Until last Friday, Andrew Karamagi passed for any activist in the country. Then, he did an unprecedented stunt; while at the new lawyer’s day, the 25-year-old walked to Attorney General (AG) Peter Nyombi who was delivering a speech, whispered to him and took his speech leaving the AG panicky.
“I told him, ‘You and I know that what you are saying is not right’,” he says. Today, Karamagi is celebrated in the same measure that he is denounced.
Karamagi is lean and of medium height. When he speaks, you cannot miss his wit. He gestures to emphasise his words and occasionally borrows quotes from personalities that have influenced his thinking, to spice his opinions.
Even after spending three days as “a guest of the state”, the lawyer and activist reveals the rationale of his mouth-gaping action like he would do it again if the opportunity presented itself
“Peter Nyombi lacks a spine. As AG, he is the principal legal advisor of government. But, when you advise the government against what the Constitution stipulates, you are not only offending the law but also betraying the purpose of your office. That aside, at the behest of Nyombi, we, as a country, have entered into contracts where we have lost massive amounts of money to the detriment of the taxpayer,” Karamagi says, frowning a little.
“So I felt insulted and belittled to sit and listen to him lie to us that there is rule of law in the country. And you know after speeches, it is common courtesy to clap. And for us to clap would be stamping in approval of the illegalities rooted in Nyombi’s office. This is what drove me to do what I did. It was not pre-planned. It was spontaneous.”
Praise and vitriol
His Facebook wall is inundated with posts from friends congratulating him for his heroic feat. However, there are also Ugandans who perceive him as an ill-mannered young man who disrespected his seniors. He laughs off this view and invokes Articles 3, 17 and 29 of the Constitution in his defence.
“I did not break any law. What I did was in obedience of the Constitution which is the supreme law of the land. Article 3 of the Constitution which stipulates that it is my duty as a citizen to protect it by all means. Simply, that is what I was doing.”
He is quick to clarify that he did not assault or rough up Nyombi as had been reported by some sections of the media. He says there is footage to absolve him.
Whereas there are many heads still shaking in bewilderment at the extent of boldness demonstrated by the activist, Onyait Odeke, a friend of the 25-year-old is not one of them.
“There is nothing surprising about what he did. Karamagi is not the kind that keeps quiet or acts passively where he feels disgruntlement. I remember back at Uganda Christian University (UCU), he used to challenge policies he was convinced were unfair. That was brave of him. Because, a university is a very small place, it was easy to isolate and get rid of him for challenging the status quo.
This did not shake Andrew.”
This activism did not just start at university. As early as secondary school Karamagi wanted his voice heard about what he thought was the rightful direction to be taken by the country. Charles Mwanguhya, the former host of the KFM Hot Seat, says the lawyer was a regular caller of the show, whose arguments were mature despite him being in a secondary school somewhere in Ntinda (Ntinda View College).
Karamagi says that his person is a product of the vociferous reading that he has undertaken over the years.
“I read everything from philosophy, law, medicine, memoirs to construction. Some of the convictions that I have developed from reading are – you do not get what you deserve but what you fight for and that if you do not do anything about a situation, nothing will change. I believe every human being is born equal in dignity, so we have to do something to ensure that every human being lives in equal dignity. ” he says.
It is the urge to see the practice of his beliefs that drove him to be one of the brains behind the Black Monday Movement, a group of about 60 civil society organisations. Karamagi says that issues affecting the ordinary citizen such as a minimum wage and a high tax regime should be brought to the fore by civil society organisations. He has endured a number of arrests (he says seven) during the peaceful demonstrations organised by the Black Monday Movement.
As a young man with promising career prospects, why is he putting himself in harm’s way? He smiles and responds: “There is no lesser or greater risk to life in a failed state. In a failed state, the risk of death is equal to everyone.
“Look at the state of our roads. How many lives are claimed daily because of poor roads? Look at the condition of our hospitals. There are 16 women going to die by the end of today while attempting to give birth. These women are not activists but they died nonetheless. So, why would anyone think that their silence will save them?”
Karamagi does not come across as someone who enjoys the limelight that his act brought with it, he seems more concerned about addressing the reasons for his behaviour which in my opinion puts the ball in the courts of the powers that be, to address his grievances lest we see other youths doing even more than what he has done.
What do you think of Andrew Karamagi’s actions?
“I think it was a wake-up call for those in government. If nothing is done to stem the dissatisfaction, we may have more Karamagis., it could even spill into violence,”
Busingye Kabumba, Lecturer of Law
“I excuse Karamagi, but take exception to the conduct of colleagues like Asuman Basalirwa who have been justifying his actions. As advocates, we have better ways of expressing dissatisfaction,”
Frank Kanduho, KCCA councillor representing Uganda Law Society