Ssembuya was a national hero, says ex-Katikkiro

The children  of the late Christopher Columbus Ssembuya lay a wreath on his casket  at St  Paul’s Cathedral Namirembe on January 13. PHOTOS/FRANK BAGUMA

What you need to know:

  • Relatives and friends say industrialist Christopher Columbus Ssembuya was passionate about Africans being more innovative and influential.

Former Katikkiro (prime minister)of Buganda, Mr  Joseph Mulwanyamuli Ssemwogerere, has eulogised deceased industrialist Christopher Columbus Ssembuya, as a great national hero, saying his immense contributions to Uganda’s economy must be emulated.

Ssembuya, 85, who died on Tuesday, was  also lauded as a man of many firsts. 

After quitting his job as undersecretary in the 1960s, Ssembuya and younger brother Wilberforce Buwule started a hardware business that later became to be known as Sembuule Steel Mills in the ‘70s.

The business also saw the rise of several innovations including banks, insurance companies, television, and telecommunications, among others.

Ironically though, the man who aimed for the highest, and literally touched the sky, according to his family and employees, spent his last 15 years, jobless, wishing his once big company Sembuule Investments would resurrect.

“It’s absurd that as a country we have not appreciated this great industrialist enough,” Mr Ssemwogerere said at the requiem Mass at St Paul’s Cathedral Namirembe  on Thursday evening.

“I was wondering that this man has never received any medal of honour. Maybe, I didn’t pay enough attention. But it would be surprising if he didn’t receive one.”

“Because even his family has a rich heritage in our economy. His father [Yafesi] Magulu was a renowned cocoa farmer in East Africa. And I was happy to know that one of Ssembuya’s sons [Stephen] is handling a chocolate making company.”

But Mr Stephen Ssembuya told Saturday Monitor that his father received a medal at the Independence Day celebrations in 2019 in Sironko District.

Mr Ssemwogerere narrated how Ssembuya and the then Finance minister Mayanja Nkanji (RIP) persuaded him to resign his Resident District Commissioner job in Masaka, to become managing director of Sembuule Investment Bank from 1991 to 1993, when he became Katikkiro.

Relatives and friends attend a funeral service for the late Christopher Columbus Ssembuya at St Paul’s Cathedral Namirembe on January 13, 2022. PHOTO/FRANK BAGUMA

He said Ssembuya was passionate about Africans being more innovative and influential.

Offering employment 

Through various investments,  Ssembuya impacted countless lives and many like Emmanuel Katongole, the proprietor of Quality Chemicals, would scale even greater heights.

Mr Deo Kayemba, the chairman of Uganda Manufacturers Association (UMA), said in 1988, while a fresh graduate,  Ssembuya employed him at the bank.

When Ssembuya, alongside fellow local investors; James Mulwana, and Gordon Wavammuno, among others, revived UMA, he convinced them to employ Kayemba.

“And later when I told Ssembuya that I was appointed UMA chairman, he was happy but he challenged me. ‘Now can’t you aim higher to become chairman of the World Industrialists Federation? That’s typical of the Ssembuya we’re celebrating,” Mr Kayemba said.

Mr Edward Mubiru narrated how he became manager of the main bank branch in Jinja. 

He said the late Ssembuya tasked him and Mr Kayemba to open the bank’s main branch outside Kampala.
“We found a place in Jinja and after interviews, an applicant from the World Bank looked likely to become the branch manager. But a few weeks before the appointment was confirmed, Mr Ssembuya told Mr Mubiru that he wanted him to take the job.

It sounded weird…but he told me that the initial appointee did not have a wife or children… ‘but you can’t defraud the bank because you have a family to protect and you have nowhere to hide’,” he said.

He gave Mr Mubiru three days to make up his mind.

“I thought I could turn down the offer but on the third day, Ssembuya asked me ‘how do you plan to manage the Jinja branch?’ I told him he had given me time to decide. He said that was a diplomatic way to soothe me into the job but his appointment was final,” Mr Mubiru recounted.

When Mr Mubiru relocated to Jinja, he stayed in a hotel near the bank premises, before shifting to a house he had rented nearby. “But Ssembuya and his brother Buwuule bought brooms and cleaned the two rooms. I was deeply flattered by these two men and quickly left the hotel room,” he added.

Ms Rachel Lubega, Ssembuya’s first born child, said although many knew her father as a businessman, he was an avid Anglican, who tasked the religious administrators to save it from extinction by building more Anglican churches.

His wife Ritah and 12 children pledged to uphold Ssembuya’s legacy.

Ssembuya was laid to rest yesterday at his ancestral home in Kikwaya, Nkokonjeru, Mukono District.

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