Prince Nakibinge: A great man willing to be little

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.

Monday April 21 2014

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.”

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