Gawaya Tegulle: Uganda Law Society is shopping for a “WAKILI MKUU”; But who is worthy of the title?


An army of sheep led by a lion will easily defeat an army of lions led by a sheep. An old proverb. To that later.

But first, don’t hold your breath yet as the Uganda Law Society goes to the polls to choose their Wakili Mkuu – Swahili for Chief Lawyer – this Saturday. The only thing we’re certain about is that the sun will emerge from the East and go to bed in the West. Other than that, there’s no telling what will happen.

For one, lawyers have a habit of showing up at properly organized events with injunctions stopping them (for any or even no reason), which is why anybody who holds their breath waiting for the Saturday vote just could end up in the Bosom of Abraham!

The second bit is that it is hard to remember a more interesting and a more unpredictable race. Usually we have had just two or three running for this office. On one or two occasions it was a little obvious who was the more likely one to take the cake. This time we’ve had no fewer than six candidates and it might be a sign of intelligence not to try a hand at predicting the winner.

This race has had many ingredients of a great race – many candidates (first six, now five), all of them very young, mixed gender, long campaign (thank you, Corona!) and quite a bit of bad-mouthing and fake news, all served on a lusaniya (tray) of malice aforethought. Lip-lickingly delicious!

All that is missing now is a good old-fashioned embezzlement of funds for the event and then outright theft of votes to confirm to all and sundry that the “U” in ULS stands for Uganda…and that even the lawyers are patriotic enough to emulate the good example of their national leaders.

That would be followed by a lengthy court battle for the rest of the year and half of next, punctuated by suits, counter-suits, applications, injunctions, orders (both real and forged) and everything in between. It would help remove all doubt if we got a fist fight of some kind and maybe a gun or two going off. Several lawyers actually carry firearms (you don’t have to be an Attorney General to carry one), but they’d have to be sufficiently angry to whip them out and let them off.

So far none has used a firearm in court after losing a case; but in this Corona year, strange things are happening and there’s no telling if no one won’t get bright ideas when they lose a court case or if their candidate does lose this, the hottest election in recent ULS history. Which is why over-enthusiastic clients – these “bagundigundi”, or “wale-wale” who like shouting at lawyers – should “punguza mwendo” until they are certain which kind of lawyer they are dealing with; lest one’s kajanja gets them a bullet lodged in the leg or tummy…or if counsel is in a really good mood, nicely in back of the head.

But hey, I digress!

ULS politics is slightly different from the national variety. In Ugandan national politics the first qualification for serving as – or remaining – Vice President is that one must harbor no intent whatsoever to run for President. The more disinterest you show, the better for your continued good health. Even your kids should be enthusiastic only about books and football and girls…not stuff like the army, please.

Or else you just might end up with some not-very-nice charges in court and wear the yellow uniform for a few weeks as your lawyers run around shopping for bail….while some plain clothed really nice chaps advise you to sign forms declaring loyalty to the owner of the country. Then the Judge who, for some reason had been sijui sick, on leave or generally indisposed suddenly shows up looking great and is even smiling and happy to grant you bail. That is why Veep Edward Ssekandi is extremely intelligent.

In ULS, it is a tradition that serving as Vice President is a Notice of Intent to run for President. No surprise therefore that Pheona Wall (no, she ain’t no mzungu) wants the big one this time. And she would have nailed it on the gender card had there not been Anne Karungi as well. So we got two really nice girls with contrasting styles.

Vice President Pheona is brilliantly natural at charming her way around, opening even difficult doors and getting things done with seeming ease, like Barcelona’s Lionel Messi. She will even convince a fox to dump its tail. You get embarrassed to say no to her.

Anne is like Cristiano Ronaldo who is more direct, pragmatic and aggressive… and gets results because he trains hard and prepares well. She has a way of blocking all exits, so that you really have to agree to her position; like a cat that isolates the mouse into a little corner where it has to sign the deal or be eaten. Uganda’s lawyers will decide who of the two girls has GOAT credentials.

Then three boys. Bernard Oundo, like Manchester City (Money City), has probably invested the most in this campaign and has been literally all over the place and in everyone’s face all day, every day, launching wave after wave of relentless attack. He is evidence that lawyers do make money. Energy, determination, good organisation and grit…Oundo, he got them all.

Rashid “Mwambazi” Ssemambo definitely knows a thing or two about expensive suits and like Leicester City, keeps playing a good game when you think he will be relegated; and again like Leicester City, can win a trophy any day. Style, sophistication and swag…and high standards, he got them. Typical lawyer, Ssemambo. Kids who don’t want to be lawyers…just show them Ssemambo. And he has been consistent with his ground work, making significant gains. He never gives up.

Nelson Walusimbi is the “mwenye nguvu haendi mapema” – “Owaamanyi takeera”. Networking, lobbying, good organization, playing hard ball when needs must and a convincing tongue, Walusimbi, he got ‘em. He reminds one of Bayern Munich which started the season slowly (even fired the manager Niko Kovac four months into the season) and still ended up taking nearly every trophy on offer, including the Champions League. Walusimbi started the race quietly but everyone was forced to take note when one of the leading contenders, the excellent Anthony Wameli, announced that he had stepped down for Walusimbi.

Funny whenever you think about it, because Wameli actually had a very strong following and his share price had shot up during the Covid Lockdown. Many thought Wameli just might nick it! Having a strong candidate stand down for them is the one triumph no other candidate has managed. Walusimbi also just may be the boldest of the lot and the one who sees no problem taking on anything or anyone, even the high and mighty.

It is very prestigious to be Wakili Mkuu – in any country. It is an endorsement of worth and enhances one’s profile like few things can. It embellishes CV, like the perfect icing on a good cake. It opens career doors. As matter of fact, a conscientious global panel, choosing between a former ULS President and a former Ugandan cabinet minister (especially hawa wa siku hizi), or Member of Parliament (aacha we!!), would not hesitate to choose a former Wakili Mkuu.

And that is why one should like to hope that the ULS election will exhibit the highest quality of organization in terms of how it is conducted, lest, like the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) after its usual chaotic primaries, we end up as a laughing stock when the election is done.


ULS Presidential Election 2020: Where the Candidates stand on Key issues

So what kind of Wakili Mkuu do we need?

Come the season…come the leader: you don’t need a sweater on a sunny day…and you need an umbrella if it’s going to rain. That is why in a country that is under a dictatorship, it would be sad for the ULS to have a stooge on its books as the Wakili Mkuu; for then we’d be lions, led by a sheep.

Because of the nature of its mandate, ULS needs a President who is able to hold his or her ground in the face of pressure. Someone who can be calm and unshaken in the face of overwhelming odds. Someone who is not afraid to step on toes, yet as chief diplomat of the legal profession, is able to disagree with tact and cool. ULS was not intended to be conformist. President Museveni must polish his shoes; it shouldn’t be for the ULS President to lick them.

The incoming Wakili Mkuu must be firm, decisive and independent-minded…not afraid to make big decisions just because they will annoy the powers that be. But at the same time the Wakili Mkuu must have the maturity to recognize that he or she is leading a statutory body; not an opposition party where they report to Dr. Kizza Besigye or Bobi Wine.

Equally of import is that fewer promises by the candidate reflect greater maturity of leadership; because one year in office certainly is not time enough to do many things. And there is another big restriction: the Wakili Mkuu does not choose a cabinet – they have to work with whoever else has been elected. That tells you that in truth, a Wakili Mkuu will be able to do just a couple of things, nothing more.

And the choice of who becomes ULS President should not be about only who or what the lawyers want; it also ought to be about what the country needs. ULS is a statutory body; a lighthouse for the nation on troubled seas when the lawyers need to show the way.

At the end of the day, Saturday’s election may be happening in the arena of lawyers, but it is not just about the lawyers; it is about the destiny of the nation. So as Uganda gets tossed about by despotism and corruption and remains in the grip of a criminal enterprise that runs the country, the lawyers would do well to choose a Wakili Mkuu who squarely meets the demands of the season.

It all boils down to leadership; which is why our fathers always told us that an army of sheep led by a lion will defeat an army of lions led by a sheep.


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