Manzi Tumubweine, who died on June 11 at 80, was born with a fortune. No, not the stuff that consumes humanity in an endless, pointlessly vain pursuit of cash and fame. His great fortune was an extraordinary intellect and resilience that shaped and sustained him and his family against extreme adversity.
Most Ugandans alive today probably knew Tumubweine as a celebrated politician, a government minister, Member of Parliament and very successful businessman. His most recent public office as Chairman of Kabale University Council had him attired in academic gowns that symbolized his presence at the summit of academia and the intellectual fraternity.
So, it was easy to assume that he was a man who had had a painless walk to success. In fact, this is quite the opposite of his remarkable journey that was one of the great personal inspirations as I watched him do what seemed impossible.
Tumubweine wa Kanyamanzi ka Kacumba Omugahe wa Kyoogo, Kamuheesi, Kigyezi was the firstborn son of Sadayo and Feresi Kanyamanzi. His father’s brother, a fine gentleman called Rwabutuuza, was married to Georgina Kamaari, my father’s older sister. Tumumbweine’s maternal aunt, Edisa Zindonda and her husband, were my baptismal God-parents.
Thus, I met the young Tumubweine when I was beginning to make sense of school and what it too to succeed. His name was a frequent presence in our family conversations, favoured by my father as one of the best role models to emulate.
Besides his reputation for brilliance, his precocious transition to adulthood and family headship had earned him an honoured place in the hearts of all who knew his story. When his father died in 1956, the 15-year-old adolescent had no choice but to abandon a mainstream school path. Through sheer determination and focus, he supported his mother to raise his four younger siblings, even as he pursued an education that would see him become a primary school teacher.
When his mother died suddenly in 1965, a result of an acute allergic reaction to an antibiotic injection, Tumubweine became the single parent of his four siblings. He combined parenting and school teaching with his personal continuing education, with an eye to realising his dream of a university education.
The primary six graduate, now a primary school teacher, aced the O-level and A-level examinations without ever setting his foot in formal secondary school. After reading economics at Makerere University, Tumubweine was off to Leeds, England, to collect his master’s degree, capping a remarkable school career for a man who liked to point out that he never stepped in “the equivalent of primary seven.”
By the time he turned 40, Tumubweine’s three brothers had graduated from university and his sister was already married and raising her own family. There is little doubt that, without Tumubweine’s self-sacrifice and focused industry, his siblings would have found it very hard to succeed. The 1950s and 1960s were a period when orphanhood condemned many to school drop-out and underachievement.
In the years that followed, Tumubweine turned his energies to supporting needy children, not only in his extended family, but in his community. Following his death, numerous beneficiaries of his generosity have written testimonies on social media platforms reporting how he paid their school fees or arranged admission to various schools or provided them with guidance as they navigated their school careers.
His fidelity to the truth, even at his own political expense, set him apart from many of his peers. His vigorous opposition to the sale of the Uganda Commercial Bank did not earn him credit in the eyes of the country’s ruler in whose government he was serving. He was the stereotypical Mukiga who spoke the truth to all with whom he interacted. Conversations with him were always very refreshing, ideas-focused, very well informed and founded on a true intellectual’s willingness to entertain alternative views.
His honesty may have contributed to his shortened tenure as the Member of Parliament for Rukiga County. He preferred to motivate and challenge the voters to engage in self-help rather than depend on cash handouts from politicians. That was not a formula for electoral success in an atmosphere of commercialised politics and a beggar mentality. He lost his parliamentary seat in 2001, after one term in office.
No doubt Tumubweine’s public and private business service was a distinguished journey of success. He was believed to be one of the financially very wealthy Ugandans, thanks to his skillful investment and management of his businesses. Yet, such perishable wealth pales in significance compared to his investment in humanity, uplifting the orphans and needy, and motivating his people to scale the heights without fear or self-pity.
The death of his parents at such an early age, and his rattled career path as a result, could have turned him into a bitter person that resented those who had had a smoother path than him. Happily, Tumubweine faced adversity with grace and fortitude without self-indulgent defeatism. He did not see his misfortune as the fault of external agency. He did not wait for someone to solve his family’s problems.
His story invites consideration and discussion in the towns and hamlets of the land. The culture of dependency, where perfectly able-bodied young men and women believe that someone else owes them a living, has handicapped and paralysed our country. Whereas the citizens who have the means ought to support and uplift the needy in their midst, no able-bodied person is entitled to cash handouts from others or the government.
Tumubweine demonstrated that the greatest asset one needed to succeed was a usable intellect, put to work with clarity of purpose, priorities and plan and pursued with perseverance and absence of self-pity. He has left his family on a solid footing and bequeathed to his community and country a formula for success. He leaves a wealth of proteges and beneficiaries whose service to humanity will have his invisible hand in the shadows.
To his wife Christine Nyarubona and their offspring, my condolences and prayer for the Lord’s grace at this difficult time. To his siblings and other members of his extended family, let us celebrate the life of our brother which fills us with warm memories of his terrific sense of humour, his large heart and the inspiration that many of us derived from him. It is well.
Mulera is a medical doctor.