Despite growing up in the circles of people like President Yoweri Museveni and former Buganda kingdom Premier Eng John Baptist Walusimbi who are gifted and ambitious in the political arena of Uganda, John Baptist Kawanga remains a down to earth administrator.
Kawanga is a lawyer by profession, a politician as well as a businessman. He is jolly with tons of knowledge about administration, consultation and remuneration and when it comes to articulating issues in regards to Masaka.
Just four days ago, the Masaka District Chairperson Jude Mbabali and the district committee members appointed Kawanga as the chairperson Masaka District Service Commissioner thereby replacing Joseph Nanseera.
Such an appointment lightened up the hearts of the local leaders and the locals in Masaka much as it was a surprise appointment to the former.
“I didn’t know about it. It just came into my attention that the district had appointed me to serve the commission,” said Kawanga who also served as Chief Magistrate for Tororo Magisterial Area.
Kawanga is one of a few lawyers who started serving at the age of 26 and busks with a law firm; Kawanga and Kasule Advocates and legal consultations since 1974 in Masaka Town. However, Kawanga’s rise to stardom in the political arena surprised many when he was elected as a Member of Parliament for Masaka East Constituency at the age of 34 in 1980.
“During our years of service money was not the issue but at least helping people was crucial and at the end of the day one would earn from his or her efforts,” Kawanga says as he takes a seat at his offices in Masaka Town at Centenary Bank building.
Kawanga is a collector and reader of different literary works and genres. For every spare time he can find, Kawanga, joyfully flips through pages of a book or pull out a newspaper to read.
At his working table lays a compendium of books, magazines and newspapers which he normally refers to whenever he is on duty. He speaks highly of his high school days at Kibuli Junior Boys and the chats with President Museveni at Ntale School in 1964. While at University College Dar-esalaam where he obtained a Bachelors of laws Degree, Kawanga’s dream of being a leader deepened and when they formed University Students Africa Foundation (USAFU) with Mr Museveni as their leading light, Kawanga’s confidence in leadership grew fonder.
“Even before, president Museveni was a man who grew up admiring top positions. When he proposed that we form USAFU as students we started realizing that we can become formidable leaders,” Kawanga said over his past collaborations with Museveni.
As an ardent Democratic Party supporter, Kawanga says politically they used to serve the public and maintaining the interests of the party was the key.
“As a party DP was firm and popular and we used to be voted on merit. Not even a single bribe would divert the voters,” Kawanga recollects.
In 1980, during the 4th Parliament with Speaker Francis Butagira, Kawanga exercised his duties diligently and later President Milton Obote of Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) appointed him as a shadow Minister.
“We were very few in numbers but strong and dedicated to serve the people. However, we faced numerous challenges for example; Mr Sabastian Ssebugwawo formerly a Member of Parliament for Mubende District was killed,” Kawanga recollects.
Kawanga has had chances to serve different positions and in 1989, he was appointed the Member of National Resistance Council and deputy minister of transport and communities with Mr Ruhakana Rugunda as his superior.
“One of things that had frustrated me was the way some politicians behave especially after taking over the power. Most of them become unruly and they tend to serve their interests than the voter’s interests,” Kawanga who also served as the Member of Parliament for Masaka Municipality for two terms; 2001 and 2006 respectively said.
For the two terms, Kawanga served, he masterminded the restructuring of Masaka Municipality which had also lost most of its top buildings including the Masaka Town Hall which was destroyed by Tanzanians while ousting President Idi Amin from power.
“I’ve tried to convince the government and as for clarity, Mr Bidandi Ssali (Then Minister for Local Government) allowed us to secure funds worth shs:55m from Centenary Bank and we purchased the Masaka Municipal Council premises,” he said.
Kawanga says in order to develop the Municipality, they were able to collect funds from taxi drivers and later they convinced the government to station two markets for the locals; Nyendo and Masaka Municipal Market respectively.
“We’ve tried to do our best only that the Masaka-Nyendo road hasn’t been cleared by the government,” Kawanga who also served as the Minister of State for lands and Housing Kabaka’s Government in 1996 says.
Just a few days ago, Mr Kawanga was appointed as the Masaka District Service Commissioner. Kawanga’s major role is to ensure that the commission is independent in the way civil servants are appointed and disciplined.
Previously, scandals and grudges had intensified in governance at the district due to corrupted and incompetent recruited workers which Mr Kawanga is expected to mollify.
“I am to use my past experience to serve. I know very well what is on my plate and I thank the people of Masaka for entrusting me with that position,” the soft-spoken Kawanga said.
He says, since Masaka District was cleared to run as a city, it is high time for the people to enjoy their area as they work tirelessly to develop it.
Kawanga says, administratively, Masaka’s structures have been elevated, funding, restructuring and development must be the major priority.
“The city status offers greater opportunities for developers and business personnel in the area must be celebrating. However, as for the government, the funds received from the central government must be sufficient and lastly citizens must be aware of taxes especially those juggling business within the city,” he explained.
Richard Ssebamala also the Democratic Party (DP) member who has had chances to learn leadership through the former says, Mr Kawanga is a true living portrait of a leader.
“I remember the years he used to be active in the party politics, it was hard to find wars among the party members. He paid school fees for many needy students in Masaka back then and funded numerous campaigns for the party members,” Ssebamala told Daily Monitor.
Mr Denis Majwala, also a Democratic Party member in Masaka says, he has had a chance to be mentored by Mr Kawanga.
“I have never worked with a politician who is royal and dedicated to serve the people more than Mr Kawanga. He is an intellectual who has served in numerous offices but he remains a down to earth man,” Majwala shared.
According to Majwala, most public servants and politicians are after full filling their interests but Mr Kawanga’s goal in leadership has always been meeting the public’s interest.
“He (Mr Kawanga) studied with Mr Museveni, shared numerous cups of tea but he remained independent, free from corruption in the Democratic Party,” said Jude Mbabali, the Masaka District chairperson.
A brief synopsis about Kawanga
Name: John Baptist Kawanga
Occupation: Lawyer as well as a civil servant
Parents: Mr Ibrahim Lumitiro Kawanga and Mrs Freda Nabankema.
Mr John Baptist Kawanga was born on 6 February 1946 in Entebbe Hospital
Shadow Minister for rehabilitation and humanitarian services during Obote’s regime- (1980)
Member of the privileges committee
Served two terms as Masaka Municipality Member of Parliament- (2001-2006)
Served as Member of National Resistance Council and deputy minister of transport and communities (1988)
On May 22, 2020 (Kawanga was appointed Masaka District service commissioner
Minister of state for lands and Housing.
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