At the gate to his large semi-detached house on Nsamizi Road in Entebbe Municipality, I expected to explain myself to a mean-looking guard, something I have grown accustomed to when seeking audience with people of Dr David Matovu Byatike’s stature.
To my surprise, the gate was opened by Dr Matovu himself. I later learn that only two people live at the mansion; the 73-year-old Dr Matovu and his wife of more than four decades.
Dr Matovu is humble; humbler than you would expect, yet his presence is bigger. And as we settle down for a conversation that lasts more than two hours, I realise he listens more than he talks. He draws every answer to my questions from careful, long thoughts.
On January 26, 1971, Dr David Matovu Byatike, then a postgraduate Biology student in Germany, turned 30. His mother, Irene Nalinya Ndagire Matovu, a daughter of Kabaka Daudi Chwa, was preparing for a historical journey in which she was part of the delegation tasked with returning the remains of Kabaka Sir Edward Muteesa from Britain. Matovu crossed over from Germany to meet his mother, whom he hadn’t seen in a long time.
Out of the seven years he spent studying in Germany, this was one of the only two times that he travelled back to Uganda.
“I was on the plane that brought Sir Edward Muteesa’s body back home from England. It was an emotional moment, given the fact the Kabaka had died in England and under mysterious circumstances, yet he had left under bad conditions. The currrent Kabaka (Ronald Muwenda Mutebi) was also on the plane,” he recalls.
Life in Germany
Dr Matovu was part of a team of Ugandan students selected by Bishop Joseph Kiwanuka for a scholarship by the White Fathers, which allowed students from all religious denominations to join. “He was an excellent man,” he says of the late bishop.
Germany was both challenging and interesting for the youthful Matovu, who defied the odds to go to a place that many Ugandans were unwilling to go to at the time.
“We used to sit with some Germans who would say ‘even if you beat me in the exams, you are still a black man’. That was disheartening but not discouraging.”
Unlike today when many people give up anything to go and live abroad, Dr Matovu’s biggest inspiration while in Germany was the need to work hard and return home to the point that he refused an opportunity to stay after completing his doctorate at Brunswick University.
Sitting on the boards of the academia and other institutions might seem like Dr Matovu’s hobby but he has a hobby that is close to his heart: cricket. “I have been a sportsman all my life. I played all sports, except boxing and wrestling but I was best at cricket, having been inspired by my friends John Nagenda and Besweri Nyangabyaki, some of the greatest cricket players this country has produced,” he says.
Dr Matovu remains supremely aware of the effect others have had on him.
“Two things I haven’t lacked in my life are love and friendship right from my childhood and my married life,” he says. “I have been very lucky to work with mature, intelligent, learned and loving people. Above all, my faith in God has been the bottom line.”
Some of the people that Dr Matovu holds in high esteem include; the late Dan Kigozi (former minister of works in NRM’s first cabinet), Dr Alex Coutinho (executive director of Infectious Disease Institute at Makerere University), Prof Senteza Kajubi (a renown educationist, and John Nagenda (Senior Presidential Adviser on Media and Communication Affairs), among others.
In 1974, Matovu married the daughter of Dr Sam Walusimbi, a man his father had taught part-time in medical school. The couple lived in Mwanza, with his wife Ritah Sylvia Matovu working as a state attorney and he, as a research scientist at the East African Institute for Medical Research.
While in Tanzania, the couple had three daughters; the first born, now a medical doctor, the second born a librarian, and the last born, a lawyer.
Having been out of Uganda for more than 21 years, the scientist says returning home in 1984 was a very hard decision but one he had to make.
Back home, he had to start from scratch but luckily, he got a job at Uganda Virus Research Institute.
Dr Matovu attributes much of his success to his wife, who despite having trained as a lawyer in Britain and worked as a state attorney in Tanzania, decided to stay at home and take care of their children until they were in secondary school.
WHO IS DR MATOVU
Born to the late Solomon Byatike Matovu, a medical doctor and Nalinya Irene Ndagire Matovu in 1941, his family was part of the Baganda that went to Bukedi as a result of Semei Kakungulu, the famous Muganda general conquering the region.
The third in the family of eight was born in Mbale, before the family moved to Bubulo, where he first went to school.
In 1948, Matovu came to Buganda after his father was posted to Mulago and from where the young Matovu joined school.