By Aloysius Byamukama
- Agnes Kibombo, 75, overcame all the hurdles while growing up and made it as a midwife. Having grown up in very difficult conditions, she took her father’s advice to become a medical practitioner and then go back to the village and help people. Much as she is old and weary now, she is still good at what she does.
IT was drizzling the morning I set off to meet Mbarara’s celebrated midwife, Sister Agnes Kibombo. Her private clinic, London Modern Clinic and home are both located on Ntare Road in the outskirts of Mbarara town.
At the entrance of her house, I met a jolly old woman. She was quick to apologise that she could not attend to me fully because she was rushing for the burial of the late Col. Albert Kareba. However, after a few minutes, she let me in, anyway.
She sat in her chair, just below the portrait of Queen Elizabeth on the wall. She immediately turned and pointed at it: “The man I am going to bury was the one who headed the Queen’s security during her visit to Uganda for the 2007 CHOGM. I am the one who attended to his mother when she delivered him — he was my son.”
She then picked up a bell and rang it, to call a maid. Imediately, one came in with her breakfast.
Kibombo was born in 1939 to the late Yowana Rucutsi Rumugunda and Elizabeth Kobuzaana of Ishanje, in Isingiro district.
She was one of 10 children and though poor, it was a royal family. For the name Kibombo was the clan name of the then ruling Ankore king, and their ancestral home, Ishanje, a burial site for the past 27 kings.
Kibombo might probably not have been alive today, if it were not for the coming of Christian missionaries. It was a miserable ancient period. Her family ate clotted cow blood (enjuba) and used hides and skins for clothes and bedding.
MISERABLE SCHOOL LIFE
Down memory lane, Kibombo is very irritated by the miserable school life of her time. They lacked food and had skin diseases like scabies.
It was also very difficult to access a school because they were very few and they had no scholastic materials like books. “We only depended on teachers’ notes on the chalkboard and you would not manage if you were not clever enough and quick to grasp,” she said.
Kibombo found consolation in extra-curricular activities like netball and football, which she loved and played often.
One day, she left home for Nyamitanga, where she started living with the missionary priests. She was then able to raise money for fees from the casual work she was doing for them. However, this was short-lived as Kibombo eventually failed to raise all the money.
So she walked to Butare, in the current Buhweju district (about 60km) where she attended P1 to P3.
Afterwards, she moved to Bunyaruguru and then back to Butare for her final part of primary school. She joined secondary school, but did not go beyond S1.
She returned to Mbarara, where luck brought her in contact with the then British district commissioner, Gloford. “When he learned of my capability, he referred me to Mulago for medical training. I have never looked back since,” she said.
FINDING HER CAREER
Growing up under poor health conditions forced her to go for a profession that would deal with people’s health. She says her father told her to go to school, become a doctor and then go back and treat the sick people in their village
The recommendation from Gloford helped to push her closer to achieving this goal. Kibombo joined Mulago Teaching Hospital as an enrolled nurse in 1952 and was the first student from Ankore to study on government sponsorship.
She witnessed the birth of the current Kabaka of Buganda, Ronald Mutebi II, on April 13, 1955. His mother, Sarah Kisosonkole, was brought into the hospital with normal labour pains, alongside her sister Damalie Kisosonkole, Kabaka Mutesa I and other people from the royal family. She said a medical officer called professor Holmes attended to his delivery.
Kibombo proudly reveals that she was the first student from the region (Ankore) to qualify as an enrolled mid-wife in 1957. She then become the first double trained nurse before flying to London for a degree in nursing.
She later became the first state registered nurse, majorly doing general nursing, and later attained a first class degree in midwifery. She went for a masters’ degree in midwifery in the US which she attained in 1975.
Kibombo then returned to Mulago Teaching Hospital and became a teaching supervisor of medical students. That was between 1976 and 1986, then she retired.
KIBOMBO FINDS LOVE
She hesitated when asked about how she met her husband, but later reveals, “I had my first fiance in 1957. He was at Makerere University and I was at Mulago Teaching Hospital, but we never had a long relationship. He was murdered by the Bahutu.
“I got someone else who is my current husband,” she adds, declining to reveal his name. She noted that he is alive and is a prominent man. He was a teacher at Ntare School.
“We never had a wedding because of our religious differences, we remained customarily married. I was never bothered by this because he kept close to me till now. He helped me look after our children, paying their school fees up to university level,” she said.
They have a son called Herbert Bushara, who is a doctor and the late Joan Kemanzi, who was an adopted child. She was murdered in Kasese where she was working as assistant resident district commissioner.
ABOUT MEDICAL WAGES
Kimbombo said the complaint about meager pay for medical workers is not new. Her first posting was at Mbarara Hospital with a starting salary of sh96, which she equated to sh20,000 today.
“It was only enough to buy charcoal, banana fingers, milk and sugar, and then I would struggle with rent.”
By the time she retired in 1986, her pay was sh25,000 which was still too little to meet her needs.
FORCED INTO EXILE
Kibombo worked in almost every district in Uganda. She was admired by many, especially the men, who wanted to marry her due to her charming looks. But she rejected them because she had already found a man.
However, three top officials in Obote’s government threatened her life after she rejected them while working at Gulu Hospital. They gave her only 48 hours to pack and leave Uganda in 1964. She fled to London.
LIFE AFTER RETIREMENT
Kibombo pressed for her retirement benefits from the Ministry of Public Service and it was effected in 2005 with a pension and a monthly payment of sh440,000 on which she currently survives.Kibombo loves her job and even after retirement, she still attends to women at her private clinic.
She says at her age and in retirement, people still trust her and come to her for help.