Today, many newlyweds are told to “be as faithful as Betty Nambooze’s husband”.
But when Henry Bakireke announced his marriage to a vibrant young Mambo Bado pundit, Betty Nambooze (now MP Mukono North) back in 2002, many predicted a quick breakup.
But on November 24, the two renewed their marriage vows as they celebrated their tenth anniversary. It was clear in their eyes that this meant more than the number 10.
It has been ten years of prison, being rigged out of elections, countless court cases as well as mysterious kidnaps and above all, love. The love-birds talked to Joseph Kimbowa on their marriage’s survival despite the challenges.
Nambooze meets Bakireke
We both went to the same class at Bishop’s SS, Mukono. Henry was one of the bad boys in school and I liked bad boys. When he first hit on me, I took it as bullying me for being the smallest girl in class.
I remember him coming to me and saying, “How are you small girl?” and I stubbornly replied, “How are you shabby (musiwuufu) boy?” But this was the beginning of our love. Although it started as beef, our attachment grew stronger with time. I would miss him whenever he cut class – and at the same time be angry at his presence.
He wrote me a love letter and to fend him off, I replied that I would marry him when I grew up – not knowing that I had made a promise. I wrote this letter in 1985 but he kept it to our marriage.
After our S.4 in 1986, we went separate ways. But before he left, he told me, “I will look for you”. When I learnt that he was at Kisubi Technical College, I started writing to him – but he was lazy at replying, which pissed me off sometimes.
Our love has been dominated by letter writing. I can easily express myself in writing and that’s why even today I write to him when I am happy or disappointed. My daughters (Tendo and Jane) have also taken after me.
Funny enough, Henry has never proposed to me. When we met again as grown-ups, we just moved in together. One time, his mother asked about our relationship and Henry just told her that I was the woman he was going to marry.
It shocked me but he reminded me that he had kept the letter where I had promised to marry him. Both our families were very receptive of our relationship. Henry’s family, the Sserukenyas, took me in as a family member and you would mistake me for their sister.
Strength of love
I grew up promising myself that I should have an everlasting marriage by choosing the right partner. I believe a lasting marriage should be preceded by friendship. Henry is my best friend.
We even run a single bank account. When I went to Parliament, they wanted me to open a new account but I refused. All my money goes to our account and we sit and plan for it together.
At home, I am the last person to sleep (reading books and surfing the internet) and I find it hard to wake up early. Throughout our relationship, Henry has had to prepare morning tea and take children to school.
The other problem is my male friends. I’m so close to men that when I was looking for a matron, I had to ask a male friend to ask his wife to be my maid of honour. But Henry has understood and learnt how to bear with me.
Our marriage has not been a bed of roses. There are times when we spend two weeks without talking to each other. I can even sometimes choose to go and spend a night in my son’s bedroom. But we always create an understanding and through forgiveness, we get over it.
Special wedding memory
I loved all the gifts we received because they helped us set off in life in our marriage. But my wedding ring was the most treasured item which I unfortunately lost during my time in Luzira. It fell in the latrine as I was cleaning the latrines. They tried to look for it but in vain. I replaced it though as soon as I came out.
The love for children
In our home, there are over 26 children and we take them all as our children. You can come to my home and fail to recognize who our biological children are, since they all know us as their parents. We believe that children are a gift from God, be it adopted, for relatives or our own.
On teenage love
I wonder why in the African setting teenage love is criminalized. You find a home where they condemn romantic movies and they cherish action-packed movies. Other parents hit their partners in front of their children.
Teenagers should just be guided on what to do and not to do during their relationships. In my own experience, there are over six couples I know who started their love at school.
Henry Bakireke Building a religious relationship
Our marriage is built on the rock of faith as St Peter is portrayed in the Bible. Had it not been on the belief I had in God, I would not be with Betty now. I have always referred to various figures in the Bible like Joseph, Daniel, Job, Jonah, David and Jesus Himself, who all had to go through a lot of hurdles but their faith prevailed over evil.
When Betty was imprisoned and later exiled, Jesus was my only salvation. That is why in 2003, when my wife was in prison, I became a charismatic renewal Catholic and quit alcohol and smoking.
Quiet man vocal wife
The Bible says a man gets a woman that they deserve. Many people told me that I would not handle a politician for a wife. But this is a woman I fell in love with well knowing her personality and character.
She was a chief editor for a notice board newspaper at school. Even when she joined active politics, I just let her be because that is her passion – now she profits from it.
I believe that when you try to change someone, you make them worse. Sometimes she wanted to quit but I always told her to follow her heart and do what suits her, not what suits me best.
Ours is true love. When we were at school, I would always sympathize with Betty since she was very tiny. But my friend (Joseph Katantazi) used to tell me that I loved her despite my denial. But even if someone mentioned her name, my body would quickly shudder.
To me, love is not a feeling but a commitment. Most men are lustful and that is why they end up committing adultery. A God-fearing person will know that God sees what they do; He hears what they say and understands what they think.
In life, there have to be tests for one to have testimonies. When Betty went to prison and was kidnapped, there is a way it made our love stronger. My advice is that people should stick to their marriage vows irrespective of the challenges.
People these days use me as an example: ‘be as faithful as Nambooze’s husband’ but I attribute all this to God for giving me the strength. The Bible says, seek and call on God, and He will come to you, this is what I do every day.
I have lived with Betty for the last 20 years and I understand that the first ten before marriage were illegal. But I take that time as a way of building a firm foundation for a life-long journey.
I would never change her - Bakireke
In November 2002, Betty Nambooze and Henry Bakireke were wed by Fr Ignatius Kiboowa at St Peter’s cathedral Nsambya. Hardly had the two settled in their honeymoon than Nambooze was arrested and sent to Luzira where she would spend the next two years. On release, she went straight to hospital seriously sick.
This was Bakireke’s first test of commitment to the marriage – and he passed it.
“I remember on my wedding day when I went to the salon, one of the barbers said, ‘I hear this woman of Mambo Bado is getting married, I wonder which brave man can sacrifice himself to take such a woman in his home’,” Bakireke says.
But Bakireke says that despite this pessimism among the people, he stood up and declared himself as the brave man who was going to take this politician.
“The man bluntly told me that our marriage was just a trial and was bound to break in a short time, but this gave me more courage,” he says.
When the Bakirekes were joined by friends and family on November 24 to celebrate 10 years of marriage and to renew their wedding vows, it was a big deal. In these ten years, Nambooze has been to prison twice, she has been mysteriously exiled to Bundibugyo and Kasese (together with Medard Sseggona); she was cheated out of the 2006 Mukono parliamentary elections, not to mention her countless court cases and eventual victory into Parliament.
Bakireke has remained loyal to his wife, forcing some people to call him names. But he attributes all this to faith in God and their marriage vows.
“There are times when I felt like I was going to give up. But I would just kneel beside my bed and say, Jesus help me, and He always helped me,” he says.
If there is anything that has kept these two together, it is the power of religion. The Bakirekes are known for being staunch Catholics. While preaching at their thanksgiving mass, Fr Kiboowa gave the couple the same message he gave them ten years back.
“Marriage renewal is a time when a couple accounts for their time together and I’m impressed that you have results to show – a good home with children,” he said.
In order for the two to be able to reach their silver and golden jubilee, Kiboowa asked them to always pray together, make regular confessions, go for holy mass, wear their wedding rings and cerebrate their wedding anniversaries.
Nambooze’s father, Peter Kayongo, advised the couple to emulate St Peter who is the Rock on which the church was built, saying nothing, however strong, can break their marriage.
Containing a vocal wife
For Bakireke, having an outspoken politician has been a challenge as well as a blessing.
“Sometimes people advise me to be a man and ask my wife to stop talking against the establishment, but I challenge them whether what she is saying is wrong,” he says.
“I always tell her that I’m her coach. Even when she feels like quitting, I have always encouraged her not to give up because she is on a good cause and society needs people like her.”
He has let his wife be what she wants to be and it has paid dividends – now that she is an MP.