The morning of October 3, 2017 was a sad one not just for the immediate family of James Kafifi Balyejusa, but for many whose lives he touched. Out of kindness and a desire to see his family transformed, he paid for the education of hundreds of relatives. It is often said that if you were part of his family, you failed to go to school on your own account but not because you could not afford it.
“We often joked with Baaba that his day was perhaps longer than 24 hours given the many activities he managed to do. We found it odd that as head of our clan, he managed to relate with so many persons and take time to understand their issues on an individual basis. We can only conclude that he was simply exceptional; God’s gift to the many that had the privilege of meeting him,” reminisces his son Ivan Kyateka.
Education and career
Born on May 23, 1947, Balyejusa attended Kamuli Junior School, Busoga College Mwiri for both his 0 and A-Level and University College Nairobi where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering.
Upon graduation in 1971, he returned to Uganda and joined the Water Development department as a pupil engineer. Due to his outstanding performance, he had been promoted to the rank of assistant commissioner by the time he left in 1980 to concentrate on running Elly Technical and Transport Services (ETATS), a company incorporated on December 8, 1978.
At 33, Balyejusa left a good government job to run a private business. That in itself was not a mean feat. The fact that a number of colleagues from the Water Development Department believed in him so much that they moved with him, not as shareholders but as employees, shows that he was an exceptional man. Many of these were to serve in ETATS for up to 20 years.
Balyejusa, the hard worker
His strong business acumen, hard work and commitment to grow his company resulted in great success in a short time. Thus, in 1985, the company was able to attract financing of up to US$5m (about Shs18.4b) from the East African Development Bank (EADB) to purchase brand new road construction equipment. To date, it is hard to single out a local road contractor who has owned such levels of equipment in terms of quality and quantity.
The company was aptly described as having been ahead of its time owing to its growth rate, achievements and level of organisation.
Owing to his rare sense of hope, Balyejusa was able to keep ETATS afloat through the difficult times that followed the 1987 currency reform. The company suffered great losses due to the poor performance of the Ugandan Shilling against the dollar, especially because the long term loan from EADB was denominated in dollars. In addition, for a long time, government was not contracting out works as much, and even when contracts came, payments were erratic with some taking up to 12 months to materialise.
At ETATS, Balyejusa employed many; with up to 400 staff at one point. He also provided training opportunities to at least 350 interns and graduate trainees in both mechanical and civil engineering.
A family man
To his family, he was Baaba, the loving and committed father and husband. “He made us top of his priority list only second to Maama. There are eight of us but he found time in his busy schedule to relate to us on an individual basis. With each of us, he had a relationship tailored to our individual traits and interests.
He found time to call each us and talk for what was usually ages. No matter the situation, there was always something to laugh about and you were always left encouraged by his wise counsel and confident hope,” recalls his daughter Dr Rebecca Babirye Kiyingi.
“To Maama, Baaba was an exceptionally loving husband. We could tell he truly loved her by the way he cared for her. Once when Maama had to go for surgery in Nairobi, he insisted that he would go all by himself to take care of her because he wanted to be by her side. Indeed, he did a good job,” says his daughter Susan Balyejjusa Mugumya.
“It is not possible to write about Baaba without mentioning his great sense of humour. There was always a reason to laugh when you interacted with him and his characteristic hearty laugh that he passed on to some of us was a reason to laugh even more. It was not uncommon to get off the phone and friends around ask who you were talking to like that and they would be surprised that it was Dad! Our ability to speak with him easily stemmed from the fact that he was first our father, then our friend, a good one at that.”
On that day in October, the Lord that he loved, served and sought fervently called him to his fold. To his family, he left a gap beyond measure. Our only consolation is that he is with the angels watching over us and that he continues to be a blessing to us and many others.”
And as months pass after his death, the family still mourns a pillar who left a gap too big to be filled.
Love for church
James Kafifi Balyejusa loved the church and served the Diocese of Busoga in many positions of responsibility, often times using his own resources to fund church activities. His love for Christ and the church is said to have started at an early age when he would read the Bible with his father but grew when he became head of the Scripture Union in high school at Mwiri.
He would easily quote a Bible verse relevant to a situation or an incident. He loved to sing church hymns; his favourite being hymn 46 in Hymns for Today’s Church; “Through all the changing scenes of life.”
How they remember him
“We met in 1990 when I was working as an accountant for The Rural Multi-Sectoral Development Programme of Busoga Diocese. We were having financial problems and the jolly engineer without asking anything of us, lent us Shs5m.”
Hon Moses Kizige, State Minister for Karamoja Affairs
“He taught me to be courageous and that on every job, there is an employer and an employee; and these two have to work in harmony. He also taught me to always be slow to reprimand and discipline without fully understanding the matter.”
Edmund Nsereko, ETATS Employee 1980-2003
“James taught me the three Hs’ hard work, honesty and helping others. In good or bad times, he always worked hard. His word was a bond. He never deviated from his statements and what he believed in.
Martin L. Kakembo, executive director, ETATS