Sunday August 22 2010

Bahati: a man moved by a passion to give back where he got from

Bahati was into athletics when younger

Bahati was into athletics when younger but exercises in health clubs to keep him in shape because he now has less time on his hands.  

By Mike Ssegawa

When David Bahati fronted the Anti Gay Bill in Parliament last year, he caused uproar both at home and abroad that has seen him propelled into the limelight. Behind the vocal legislator however, is a dedicated family man with humble beginnings, writes Mike Ssegawa

When the name David Bahati is mentioned, most people think of the legislator who wants homosexuals dead. To them, Bahati is a “blood-thirsty gay hater” who would stop at nothing to see his ambition realised!

This is a picture the western media has painted of the Ndorwa West MP because the Homosexuality Bill he fronted calls for a death penalty for gays who lure the underage into the vice or infect one with HIV/Aids.

It is because of Bahati that President Yoweri Museveni is under fire from western powers – most pronounced being US Secretary of State, Ms Hillary Clinton and former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, whom the president confesses called him in person asking him to do something about stopping the bill.

Before this gay thing, Bahati was an ordinary MP, overlooked by most because he was not the flamboyant type of politician who turns heads wherever they go. When he tabled the Bill, he shot to international prominence overnight – winning admirers and haters in equal numbers.

Bahati has lived the best and worst of what life could offer. Orphaned at three, the story of the legislator, now baptised the most homophobic person on the planet by the western media, is what Barack Obama would call a true example of the audacity of hope.

Young Bahati lived off selling banana leaves, cigarettes and ferrying food stuffs at the market in Kabale to raise his school fees. When he lost his grandmother, the only person who looked after him, his world crashed – but because he says he is resilient and determined, he confesses to living with the hope that tomorrow would be better.

At the time his grandmother died, he was in P.6 at Kakomo Primary School and knew that staying in school would be his key to a better world. Doing manual jobs and petty trade around Kabale, Bahati made it to Kigezi High School, one of the best schools in the western region and later, joined Makerere University on government sponsorship, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree.

Now Ndorwa West MP, Hon Bahati holds an MBA from Cardiff University in the UK and has a home in Konge, a posh residential area in Kampala. He is a businessman and chartered accountant; no mean feats for a man who says he grew up without a career aspiration in mind.

“I have a humble background and owe everything I am today to the community that brought me up – I am a testimony to what one can become when they focus on being useful in life,” said the unassuming legislator when I caught up with him at Sheraton Hotel’s Kidepo Health Centre, where he does his fitness exercises.

It is not difficult to see humility and people-centredness in Bahati. When I met him for the first time, we sat down and joked about his political life and how he would be trounced by gays if he did not watch his back. He told me he got into politics in 2006 as a way of giving back to the community, which gave so much to him. He had never seen himself as a politician and describes himself as a community worker. Without airs of self importance, Bahati impresses at first sight.

During the interview, my photographer had other commitments and wanted an extra shot of the honourable jogging in the Kidepo Health Centre, and he obliged. Minutes later, he returned in shorts and told me he had been into athletics when younger but exercises in health clubs to keep him in shape because he now has less time on his hands.

Reunited with his siblings
Though deprived of a coherent family in his early years, the 36-year-old legislator says he has a family that is much together. With three children, the youngest of whom is only five months old, Bahati does not want them to experience what he went through as a child. He keeps in touch with his four siblings and opens up to tell me that it was not until he was in secondary school that he saw them for the first time since their parents passed on. The siblings were separated after their parents’ death – Bahati was three years old – and taken on by different relatives each.

After many years, one day during the holidays, he went to the market to ferry food stuffs as usual to raise his school fees and a lady asked him to carry her items.
“As we walked out of Kabale Market, she asked me whether I knew the late David Kasisiri. That was my late father’s name. I regarded her question as an intrusion in my private life and was not interested in listening to her.

But she insisted. ‘You resemble Kasisiri’s family. Are you his son?’ I nodded in the affirmative. ‘Do you know his daughter called Grace?’ she insisted. I nodded yes. ‘I am Grace,’ she said. Bahati could not believe his ears. It was a chance meeting under mysterious circumstances. Grace told him she was a maid for a prosperous man, Munubi – who lived in Kanungu but had another home in Kabale and had brought his family over for the holidays.

“That is how I met my other siblings because Grace knew where they were,” he says wistfully. At Kigezi High School, Bahati managed to finish his studies because he had a kind and understanding headmaster. “He would tolerate us and during holidays, we would stay at school doing manual jobs like slashing the compound to earn school fees.”

Friends and family
Like the Spanish proverb, “Life without a friend is like death without a witness”, Bahati believes in developing relationships and looking at common grounds of groups and community. He does not believe that one should have few friends…in fact; he said if he was to list his friends, this article would not be enough. According to him, the more friends one has, the more social support and comfort they have. However, he points out one special friend - Juliet, his wife. “She’s my special friend.”

Juliet and David met at a Christian TV station. He wanted to start a talk show that focused on family values and needed sponsors. Juliet, being an administrator at the station, advised him on what to do. However, the talk show dream never came to pass - but Bahati had met the mother of his children.

“She is caring and loving,” he says. Their children are; David, seven, Daniel, five and five-month-old Joy. “It is a great privilege to have them. I grew up without my parents and having children is something fulfilling. I love children.”

“I value my family because it is the foundation for everything that I do. I try to be there for them just as they are there for me. Being a father reminds me every single day of the responsibility of providing leadership in the home,” he says emotionally.

“Due to the services we do politically,” he says, “I have an even bigger family. These are good people who believe in our cause and this binds us.”

Why fight gays?
Bahati says he has a passion for service and trying to make a difference in people’s lives and also, fighting for what he believes is right. In his words, “One of the things I do is fight for the future of our children. And that is why I fight homosexuality.” Bahati accuses the rich for trying to influence the world with their homosexuality agenda, which he calls a great threat to society and the future generation.

“This habit is learned and can be unlearned,” he adds, quoting the Bible: “Homosexuality is an abomination punishable by death.” When I asked him how, as a Christian, he can advocate for a death penalty, he replied, “It is in Leviticus. Go and read – the penalty for homosexuality is death.”

However, he says the Bill has not been passed yet and whoever is concerned about the death clause should change it, but believes there is nothing more important than keeping Ugandan children morally upright.

Sometime back, there were reports that Bahati would be denied visas to some countries if the bill passed. But the legislator says he has heard no such thing. “I don’t know – but if that is the price I have to pay, I would rather stay here and keep our children safe, for I am comfortable and happy to be involved in this cause.”

Mission
“I am prepared to do anything God asks me to,” he says. Bahati grew up without an ambition, though he always wanted to work with a bank. Now a chartered accountant and business man, the legislator says he will not push his children into any career because he believes one should prepare for whatever God wants them to do.
Bahati says life for him is the same whether gays love or hate him. “I only hope something better comes tomorrow.”

I ask him whether his family is not threatened in any way because of his “hate” for gays and vice versa, and he replies, “I don’t hate gays. But it’s a sacrifice I am willing to pay for the good of our youth.” “Something that affects me affects my family too,” he adds, “And my wife supports me.”

What you did not know about Bahati

  • Interests and hobbies
    Bahati enjoys doing charity work and creating an organised community. He mainly supports Christian charity causes like raising support for orphans and poor children who cannot go to school because of lack of school fees; he pays school fees for about 100 children in his constituency. This, he says, is among other things like ensuring there is running water, health centres and roads in Ndorwa West.
  • A man of the book
    His other interests include reading. And because he is a Christian, he says his favourite book is the Bible. Of late, he has been intrigued by Tommy Franks’ American Soldier. The biographical book details the strategies of Americans in Iraq and the enduring spirit of a freedom fighter that involves careful planning, strategy and patience.
    “I love strategy and every book about strategy fascinates me,” he intimates. “Another book that has won my heart is Becoming a Millionaire God’s Way by Thomas Anderson. It teaches how to make money the godly way,” he adds.
  • Love for music
    The Ndorwa West MP loves music. However, for him music means gospel and he does not hide his admiration for Judith Babirye and Wilson Bugembe, two of Uganda’s gospel la crème artistes. Bugembe’s Mukama Njagala Kumanya is his favourite song. However, Bahati has no time to watch movies and on TV, he watches the news and development programmes on NTV.
  • His heroes
    Having met Bahati on Heroes Day - June 8, I asked him why he did not go to Nakaseke to celebrate with his colleagues in NRM; he told me his heroes list is topped by Jesus, who did everything to save humankind. I realised the criterion Bahati uses to choose his heroes is based on people involved in fighting for freedom or inspiring others through charitable means.
    Bahati is inspired by Nelson Mandela, who was exemplary in terms of reconciliation and conflict resolution. “Mandela showed that it is humanly possible to forgive and forget.” He also said President Museveni inspires him, as does Julius Nyerere. He tells me that more importantly, he likes the works of Mother Theresa, who dedicated her life to taking care of the destitute.
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