As the Lord Mayor stares at an almost bleak future, and as Kampalans hold their breath, eyes stuck at the political and judicial skies, as the legal brains tussle it out in courts of law, one name comes to mind, Catherine Bamugemereire. Call her the nail that hit Lukwago’s head. Where does one start? Sure as dunes of dust gather around City Hall, the name of the judge who sealed the fate of Mr Erias Lukwago has been etched in history and will keep tongues wagging. Good or bad history, only time can tell.
Most will think of the picture of a dazzling lady, smiling from ear to ear, dressed in striking apparel with a KCCA Tribunal report wrapped in conspicuous yellow ribbons when her name is spoken. That picture, as she hands over the voluminous lethal report with a blue cover (another political connotation) to an equally elated, Frank Tumwebaze, Minister for presidency and Kampala is one that seems to stick out from the rest. The photo is actually trending on social media, attracting a stream of reactions and verbal artillery.
There is just something unmistakable about the unspoken pat on someone’s back. When the report finally lands on the excited minister’s hands and the judge smiles further for the camera, even more words are spoken.
The event is made more dramatic when the judge “defends” the yellow ribbons as she says, quite shyly, “this is gold and not yellow.”
Now, across social media, Bamugemereire who is in her 40s, has surely earned a beating, coming off as, “a political judge, a hired political assassin, a judge with no conscience and moral values.” Yes, rants on social media can get a little nasty and unfair. In fact, the Lord Mayor on his part, went public, calling an impromptu press conference revealing how he was aware of the verdict and, how “the report has been edited to serve the interests of the regime, to kick me out of City Hall.” How uglier can a judge get painted, when these words do not turn out as sheer prophecies of doom or political posturing but actually come to life days later?
But perhaps, Justice Bamugemereire, a mother of two is paying the price of that herculean calling, of being a judge, where you can only please one party. For those that appeared before her, like humorous Kawempe Mayor, Mubarak Munyagwa, Justice Bamugemereire can only earn remarks most awful. He had a taste of her medicine, when she once threatened to throw him out, after nearly laughing at whatever he said as a witness during the tribunal hearing.
If anything, for skeptics, Bamugemeirere was, “one sided from day one. She knew her task and did not pretend about it,” Mukono Woman MP, Betty Namboze said on a show on radio. In fact, Namboze was so emotional and passionate when talking about the same, sympathising rather than despising the Lady Justice. She went ahead to give examples of judges in Kenya who were political and worked for the former regime and are now in trouble. Namboze, to say the least, poured her heart out, but did not lose her comical side when she called the High Court judge and KCCA executive director, Jenifer Musisi, “obuwala buno (these little girls).”
But to draw conclusions on the professional record, earned from sweat at that, of a judge based on one case would be nothing short of unfair. Yet in consideration of this, city lawyer and MP, Medard Segona, when contacted fell short of speechless, out of confessed disgust.
“Having suffered injustice in her hands, I am not the right person to speak about her. I felt embarrassed appearing before her seeing how she conducted herself. She always gets taken up by political interests,” the MP said without mincing his words.
To Segona, Bamugemereire’s judgment was no surprise. It was business as usual.
“I received the same reception from her in the case of Sulaiman Kiggundu (RIP). She attempted to defy a High Court order and we had to go back for another order,” he told this reporter. Perhaps unlike Mr Lukwago who might have interfaced with the PhD student for the first time, Segona then was fresh from law school, so his first impression of the judge can only be lasting.
In other legal circles however, the judge is not viewed that way. A law student at Makerere University, Frank Wadidi says, “The public is only being unfair to the lady. One can see she is faced with political questions where judges when faced with political questions act more politically correct than legally right. That is her problem.”
A court reporter, fairly familiar with the tribunal and the judge’s court work agrees with Wadidi. “Her only crime was presiding over a political matter. It is not easy being a judge, many of those criticising her would have done the same thing. You have to consider her reasoning before judging her.”
Bamugemereire, according to bio-data shared by judiciary spokesman, Elias Kisawuzi comes from Bubulo in Mbale district, holds a Master’s degree from Southern Methodical University, Dallas, Texas and is pursuing a PhD in law by external correspondence.
“She has risen fairly fast after leaving the Law Development Centre in the 1990s. She became state attorney in the early 90s before joining the bench as Magistrate Grade 1 in 1994, rising to Chief Magistrate Buganda Road in 2004. She quit the judiciary returning in 2010 as High Court judge in the Anti-Corruption Court division after returning from abroad,” he said.
Kisawuzi also defends her latest case, saying, “As a judge she had to come to a decision, in one way or another. It was a tribunal decision and not her personal judgment.”
Her direct supervisor and Principal Judge, Justice Yorokamu Bamwine when contacted was quick to heap praises on the wife of Deputy Inspector General of Government, Nathan George Bamugemereire.
“She is a strong judge, a no nonsense person and very hardworking. She won’t entertain any nonsense in her court. She calls a spade a spade,” Justice Bamwine said. Like the judiciary spokesman, Bamwine is of the conviction that, “she was not alone, you can blame the tribunal. I doubt if she could influence everyone in the tribunal.” Asked if it was possible that she did not determine but could have influenced the tribunal as its chair, the judge preferred to keep off the subject, understandably so because the matter is coming up in a court which he supervises.
The softer side
She might have the demeanour of a tough speaking judge, occasionally losing her cool, hitting a table and pointing a finger at witnesses, but underneath that lies an almost soft-spoken, adorably fine-looking woman.
Bamugemereire, an old girl of Nabumali High School is a staunch born again Christian. She said so on Capital FM’s weekly show, Desert Island Discs. She also comes off as outgoing, friendly and at times cheeky.
“Catherine George Bamugemereire,” for instance is her Facebook identity. Rummaging through her Facebook page, one appreciates the other side of the judge. The side that pleasurably flashes pictures of her two lovely children clad in designer outfits often times playing with mummy and daddy when abroad.
Some analysts believe this tribunal role, will either make or break her. And that while it may win her kudos from the powers that be and sections of City Hall, Lukwago’s sympathiser’s hold her in a different light.