Monday April 21 2014

Prince Nakibinge: A great man willing to be little

Prince Kassim Nakibinge speaking at a function

Prince Kassim Nakibinge speaking at a function after the Pakistan’s University of Lahore bestowed upon him an honorary doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) for his work in promoting education fro the Muslim community.  

By Abdulaziizi K. Tumusiime

Prince Kassim Nakibinge’s ever calm demeanour, towering height and good looks are common knowledge. But, his good sense of humour, humility and likeable personality are often obscured by the royal aura.

During our chat at a recent visit to his home, he occasionally cracks a joke but maintains an expressionless face. His body language seems to say; “I know you are nervous but feel free lad”. He answers all questions except those he feels the reader may infer as self-appraisal or bragging such as the sacrifices he has made during his leadership tenure and the beauty of growing up in a royal family.

First impressions
Nakibinge is the titular head of the Muslim community in the country. So it is no surprise that he is dressed in a cream and well-fitting tunic, during the interview at his home in Kibuli, never mind that it is a Saturday.
The interview takes place at the patio of his one-storeyed home. The house has been standing since 1911 when Nakibinge’s grandfather, the late Prince Nuhu Mbogo, built it. After his death, its ownership was passed on to his father the late Prince Badru Kakungulu and later to himself.

It is a simple home by the current standards assumed of a royal. It is a stark proclamation of the 48-year-old’s modesty. The floors are cemented, not tiled. The walls are covered by paint, not wall paper, and the pathway to the entrance is coated with thin tarmarc, not pavers.

The compound has lawn patches and is dotted with trees; some fruit trees and others for shade. The air is filled with the sound of birds singing, insects humming and trees whistling, when the wind blows through the leaves. In short, it has a country atmosphere.

Nakibinge did not only inherit this home from his deceased father, he also became heir to the latter’s vision. “The old man envisioned a Muslim community that was well-educated, vibrant in business and participatory in the affairs of the country,” he says, moving his hands back and forth to emphasise his words.
“He realised early enough that without formal education the Muslim community was doomed. I think that is where he picked the interest in education. He thus spearheaded the formation of Muslim schools in the country and this led to the formation of Uganda Muslim Education Association in the 1930s.”

Becoming heir
In 1991, his father paid the debt of nature. A 24-year-old Nakibinge consequently became heir to his father’s position (titular head) in the Muslim community. He says, only his deceased father has the answer to why he preferred him, to be the successor, over his other brothers.

Asked whether he was not worried about an inability to deliver, he shakes his head in the negative, and says his approach to the sudden task presented before him, relieved him of any nervousness that had started cropping up in his mind.
“I decided to only pay attention to making new contributions from where my forefathers had stopped. I did not focus on competing with my grandfather or father’s achievements. The two had raised the bar so high. To compete with them was to miss the big picture,” he states.

He came on to the scene when there were terrific wrangles in the Muslim community between the Kibuli and Old Kampala factions (they still exist though the causes, today, differ). The Kabaka had also just returned to the country so there were also a lot of tension in Buganda Kingdom. He was on the receiving end of a baptism of fire. Nevertheless, he says, in a contented tone, that he was able to wither the storm.

Mid way the interview, the gentleman who had earlier ushered us into the prince’s home, serves us bottled water and juice. We take brief parallel breaks from the talk to cool our throats, except the prince. He is mindless of the juice-filled glass before him. He is more mindful of answering our questions.
His phone rings only once for the duration of the interview. He quickly puts it on silent and summarily informs the person on the other end that he’ll call them later.

He sets it back on the table close to another gadget (wrapped in a leather case), presumably a tablet or kindle, inspiring the next question. He replies that he is not a technology enthusiast.

Latest milestone
On April 4, the University of Lahore in Pakistan awarded the 48-year-old a honorary doctorate of Philosophy (PhD). According to the university, this was premised on Nakibinge’s exemplary leadership, integrity in leadership, honesty and being focused. A suggestion that this feat is a pointer that he has achieved his late father’s vision, he dismisses, saying, “We are not yet there. All I can say is that we have tried.”

Under his leadership rafts of educational institutions (from a nursery school to a university) have been set up on Kibuli hill. He says the only institution lacking on the hill is a vocational institute and that it is the next big project to be undertaken.

In an era where land has is prime for the selling to investors, it is not out of order to ask the prince why he has not gone where the money is, instead committing the expansive piece of land on Kibuli hill, to education and medical projects.

He answers, “I look at education as a critical factor to success. People must be learned if we are to build a strong foundation for the community. It does not matter whether they go into formal employment or personal business, but they have to be able to read and write. This is why education is a priority.”

His biggest achievement
The biggest achievement he has registered in line with his late father’s vision is the ability to sustain the latter’s position on both Buganda and Uganda affairs. “Our forefathers’ opinion was sought and respected in Buganda and Uganda’s affairs. This has not changed. We have also managed to have one centre of power for the different Muslim groups, although one group has stayed away.”
“The complete unity of the Muslim community is the yet-to-be achieved goal. The foundation has been laid, we may not live to see it but we have hope it will be achieved,” the prince weighs in.

His banking career
Talk about the prince is usually about his leadership of the Muslim community, little is told about the successful and passionate banker he is.
While growing up, his fellow teens aspired to be lawyers, doctors and engineers, but a young Nakibinge wanted to be a banker. He says he cannot point at a particular reason for dreaming to be a banker, but it is the career he loved. Fortunately, his parents did not veto his choice.

In that regard, he remarks that it is not right for parents to dictate their children’s careers. “We all have different dreams. Forcing a dream onto a child is like forcing a left handed person to use their right hand. What is important is to emphasise to the child the need to be successful at whatever they do,” he cautions.

In 1989, the prince joined Bank of Uganda as a banking officer. He retired in 2005 as a senior principal banking officer. He then joined Tropical Bank where he served as an acting managing director and later executive managing director.
“I do not look at work as a punishment. It is an opportunity to learn invaluable lessons about life and mankind,” the prince says when asked why he took on work as a banker instead of living the “soft” life, as most people believe royals should.

Nakibinge speaks well of his marriage and family life: “I am happily married with children. I simply do not want my family in the public.”

His take on…
...the education system in the country
It is very theoretical. There is need to popularise vocational institutions from as early as after completing their Primary Level Examinations. This will help address the unemployment gap and is also good for private business persons. The infrastructure in UPE schools and the teacher to pupil ratio also has to be addressed.

...the political climate in the country
The government has registered a number of achievements. It is fair to give credit where it is due. The country has improved a lot security wise. For example, today, the North is the exact opposite of what it was 10 years ago. However on the other hand corruption has denied services to many Ugandans and unemployment levels are high.

...the claim that Muslims are terrorists
Saying this is to miss the point. If someone is fighting a civil in their country, you do not turn around and label it a Muslims’ war. We have Kony who calls his rebel group The Lord’s Resistance Army but how come we have not called his cause a Christian cause. Muslim’s are good citizens.

...the relationship between the Muslim Community with Mengo
There is no bad blood between the two. In fact Kibuli and Mengo are like brother and sister. Well there was a skirmish some time back when a mosque was destroyed but we sat with the Katikkiro and agreed on the way forward. So whatever problem we had we agreed on how to resolve it.

...how to resolve the current wrangles in the Muslim community
People should have internal reflection and fear their God. One day they will meet Him and they have to account for whatever they did. These are religious matters, not tribal disputes or politics.

A peek at the prince’s life
Education
• Attended Kabojja Preparatory School and Savio Junior School for Primary level.
• Joined St Mary’s College Kisubi for O-Level and Kibuli Secondary School for A-Level.
• Pursued a degree in Business Administration at United States International University in San Diego California
• Joined the University of Wales Cardiff for a masters in Business Administration – Finance
What you did not know about him
• He is a sports fan and used to play basketball at a competitive level. He is also the patron of Express Sports Club.
• He loves reading religion and politics-related literature during his free time. He also loves jogging but you will not find him in any gym in town; he does it in his spacious compound.
• His late father is the greatest influence in his life. He admired his honesty and integrity, values he says are the foundation of any success story even among the mafia (despite the fact that their activities are unlawful).

atumusiime@ug.nationmedia.com

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