Basalirwa- Uganda’s unsung opposition hero?
Asuman Basalirwa has been in the news for a long time, but not as much as since the elections in the newly created Bugiri Municipality were announced. He has vied for MP three times before in the former Bukooli North county without success. As a resident of Naluwerere which falls under Bugiri Municipality, he decided to give it another shot. His decision seemed natural but not without controversy. In the same race he is facing off with another opposition candidate, FDC’s Eunice Namatende which has put the hitherto cordial FDC-JEEMA relations to a strain. It had been hoped that the opposition would agree a joint candidate. It has not happened and if all goes as planned, he is set to be nominated on June 4th 2018.
But who is Asuman Basalirwa?
Available records show that he was born on 13th November 1977 in the now run down Bugiri Hospital. His ancestral village is Bugodo, Bugiri District. He is the son of Hajji Muhammad Isabirye and Hajat Amina Isabirye. Married with children, he lives in Kawempe in Kampala and Naluwelere in Bugiri.
He went to Mwiri Primary School, Kiira College Butiki and Mwiri College in Jinja District and was one of the best A level candidates in 1998, before joining Makerere University to study Law. An enrolled Advocate, he holds a Master of Laws from the University of Pretoria. He was a prefect in Mwiri and Kiira College. At both Butiki and Mwiri where he was prefect, he excelled as a consummate debater, a skill that would come handy when he vied for Makerere Guild President on the JEEMA ticket, which he won. JEEMA was to retain the Guild Presidency the following year when another member of the JEEMA youth League Yusuf Kiranda won the Guild presidency.
Currently Managing Partner at Sewankambo and Company Advocates located at Uganda House,he has practiced law since 2004. He also chairs the KCCA Valuation Court. He has also taught law at IUIU (where he served as Legal Officer at one time), and delivered law programs in Busitema University, Kyambogo University, Kampala University and Busoga University. As a lawyer he has represented politicians and activists including Olara Otunnu, MPs Ibrahim Semujju Nganda, and Allan Sewanyana, Moses Kasibante, Francis Mwijukye, MunyagwaMubaraka, Kato Lubwama and many other activists on various occasions, often pro bono. His hobbies include reading, writing, playing watching soccer. He describes himself as an unapologetic legal and political activist a passion that has led to his arrest on a number of occasions at various police stations and including a stint at Luzira during Walk to Work. Asked if he believes he is an opposition hero for the sacrifices he has made over the years, in characteristic JEEMA humility he said he was not, because whatever he does was for the common good whether someone recognises him or not.
In 2010, he became the Youngest Party president in Uganda’s history when at 33, hegot elected JEEMA president, succeeding Dr. Muhammad Mayanja Kibirige. This, he said was in line with JEEMA’s commitment to remaining youthful forever. It will be recalled that Mayanja Kibirige surprised everyone when at slightly over 40 years he defied convention and challenged the then almost unchallengeable Museveni of 1996.
Asked about the current tensions between FDC and JEEMA, he downplayed it, insisting that political decisions have never been easy, but that although it was unfortunate that FDC and JEEMA could not agree on a single candidate, the voters are informed enough to decide on who is suitable at the moment to represent them. He expressed shock at those labelling him as elitist and perhaps too qualified and therefore not attractive to Bugiri voters, noting that this is an insult to the very forward looking voters in Bugiri who are tired of mediocre politicians, often passing as populist. He dispels the notion that he is not popular as cheap propaganda that needs no response except at the ballot box by the thousands of pro-change Ugandans across party lines, in Bugiri who are ready to vote him and the many more supporters outside Bugiri who have endorsed his candidature and are contributing money and ideas to his campaign, and have pledged to protect the vote.
Responding to the perception that JEEMA is not as popular in Uganda as FDC and DP for example, and that perhaps he would have done better if he was FDC, he said he was unfazed by the characterisation, adding that JEEMA is an ideological party whose strength lies in the power of ideas and the quality of leaders and cadres it produces. He noted that because of the strong ideological orientation in JEEMA, since inception in 1995 when parties were still outlawed, no JEEMA leader of standing has ever crossed to the NRM, despite the fact that its leaders are well educated and qualified for any political job the dictatorship can offer.
On his manifesto for Bugiri Municipality, he says he is selling the timeless five JEEMA platform of Justice for all, Economic revitalisation, Education that works for parents, learners and their teachers, Moral r e-armament to fight corruption at all levels and the unity of Uganda and Africa, irrespective of ethnicity, religious or political affiliation.
The writer is the Spokesman of Justice Forum (JEEMA)