Sylvia Nagginda: The girl who became queen

Monday July 29 2013

The queen with finance minister Maria Kiwanuka,

The queen with finance minister Maria Kiwanuka, a close friend, and the Buganda minister for justice and constitutional affairs, Apollo Makubuya. 

By Christine W. Wanjala

Before she was a queen, before she even met Kabaka Mutebi who would be her husband, Sylvia Nagginda’s story was telling. Her life story had spanned three continents; she was already a high achiever with enviable qualifications.

Her aunt and Rubaga Municipality Mayor Joyce Nabosa Sebugwawo who knew Nagginda from as little as three months old to when she was about four years and intermittent periods as a young woman, foresaw a good mother. “Someone with a future is what I saw. I always thought she would have a home full of joy,” she says. Did she ever see a queen in Nagginda’s bearing, her poise? The mayor answers in the negative. Marrying a king and other fanciful thoughts never crossed her mind. “I just knew she would have a good home,” she emphasises.

Sylvia Nagginda Luswata is the first born of John Luswata Ssebugwawo and Rebecca Nakintu. The year of her birth is 1964 according to several online pages which bear her profile. Her paternal aunt Eve Nasejje Ssebugwawo says November 1963, then 64, then 63, again. Whatever the year though, the month is November and the birth place, is London.
“Her mother Nakintu was a nurse. She had trained in London,” Nasejje who is the younger sister of Nagginda’s father offers. She says she knew Nagginda from when she was a little baby growing up with her in the same household.
The infant did not stay long with her parents, Nasejje says, something to do with the living expenses in the UK and the parents’ nature of work.

At three months, Nagginda was dispatched to Uganda to live with her grandparents. It is the image of her in a bassinet surrounded by her baby things and accompanied by a nurse at the airport that Ms Sebugwawo describes as her earliest memory of the child. For the little girl, that relocation from her birth place before she could even understand, would be the beginning of a life that would see her call several different addresses home. It also marked the last time she would see her parents together as a child.

Enter the elder brother to Nagginda’s father, Engineer Daniel Ssebugwawo and his wife Joyce Nabbosa. According to Ms Sebugwawo, the future queen stayed with them until she was four.

“We lived in the first storied house near the roundabout,” Ms Sebugwawo tells me. The house is indeed a few paces from the Kabaka’s roundabout in Mengo and interestingly a few metres from Ms Sebugwawo’s current offices as mayor. Set in a large compound, the house looks too new to have been standing in the 70s. A boda boda rider nearby confirms it is was built a few months back after the old house was knocked down.
Nasejje recalls babysitting the queen then. “She was a very quiet baby. Once fed, Sylvia sucked her thumb contentedly. You could visit and would never know there was a baby,” she shares.
The second shift of address came when her uncle and aunt were to be transferred to Fort Portal. Nagginda was moved to her grandfather’s Nelson Edmond Nkalubo Sebugwawo’s home in Bufulu Nkumba.

The large home with its large brick bungalow must be more or less the way it was when Sylvia, as both her aunts affectionately call her, was brought to live here. It actually looks like it has been that way for a long time, with its low walls and very old design. Save for maybe a few coats of paint. The plaque says 1914, when the house was built. It is a large airy compound not so vegetated as is characteristic of old homes. One gets the feeling that for a long time the bungalow with the wall around it was the grandest home in the neighbourhood and rightly so for the elder Mzee Nelson Ssebugwawo, now 101 years old, is a great landowner.

Again Nasejje moved with her to Nkumba. She recalls details of the Nagginda’s early life like the doctor who attended to her, “Dr Seguya, was a general practitioner I suppose but his specialty seemed to be children, he was based in Kawempe,” she offers.

School begins
It was here that Nagginda started her education at Lake Victoria Primary School in Entebbe. The school in its heydays was an elite school, built unlike any other in Entebbe. Even when many assume its glory days are long behind it, what with an influx of pupils, it is still impressive to look at. Maybe in in early heydays it could have been fit for a queen. Efforts to trace records or a person who could even vaguely recall the young Nagginda are futile, records lost during a renovation where the old asbestos roof was replaced with iron sheets.

Our Nagginda may not have been a queen yet, but she was her grandfather’s little princess. She was not only a granddaughter of a well-to-do man but a finance minister in the Buganda government. Her trips to school involved a chauffeured car to and fro.

Growing up in a family in the oasis of wealth with its row of servants rooms near the gate that stands on the dusty road leading to Kasenyi Landing Site, deprives us of the oh so beloved Cinderella story, rags-to-riches kind of thing. Little Sylvia wanted for nothing material.
It also means that in researching her childhood you will hear nothing of normal childhood rambunctiousness committed while going to buy sugar, to the shops, fetch water and any other such anecdote rich memories.

“It was really quite different for us,” says Nasejje. Tales of her childhood even within the walled compound with its large compound perfect for children’s playground are not forthcoming. She was the fourth grandchild and one of many people sharing the home and all her now ageing paternal aunt can say is she was well-loved and not at all naughty.

Her grandfather while indulgent ran the home and those in it with an iron hand. And the one thing he enforced without exception, was night prayers. They were recited every day by all who lived in the house. “We took turns to lead prayers and if you missed, your punishment was ,you also miss a meal”. Nagginda as a member of the household was not spared from this rule and she dutifully attended the prayers.
Her stay at Lake Victoria was short-lived. After P2, Nagginda changed addresses again, this time at Gayaza Junior School where she stayed till P7. After that it was off to high school at Wanyange Girls School until she finished S6.

Between Gayaza and Wanyange, Nagginda the girl morphed into a reserved young woman. “She seemed to keep a lot to herself even as a girl,” recalls Nasejje. Her sister-in-law, Ms Sebugwawo with whom Nagginda would spend holidays also remembers a laid-back person but who was approachable. “She had a special kind of friendliness,” she says her face waxing with nostalgia. But the quality her affability for Ms Sebugwawo was how hardworking she was.

“Sylvia would take all the work without complaining.” It was this quality that led her to decide the girl Sylvia would one day be a great mother, a woman with a good home. The idea queen though did not once cross her mind. Back then to Ms Sebugwawo, Nagginda was still the girl who liked cooking and sang very well as she did her chores. My prodding on any recollections of any particular songs only bears a vague answer, “Songs from school I suppose,” she says.

According to Ms Sebugwawo, the Buganda queen also loved cats, a love which continued even after she had gone for her university in the US. “She came for holiday and she still liked the cats,” says Nasejje.

If there is anything the two loving aunties harp on about, it is how Nagginda loved everyone. It was however, her grandparents Nelson and Kasalina Namayazza Sebugwawo for who she reserved her most affection. She loved the two as any child would love her parents. Nasejje recalls a time when the young Nagginda was to be taken to visit her father who had moved back to Uganda, “She ran around the compound crying and saying she was not going. She also made it clear she would stay at her grandfather’s.”
The petulance was most likely fuelled by not knowing her parents as opposed to dislike.

Meeting her parents again
Since she left London at three months, her father saw her again when she was already in Gayaza,” reveals Nasejje. As for her mother, she was to meet the three-month toddler she sent to Uganda as grown woman. A young adult actually who had finished her S6. She went to New York for her university education and to live with her mother.

Though late their encounter, it was the mother who got to know Nagginda as a young adult. The woman she became. And it is still Nagginda’s mother who is privy to most details of this part of her life. One thing though Nasejje is sure of is, she did not change much from the girl they knew. The one who carried herself with poise and who did not go through the wild teenage years as far as she could tell. “When she came for holidays, she stayed with us and she was ever at home,” Nasejje says.

Her reserved nature had also carried into adult hood; she still was very friendly but left little space for one to delve into her personal issues. “You could not ask her about having a boyfriend or lack one,” says Nasejje.

Something had grown stronger in her though. She was more outspoken about things she did not deem fair. According to Ms Sebugwawo, it was especially belligerence that bothered her, unkindness and she would talk back about it if she so perceived it.

The years flew by, 18 in the US where Nagginda got her qualifications, three degrees; A Bachelor of Arts from New York University, an Associate Degree from City University of New York and a Master’s Degree from New York Institute of Technology. She also built a career in consultancy with her last employer being an independent consultant.

It was in the US where she met the Kabaka and the rest as the cliché goes is history. Nasejje remembers her last glimpse of Sylvia without the title Nnabaggereka. People who had heard the news had flocked to the compound to greet and congratulate her. They were being turned away by some overzealous fellow who thought the queen-in-waiting should not be bothered. “She asked us to let the people come and say hello. She said humbly, “Baleke bajje” (let them in), and greeted as many as she could.” So having read this far, you can now be part of the jury. Was this

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