Every dark cloud has a silver lining, they say.
And this line rings true when it comes to the saga that continues to pit self-exiled Gen David Sejusa against the army establishment. Amidst the barbs and threats that have characterised the exchanges between Sejusa and the army, one person has been thrust into the limelight - Joseph Luzige.
In fact, when you try to look for a photo of Joseph Luzige from the internet search engine Google, the most you get are pictures of General Sejusa. With Sejusa thousands of miles away and unable to communicate directly to the local media, Luzige, his lawyer, has found himself as the one dependable mouth-piece willing to take risks few lawyers can.
Luzige, 38, has become the poster child of the saga that has captivated the public in recent months, becoming a subject of intense interest from the media and security organisations. Quite often, he has had to engage in verbal exchanges with the army if he believes they are misrepresenting his client.
His mode of communication with Sejusa is by email although he also occasionally talks to him on phone.
“I never communicate anything unless I have the express instructions of my client,” he told The Observer in a Wednesday interview while sipping on a cup of milk.
Compared with his relatively small frame, this is an outsize role though it is one he relishes.
“Many lawyers would not want to be associated with Sejusa at the moment…but it is such moments that define who you are,” he said.
By judiciously defending Sejusa against some of the allegations levelled against him by the government, Luzige says he is paying back a “debt” he owes the general.
“There was a time when some people came and arrested me saying I was in illegal possession of a firearm. They took me to CPS. It was Sejusa who came to my rescue,” Luzige said of the incident which happened in 2007.
Thereafter, Sejusa became a father-figure of sorts whom Luzige would consult about personal and work-related issues. It is this close bond that convinced Sejusa to hire him as his lawyer after the general fled the country in April this year.
“Sejusa told me that he did not want to hire big-name lawyers. He wants to give young people opportunities,” Luzige said.
On the surface, Luzige comes off as simple and unsophisticated. He dons inexpensive suits and carries a simple phone. When The Observer visited his offices this week, we found that his chambers do not rank anywhere near the plush offices occupied by some prominent law firms.
Housed in Kirumira towers in downtown Kampala, his chambers measure roughly 15 feet by 10 feet, have no grand reception desk and are not colourfully furnished. To access his offices, he has to compete for corridor space with a host of traders.
And as he goes about his work, he must put up with the deafening noise of commuter taxis, that park on the edge of the building. Yet this apparent simplicity has been the source of his strength. It affords him the opportunity to work quietly but effectively and to deflect attention from his work.
There is a price to pay for defending a renegade like Sejusa and already Luzige is beginning to feel the effect. He has to be careful where he eats and whom he talks to. Some of his friends, he said, shun him, fearing that associating with him could cause them problems.
His laptop was also stolen by what he believes were security operatives trying to dig up information on Sejusa.
Luzige cut his political teeth at Makerere University where he was known for being fiery and holding idealistic views. He was the founder president of the Uganda Young Democrats (UYD), the youth wing of the Democratic Party that was known for its radicalism in the mid-1990s.
Together with Buikwe South MP Lulume Bayigga, former presidential aspirant Sam Lubega, and Rose Namayanja, the minister of state for Information, they built UYD into a formidable force that once overshadowed DP.
After university, he continued with political activism while serving as an aide of sorts to Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere, the former DP president general. One of his biggest political moments that continue to define his personality occurred in 1998, when he ditched the DP for the Movement.
This decision attracted condemnation from the DP faithful who claimed he had been “bought” by Museveni. Luzige has often countered that he joined the NRM purely for political reasons.
He was later to serve in the legal department in the Office of the President. He also featured as a regular panelist on CBS’ political talk show, Kkiriza oba Gaana (take it or leave it) where he ferociously defended government’s actions.
His attempt at elective politics ended in defeat. He lost the bid to become district chairman of Mityana in 2011. Ahmed Kateregga, a veteran journalist, who featured with Luzige on CBS, describes him as a brilliant but frustrated person.
“He articulates his points very well but when you talk to him you get the sense that he is unhappy [with the NRM]. This could have pushed him to represent Sejusa,” Kateregga said.
What keeps Luzige going, the lawyer says, is his determination to represent his client in a professional way and a feeling that justice will prevail one day.
“I have the stamina and I must represent my client even if it means annoying the powers that be,” he said.