Uganda’s longest-serving Prime Minister, Prof Apolo Nsibambi dies at 78

Uganda’s longest-serving Prime Minister, Prof Apolo Nsibambi dies at 78
Professor Apollo Nsibambi October 1940 - May 28, 2019

There is glowing tribute to former Uganda’s longest-serving Prime Minister, Prof Apolo Robin Nsibambi. Prof Apolo Nsibambi who served as Prime Minister from 1999 until 2011, died of cancer at his home in Rubaga division on Tuesday 28th evening aged 78.

President Yoweri Museveni said on Twitter; “I have learnt of the untimely passing of the former prime minister, Prof Apolo Nsibambi. He was a true patriot and great academic. The country will miss him.”

Museveni’s message said he had instructed current prime minister, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda to lead a team that will ensure that Nsibambi gets a befitting send-off.

Democratic Party president, Norbert Mao in a Twitter message also paid tribute to the deceased; “I’m saddened to learn of the death of former prime minister Prof Apolo Nsibambi. I convey my condolences to his family and also to all Ugandans. An accomplished academic who transitioned smoothly into the political arena, Nsibambi served with integrity, dignity and class. RIP.”

Ramathan Ggoobi, a policy analyst, researcher and lecturer of economics at Makerere University Business School said; “You want a true definition of a professor? Apolo Robin Nsibambi. Rest In Peace Prof. Your soul must already be in heaven; you always kept time.”

A message from ministry of Health said the minister deeply regrets the passing of the former premier. “…Nsibambi will always be remembered as a great orator, academician and an intellectual leader. May his soul rest in eternal peace.”

Early life

The late Prof Apolo Nsibambi was born on October 25, 1940. He attended King’s College Budo for his high school education and held a Bachelor of Science degree in economics with honors from the Makerere University under London University.

He also held a Master of Arts degree in political science from the University of Chicago in the United States. His Doctor of Philosophy degree was obtained from the University of Nairobi. Professor Nsibambi was married to the late Rhoda Nsibambi who died at 62 in 2001. He later married Esther Nakiboneka Kabuuza with whom he has been living until his demise.

Time at Makerere

Prof Apolo Nsibambi became the first non Head of State chancellor of Makerere University following the enactment of the Universities and other Tertiary Institutions Act.

He was chancellor of Makerere from 2003 to 2007. His four-year tenure as chancellor of Uganda’s largest university was rewarding but had turbulent times marked by several strikes. In October 2007 he talked to URN about his time as a chancellor.

“I feel like greatly privileged to serve Makerere as chancellor. I enjoyed job satisfaction when I served Makerere.” he said.

“I came to the top of my career, I enjoyed carrying out research, I enjoyed teaching, publishing articles. So it has been a great opportunity to pay back my academic debt to Makerere University. But there have also been other problems like indiscipline. Strikes encouraging students to loot their neighbouring areas. I was greatly disgusted by this thuggery. And let me hope that this kind of thuggery will be stumped out of existence. I was more than disgusted by students looting innocent areas during strikes.” he added.

“Makerere has some internal problems like any other university. It has problems of quality, large numbers, members of staff not getting adequate salary. But Makerere is still a viable institution. It has not died as alleged. And I’m delighted to having been given the first non-Head of State to preside over this great institution may the Almighty bless Makerere University.”

Before joining cabinet as minister of Education, Public Service and later prime minister, Nsibambi held various positions at Makerere from lecturer to dean of faculty of Social Sciences. He was also the director of Makerere Institute for Social Research (MISR). Nsibambi was a gifted orator who diligently steered parliament as the leader of government business. His role was quite evident especially when Uganda decided to return to multiparty politics.

He was loved across the political divide. Despite heated debates on the floor of parliament, he would be seen talking to members of the opposition and the ruling NRM at the parliamentary foyer at times bursting into prolonged laughter.

He was found of asking parliament to avoid what he termed as “political lugubriousness” which earned him the moniker “Mr Lugubrious” in the parliamentary circles.

At the peak of the disagreements on the floor of parliament, Nsibambi would plead with the then speaker, Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi, his then deputy Rebecca Kadaga and the leader of the opposition, Prof Ogenga Latigo for a retreat.

Nsibambi’s death comes at the time when there is a heated debate about the need to amend the constitution to strop MPs of powers to determine their emoluments.

This debate has been on since 2006. This is what Nsibambi said in 2006 when the matter came up at the floor of parliament. Nsibambi appeared to have been contradicting the position of Ssekandi. Ssekandi had insisted that parliament would retain the powers to determine its emoluments. Nsibambi would diplomatically drive his point home.

“Our argument was that if you have an independent body, if it increases our emoluments and gratuity, then we will not be vulnerable but the honorable members of parliament rejected that proposal. I would like you to think about it. I don’t want to antagonize my speaker but I want to inform you firmly but humbly that an independent commission is better than the current arrangement,” Prof Apolo Nsibambi said.

MPs have been heavily criticized for continuously increasing their salaries and allowances simply because they have the powers to do so. The latest is Shs 102 billion budgeted for the MPs to cater for increase in fuel prices. Recently the parliamentary commission also contracted MTN Uganda to provide 5GB data bundles at Shs 30,000 per MP for the 458 legislators. Parliament will also pay Shs 200/daily over the top (OTT) tax aka social media tax.

Nsibambi the church man

Prof Apolo Nsibambi loved church faithfully. He was at St Paul’s Cathedral every morning says Olive Nakatudde, a journalist who had witnessed him and his wife, “Esther” as he fondly introduced her to the members of the congregation.

“He would walk in quietly. He was not kind of a leader that could show a lot of power around him. He did not enter with an armed guard in church yet he had one. He was down to earth person and quite approachable” said Nakatudde.

Apolo and Esther Nsibambi’s absence from church would always be noticed and it had been a practice for the clergy to announce why they were not in attendance.

“For the past two months he has not been attending church, He was respected member of St Paul’s Cathedral Namirembe. He would attend the Luganda service that starts at 10:30am.

“And he would always grant interviews to journalists. He would jokingly say you journalists why don’t you let me rest since I’m in retirement? He would hold your hand through the corridors of church then allow to be interviewed.”