Kazibwe: A legacy ruined by one action

Tuesday August 6 2013

Some of the mourners at Eng Charles Kazibwe’s home.

Some of the mourners at Eng Charles Kazibwe’s home. The ex-husband of former vice president Specioza Kazibwe may have come from an affluent family and had a stable marriage but only one action saw him die as a beggar. Photo by Abubaker Lubowa 

By John K. Abimanyi


The at-times very unforgiving lens of the public eye cast his life as the archetypal self-destruct story.

A bright man, blessed with a well-heeled parentage, a career into a lucrative profession and a marriage to a high-flying career woman, he was dressed down to demeaning drunken portrayals in press reports, plus jail stints and an embarrassing divorce, all never in want of media coverage.

As the body of Charles Nsubuga Kazibwe lies in Nsambya hospital awaiting burial at his ancestral home in Gayaza on Thursday, many will see him as a man who threw it all away.

Eng Kazibwe, a civil engineer, died yesterday after a prolonged illness. To the Ugandan public, his life will be seen in light of his relationship, marriage, and divorce to Africa’s first female vice president, Specioza Naigaga Wandira Kazibwe.

And yet Eng Kazibwe was himself never a man comfortable in the public eye, these portrayals would be unfair to a man who had more going on.

Those who knew Eng Kazibwe describe him as an affable, amiable and amicable man with a taste for the refined, exotic side of life, and yes, the more-than-occasional brown bottle. But for the public, all they saw was a wife-beater, who led international headlines, saying in Africa, even if a woman was the leader of the country, she could still suffer abuse at home.

The engineer met his ex-wife at Makerere University in the 1970s. One of his closest friends and classmate, Eng Ambrose Kagangure, was a choir leader at St Augustine Chapel, where Dr Wandira was a member. Often, the two met in Eng Kagangure’s room in Lumumba Hall after practice. It is here that Eng Kazibwe saw Specioza and fell in love. The two got married a year on leaving university.

Eng Kagangure, who has known Eng Kazibwe since 1973, says he was supportive of his wife’s political journey. “They were a happy couple, very exemplary couple.” “The trouble must have begun after she became vice president, when the demands and stress of such a public job started to wear out their relationship.”

Eng Kazibwe was a more laid-back man, taking life less strenuously. This became increasingly difficult to reconcile with a wife whose life was tied around meetings and travel, Eng Kagangure says.

By the time the two were divorcing in the early 2000s, Dr Wandira had already gone public with details of how she was beaten by her husband. Eng Kazibwe did not deny it, only saying he did it twice, and because she had repeatedly come home late. He was later making headlines for being found drunk by the roadside, and for a prison term after failure to pay a bank loan of Shs10 million.

Hardly anything positive was said about the engineer after his divorce.
Publicly asking for alms suggested the sight of a poverty-stricken man, yet this was very different from the man he was when he was younger.
Eng Kazibwe loved music. He, and his wife, were particularly fond of Afrigo band, especially Joanita Kawalya and Moses Matovu. They attended the band’s shows occasionally.

It could have all ended differently for Eng Kazibwe. He could have continued to be the publicly smiling husband of a prominent politician with, international recognitions and a place in history to boot. Instead, his story ends with a tinge of pity.

Today, when you mention the name Kazibwe, little if anything about the engineer comes to mind. Instead it is his former wife - a woman flying high. The engineer, who gave her that name, is only a footnote to that narrative.