At a time when former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi (also MP for Kinkiizi West) is being hounded for apparently having presidential ambitions, one would expect another Member of Parliament from Kanungu district to keep his cards close to his chest.
But Dr Chris Baryomunsi always speaks his mind. In an interview with Simon Kasyate for 91.3 Capital FM’s Desert Island Discs, the Kinkiizi East MP shares the story of his humble beginnings, and says his political ambitions go beyond being MP.
When were you born in Kanungu? What was your childhood like?
I was actually not born in Kanungu. I was born in Nyakishenyi sub-county in a place called Muramwa, which is currently under Rukungiri [district]. But also Kanungu was initially part of Rukungiri. This was 1969.
I am not very exact on the date but when I discussed with my parents, we estimated and agreed it should be about 9th December. When they told me how many days to Christmas it was, we estimated. And two years later, we migrated and we moved to present-day Kanungu, where I live now in Kayungwe Village in Rungyeyo sub-county in the present-day Kanungu district. It is where I had my formative years.
Who are your parents and what kind of people were they?
My father died in 2008 when I was in Parliament. My mother is still alive, although she is sick and currently at my house where we are nursing her. She is seeing a doctor in Mulago hospital and, myself being a doctor, I also take care of her health.
[We were] a family of 10 people and I am the ninth. I am just followed by one person. Two are dead and eight are alive.
What was your childhood like?
I grew up in an ordinary rural setting looking after goats and cows. If you come to my place, we are near Birara river. You have heard me in Parliament making noise about the bridges. It was really a rural life that a young ordinary person today lives. Probably now there is a lot of modernisation but those days we were really rural boys.
I wore shoes for the first time when I was going to secondary school and I wasn’t in touch with any modern issues like technologies and so forth. We began staying in a grass-thatched house in my early life – so, I have come from that kind of setting – and we were drawing water from a distant well. Though now I have extended safe water to my-[house] and my parents’ house.
How were your parents able to get an enlightenment of taking you to school after they missed this?
It was quite miraculous, if I could say, because the majority of my siblings didn’t go far in school and yet I was the only one who went up to university. We are only two boys. My father was a polygamist.
He had two wives, but I am the son of the first and officially-married wife and the first siblings were mainly female who got married at a young age; the first born, who is still alive, by the way, got married at the age of sixteen. I think the attitude then was that if a girl grows and she has got breasts, the next thing is for her to get a husband.
So, education was not really a priority, especially for the girls. But for me I came later and there had been some transformation within the family, including having received bride wealth from the sisters. That is why they had been able to raise school fees. Actually I remember when I passed my primary seven, we had to sell a bull in Namayengye market so they could buy a mattress, shoes and all the necessary scholastic materials for me to go to secondary school.
Do you probably have an inner-felt gratitude for your sisters because they got married and the family earned from the bride price that saw you through school?
Yes. I am grateful yet I am a little bit bitter because if they had gone to school, they would be prominent people like we have today. But they never got that opportunity and it also increases on my line of responsibility. The sad thing is that when you become a member of Parliament, you even go beyond those that you are biologically related to and you even support more of those than those that are your family.
Selects Amazing Grace. This is inspired by his very humble background and to the heights he has ascended; that could only be an act of amazing grace.
Did you ever in your growing up get to interact with Amama Mbabazi?
I actually got to know him while I was at Makerere University in the 1990s and even when NRM came to power – it is when his name came to be famous in Kanungu – I was still relatively young. When NRM came to power, I was in senior three in 1986. But we have since moved [on] and he has been and still is my colleague in the Parliament of Uganda.
Which schools did you go to?
I began my schooling in 1977. I went to Kayunge primary school for seven years. It is a Catholic Church-founded school. I never had an opportunity to go to a nursery school. I did my seven years there and I recall I was a very brilliant pupil such that from P1 to P7, I was always the first in class.
I left a record which has not been challenged up to today in that school. I later joined St Paul’s seminary, Rushoroza in Kabale and I was training to become a priest. But like it’s said, God calls many and few are chosen. God called me to serve in a different capacity.
But I owe a lot to the training and information I got from the seminary. I spent six years in the seminary. Actually when we sat the examination to go to the seminary, we were over 50 boys and only five were admitted to the seminary from my parish and only one became a priest and he still his, Father Karugaba, my friend. I owe my training to the seminary because it is quite a unique place; there is a lot I owe to the seminary.
So, when did you switch to medicine?
When I was in the seminary, I was a young boy and innocent. I reflected on this issue and I took my own decision to do medicine in Makerere where I was called. So, I cannot say I was expelled on misconduct but I think I was a well-behaved student who was even persuaded by the priests and the bishops trying to convince me to continue to the major seminary but I respectfully said I had reflected on the issue.
How did your peasant parents perceive this ascent in the education ladder you were taking?
As I pursued my secondary education, I of course had challenges of school fees, especially to the extent that at one time I missed part of the education to look for school fees. I had engaged in selling distilled waragi to look for school fees.
Actually from senior three to senior four, I was struggling to raise fees myself, especially during the holidays. I was admitted to Makerere in 1990 and was staying in Mitchell hall, the greatest hall at the campus, and I took five years to do medicine.
Were you the only child going to school at about that time in your home?
Yes, I was.
Plays Mother How Are You Today? by May Wood as a tribute to his mother Maywood.
Had you ever been to the city?
No, that was actually my first time. Actually my first time is when I was going to Makerere. A friend of mine who had been to Kampala directed me to a relative in a place called Kamwokya. He gave me directions saying when you reach Kampala, you go to the taxi park from the bus park and take taxis to Kamwokya.
When you reach Kamwokya, there is a truck parked selling charcoal. When you reach it, look at the building opposite and just count the blocks. Unfortunately, when I reached, the truck he told me about had been repaired and removed. Luckily, I didn’t get lost. I met a lady selling maize so, I asked and luckily she remembered; so it’s how I managed to get a place to stay till I went to campus a few days later.
What was it like? Paint for us a picture.
It was exciting and in my head I decided to work very hard and not die poor having crossed from the village to the city. I decided to work very hard and become a doctor. Things have changed [these days]. We parents have over-pampered our children that they fail to make decisions on their own.
The children we have produced in Kampala cannot appreciate that we had to walk kilometres to get to school and do domestic chores. And the quality of education in our rural schools has deteriorated. Many things have changed and we need to re-focus.
At what point do you get face-to-face with politics?
Although my father was not educated, he went to school for few days but didn’t go far and was a politically-active person for the DP. Unfortunately, parties those days were aligned along religion. I was active in medical school and in my secondary. In the seminary, I was a minister for information, and secretary for finance for the guild students’ association at Makerere; so, it’s not surprising that I ended up in politics.
How were you able to balance politics and a ‘heavy’ course?
First of all, coming from Kabale which was extremely cold, I spent the five years at Makerere without covering myself with a blanket. Even up to today, I do not use a bed cover. But academically, it was torturing. I have talked to medical schools these days and things have since changed.
In our days, it was tough. First of all, if you failed exams, they would expel you – and many would repeat exams. So, my first challenge was, ‘how do I go through medical school and graduate without being suspended or repeating a paper?’
So, I had to work very hard and actually it is how I missed out on social events while at the university. We would just leave the hall and by 7pm we are in Mulago medical school and we would come back late in the night so when we had dances at the guild canteen and going to Ange Noir I missed out on all those.
That is how I managed to complete in five years without failing because it was tougher in our day than it is of late. I wasn’t a disco person per se. I actually had more dances in the seminary than at the university. We would have a bull dance. I was actually a very good break dancer. Even now, when you put me on the floor, I can challenge you at break dance.
Selects Todii by Oliver Mtukudzi as a tribute song to the fight against the HIV/Aids in Africa
Did you ever practice medicine after?
I practised internship in Mulago for a year as a requirement. I worked briefly for ministry of Health for a project, ‘the integrated management of childhood interest’, as a trainer, then immediately enrolled for a master’s degree in population studies, then another in public health, then worked with GTS, then later on UNFPA as a reproductive health and HIV/Aids adviser, and a lecturer in the Institute of Statistics and Applied Economics before I went into politics.
I am actually still a student. Having grown in the rural area, I reflected more on my contribution to people’s life in my community .
When do you meet the person you could start a family with?
Yes, I am married. I met one beautiful lady at the university . She joined when I was leaving. We have been married since 1999 and we are blessed with two children. The boy is in senior two and the girl is in primary seven. We call it replacement fertility; that the girl will replace her and the boy me.
When do you get time to be a father to your children and husband to your wife?
That is very challenging because when I am not in Parliament, I am in the constituency , alongside other international responsibilities. For instance, we have a forum that brings together issues of population and development in the Parliament and I am the president of that forum in Africa and I get alot of assignments to be out of the country .
But on some days on the weekend, I spend time with my family , more so in the evening, but it is quite challenging that I have no time.
Plays Turi Abasinguzi as a tribute song to his constituents in Kanungu
What motivates you?
Like now we are in politics, I usually like to be objective. I like to stand and work by what is the truth and that has even shaped the way I conduct myself in Parliament in the few years I have been in politics. So, what really irritates me is when I see people become what we call obscurantist; you know what is right but go for what is wrong.
It was why for the death of Honourable Nabanda, I really wanted as a professional doctor [that] we go to the bottom of what exactly killed her. But, unfortunately, politics came in and people had all sorts of ideas. It is how I spent the Christmas of 2012 in prison cells in Jinja Road police station.
Your children and their mother, what effect does it have on them when you go through these challenging milestones?
They are also developing a hard skin but they get tortured and tormented like those trying moments when we were under pressure of that situation. But as I went into politics, I reminded them that you as the family member should get prepared for three things; one, you can die. Two, you can end up in exile. Three, you can be in prison any time.
Then one asks why you go into a profession where it is death, prison, or exile.
Well, every occupation has its own hazards. Even as a doctor, you can catch HIV as you carry out an operation; so, my family members are coming to appreciate it.
What is your favourite meal?
Kalo and groundnut paste and, for a drink, water. First of all, I do not take alcohol. Actually, when I was distilling, I could get people to come and taste for me whether it was actually the real one. Then I would just sell it without tasting.
Our father used to tell us that if we want to go far, we should avoid alcohol. And if we have to take it, we should make a decision to buy it for ourselves in future. And when I was able to buy it for myself, I never got the motivation.
How come you were unable to follow with blind conviction some of the dictums of your party?
I am a very disciplined party member but also I try to advise my party to push for politics that are for people, which is sometimes misunderstood by members of the public that maybe we are deviating or being rebels. But the point is, I never left my brain in Kanungu. I came with it; so, I must use it.
Where do we see you 10 years from today?
Well, as you see, I am still a young man and I pray to God I stay alive in the many more years to come. I will remain in politics and maybe even aspire for higher position. I can run for president right now. I am very eligible but also I might do one more term in Parliament and join international service but I will make that decision when that time comes.
If you were marooned on a desert island, who or what would you take, given chance?
A Bible because it has quite instructive messages in it. The Bible is actually an abbreviation for ‘Basic Instructions Before Life Ends.’ So, I would carry it, read it and reflect on the messages in it.
Plays Different Colours, One People by Lucky Dube, inspired by the need for unity