the infant mortality rate of companies is so hard high, SWICO has withstood the test of time for over thirty years.

Throughout his life Hon. Ssebaana Kizito remained committed to the ideal of a government whose foundation is Truth and Justice. By his anti colonial stance in his youth, he contributed to the entrenchment of a new consciousness about Uganda as an independent state.

A pioneer in business, he ventured into the field of insurance which had been the preserve of non-Africans. He believed in home ownership as a basis of society. In that spirit, he initiated the Namuwongo Low Cost Housing Project to ensure that we have an inclusive Capital City where the the well to do and the less well to do coexist in harmony.

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The Democratic Party will remember him as an embodiment of all that the party stands for. He projected DP as the party of ideas and popularized the phrase “Brain Power” to capture the fact that political action should be guided by reason and clear thinking. Alongside other senior leaders of the party at that time he championed the struggle for the restoration of multiparty democracy. When he assumed the mantle of DP President in 2005, he boldly stepped forward as our flag bearer in Uganda’s first multiparty elections in the new millennium.

We also credit him with managing the difficult transition of leadership in the party from his pre Independence generation to our generation born after independence. His decisiveness, courage and foresight ensured that the party is repositioned as a big tent party with a national character. A man of rare boldness and a solid intellect, he was the inspiration for the Uganda a Young Democrats (UYD) – the youth wing of the DP which stood in the gap championing the struggle for democracy at a time when party activities were suppressed.

He identified, equipped and deployed the current generation of party officials by mentoring them into formidable leaders. He believed in education as a foundation for harnessing opportunity for young people. That is why he was at the heart of the founding of Mutesi I Royal University.

He was a man of foresight, conviction and courage. As Acting a leader of opposition in 1983 he warned Obote against abuse of human rights. After 2006 elections Ssebaana went boldly to attend the meeting of former Presidential candidates with Museveni. As expected some sections of the opposition denounced him vehemently.

Ssebaana Kizito believed in constructive engagement. Critics ridiculed him saying he had gone to take tea at State House. One wonders how a man of Ssebaana’s status and wealth could attract such baseless accusations.

In a spirit reminiscent of Moses’s moral challenge to the Pharaoh, Ssebaana presented a memorandum. He warned Museveni against mismanaging the transition to genuine multiparty democracy. He welcomed the Juba talks saying guns alone would not bring peace.

He called for the amendment of electoral laws to ensure free and fair elections. He called for an end to the presidential prerogative on appointment of the Electoral Commission. He decried the lack of civic education among the voters.

He told Museveni that multiparty democracy is impossible without respect of political parties. He called for the restoration of presidential term limits. He demanded an end to interference with institutions concerned with land. He accused Museveni of imposing decisions regarding land for investors and turning the Uganda Land Commission and District Land Boards into onlookers.

He noted that the government is top heavy and needed restructuring to ensure efficiency. He called for the rationalization of the remuneration of public employees.

He emphasized the need for a national army warning that it would be dangerous if Ugandans develop a perception that the army belongs to a section of the country.

Norbert Mao, the author is the President General of the Democratic Party

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