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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

‘Despite many misfortunes, I have achieved much’

Vincent Nuwagaba is a human rights activist and fiery debater. He told Dennis D. Muhumuza that he will stop at nothing to see a better Uganda
What’s your claim to fame?
I’m an unwavering human rights defender and anti-corruption crusader. I’ve publicly – using pen and tongue – decried corruption, unemployment, poverty and all other social ills. I once wrote to President Yoweri Museveni challenging him on issues of corruption and this prompted a four-page reply wherein he acknowledged a number of issues raised but at the same time warned me to choose whether to become a politician or a human rights activist, which in my view was diversionary.

What qualifies one as a human rights defender?
Human rights defenders must be selfless and ready to strive to see improvement in human dignity and human welfare. Not everyone who works with a human rights organisation is a human rights defender because for some, the only motivation is a salary. A clear definition of human rights defenders is given by the United Nations Fact Sheet 29.

Which living person do you most admire and why?
I admire many but topmost is Nelson Mandela because he fought for freedom in his country and served for only five years, despite the fact that if he had wanted, he would be South African president ad infinitum. Because he couldn’t be corrupted by power, he takes my unreserved admiration.

When were you happiest?
When I was admitted to Makerere University on government sponsorship in 2001.

What traits do you deplore most in others?
Manipulation, deception and dishonesty.

Do you dislike anything about your appearance?
No; for if I did, it would tantamount to blaming God.

What would you bring back to life if you could help it?
My two grandmothers Veronica Bakeine and Suzanna Kirakwende, and my maternal uncle, James Ruremire. They were so fundamental in my life for they always wanted the best for me and taught me the values of honesty, integrity and being God-fearing.

When did you last cry and why?
On August 17, 2009, when I was beaten by the police following my opposition to tuition fees increment in public universities (up to 126 per cent contrary to media reports that fees were increased by 40 per cent). I didn’t cry because I was beaten but for my country, whose leaders have chosen total disregard of the poor and marginalised. I cried because I realised that the “prosperity for all” that President Museveni has touted over the years is just a pipedream if the sons and daughters of peasants can be locked out of higher education.

To whom would you most likely say sorry and why?
My friends Bruce Kabaasa Balaba and Thomas Tayebwa, who have always come to rescue me from the police cells.

Have you ever said I love you and not meant it?
I take so long to say those words. When I do, I truly mean it.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
People that have made an indelible mark on the human rights movement.

What has been your biggest disappointment?
The politicians and civil society organisation leaders whose deeds are diametrically opposite to their words.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
We can derive that from my life story. I was born out of wedlock and brought up by my grandmother, who sadly died before I could complete S.4. My journey to education has been miraculous; a maternal uncle who was paying my fees died when I was in P.5. However, courtesy of good Samaritans led by Mr Henry Rukundo, I was able to make it from the humblest schools in Ruhinda County, Bushenyi District, to Makerere University on government sponsorship. I now boast a Masters Degree in Human Rights, I’ve lectured at a university and I strive always to marry theory with practice. That’s why I’ve felt I should take my human rights advocacy and activism to the floor of Parliament come 2011.

If you could edit your past, what would you change?
I would change being my mother’s only child, for it is not always good that one has biological brothers or sisters. But then again, that has made me look at every other person as my brother and sister.

Finally, what or who is the greatest love of your life?
Jesus Christ, because He was the leading human rights defender during His life on earth.

--Sunday Monitor, January 31, 2010