When former president Idi Amin recalled Abdul Hamid Kamulegeya Jumba-Masagazi from Nairobi, Kenya and appointed him Permanent Secretary to the ministry of Education, many in Uganda thought that it was because he was a Muslim like Amin.
To those who lived in Uganda during the reign of Idi Amin, the name Jumba-Masagazi resonates well in the politics of the country. He was one of the most powerful ministers at the time and Amin’s confidant.
While many believed he had got the job because he was a Muslim, Jumba-Masagazi does not think so. And he could be right, because he was one of the brainiest Ugandans who could be employed anywhere else in the world.
Early excellence in education
Jumba-Masagazi was a very bright child. In 1950, he sat for Primary Leaving Exams at Kabasanda Muslim Primary School and joined Kibuli Junior Secondary School where he was always among the best students in class. While in primary school, he won several academic awards.
Late Buganda Kingdom prince Badru Kakunguru, who was a close friend to his father, had wanted him to join Kings College Budo for his A-Level but Jumba-Masagazi’s father instead took him to Nyakasura School in Fort Portal, Hoima District.
His father, Yunus Kakuru Masagazi, was a fish monger at Lake Edward in western Uganda and could not afford buying Jumba-Masagazi a pair of shoes.
“I went to school without shoes. But in second term my Mum bought me a pair,” Jumba-Masagazi reminisces his first days as a Senior One student at Nyakasura. From Nyakasura, he joined Kyambogo Teachers Training College in Kampala and graduated with a Junior Secondary School Teaching Certificate. He briefly taught at Bwala Junior Secondary School in Masaka South. And when the rare opportunity came to join a university in America, his head was the sole guarantor.
Studying in America
In 1961, Jumba-Masagazi was one of the best Ugandan students the government of America offered scholarships. Benedicto Kiwanuka the then prime minister of Uganda had secured about 300 scholarships for students to go and study in America.
“I was one of the people who were the beneficiaries of the 300 scholarships Ben [Benedicto] Kiwanuka, got from America. Since I was already a qualified teacher, I was taken to Western Michigan University in Michigan,” he says.
Owing to the subjects and the previous course he had done at Kyambogo, after evaluation, he was allowed to do a three-year degree programme instead of four.
After his Bachelors degree, he was offered another scholarship at the University of America where he pursued a Masters degree in Economics and International Studies.
Jumba-Masagazi afterwards got another scholarship to do a PhD either at Harvard or Oxford University but was denied the opportunity by a politician who claimed that Uganda, which had just got independence, needed him home.
“They wanted me to go to either Harvard of Oxford University for a PhD but Sam Odama [Ugandan minister] refused me to continue. I think Odama feared that the Americans were going to keep me there after my studies. So he bought an air ticket and some money for a two-week holiday in London on my way back to Uganda.”
When Jumba-Masagazi returned, he got a job with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development.
But after a year or so, he left for a better job at the East African Academy, a research institute in Nairobi.
Recalled for a job
It was while in Kenya that Amin called Jumba-Masagazi to return to Uganda. “Amin called me back in 1974,” he says. Asked whether Amin had personally telephoned him, Jumba-Masagazi says the former head of state used some people in his office that called him and said he wanted to meet him in Kampala as soon as possible.
“I was worried. It was being rumoured that Amin had been killing people. I think he had just called Jolly Joe Kiwanuka from Kenya and supposedly killed him. I did not know what to do.”
But when Jumba-Masagazi contacted his friends and relatives in Kampala, they told him that remaining in Kenya, would not save him if Amin wanted to kill him.
At this point he packed his bags and returned to Kampala.
In Kampala, he was received by Amin’s aides at Uganda House. While Jumba-Masagazi cannot remember the date, he still recalls the time he first met Amin face-to-face.
“I met him at about 9am in the morning at Apollo Hotel International (Sheraton Kampala Hotel).
“He did not even greet me but asked: ‘are you Jumba-Masagazi? He signalled me to follow him upstairs. When we reached his office he said: I want to make you Permanent Secretary of education,” Jumba-Masagazi says.
In the conversation that lasted about 20 minutes, Amin did not allow Jumba-Masagazi to return to Nairobi to resign. But he promised him he was going to assign a minister to handle the matter.
Although Amin had directed him to where his office would be, he also instructed him to wait for further instructions.
“After three months Amin called me to tell me what he wanted me to do. He struggled to explain in English. He spoke in Swahili and Luganda.”
But later, Jumba-Masagazi went on to become Amin’s confidant and in 1978, he was appointed Minister of Finance.
When Uganda lost the 1979 war to the invading Tanzanian army, Front for National Salvation (Fronasa) and the Kikoosi-Maalum, Jumba-Masagazi fled with Amin to Libya and later to Saudi Arabia. From there, he went to Germany and returned in 1985 after the fall of Milton Obote’s regime following a military coup.