By Joshua Kato
Dressed in a white tunic, a broadly-smiling Nasser Sebaggala flashes the V-sign to his adoring fans as he enters Kisaasi Church of Uganda. A day before (March 2), Sebaggala was elected mayor of Kampala city.
In the ululations and cheers that followed his grand entrance into the church, there was nothing to show that the feted man sold vegetables at the age of seven years, or that he languished in a US jail a few years ago.
Becoming mayor of Kampala is the latest achievement in a mixed history of the 57-year-old politician. Sebaggala is a cobweb of controversy. He normally hinges his comments on the suffering of the poorest, irrespective of whether he is genuine or opportunistic.
â€œI am here for the uneducated,â€ he said, in a spattering of broken English.
â€œEven as a child, he used to turn what appeared to be a disadvantage to his advantage,â€ says Muzamiru Mawanda, who says he has known Sebaggala for years. Mawanda, for example, points out that while Ssebagala was working in Nakasero Market with his father, Shaban Sebaggala, in the 60s, some people despised him. However, he has worked harder to disprove these people.
Just a few years ago, his rivals in the mayoral race sought to use his â€˜low educationâ€™ as a tool against him. Instead, he used the veil of the uneducated against his rivals â€“ these, he knew were the voting majority.
He knew they were the group to appeal to. A few years ago, when Birigwa contested against Sebaggala in the mayoral race, as he warmed up for the seat, Sebaggala became mayor.
Sematimbaâ€™s group is going through a similar experience.
While celebrating his first mayoral victory, Sebaggalaâ€™s earlier crimes caught up with him. He was arrested and found guilty of dealing in fake dollars. However, even his sentence of 18 months did not change his political ambitions.
His seyas called his arrest a political plot to destroy him. Those who believed he stole the dollars reasoned that unlike others, he stole from the whites and brought the money home. A modern day Robin Hood of sorts.
Sebaggala turned around and used the prison sentence as a stepping stone to better heights. â€œOnce you are a politician, you have to get prepared for prison,â€ he reasoned. Instead of lamenting the sentence, he turned around and boasted about his achievements in prison,
â€œI studied a lot of politics,â€ he said. After looking around briefly with contentment, he added, â€œI was in the same cell where prominent people like Charles Taylor of Liberia were imprisoned.â€ his seyas clapped wildly.
His return from prison leaves a memorable trek. Thousands of his seyas carried him from the airport to Kampala. the journey that normally takes 30 minutes took eight hours!
As soon as he arrived, he affirmed his intentions to run for the presidency in 2001. Indeed, he tried to put in his nomination forms, but Uganda National Examinations Board ruled him out on grounds of inadequate papers.
His fans could not believe it. They asked for his papers and sold them in heaps on the streets of Kampala. They were a worthless heap! Certificates in obscure and ambiguous courses like How to mind your business, a certificate of attendance and a prison sentence certificate.
He went back for studies at Oxford College in the UK, ironically partly sponsored by the State House. He certainly achieved some more papers, because when he forwarded them to the authorities for certification, they were accepted.
When he came back from the UK, he re-affirmed his bid for the presidency. He later tried to stand for the DP presidency, but failed.
After losing the DP Presidency, he decided to stand as an independent. His nomination was one of the fastest of all six candidates. A few days into the race, however, he pulled out. The businessman in him apparently told him that it was better to cut his loses than spend more money in a race he was not sure of winning.
Although he claims he is an astute businessman, a multi-skilled entrepreneur and manager, a sober look at his life and times indicates he has achieved nothing significant, in terms of consistent management.
His businesses â€” Ugantico Supermarket (1980-86), Kisaasi Coffee Growers (1986-1993) and Kisaasi Forex Bureau (1993-1998) collapsed like a pack of cards, before he turned to the crimes that eventually saw him imprisoned in the US for dealing in fake cheques (bichupuli).
But his people, especially the business community, have faith in him, which is why they voted for him. â€œHe understands our problems. He speaks the language all of us understand. He came from a commonersâ€™ family,â€ says Sauda Nakiguli, a vegetable vendor in Nakasero.
He tells them that he will allow organised hawking on the streets, waive most of the bad taxes and allow them to manage their city. â€œIt happens even in developed cities. A particular street is closed once or twice a month to allow hawkers operate,â€ Sebaggala explains.
Among others, he plans to set up a garbage recycling plant that will turn garbage into power and attract investors to start city bus services.
From a young vegetable seller he became a general merchandise dealer. He had a short stint as a sales manager with Uganda Dairy Corporation, 1971-72. In the later 70s, he was one of the richest young men in town. â€œHe used to drive the latest Datsun and Fiat models,â€ recalls his buddy, Umar Matovu of Bukoto.
He was arrested and tortured during Aminâ€™s regime for being showy and rich. In the 80s, he joined DP and started his journey in politics.
A lot has been said about his education. Little is known about his primary or secondary education. However, he claims to have several diplomas and certificates.
They include a Post Graduate Diploma in Management Studies, a post Graduate Certificate in Management and Planning, one in Business Finance Operations, Certificate in Managing Your own Business achieved in 1970 from the International Correspondence Schools-UK and a Diploma in Business Management and Administration, also from the International Correspondence Schools-UK.
Sebaggala was born to Hajji Shaban Sebaggala in the late 40s. Until he came out to stand for mayor, the Ssebagala family of Kisaasi was not into politics.
They were more known as business people. His brother, Meddie Sebaggala, owns one of the largest electrical appliance stores in Kampala, while another of his brothers Latif Sebaggala owned a school.
However, since Nasser joined politics, Latif Sebaggala has since become MP for Kawempe North. Now that Nasser is mayor, the familyâ€™s political prospects are flying higher.
His brothers respect him largely because he has been their mentor in various fields. As a politician, he helped Latif graduate from a secondary school teacher to a councillor and now MP for the second time.
Sebaggala has been a ladies man, through and through. He was first married to a white lady, who passed away in the 70s. Together, they had several children, some of whom are currently studying in the US.
When he became mayor of the city the first time, he had a short marriage with Naava Nabagesera. However, after his arrest in the US, it seems to have died.
But even before then, Sebaggala was and still is married to Gera Mosha proprietor of the Bon Apetit restaurant chain. Although the two live separately, they sometimes appear together in public, like last Sunday during a church service in Kisaasi.