Sebaggala: The political charmer bows out at 72

Saturday September 26 2020
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Former Kampala Mayor Hajj Nasser Ntege Sebaggala, aka Seya, died of cardiac arrest at Kampala International Hospital

By Eriasa Mukiibi Sserunjogi
By Misairi Thembo Kahungu

Former Kampala Mayor Hajj Nasser Ntege Sebaggala, aka Seya, died of cardiac arrest at Kampala International Hospital yesterday, his younger brother Hajj Latif Sebaggala, the MP for Kawempe North, said.    
He had been on life support for weeks, family and medical sources say.    
Always bespectacled and wearing a smile, Sebaggala appealed to crowds in a way that is difficult to understand. He had negligible formal education and for some reason failed to perfect the English language despite keeping company of the high and mighty for almost all his adult life. 

He never lashed out at journalists for writing about him what other newsmakers would consider to be negative stories, always emphasising that all publicity is good publicity. To his mind, the media kept interested in him because he was “big”.
He was not particularly articulate, whether in his native Luganda or English, but his English language deficiencies never stood in his way. Sebaggala would confidently address any gathering in his tribe of English, and he would leave it to the audience to decipher what message he wanted to relay.
 
When President Museveni invited him to address the delegates of the National Resistance Movement at their national conference in 2015, for instance, the former mayor spat out a number of sentences and left the delegates falling over one another under the weight of laughter. They may not have understood everything he wanted to say, but at least he gave them a moment to laugh off the stress that listening to long speeches can cause. 

The beginning 
Sebaggala liked to talk about his humble beginnings, son of the late Hajj Shaban Sebaggala of Kisaasi in Kampala, born on November 15, 1947. At the time he was born, he would say Kisaasi was a typical village and his family lived in a grass-thatched house and tilled the land. 
Being the first born of his father’s 27 children, Sebaggala’s father started inviting him to lend a hand at his vegetable shop in Nakasero Market in Kampala, where they sold to the high class members of society. It is here where Sebaggala says he first saw Governor Andrew Cohen, then in charge of Uganda on behalf Britain.
 
He would juggle school at Kibuli Demonstration School with work at the vegetable shop, and his having been introduced to the world of business at an early age and relative poverty of his family meant that he did not go far in school. 

But he used the opportunity to get to know people and eventually got employment in a dairy company. After Idi Amin took power in 1971, Sebaggala quit employment and started New Fabricano, a shop that was located on Kampala Road. 
In New Fabricano, Sebaggala would say, he sold “the” best suits and other merchandise. In fact, he gained renown as a sharp dresser and lavish spender on grooming. He grew in business and became the anchor of his family, with many of his siblings and other relatives growing to attribute their success on him. 

Foray into politics
Latif Sebaggala, who has been MP for Kawempe North in Kampala for now 19 years, is one of Sebaggala’s most famous siblings. He first got elected to Parliament in 2001, riding on a wave that his elder brother had created. 
Sebaggala had wanted to run for president in 2001, having cultivated a cult-like following after serving time in an American jail. Two months after winning the Kampala mayor race in 1998, Sebaggala was arrested in the United States, in June 1998, and faced eight counts of fraud and lying to American customs officials. 

He was convicted and sentenced to 15 months in jail in February 1999. When he returned to Uganda in February 2000, crowds of his supporters paralysed the stretch from the airport in Entebbe to Kampala, and a deadly accident when a lorry rammed into the crowd claimed a number of lives.
Sebaggala, however, could not get nominated to run for president because the examinations body said he lacked the requisite academic qualifications, which led him to throw his weight behind Dr Kizza Besigye, who had just emerged on the scene to challenge President Museveni.  

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Sebaggala’s supporters poured onto the streets, chanting Hajji alagidde, alagidde, tuwe Besigye obululu…. (Hajj has directed that we vote for Besigye). In 2005, Sebaggala tried unsuccessfully to capture the leadership of the Democratic Party. The presidency went to the late John Ssebaana Kizito, who had been his campaign manager in the 1998 mayoral race and had gone on to win the mayoral seat for himself as Sebaggala was held in the US. 

Sebaggala eventually vied again for the mayorship of Kampala and won in 2006, serving in the position until 2011. 
During the 10 years when the late Ssebaana and Sebaggala served in the position of Kampala mayor, a lot of public land within the city was sold off and City Hall, the seat of Kampala Capital City Authority (then called Kampala City Council), was looked at by many as a den of corruption. 

The central government, riding on this accusation, sponsored the Bill that led to a change in the law, putting the management of Kampala City under the Office of the President, away from the Ministry of Local Governments. 
Sebaggala would try another time to take over the leadership DP, but was again defeated by current president Norbert Mao in 2010. After the defeat in Mbale, Sebaggala announced that he had left DP, founding what a party he named the Liberal Democratic Transparency (LDT). 
He later abandoned his declared bid for the presidency, instead throwing his weight behind President Museveni for the 2011 elections. Mr Museveni later named him a presidential advisor.

Towards the end
The magnetism which had characterised Sebaggala’s involvement in politics evaporated with his alliance with Museveni, with his supporters, who are disenchanted with the current government, abandoning him. 
Before being taken ill and his eventual death on the morning of Saturday, September 26, Sebaggala had declared that he had joined Mr Robert Kyagulanyi’s People Power Movement, saying he would challenge for the Kampala lord mayor position next year. His declaration, however, did not raise any dust.

What others said 
Mike Mabikke, Former MP, Makindye East. 
He was such a nice politician and he attracted us to join politics because he was a determined fellow in the Opposition. He believed in teamwork and he built a good team wherever he served. Uganda will take a long time to replace him.

Fred Mukasa Mbidde - DP vice president 
He lived a life of smartness. His dare-devil or harum-scarum kind of politics has always been punctuated with celebrity panjandrum and will always be remembered for revolutionalising the Democratic Party politics from the traditional pre-independence model to youth based activism.

Mohammad Nsereko - MP Kampala Central. 
We have always shared many great moments together, discussed a lot about business and governance.


Bobi Wine- Kyadondo East MP/ NUP leader
Very saddened by the passing of our elder comrade, former Mayor of Kampala Al Hajj Nasser Ntege Ssebagala. It is very sad that he has gone at this time, when we need so much guidance from such elders. May his soul rest in peace.

Gen Mugisha Muntu- ANT leader
It is with great sadness that I have learnt of the passing of Al Hajj Nasser Ntege Ssebagala, former mayor of Kampala .
Alliance for National Transformation joins with all Ugandans in sending our heartfelt condolences to the bereaved family.
May God see you through this undoubtedly difficult time.

Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago. 
He championed a message that captivated the people of Kampala. It was a message that awakened the feelings of so many people about ownership of the city. Whether he lived up to the same is another matter. But the term ‘Seya,’ which meant comradeship, was such a very potent and powerful message from a powerful man of Kampala.

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