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Bidandi Ssali on his life, and wives

Former ministers Jaberi Bidandi, Kirunda Kivejinja and Kintu Musoke last month launched their book, The Sapoba Legacy, published by Menha Publishers.

The book is a tale about ideals and idealism in Ugandan politics and family life. In this three part series, Sulaiman Kakaire delves into the personal stories of the three men, starting with Bidandi Ssali, now president of the opposition People’s Progressive Party.

Many people who know Jaberi Bidandi Ssali think of him as a wealthy man with a simple lifestyle. And, it turns out, that is not too different from how he views himself. At least that is how he comes across in his own words in The Sapoba Legacy.

To Bidandi, shielding himself from people by building big fences around his home or land, in addition to chasing away would-be dependants is unacceptable. Indeed, the gate to his home in Bukoto is wide open throughout the year.

Bidandi attributes this openness to both his family background and his socialist beliefs.

“I describe myself as a person who has lived a satisfied life. I have lived in the community as part of the community. At no time have I ever gone out of the community or above the community,” writes Bidandi.

Born in 1937, Bidandi is the son of Bumaali Kakonge Matembe, who hails from Butambala, and Eriosi Bulyaba Naalongo. He went to Lugala, Budde and Kibuli primary schools, before joining Kibuli Junior and later Nyakasura School. Much as he went to Pakistan and studied a bachelor of science in agriculture, for some reason he did not complete that course. He, however, holds a degree from Nkumba University.

Muslim man, christian wife

Bidandi, who was sacked from cabinet after he opposed the lifting of the presidential term limits to allow President Museveni stay in power beyond two terms, is known to have bluntly attacked Museveni for being intolerant. In fact, he has publicly urged leaders to be tolerant and he still writes to Museveni and calls him. Even at home, Bidandi has largely been ‘Mister’ Tolerant.

Whereas it is forbidden in Islam to live with a Christian wife who does not convert to Islam, Bidandi has lived with his Christian wife, Suzaana, for decades. Obviously, this is attributed to his (Bidandi) character of being a secular Muslim.

According to Bidandi’s sister, Deborah Nakafeero Wavamunno, the wife of former minister Ali Kirunda Kivejinja, Bidandi’s tolerance was adopted from their paternal grandfather Mwandaaza.

“Our grandfather was not much concerned with religion. Some of his children were Muslims and others were Protestants. His daughters also got married to men from different religious denominations,” she is quoted as saying in the book.

Indeed, Bidandi who describes himself as  tolerant and a secular believer, affirms that his way of life is partly attributed to his background of having parents who subscribed to different religions.

But it also emanates from his socialist-leaning politics. People who left a mark on him include post-independence African leaders like Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana) and Mwalimu Julius Nyerere (Tanzania).

African man

Like his colleagues, Bidandi embraces the African concept of a family, which is extended to include orphans and other relatives.

“We may actually have been orphans because our biological parents had died or were otherwise unavailable, but at no time were any of us ever treated as second-class family members,” he says.

The book captures Kampala lawyer Muzamiru Kibbeedi’s recount of the Sapoba family. Kibbeedi, a younger brother to Kirunda Kivejinja, lived with Bidandi as part of the Sapoba family.
Bidandi’s wife, Suzaana Kiganda Nampinga, recounts in the new book that she cannot estimate the number of people who have passed through their home.

“There were simply too many and they kept coming and going. One group would come, stay for a while, then go, and then we would get another group. I would estimate that at least eighty people have passed through our home, probably more,” Suzaana writes.

Bidandi himself grew up in an extended family. In fact by the time Bidandi married Suzaana, he was living with his siblings Ssali, Nuriat Nassali and Jane and their children, in addition to three children he had fathered before the marriage. By the time Suzaana arrived, the family had seven children.

“When we moved to the big house, some children from my family also joined. Children of my elder sister Edisa... There were more, but some died. In fact, I do not remember all of them,” she narrates.

Bidandi is also an adopted father to footballers Paulo Ssali, Moses Nsereko and Fred Mugisha in addition to other children who joined the family after an uncle they were living with was killed by Idi Amin’s soldiers. When Dr Kaawa, Bidandi’s doctor, passed on, Bidandi took care of his children, Phillip Byamugisha and Tebaleka, who eventually became a family doctor of the Bidandis.

Suzaana says she was comfortable with Bidandi’s large family, and they never lacked food.

“In addition, I came from a Christian background and was now married into a Muslim home. Living and accepting different religious faiths was not really new to me. At home my mother was a Catholic and my father was a Protestant. The neighbourhood we lived in was dominated by Muslims. My father also did not mind my getting married into a Muslim’s home, although it was probably not something he expected I would end up doing,” she says.

Buganda part of Uganda not vice versa

Bidandi is not known to be fanatical about Buganda kingdom, his African nationalism always holding the nation above the tribe.

“I have no problem with Buganda…There is a difference between loyalty to traditional affiliations and Mengo Bugandaism. I see Buganda within Uganda; they see Uganda within Buganda or as taking second place to Buganda.”

Bidandi, a Muganda and among the influential elders of the Nkima (monkey) clan, believes in Buganda’s heritage and respects the Kabaka and the kingdom. However, he is completely opposed to any involvement in active politics by the Kabaka.

“Many opportunists in Buganda say that the Kabaka should have political powers, but I believe this is wrong. For life in today’s world, we must have institutions that are suited to the realities of that world,” he writes.

Kiwatule

In the book, Bidandi also reveals that despite being the proprietor of Kiwatule Recreational centre, he is not at heart a businessman: “I think I can speak for all the three of us in this respect, because none of us really matches the qualities of a proper businessman,” he said.

Kiwatule is a project Bidandi embarked on after they dissolved Sapoba Printing Press, which he co-owned with his colleagues (Kirunda and Kintu). He turned his potato garden into the recreational centre that is Kiwatule.

The book reveals that Bidandi has 14 children, fathered from three wives and the eldest is Umar Kakonge. But it is only Suzaana who talks in the book as the mother of Bidandi’s children.       

skakaire@observer.ug

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