The Dungus looked after me well and nurtured me into what I am today.It took me a long time to know that they were not my biological parents.
The former Deputy Chief Justice, Steven Kavuma retired in September 2017 after clocking the mandatory retirement age of 70. Kavuma, who once served as state minister for defence in the early 2000s and as acting Chief Justice, went into consultancy. Umaru Kashaka spoke to him recently at his office in Kibuli, Kampala.
Tell us about your childhood
I had two pairs of parents. One was my biological parents, Yovani Ssenti Bugingo and Leah Tebamalamu Bugingo, both deceased. They were former residents of Kyadondo in Wakiso.
The other pair were my godparents, Yokana Walwasi Dungu and Margaret Nannozi Dungu, formerly of Mutundwe in Kampala. Margaret was the daughter of the late IK Musaazi, Uganda's independence icon.
My biological parents were close to the Dungus. They all belonged to the old strong movement of Born-again faith, commonly known as Balokole. The Bugingos had realised that the Dungus would never beget children, so they offered to give them the child that was not yet born (that child was me) and the Bugingos agreed.
In fact, Mama Margaret told me that had it not been for breastfeeding, she would have taken me right after my birth at the hospital. I was born in 1948 and two years later, I moved to the family of the Dungus. At that time, they lived in Mutungo near Kigo Prison, but they eventually settled in Mutundwe.
The Dungus looked after me well and nurtured me into what I am today. May there souls rest in peace because I am sure they went to live with the Lord. It took me a long time to know that they were not my biological parents.
How did you discover that?
I think I was in Primary Five when my brother fell sick and was admitted to Mulago Hospital. Mama Margaret took me to visit him. I found my mother, who I thought was just another old woman looking after the sick boy. Eventually, that brother of mine died and when we went for burial, I was told that the Bugingos were my biological parents.
Did you stay with the Bugingos than?
No, I stayed with the Dungus. They loved me so much. When the time came for me to begin school, Mutungo was far from schools. So, Mama Margaret had about 10 acres of land in Mutundwe, given to her by her aunt, Nabunnya, who was a Muzaana (wife) of Prince Mwanga.
Nabunnya had loved Mama Margaret so much that she had made her (Margaret) her heir. Because I needed to school, the Dungus decided to move to Mutundwe. I remember we moved in even before the house was complete.
When I saw the part of the house that had not been roofed — I think the roofing was short by one or two iron sheets — I thought it brought us closer to God. You see, as Balokole, we were always talking about God, praying all the time, singing Tukutendereza Yesu (we praise you, Jesus) and all the many hymns.
So as a small boy, I thought the hole would allow the prayers to reach God faster. I said: "The other house had no hole. Mama, we must thank God; He has given us a house with a hole." That was in 1952. I joined a nearby school, Kamaanya Primary School in Bunamwaya.
Any fond memories?
I remember one time I fell very ill. I think it was malaria. It was Christmas time and people were preparing to have there lunch. Mama Margaret abandoned her festive plans and attended to me diligently. She told me later when I grew up that that was a difficult time. But I recovered.
Mama Margaret was a loving mother and although she did not get biological children, she had a big heart.
Who were your playmates?
We had a big family. Mama Margaret took care of her siblings' children, who were from Luwero and wanted to go to Kampala schools. Even her friends' children, the Balokole would come to her residence. She took the responsibility of nurturing young women who had become Balokole.
But she was also a good disciplinarian. There was no fujjo (indiscipline) in the house. She was strict but kind. I thank God for the gift of that woman, and I am also thankful that I was able to look after her until she breathed her last. She died in 2017 at the age of 96 but died a happy woman.
I thank her siblings, who took care of her, including Mama Elizabeth Musaazi, Mama Nabwami, and Mama Olivia Musaazi. I also thank those from the Balokole family, like Mrs. Edith Kato, who used to take me to school. She (Edith) would sometimes carry me to school as a young boy.
She also taught me how to read and write. She is now 90 and lives in Mutundwe.
How many children did your biological parents have?
They were seven, six boys and one girl. They would have been 14, but my mom had miscarriages. Actually, I survived after three miscarriages and I think that is why they also gave me the name Kukkiriza, meaning that they had to believe.
Tell us about your school life
I attended Kamanya (now Bunamwaya) Primary School in Wankulukuku till Primary Six in 1960. I scored First Grade and went to Mengo Junior School for Junior One and Two. I than joined it's senior section, Mengo Senior School for Senior One to Senior Four.
From there, I went to Nyakasura School in Kabarole district for A' level (1969), before joining Makerere University for a bachelor's degree in law in 1970. At the end of my first year at Makerere, I applied for a dead year because of an accident I got while riding on a motorcycle.
I graduated with a Second Class bachelor's degree in Law. I got a post-graduate diploma in legal practice from the Law Development Centre (LDC) in 1975 and started practicing. I had started my master's degree in international relations and diplomatic studies when I became a judge.
It was impossible to carry on because my work was demanding. There were a few judges. So, I had to postpone it until after I left the Judiciary and went ahead to complete it, many years later. I graduated last year.
Why did you go for master's degree after your retirement?
One degree is not enough. You must keep advancing in knowledge as long as you are healthy. And you must also keep healthy. Watch what you eat and also exercises. Your brain also needs exercise. Apparently, research has shown that in many of our developing countries, people do not use even up to 30% of there mental capacity. So, 70% is left idle.
You need to keep reading. You can see these books (pointing on his office table) are not law books. Others I have not yet brought them to office. I go to a bookshop and spend sh1.5m on books. They ask me: ‘Are we going to eat books?' But that is the food of my intellect.
How did you joint politics?
While growing up, I became bitter about what was happening, I thought maybe the best thing I could do was to joint the army and see whether I could cause some change. So, when I shared with my biological father, he advised me against it.
That is how I continued to study law. Later, when the 1981 National Resistance Army (NRA) war broke out, I was in the background. You know it was terrible. If they suspected that you were collaborating with any of the NRA people, the sentence was death.
But there are people whom I had known who had gone to the bush and we would share information quietly. When the NRA took over power in 1986, I went to my friend, Honourable Moses Kigongo, and congratulated him. He advised me to joint Resistance Councils (RCs).
At that time, I was staying in Gayaza, but since those were turbulent times and I had survived three assassination attempts, I decided to move out of Kampala with my wife, Ruth, who eventually became the headteacher of Gayaza High School. There were also job-related issues.
I returned to Mutundwe, where I grew up and I was elected RC1 while still residing in Gayaza. When election time for RC2 came, I was advised to stand in Gayaza where I resided and leave Mutundwe. So, I returned to Gayaza and successfully competed for RC1 again.
Than after one term, I was elected to RC2. I moved on to RC3 for the Nangabo sub-county.
You must have been so loved
No, the going was not smooth. At that time, people had not yet completely analysed the idea of Movement politics of no allegiance to any party. They (RC leaders) were so much embedded in there original party politics. So eventually, I proposed to those with whom we shared the same view of leadership that we resign and force the sub-county into fresh elections.
We did and that necessitated fresh elections. In the process, I got the opportunity to go to the National Leadership Institute, Kyankwanzi. When I came back, I went to greater Mpigi and was elected as it's chairperson (1986-1988). It is from this position that President Yoweri Museveni appointed me deputy minister of finance in charge of the Custodian Board in 1988.
I than became an ex-officio member of the National Resistance Council (NRC), which served as the parliament. When a decision was taken to expand the NRC, I stood for Kyadondo County and became an MP of the expanded NRC. I later stood in Makindye Ssabagabo for the Constituent Assembly (CA) elections and won.
Eventually, I became Minister of State for Justice and Constitutional Affairs as we were writing the 1995 Constitution. After the CA, I was elected MP for Makindye Ssabagabo. I was later appointed state minister for defence, after which I went back into private practice under Kavuma & Company Advocates. That firm later became Kavuma, Katureebe & Company Advocates.
In 1996, I became Kyadondo South MP and in 1998, I was appointed the state minister for defence. After retirement from active politics, I was appointed to the Court of Appeal as a judge in 2004. I served the Judiciary until I retired.
Some people find it so hard to save for retirement. What can they do?
You should start saving for retirement the moment you begin working. Save a certain percentage of your income and invest it in safe areas because it is also not good to leave it on your bank account. Invest in safe areas so that when you leave this pay cheque of every month, there is something to start on, instead of just beginning on retirement package.
When you do it over the years, it becomes more meaningful, you get less pressure and less stress. You know those are some of the big killers. There was a man who was a manager at Uganda Commercial Bank before it was privatised in 2001. He retired but did not know what to do with the free time.
Because he had been used to working, he would drive from home every morning and park in the basement, get newspapers and read. At lunchtime, he would eat his food in the flask and wait for 5:00 pm or 6:00 pm to return home every day.
You can see that kind of life. Maybe if that chap was to stay in the house and the stress that comes with it, he would perhaps have suffered a heart attack. There is also alot of extravagance among people. When you have a well-paying job, you live beyond your means.
How did you save for retirement?
You cannot talk about the days of Idi Amin and later wars when we were younger. We would come to town after inquiring if it was safe and than leave the city by 3:00pm. That disrupted my plans for saving.
But had things been normal, I would have saved from the first day I started earning a salary. We did not have many of those opportunities at that time. That is why we even sent many of the children we got during that time to boarding schools.
Kavuma fact file