THE LEARNED ONE: Fred Muwema is a reputable lawyer. His law firm represents presidential aspirant John Patrick Amama Mbabazi. He talks about representing such a distinguished politician and fellow lawyer, how much he likes his job, and the fact that he was built for controversial and high profile cases. He also chats with Edgar R. Batte about family, football and what kind of person he would like to re-incarnate.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
I am humble, very firm and focused on what I want.
But other people have described you as controversial.
I am not controversial. It is the cases that I handle that are controversial.
Does that make you innocent or a simply good lawyer?
Well, it is you to judge whether I am a good lawyer or not. I am driven by results from the work of my hands. I handle every assignment seriously and I put my best foot forward.
What does it feel like being an advocate for people you are sure are criminals?
Under our justice system, there is no guilty person until they are pronounced so by court. The public perception that somebody is guilty before they have gone through a trial is, therefore, not proper. We, lawyers, represent everybody and make sure that evidence is available to court for a decision to be made. We do not go into a case knowing that somebody is guilty or not.
You have had your fingers in different pies and largely become known as a sports administrator. What motivates the sports fanatic in you?
I think I have a calling for social justice so my entry into sports was motivated by the mismanagement and frustrations that the public was facing in that area. My motivation was to try and streamline things so that I can be able to contribute to the joy and pleasure of the sporting fraternity. I have not fully succeeded in that area. It is something that I will come back to at some point. Of course, I am also an ardent football fan.
Tell me more about the football fanatic in you…
I spent a lot of time watching football on television. To see that the game of football is not achieving its full potential hurts me a lot. To see the national team struggling and having to beg and football clubs lacking money to look after the players, hurts me. It is one thing I believe I should be able to re-align or put on the correct path, like they say, before I die. I hope I can achieve that.
What challenges have failed your efforts as an administrator in the sports circles?
There is a lot of corruption from the top to the regulators, administrators, and at the grassroots. As a result, resources that are supposed to be used for the development of the game are diverted. There isn’t sufficient regulatory infrastructure to attract these resources because the managers basically go in there to fill their pockets, which is sad. As a result, there is no proper platform for people with true talent to emerge. That is why perennially, the Uganda Cranes will underperform. They are nearly men all the time. Even Rwanda has been to the Africa Cup of Nations but we cannot and we keep doing things the same way and expect different results. Ours is an organisational problem. We keep gold-coating the solutions but we do not have real gold in the solutions that we present.
Tell me about how you do your work as a young lawyer…
I am in my 40s so I am at the roundabout between youth and middle age. I can pursue anything that I would like to pursue despite the challenges that would present themselves to anyone of any age.
How would you say you got to where you are as a lawyer?
Sheer belief; I have a lot of belief in myself and I am willing to take every failure as a stepping stone for the next success. I am very positive in my mind and I do not allow to be put down at any one time. Getting where I am as a result of the right mindset, the right attitude but it has to be coupled with a lot of hard work. I put in many hours.
How many hours do you averagely put in?
It will depend; from 12 to sometimes 18 hours a day. I believe the more hours you put in, the more you become good at what you do. I do not subscribe to the belief that you can do an 8am to 5pm schedule. But even as you work hard, you must work smart.
What is the difference between working hard and working smart?
I think you need both. Working smart mainly appeals to the use of your mental faculties to achieve what you want without exercising many physical aspects whereas working hard requires the use of both the mental faculties and physical aspects.
In the modern world, you need to work for long hours and effectively to achieve the required results. I must hasten to add though that I am yet to achieve what I want. I am not a victim of ‘arrivism’. I have not arrived and that is why I will continue to work even harder. I do not think even if I achieve a desired target, I would stop working. I enjoy working.
What does it feel like being a lawyer to a distinguished politician and fellow lawyer like Amama Mbabazi?
Of course, it is an honour to serve a client of that calibre, though in reality all clients are the same. The standard expected to execute the assignment must be the same and I must employ the same diligence and skills and I think the difference is in your eyes. Of course, I must admit it is more challenging to represent one client over others.
What challenges have you faced in representing Mbabazi?
It presents a special kind of pressure and attention to me. This, being in the field of politics, it also, in a way exposes me to the kind of risks associated with politics.
What risks have you been exposed to?
Of course, once in a while you will get direct and indirect threats. Some people will ask why I am representing him but I am built for such cases. I am not afraid to take on a case when I believe in it. If there is a good case to present in accordance with the law, I will go for it no matter who it is. So, I do not spend a lot of time concerning myself with the perception people might have on that case. The important thing is if I am ready to handle and if I am comfortable with a case.
How much time, energy and legal work goes into cases that involve such high- level personalities?
It is mainly about the kind of landscape you find yourself in. I have to deal with police constantly, the Electoral Commission (EC) and other political actors. The main strain I feel is time because when you are doing cases of this nature, you will not be expected to go home at the normal hours. It is not like other cases which you attend to only during the day or working hours. That makes certain cases in a way peculiar; they require unusual attention but I think we are up to the task.
How does your family, wife deal with the fact that you sometimes have to work long hours?
To be honest, they deal with it the same way they have always dealt with it. It is not just now. If it is a weekend, I divide it between family and work. It is not new to my family. I always try to get time for them, like take a weekend off and be with them.
How is Muwema as a family man?
I think my family should be the ones answering this. You are asking me to be a judge in my own case. I try to be the best father and husband. I have a catalogue of my shortcomings like any other person, but I try to emphasise my strong points and go with those. I am always open to criticism, which helps make me better.
How do you spend time with family?
I like taking my children swimming, eating out, drive out of town and sometimes travelling abroad for a holiday. Otherwise, I am a football fanatic so most weekends will be dotted with watching football games. I am not a fervent fan of wild parties and such outings.
There is family time, but how do you spend time with your wife?
Once in a while I take her out for fine dining. I like good places, with good ambience. I like continental dishes. I do local food a lot at home.
What is your favourite local food?
You see I am a Musoga man, a pure one. We eat a lot of sweet potatoes and it would be incomplete without groundnut sauce. I also like vegetarian dishes.
Are you a fan of local music?
In my next life, I would sing a song or two. Do not ask me if I can play an instrument. Having gone to urban schools, I like good reggae music. It resonates well. I do not like modern music but I listen to singers like Rema Namakula and Irene Ntale but Bebe Cool is my favourite male artiste.
What do you like about Bebe Cool?
I like his music style and lyrics. He is a bit crazy but I like him as opposed to other male artistes.
If you were to re-incarnate, what kind of person would you like to be?
I would like to suppress my weak points more.
This is the second time you are mentioning your weak points, which are these?
Anybody has weak points. I think sometimes I am too aggressive. May be sometimes I talk too much and funny enough other times I keep quiet too much. I would not serve in any other calling.
I think I am built for this profession. I would be able to operate in a fairer system, a judicial system that is not problematic in many aspects and in a society where citizens’ rights are respected more than is the case now.
Rema Namakula is one of Muwema’s favourite artistes.
I like Bebe Cool’s music style and lyrics. He is a bit crazy but I like him.