High court Judge Lydia Mugambe threw him out of parliament on June 10 2016 for lack of the requisite academic qualifications and on appeal; a Court of Appeal panel led by then deputy Chief Justice Steven Kavuma reinstated Simon Peter Sematimba as member of parliament for Busiro South on September 18 2017.
But as the clock ticked toward the 2021 general election, Sematimba tiptoed into a classroom miles away from the capital, Kampala, in the little-known Kakoola High School in the central district of Luweero.
The school is owned by the minister of state for Higher Education Dr John Chrysostom Muyingo. Sematimba enrolled to study Divinity, Fine Art and Literature with ICT and General Paper as subsidiaries at Advanced Level.
In school, he studied in seclusion. No student knew the pastor and Super FM proprietor was an A-level candidate. When he couldn’t make it to Kakoola, teachers came to him in Kampala and taught him.
His secret, however, spilled into public view last week in the first week of the ongoing Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education examinations (UACE). The school administration unveiled the hitherto unknown high-profile candidate to his colleagues.
Then the world learnt that Hon Peter Sematimba had spent the past two years trying to correct his academic credentials and ready himself for the 2021 general election. Officially he is one of the 104,467 registered candidates writing their 2019 A-level exams.
Sematimba’s court battles and quiet return to school offers a rare glimpse into how members of parliament with questionable academic credentials have outmaneuvered the courts and electoral systems to return to the ballot.
Ssematimba is not the first NRM politician to worm his way through the courts of law with questionable academic papers only to run back to school before the next election to get better documents.
“The judiciary as an institution needs to have an introspective check when dealing with matters of such nature; there are so many petitions that have turned out to render justice a mockery, making the requirement for one to have an A-level equivalent illusory, of no effect,” Kampala lord mayor Erias Lukwago said in a Tuesday interview.
Lukwago was the first to question the authenticity of Sematimba’s academic papers during the 2011 mayoral elections but the Electoral Commission (EC) failed to pronounce itself on the petition.
Lukwago later ran to court seeking nullification of the NRM diehard’s nomination but still, the case was not concluded before election day.
“Since I won, I didn’t pursue the case further but I can tell you that the documents he has been using are defective. One of the institutions he claims to have attended is a shop,” Lukwago told The Observer on November 19.
Lukwago argues that Sematimba’s decision to return to school after the Appeals court reinstated him passed a vote of no confidence in the judiciary. That view is held by another lawyer who did not want to be named.
“The question was; did he have an equivalent of Senior Six and the court [of Appeal] ruled that he had the equivalent? So, the question now is: why did he go back to sit for Senior Six?” wondered the lawyer.
But Kitagwenda MP Abbas Agaba, who is a member of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee, argues otherwise.
“Court rulings are not based on facts but evidence available and the pleadings before court,” argued Agaba, citing the case of Sembabule Woman MP Anifa Kawooya who ran to court after the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) cancelled her academic documents,” he said.
“In that case, Justice [George] Kanyeihamba ruled that the right to recall or cancel an award given to an individual is the preserve of the awarding institution. That was a technicality; court only quashed the decision of NCHE but did not say whether the degrees that Anifa Kawooya had were authentic or not,” he added.
In her drawn-out, years-long court battles with Joyce Kabatsi over her academic qualifications, among other things, Kawooya also tiptoed back to school and upgraded her papers. She later brandished her controversial degree from Nkumba University in 2007.
In sitting for this year’s A-level exams, Ssematimba walked in the footsteps of Kamuli Municipality MP Rehema Watongola. She was sued for lack of the required academic papers. She didn’t wait for the court verdict. She enrolled in school as her case was ongoing and wrote her UACE exams.
By the time FDC’s Salaamu Musumba got her court victory, Watongola had secured an A-level certificate she used to contest and win the April 2017 by-election.
“It is good because it solves the problem of equating, a senior six certificate is what is locally known, there will not be any more questions about his [Sematimba] equivalent because it is now a notorious fact that he has sat for senior six,” Agaba said.
Bukoto South MP Muyanja Mbabaali’s election was annulled in 2012 for lack of an A-level certificate. He showed up three years later in June 2015 with a diploma in ICT from Mountains of the Moon University in Fort Portal. He is back as Bukoto South MP. He used his newly acquired diploma.
Even though the 57-year-old lawmaker claims to have a diploma certificate in Electrical and Computer Technology from Pacific Coast Technical Institute in the USA, which the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) leaned on to give him an A-level equivalent certificate, Sematimba got kicked out of parliament in 2016 by court. Justice Lydia Mugambe disputed the criteria used by NCHE to issue the certificate of A-level equivalence.
However, in September 2017, the Court of Appeal reinstated Sematimba though many still dispute his academic qualifications which include; an East African Certificate of Education from King’s College Budo, an ordinary diploma in electronic and computer technology from Pacific Coast Technical Institute, USA and an advanced diploma in Theology, which he obtained in 2009 from the International College of Excellency (USA).
In an interview last week, Sematimba said that much as he has genuine American academic papers, he is tired of being sued.
“In the last election, I was frustrated because of this certificate and yet my American academic documents had been certified by the National Council for Higher Education for being an equivalent to UACE. I, therefore, decided to go back and achieve this Senior six certificate, which Ugandans understand,” Sematimba said.
He said he spent about Shs 350m on his court case and wants to avoid a repeat of that.
KAKOOLA HIGH SCHOOL SPEAKS OUT
Located in Luweero district, seven kilometres from Wobulenzi town, Kakoola High started in 2003 and has a student population of over 1,020 students.
According to Mike Wagaba, the head teacher, Sematimba enrolled as a student last year and has been taught privately by 12 teachers both on the school premises and in Kampala.
“We have been treating him as a special student and whenever he would come here, we would give him a private room where he would be taught or sometimes the teachers would go to Kampala in case he was busy and teach him from there,” said Wagaba.
He said they registered Sematimba as a private candidate under Uneb because he has not been attending regular classes like other students.
Wagaba said Sematimba chose Kakoola because he had followed its impressive performance at A-level for some years. Sematimba, according to Wagaba, also wanted a quiet place away from the bustle and hustle of the city.
About his performance, Wagaba, said Sematimba has been so determined and focused on his studies. He said Sematimba passed all exams and tests very well.
“He has been such a fast learner. He has been ahead of some students who are regularly here yet he has a busy schedule. He travels out of the country…I expect him to pass highly because he is so determined,” he said.
Wagaba said Sematimba was so cooperative and loved by both students and staff. Sematimba also paid transport and teaching allowances for his teachers.
“There were no special fees we charged him apart from the expenses he incurred while facilitating his teachers to Kampala. He paid the same school fees like other senior six,” Wagaba said.
A senior six candidate at Kakoola high school pays around Shs 600,000 per term. Though school administrators said Sematimba has been a student since last year, some students interviewed said they did not know the MP was an A-level student at Kakoola.
“We had previously never seen him at school although we had heard some rumours of him being a student here. We have only seen him during this examination period,” said John Vianney Ssagala, a senior six candidate.
“We are excited but at the same time surprised to see a member of parliament come back to high school, but he is a very social man, we interact and discuss with him freely and he is also treated just like any other student,” another student said.