MISSED BY ALL: James Francis Wamboko Wapakhabulo, a great statesman, succumbed to a stroke on Saturday at his home in Bugolobi
By Felix Osike
and Denis Ocwich
HE was a humourous man, cool-headed and very sociable. He was calm and balanced, never the bully who would impose his wishes and views.
James Francis Wamboko Wapakhabulo has been at the helmof critical political decisions in Uganda for over 18 years. Now the once inspirational man, the role model lies in a casket.
Wapa, as he was fondly called, breathed his last on Saturday at his home in Bugolobi, Kampala, just four days after his 59th birthday.
He suffered a stroke last year, which was to be his final exit from the scene.
âHe has been an exemplary leader, a national and international leader,â said Oliver Wonekha, the woman Member of Parliament for Mbale, whose Municipality was represented by Wapa in Parliament.
âTo the Bagisu, he was a mentor. He has been our advisor, not only in politics, but also in business and other things. He has been a calm person, somebody who was not sectarian, because his constituency (Mbale Municipality) had mixed tribes,â added Wonekha in her eulogy.
Surely Wapa was a political icon, not only for the Bagisu, but also for the rest of the country.
Former Minister Bidandi Ssali, one of the people who worked with Wapa for several years in government was equally touched by the death of a man in whom the nation still had a lot of hope.
âHe was a nationalist, a very brilliant and very focussed person. We shared a lot (with him) in our concept of the destiny of this country,â said Bidandi. âHe was a great person and many of us still had a lot of hope in his contribution to this country.â
Wapa was considered one of the prospective presidential candidates in the event of an exit by President Yoweri Museveni.
Otuke MP, Daniel Omara Atubo is one of those who saw in the fallen hero great hope for the Movement.
âHe was a gifted man in administration and public relations,â Atubo said. Above all, Atubo added, being a strong supporter of the Movement system never hindered Wapaâs quality of being balanced, honest and accommodative.
His âgreat masteryâ â as Atubo calls it â in steering the Constituent Assembly (1994-95) as its chairman, and the Sixth Parliament (1996 â 2001) as its Speaker, won the admiration of most Ugandans.
Like other people, Atubo thinks the controversial issues, like âFederoâ and the question of multipartyism, could have torn the Constitution making process apart, had it not been for the âbalanced and accommodativeâ ability, based on the set rules and principles, of Wapa. That won him the respect of both the opposition politicians and Movementists.
âHe would listen and judge correctly, he never imposed his viewsâthere was no single occasion when he imposed his opinion or view on the house,â recalls Atubo.
His rise from just a radical student who shared a room with now Ugandaâs president Yoweri Museveni at Dar-es-Salaam University, to a man who went down in history as the one who presided over the making of the countryâs Constitution, has been a source of inspiration to many.
Wapakhabulo was born in Bulambuli county, Mbale on March 23, 1945. His father was former colonial chief and the mother was daughter of a paramount chief in South Bugisu. Both parents are now dead.
He went to Namirembe Primary School, Budaka, Pallisa district before joining Nabbongo near Moroto for his junior secondary education.
Wapa attended Nabumali High School, Mbale for Oâlevel between 1961 and 1964. From Nabumali, he went to Kings College Budo for Aâ level.
Wapakhabulo proceeded to study law at the University College in Dar es Salaam. There he met Museveni, Eriya Kategaya, Agard Didi, John Kawanga and Bugandaâs Katikkiro, Joseph Ssemwogerere, among others.
Dar-es-Salaam then was the centre of convergence for Ugandan exiles planning their way back to Uganda. So Wapa was one of those who worked together to form the University Students Revolution Front.
His former course-mate, John Baptist Kawanga, now MP Masaka Municipality remarked: âHe was open-minded and a very frank leader. What he told you is what he believed inâ We have missed a very pleasant person. I think we should borrow a leaf from his political tolerance.â
After his studies at Dar es Salaam campus, he worked with the East African Community in Arusha Tanzania.
In 1976, Wapa left for further studies in Australia. From Australia, he moved over to work in Papua New Guinea (PNG) where he drafted laws in the office of the parliamentary counsel.
By the time he left PNG he held a job equivalent to an Assistant Solicitor General in Uganda. He met Prof. Gilbert Bukenya in Papua New Guinea and convinced him to come back and join politics in Uganda.
Wapa was also a founder member of the Front for National Salvation (FRONASA), one of the groups that joined the Tanzania Army to oust military dictator Idi Amin in 1979.
But even before the liberation struggle, Wapa had made a contribution in PNG by mobilising for the Movement together with Sam Njuba.
His first job in Uganda was as Minister of Housing and Urban Development in 1986.
During the 1994 CA race he lost the Mbale Municipality seat, to George Matsika.
But he filed a petition alleging administrative errors and election irregularities. Without waiting for a court verdict, his name came up among the five people nominated by President Museveni to the CA, from where he earned the confidence of members who elected him chairman.
Ben Wacha, MP Oyam North, then CA delegate, said even the most controversial debates were steered well by Wapa, because of his very pleasant character.
âHe was a very intelligent man, very balanced in his approach to a lot of issues,â said Wacha, adding: âHe was a sharp lawyer with a very pleasant character, and a clear mind. And very approachableââ
As a law graduate, Wapaâs legal knowledge was relevant to his job. When he was voted Speaker of Parliament in 1996 he distinguished himself as a good moderator. Both in the Constituent Assembly and Parliament, he was genial, cool and level headed.
His performance astounded critics who thought that having been a minister before, he would be biased. But the critics became his admirers because he was impartial.
From 1998, he was appointed the National Political Commissar and Minister Without Portfolio until 2001 when he became the Foreign Affairs Minister and Second Deputy Premier, a post he held until his death.
As a key politician, he helped the NRM in Mbale to bring on board people who were predominantly Uganda Peopleâs Congress supporters.
Away from politics, Wapa was a very social and outgoing man. His special interests were watching cricket, football and dancing. Wapa and his wife Angelina were among Kampalaâs top socialites. He had a permanent seat at the bar in Kampala Casino.
James Francis Wapakhabulo, the father of six will be missed by all calibres of people. His wife Angelina and family will be the chief mourners â weeping for the man who carried the flag of Uganda locally and abroad. Adieu, Wapa!
Published on: Monday, 29th March, 2004