PROJECT SUCCESS: It was a family affair for the Kabumbas

PHOTO: ELOQUENT: Kabumba says focusing on the prize and doing what you have to do well yields big. PHOTO BY ISAAC KASAMANI

In Part X of Project Success, we track down Kabumba Busingye, the best A-Level student of 2000. He tells his story to Benon Herbert Oluka

Around the time that Kabumba Busingye started his Senior One at Namilyango College in 1994, his elder brother, Kabumba Kwesiga, emerged the 14th best O-Level student in Uganda. Mr Kwesiga had completed his O-Level in the same school.

Although Mr Busingye had also emerged one of the best two students at St. Kizito Primary School with four aggregates in four subjects, he did not make the ideal start in a school where his elder brother had been a star student.

Consequently, Mr Kwesiga’s performance became the stick with which some of Mr Busingye’s teachers beat him out of his lean spell.

“I remember not doing well in Chemistry and our teacher, Mr Wanyama, saying, ‘Your brother was among the best in the country and you are here doing funny things,” recalled Mr Busingye, now aged 27.

In contrast, according to Mr Busingye, his parents did not put him under similar pressure so he often felt more relieved returning home for the holidays.

Mr Busingye’s father, Prof. Ijuka Kabumba, is a former Managing Director of National Insurance Corporation while his mother, Mrs. Bazaire Kabumba, is a former head teacher of Kololo Senior Secondary School.

“It would have been easy for them to say you must be the best but they did not. Their feeling has always been, ‘Do what you can. Do your best and you will be fine’,” he said.

“My Dad always told his children, ‘Being number one doesn’t matter. I will be happy if you are the last but you tell me that that is the best you could do’.”

Four years later, Mr Busingye emulated his elder brother by coming top in his school and the 15th best student in the country, according to results released by the Uganda National Examinations Board (Uneb) that year.

Quadruple A
During his A-Level, where he did History, Economics, Literature in English and Divinity at King’s College, Budo, Mr Busingye went a step better than his previous; he led the country with four As and division two in General Paper.

“The first feeling was relief; relief that I had passed and was going to get the course I wanted,” said Mr Busingye of his immediate reaction to the news of his achievement.

During his senior six vacation, Mr Busingye compiled a poetry anthology titled ‘Whispers of my Soul’. It won first prize in the published works category at the National Book Trust of Uganda awards of 2002.

When he eventually started his law degree, Mr Busingye’s success in secondary school put him under more pressure.

“There was this whole thing about government versus private sponsorship,” he said. “The year we entered law school, the best student in the outgoing year was a private student; a guy called Frank Mugabi. So it was more like a challenge; people were saying, ‘let us see whether you can do what you did at A-Level’.”

At first, he did not replicate the top grades – apparently because he was down with malaria during the examination season. But by the end of his course, Mr Busingye was one of only two students in his class who were awarded first class degrees.

“That is why University is fair; it is a cumulative grade point average. A-Level may not be very fair because the people who were the best at the end of the year may not have been the best through out but because you are lucky that time and spotted well. So the fact that I did not do very well in the first semester did not mean I would not perform well in the end,” he said.

After graduating from the Law Development Centre with a post-graduate diploma in legal practice in July 2006, Mr Busingye immediately went to the United Kingdom to study a bachelor of civil law degree at Oxford University, courtesy of a Shell Centenary Scholarship. Around the same time, Mr Busingye’s girlfriend gave birth to his first child.

When he completed the Oxford course in July 2007, Mr Busingye was offered a grant ($40,000 or Shs80 million) and a loan ($20,000 or Shs40 million) by Harvard University in the United States to pursue a master of laws. Mr Busingye is expected to repay the loan over a 20-year period.

Before returning to Uganda in December 2008, Mr Busingye worked in the Project Finance and Capital Markets departments of top London law firm, Clifford Chance. Between January and August 2009, Mr Busingye worked at a local law firm but says he quit law practice after realising that “it was not my thing.”

He then returned to Makerere University’s Law Faculty as a lecturer.
“(The law firm) was really very generous; they gave me good bonuses but when I think about the value of what I was doing, I could not reconcile it with myself,” he said. “I thought that with what I had been given (at University), I can contribute in a more meaningful way to society. The money at Makerere may be less but at least you know that you are doing something with your life.”

Mr Busingye says he does not believe in juggling his law practice with teaching at Makerere because one of the two is likely to suffer due to his busy schedule.

“In terms of honesty and giving the best back, you cannot do both. You find teachers coming with yellow notes of what they have taught for a long time yet cases are changing. You should choose something you are good at and do it well,” he said.

Giving back
The idea of giving back is one that Mr Busingye has taken to heart since most of his post-secondary school education was funded under different sponsorship arrangements. Mr Busingye says he, for instances, pays tuition for his house maid.

“It was good to get funding. That is why I believe we must give back to society. If some white man who didn’t know me at all put aside some money for me to go to school, how much more should I give to a fellow Ugandan who I know,” he said. “That is why I am paying back in my small way. It does not have to be something big. I have started with the people closest to me.”

Mr Busingye says his plan in the long term is to be “a leader of thought” for Ugandan society, although he hastens to add that he does not plan to go into politics.

“We need some people who can step back and do some thinking on behalf of society because many people are too busy either with politics or making money to think about where our society is going. I am trying to contribute to public discourse,” said Mr Kabumba, who is a member of the NTV panel of experts.

Mr Busingye’s brother, Mr Kwesiga, is now an engineer with Mantrac Uganda.

With Mr Kwesiga now in his second year of a masters programme in accounting, roles have now been reversed. But Mr Kwesiga is content because his time practising engineering has led him to discovering another passion.

“After doing engineering, I decided to practice and see what it is in Uganda in engineering. So based on my analysis of the situation, post-graduate studies in engineering are not what I wanted to do,” said Mr Kwesiga, who recently completed a Certified Public Accountants of Uganda-CPA (U) course.
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Kabumba's Poem

Memoirs of a Ugandan candidate
(To all those who struggle with education, in a world where the worth of men is measured not by their capacity to love, but by their ability to remember)
I read books big and small,
And crammed principles,
In Physics, Chemistry, Maths and all,
But my fear of failure wouldn’t let me stall.

I dodged my bed from dusk to dawn to dusk,
In the hope of the ability to say,
“I did my best” to those who’d ask,
“Couldn’t you have performed in a better way?”

And when the reckoning days came
It is not pride that makes me write,
That what they asked me was the same,
As all I’d read day and night.

I lay no claim to genius,
But I can say – I ran my race
In a manner dedicated and serious,
So saying dear God, I rest my case.

Source: Whispers of My Soul, an anthropology by
Kabumba Busingye (published in 2002)