TIMELINE: COURTSHIP AND MARRIAGE (1969 -1974)

"Meeting Jacqueline"

Mbabazi first met Jacqueline at Bweranyangi Senior Secondary school. This was in 1969 when a group of Kigezi College, Butobere students went to Bweranyangi on a drama trip. He was acting in the play as a father and believes he must have done a good job. According to him, something about the grey hair for the role of father seemed to have excited the girls.

Back in those days, the postal service was very good and people corresponded with each other by writing letters. Mbabazi did such a fantastic job at the acting that some girls at Bweranyangi wrote him “application letters” to be friends. However, he had noticed one girl in particular sitting in the crowd and had asked for her name. Mbabazi was told she was called Susan but preferred to use the name Jacqueline. He thought that perhaps his acting had impressed her enough for her to write to him. Instead, all he got was silence. When they would read out the names of those who had received letters in the dining hall, he would hope that perhaps this time the mysterious Susan had also written an application letter to be friends. Alas, he was never to receive anything from her.

Thankfully, it was not long before they met again. During the December 1969 holidays, Mbabazi met Jacqueline briefly on Kabale Main Street where they exchanged pleasantries. She was rather reserved and quite formal in her address, so he wasn’t able to get her to strike up as long a conversation with him as he would have wished. He was, however, able to tell her that he was done with his studies at Butobere and was heading out of the district to Ntare School. Soon after this encounter, Mbabazi set off for his A’levels.

Providentially, Bweranyangi and Ntare had a special relationship in those days. It might still be the same today. They referred to the brotherly-sisterly bond as “Bwerantare”. Mbabazi hoped that perhaps his and Jacqueline’s paths might cross again because he knew that there would be a socializing event sometime during the two years that he was a senior at Ntare.

Sadly, this event was not to come. Bweranyangi girls had decided not to perform at Ntare. Mbabazi was told later on that Jacqueline together with her drama team that included Miria Koburunga (now Mrs. Matembe), decided that they would not entertain Ntare School because Ntare took them for granted. As the lead actress in the Bweranyangi plays, Jacqueline had used her influence to take the School’s performance to Mbarara High School. (Mbabazi later discovered that she did so because she had fallen in love with him and was petrified to see him again).

Contact with Jacqueline was therefore cut off until he joined Makerere University in 1972. By coincidence, he met someone in Kampala who came from the same area (Kigezi). She introduced herself as Hope Tugumisirize and during the course of the conversation about their respective families he discovered that Hope happened to be a relative of Reverend Gershom Ruhindi, Jacqueline’s father. Hope informed him that Jacqueline had moved to Trinity College Nnabingo for her A’levels and was would be sitting for her exams soon.

Mbabazi thought that this was his opportunity to go and visit Jacqueline, so one day, Hope and Mbabazi paid Jacqueline a visit at Nnabingo. Suffice it to say, Jacqueline was shocked to see him. She had not changed much. She still was very beautiful and had very good transport; that is what they called legs those days. Mbabazi noticed that Jacqueline had a new air of maturity and she definitely was more convivial this time. He enjoyed that visitation as she engaged him in a conversation about his spiritual beliefs. He found her not only beautiful but intelligent to boot! The visitation did not last long because she was a Senior Six candidate and had to go back to class to study for her forthcoming exams.

Mbabazi remembers joking with Hope as they left that this girl “has the kind of transport to die for!” This time he left Nnabingo with some inkling that perhaps Jacqueline too was interested in him. When he and Hope returned to Kampala, Mbabazi decided to do the hardest thing he had done in a long time: he wrote her a letter. It must have taken him three days to construct as he was avoiding making any mistakes in case it was not well received. In his own estimation, he had a very good handwriting but that letter must may as well take time to ensure that it was written well. He believes that the letter was the only document where his handwriting was next to perfect.

In writing to her, Mbabazi did not wish to offend by using strong language, or quoting Shakespeare although it was common in those days for a gentleman to want to overshoot the mark. His goal was to ensure that he do not offend her but appear serious, responsible and good boyfriend material. Obviously the resultant letter was a success because to date, she tells him that she read it for the next two months, like a prayer, looking for a message and the more she read it, the more she fell in love with him.

As soon as she finished her examinations, Jacqueline came to live in Kampala. She and Mbabazi started courting soon thereafter. Jacqueline was staying with her cousin, Christopher “Topher” Twesigye, at Bukoto flats. Mbabazi would borrow a scooter (boda boda) and ride it like a mad man to and from that apartment, partly to impress her but also because he had to save time since he had borrowed it. He rode so fast that during one of these ‘hell for leather’ trips, Mbabazi was involved in an accident that almost devastated Jacqueline.

Topher, Jacqueline’s cousin, did not like Mbabazi for two reasons: he thought he had too much influence on the young girl who, in his estimation, was just infatuated. He also thought that Mbabazi was a distraction from her work. During her A’level vacation, Jacqueline had found gainful employment as a teacher first at Kitante Primary School and later at Kololo Secondary School. Colonel Leo Kyanda and Brigadier Moses Rwakitarate were two of her students.

Still this did not stop the two from courting. Secondly, Topher and Mbabazi belonged to rival political groups at Makerere. During that period political rivalry was very intense, often times pitting people that should have been friends against each other. Despite these challenges, the two were undeterred.

Jacqueline was an exceptional student so it came as no surprise that having sailed through her exams; she was admitted to Makerere for the 1973/74 intake. Jacqueline had been given the Bachelor of Science course but when she joined, President Idi Amin had already passed a Presidential decree that required everyone doing Bachelor of Science and Arts to do a concurrent diploma in education. She had no choice but to take a fourth term to meet Amin’s education requirement. In the beginning, Mbabazi was so relieved when Jacqueline moved on campus precisely because he never had to borrow that scooter again and drive at breakneck speeds but he eventually realized that it was not the best environment given that State research agents were crawling around harassing everyone especially females.

On Campus, Jacqueline was assigned to Africa hall which is near University Hall (those days the boys used to call it UH). Mbabazi would go to her hall to visit her or would pick her up to visit him in his room 3D. When Jacqueline came to visit, there would be the usual excitement from University Hall members who had a habit of cat calling to any woman entering the courtyard. She was offended the first time but eventually got used to it.

Africa hall where Jacqueline lived was an interesting environment. There was simply too much traffic going in and out of the hall that ran the gamut from male students, to Mafuta Mingi (men who traded in contraband) to pistol wielding Idi Amin henchmen. Case in point, Jacqueline’s roommate at that time was dating a mafuta mingi called Nasser Ssebagala. Mbabazi would go to visit Jacqueline and find Ssebagala there with his yellow car and tailored suits visiting her roommate.

Having entered campus politics, Mbabazi was campaigning for guild presidency and that kept him quite busy. He knew at the back of his mind that girls as beautiful as Jacqueline would attract too much attention. So after Idi Amin cancelled the guild elections and sent in troops to quell the ensuing protests, it became even more urgent to formalize their relationship. The couple decided to get married and move off campus. Back then, government paid for all the students upkeep but the economy had suffered as a result of departing Asians. Amin had removed the boom allowance but the students still had an opportunity if they lived off the campus to get an out of pocket allowance. When Jacqueline and Mbabazi added their allowances together, it was just enough to get them a one bedroomed house.

They knew it was not enough to take care of anything else but the rent. Since they both came from humble backgrounds it would be necessary for them to find another way to make ends meet.

The wedding was a simple ceremony on January 4th, 1974. Mbabazi had found a house that would accommodate them at Kitante Courts (they were called cottages then). The day begun with the couple going to the District Commissioner’s office (currently Kampala City Council offices) to legalize their relationship. The only people present were Mbabazi’s parents Kezekiah and Peresi Bagwowabo, the bridal party which included bestman and lady of honour as well was Jacqueline’s friend Anne Tugumenawe. The ceremony lasted only 10 minutes.

Jacqueline was not happy that day. Her parents had chosen to not attend the wedding. Her father, Reverend Gershom Ruhindi was an active clergyman of the Church of Uganda. It was unacceptable to him that his daughter would get married outside the church. However, the couple just could not afford to have a church wedding.

That day, Mbabazi wore a borrowed suit. His best man Gideon Karyoko lent him everything: suit, shirt, tie and shoes. Gideon was a serving officer in the customs department of the national revenue collection body and his salary could afford him a few more clothes than the groom. Having sensed his predicament, Gideon permanently donated those items of clothing to the groom. These became Mbabazi’s first and only decent items of clothing. He would later graduate and report for his first job interview in this same suit. Likewise, the groom could not afford to buy his bride a wedding dress. Instead, Kate, her lady of honour and wife to Jacqueline’s cousin Gabriel “Gabe” Kangwagye, lent her one of her beautiful dresses as well as gloves, a handbag and a long sweater.

After the District Commissioners office, they went over to Gabe’s apartment where he had organized a crate of soda to celebrate the event. Mrs. Katende (John Katende’s wife) had baked them a small cake. There was nothing more though. Gabe had told everyone that in the event that they wanted something extra, they would have to bring it themselves. Looking back, Mbabazi is grateful to have been blessed with such solid friendships. He is convinced that without all of these people coming together his life would have been a lot more complicated.

After the wedding, the Mbabazis got down to settling in as husband and wife. He was still a student and was about to do him final exams and Jacqueline was expecting their first born. Jacqueline had acquired exactly 2 dresses for her pregnancy, one of which came from his mother. She was very innovative with her dresses. She took in the waist after each pregnancy and adjusted the seams when she got pregnant the second time. These two dresses took her through three pregnancies. Mbabazi had never seen so much value for money. It was just as well, because it took a heavy load off his mind.

Mbabazi says of Jacqueline’s industriousness, “My wife was a very modest and practical woman. She never once complained about these dresses. They never faded and she never got tired of them”. There’s a saying that one does not miss what one does not know. What the Mbabazis had, they could count on their finger tips. At the start of the marriage, all they had was two pairs of bed sheets, two towels and a few personal effects that included the clothes on their backs.

Through the three pregnancies, Mbabazi saw his wife try to pool resources from other sources. Her mother had taught her how to crotchet and so she made a lot of chair backs, table clothes, coasters and whatever was demanded by the buyers. She was also very good at baking bread and cake which she would sell every day. Jacqueline had learnt to bake at Bweranyangi and improved her skill by associating with a Nigerian friend living in the neighbourhood. All this was accomplished while she was still a student at the faculty of Science as well as the concurrent education diploma that President Idi Amin had forced the students to take.

Mbabazi knew his wife needed help, so he asked his sister Phoebe if her daughter, Ruth Kyarimpa would come and stay with them. His niece (daughter of Rhoda), Winnie Birahira also came to help. However, the two girls were also students and could not spend all their time at home. For about a year, therefore, Jacqueline had to learn to juggle being a mother, student and businesswoman. What kept them going was the hope that after Mbabazi’s graduation, things would get better as his expected salary would boost the family income. Indeed things did get better after the bar exam as he was recruited into the civil service as a State Attorney. He would now earn a starting monthly salary of One thousand Nine hundred shillings.

As his family expanded, so did his involvement in clandestine operations for FRONASA. In 1974 Mbabazi became the Head of Internal Operations. Jacqueline was one of his first recruits. She was a telephone operator for the organization. 

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