What does a civil engineer have to do with politics? Well, a civil engineer who chairs the national Electoral Commission and is accused of engineering victories for the ruling party is very much a political figure. BAKER BATTE LULE recently met Engineer Dr Badru Kiggundu, who is set to retire as EC boss this week.
When I recently met Electoral Commission chief Badru Kiggundu at a funeral, he agreed to an interview with me but would not tell when we would meet.
“Call me; I will look into my diary and give you a date. But of course it will be over the weekend because I’m always very busy during weekdays,” Dr Kiggundu told me.
True to form, the following week I called him and I was subsequently given a Friday to meet the man who many Ugandans love to hate. I arrived at the commission offices along Jinja road at about 4:30pm, half an hour before the agreed time. However, it turned out that the good doctor had an appointment with another group of about five people at the same 5pm.
The meeting went on up to almost 7pm and when finally the group came out; Kiggundu needed another about fifteen minutes to say his Magharib (evening) prayers before we could finally meet. Since I am Muslim myself, Kiggundu asked if I wanted to have prayers with him. He offered his personal washroom for me to make myself ready for the prayers, which he led before we could start our interview.
First, a detour. As I had waited for my time to see Hajji, I got an opportunity to speak to some of his aides who speak very highly of him.
“He is a very good man doing a very hard job; we will miss him very much,” a police officer told me.
He told of how Kiggundu works late into the night past the 5pm hour when other government employees are rushing home. After the prayers in his spacious and well-kept but not-so-modern office, we sat down to talk about his 14 years at the commission that many opposition politicians and civil society activists accuse of being biased in favor of President Museveni.
Who is Badru Kiggundu?
Badru Malimbo Kiggundu refers to himself as a purely ‘bred and highly- committed Ugandan with a very religious background’. He says he was brought up to fear Allah and to respect those with authority in society.
Kiggundu was born in 1945 in Butambala to Hajji Yonus Luswa, who passed away in 1997 and Hajati Kabugo Namatovu, who passed away in 2006. Both his parents died in their 80s, something he says gave him an opportunity to look after them and return the favors.
By the time his father died, he had sired 23 children: “My father was a fully-bred hajji who had multiple marriages. So, we had a number of mothers.”
Of the 23 children, three have since passed on, including one who was finalising his PhD studies, leaving Kiggundu as the most educated man in his family. Yet he adds, with restrained pride, that most of his siblings have either diplomas or degrees.
Going to School
Kiggundu attended Kabasanda primary school, Kibuli Secondary School, and Nabumali SS for his A-levels, the latter on a Buganda government scholarship. In 1965, a scholarship took Kiggundu to the University of New Mexico in the United States, where he studied civil engineering.
He also pursued a master’s in civil engineering at the Carnegie Mellon Institute, which he completed in 1971, before returning to Uganda. He then worked for six years with National Housing and Constructions Corporation as executive engineer in charge of road construction, before returning to the United States for his PhD, completing in 1981.
After attaining the highest level in academics, Kiggundu secured a research position with the University of New Mexico at its research arm in technology, where he worked for six years until Auburn University in Alabama, US, fished him to work as an assistant professor in civil engineering as well as research program manager.
“I worked there up to 1988 then I came back to Uganda where I worked in the construction industry for two and half years. Makerere University spotted me and invited me to join the teaching brass, in the faculty of technology in the department of civil engineering in 1991. I worked there until I was appointed to Chair the Electoral Commission in 2002,” Kiggundu says.
While at Makerere, Kiggundu became the head of department in 1993, then became dean for faculty of Civil Engineering from 1999 to 2002. He left Makerere at the rank of associate professor although he says if he had stayed, he would have been a full professor by now.
“I can’t complain for the time I was at Makerere for 12 years. I didn’t study there but we worked amicably although with very meager salaries,” he says.
He adds that the meager pay at Makerere is prevalent in many African countries: “That is the trend in Africa; teachers are not paid very well but you must do a tradeoff. Are you after teaching or are you after money?”
Leaving the United States
Kiggundu says that the love for his country forced him to return to Uganda to repay what the country had spent on him. He says the facilities and pay in the United States cannot be compared to what he was getting at Makerere and what he has been getting at the Electoral Commission.
“You can’t compare the earnings in developed societies like the earning here. I used to earn 4,000 dollars a month by 1988 but I don’t earn that here now. What brought me back is love for my country and my superb dedication to pay back to my people who paid everything to educate me,” Kiggundu says.
“You can’t talk about the world of facilities that we had there. I admire the determination of the African breed; they can work really hard in spite of the [poor conditions].”
Kiggundu first got married in 1973 to Hajat Noor Kibirige who he met in Kampala but moved with her to the US as he pursued his PhD. Kibirige was never to return to Kampala. She stayed there with her four children, two of them born in the States and therefore American citizens. After separating from Kibirige, Kiggundu got another Ugandan lady in 1983, who is currently his first wife.
“In 1998, I got another ‘haqqi’ and I have three children with her; so in total I have ten children,” he says.
Of his ten children aged between 14 and 43, seven are graduates in different fields ranging from law, to information technology, to banking while the youngest is still in secondary school.
Views on Retirement
Kiggundu, 71, who was recently appointed to monitor hydro power stations construction, says that if he had remained at Makerere University, he would already have retired as the retirement age is 60.
“But what is this retirement? There is a time to retire when you cannot even turn your ribs. But when you still have to eat, dress; if there is an opportunity to work, why not work?” Kiggundu says.
As he bows out from the commission on November 17, when his term expires Kiggundu leaves a mixed balance sheet, with some thinking he has done a tremendous job amidst grueling challenges while others consider him the worst Electoral Commission chairperson who has presided over some of Uganda’s most flawed elections.
Some compare him to Samuel Kivuitu (RIP) the (in)famous former Kenyan Electoral Commission chairman who presided over the acrimonious 2007 election that led to violence that killed over 1,300 people.
In the chaos that ensued, Kivuitu said he didn’t know who had won the election between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga. For those accusing him of bias towards the ruling NRM, Kiggundu only says: “He who is not in the kitchen will not appreciate the adversity of smoke that penetrates our mother’s eyes when they go to cook.”