An Interview with former Makerere University Guild President Roy Ssemboga
Roy Ssembogga had his heart set on practicing medicine until politics stole it all away. Although People Power chose journalist Bashir Kazibwe over him for flag bearer, Ssembogga told us why he is determined to win Kawempe South as an Independent.
Who is Roy Ssembogga?
I’m a very open-minded person, humorous and compassionate. I like making friends. I’m strict on what I believe in and nothing can sway me from what I believe in.
I believe that everybody deserves an opportunity irrespective of where they come from [that could explain why he loves Bobi Wine, the leader of People Power and the president of National Unity Platform]. I believe that every citizen of this country should enjoy privileges without any encumbrance. I believe that man was born free and should live free to the fullest of his ability.
You trained as a doctor; what are you doing in politics?
I don’t have a practicing license [yet]. When we started People Power, it required some of us to be full-time on the ground. We sat me and my friend Bobi and agreed that he suspends his Law course and I suspend mine for the betterment of this struggle. So, I didn’t proceed with a medical internship. So, I can’t practice even if I know the medicine.
Wasn’t that a hard choice?
I want to tell you that my motivation to join politics came from the medical side. I lost my first patient at Lugazi Health Centre IV in Rubirizi district. This boy called Ssempebwa came in, he was a sickler and anemic. He badly needed blood. You diagnose right, you prescribe… but because the system is broken, I was unable to save his life.
Your satisfaction as a doctor is when you heal your patient. The money comes in as a supplementary. We sent the boy to the lab, the lab technician had already left because he was alone yet they were supposed to be three.
We checked the blood that was in the refrigerator, it was spoilt. We looked for an ambulance, but the in-charge of the health center had gone with it. We followed the matter up with the district and realized that she was not the one who was supposed to be there. She was given the job because she knew somebody. We pursued the matter up to the ministry of Health and nothing was done. That’s when I decided to leave my profession because for me to practice, we had to first fix the system.
The people who have ideas on how to fix this system don’t have power and those who have power have no idea how broken the system is.
But you could be a doctor and politician at the same time…
In the process of rebuilding a new front, it requires some of us to make some sacrifices. I temporarily suspended my internship program so that I can focus on building a movement that will overwhelm the dictatorship so that when we put up new systems, I can go back and practice medicine in a system that works for everyone.
So, you hope to go back one day?
Yeah. Actually, I think in 2021, I will go back because now the movement is solid. By the time I left, it was being run by basically four people: Me, Nubian Lee, Bobi, and Chairman Nyanzi. Joel Ssenyonyi [NUP spokesperson] was still with NTV, he wouldn’t come out; Lewis Rubongoya [secretary general of NUP] was still in government; so, the day-to-day activities were basically on four people. They required my input 24/7. We could wake up at 5 am and sleep at 3 am, building coordinators, doing everything to make sure that we go where people wanted us to be.
How would you survive as a family man?
One of the things I sacrificed was my family; I really appreciate the woman who had to bear with me. We were faced with eviction after eviction. I had a contract I had to give up and I had to pay for damages. I had to sell my car and a plot of land I had bought, in order to pay for those damages. It was really very hard. At that time my wife was also pregnant but I persevered and said it was useless for my daughter to come into a country like Uganda. We are still very committed to this struggle because we have not reached where we want to be.
How did your wife take the ‘struggle’?
It wasn’t easy for her…By the way, GTBank had given me a job. They had issues with the collection account and I helped them, and the MD was impressed with how speedy and professional I had handled the job. He proposed Shs 2.5 million with a double cabin pickup, but I knew sitting in a bank every day would injure the struggle we were starting.
We discussed – me, Lewis and Bobi – they told me I suspend my job, that we shall see how to survive and I left the job. Just imagine, you have rent in arrears for four months, the landlord is always knocking and now your wife hears that they gave you a job and you declined it. Of course, we had disputes…
What was her comment when you were denied the NUP flag for Kawempe South?
She was very disappointed to hear that the movement I had sacrificed so much for couldn’t even accord me a fair process. [But] she’s revolutionary; she says we have come too far to stop. We need to move forward.
She’s impressive. What food do you like to eat?
I eat everything. When I went to China, I ate everything, I wouldn’t ask what it was [yes; if you can comfortably eat everything in China, then you can eat everything]. For as long as my Chinese colleagues were eating, I also ate. So, I don’t have any problem with food. The only time I can fail to eat is when I’m under extreme stress or under pressure to finish an assignment.
What puts you under extreme pressure?
I have pressure to liberate this country. Ooooh, please! Who told you Ugandans need liberation?
Unless you are not a Ugandan who lives in Uganda. You are a journalist who can’t even practice your profession!
But I’m here speaking to you but journalists keep on getting directives from UCC about covering certain individuals.
Hahaha… Okay, back to medicine, you were a government student and a lot of money was spent on you.
I also pay taxes, by the way. The other thing, the government was also performing its obligations by paying for my tuition. I’m sacrificing now so that other doctors who will come after me will not have to move.
Must it be you to fix it?
Everyone has a duty to this country; and if it’s not me, then who will fix this?
Tell me one thing you cannot do without…
That is a tough one… I can say I have a phone addiction because I’m in touch with so many people and I keep following trends via the internet. So, without a phone, it becomes tricky for me. I also can’t do away with my friends. Maybe because of the path I chose, which really requires people.
By the way, you are still a young person, what are you doing in politics?
But Uganda is a country of young people and we have a mission to liberate it. At 44 years, Barack Obama was one of the best presidents of the United States of America; on the other hand, at 75 years, Donald Trump is messing up that country. [Roy’s words, not ours]
What do you like about your wife?
Her resilience. Imagine three years of unemployment.
Where did you even meet?
Politics; she was a guild clerk and I was chairman Nkrumah Hall at Makerere University. When I campaigned for chairman Electoral Commission of Makerere, she was the chairperson taskforce. I knew I had seen a partner.
What’s her name, by the way?
Komuhimbwa Aisha Blessing Atwoki. She studied education but she’s into accounting.
You said you have a daughter…
Haaaa, she’s Naggayi Haile Selassie [after the famous Ethiopian emperor].
But you man, Haile Selassie was a man!
She can also be revolutionary. She’s amazing… I was struggling when the mother was pregnant, after giving birth, she went back to Tooro, because I couldn’t sustain them. While there, Haile Selassie learned Rutooro and when I started stabilizing, they came back.
Here, we are speaking English and Luganda; so, she got confused. Then we shifted to where they are speaking Acholi…So, she now speaks Luganda, English, Rutooro, and Acholi. She is making four years in February.
A true revolutionary! When are you having another?
After the struggle. It might not end. For us, we are confident that this struggle is ending in 2021.
◆ Roy Ssembogga was born on December 12, 1990, to Ponciano Kibirige and Ruth Nakyejwe in Entebbe.
◆ He went to Kiwafu Muslim primary school and Our Lady of Africa Secondary School for O and A-level.
◆ He later joined Makerere University for a bachelor of science degree in medicine and surgery.
◆ While there, he was elected guild president in 2016.
◆ He later gave it all up to ‘be in the struggle’.
Interview by the Observer