SEYA: You have to hand it to Seya. Even when he had left your political camp and, his ‘behind’ was no longer on you, you simply couldn’t hate the man. He only had to turn on the charm to melt the stoniest of hearts. He may not have been perfect but he still has us singing his praises even after he is gone, writes Angella Nampewo.
He was not born rich. He did not get even the minimum qualifications at school and he had no early inheritance to his name. He was a self made man with a silver tongue and a shrewdness like no other. That is how he got by, made his fortune and built a reputation for himself as the one who could bridge the gap between the haves who spoke too much English and have nots who had little money and less education.
The son of a “common man”, Ssebaggala revealed in an interview that he earned his first 50 cents working at a market stall with his father at the age of seven. Perhaps that is why he never forgot his origins, symbolically returning to dine with market vendors many years later.
Born on November 15, 1947, Al Hajj Nasser Ntege Ssebaggala was son of the late Hajj Shaban Ssebaggala and Hajjat Misha Nabatanzi of Kisaasi, Wakiso District both deceased.
With only a modest education, Ssebaggala ventured into trade at an early age, he got substantial sales experience and some money of his own.
At the time of the expulsion of Asian businessmen, he was allocated a shop in which, he set up New Fabricano, a shop that sold modern clothes and shoes. Ssebagala became a man of many firsts, subsequently being linked to the first locally owned supermarket, Ugantico, among other things.
In the minds of many young people, however, memories of Al Hajj Nasser Ntege Ssebaggala stretch only as far back as 1998 when he won the election to become Mayor of Kampala. During that time, he came to be popularly known as ‘Seya’, a street term for comrade as the downtrodden began to identify with him and his broken English.
He went from mayor to prisoner to presidential aspirant but even when you thought he might fall off the fast-moving wagon, you would turn to find him still hanging on, in his best suit.
A man of all political seasons
At one point, Seya was publically affiliated with most of the major political players. He was the quintessential political chameleon before the likes of Chamili came along. While he was with one group, he wore the heck out of their political colours and sang their praises until it was time to move on. He fraternised with everyone, from Sebaana to MPs Ken Lukyamuzi and Michael Mabikke before boarding the yellow bus but even when he disembarked from one political wagon to jump onto another, no one seemed to have the heart to hold a grudge against him. You would have to have a heart of political stone to stay mad at Seya.
In politics, he was also the ultimate kingmaker; the man who famously declared that he was “putting his behind” on the President and his NRM party. In his halting English, that meant that he was lending you full support. The people to whom he lent his backside are many and varied; including but not limited to the late John Sebaana Kizito, a man he stood both for and against in the race for Uganda’s presidency.
Seya was the high priest at the altar where scores made the pilgrimage seeking political blessings. You did not need him to come to your house. You only needed to bend his ear, or grab a handful of his fine robes and once you had his attention, he would say the word and it was done. Unfortunately, he left before we had secured his secret for melting hearts.
We would follow him
The hordes followed the good Hajj, hanging on his every word, even when perhaps they shouldn’t. Elected mayor of Kampala in 1998, Sebaggala was convicted and sentenced to a 15-month jail term in the United States. He was charged with fraud and making false declarations, involving fake traveller cheques and currency in a case which famously came to be known in local speak as ebicupuli.
However, Ssebaggala got out of jail early on parole and made a triumphant re-entry into Kampala, with crowds lining the road to welcome him as he rode from Entebbe airport, much to the consternation of outsiders. A headline in one of the international media read: “Kampala Welcomes Fraudster Ex-Mayor.”
The jubilant crowds were, among other things, waving banana leaves, beating drums, whistling and holding posters of the former mayor. You see, the masses couldn’t help themselves where Seya was concerned. When he started a movement, more often than not, it went viral. Dr Kizza Besigye in his tribute to the late credited him as one who gave him a powerful endorsement for his inaugural presidential campaign in 2001. When he decreed that it should be done, his followers gleefully rushed to do his bidding, all the while chorusing, “Hajj Agambye,” “Hajj Alagidde” (Hajj has decreed).
The sharp dresser
Although he laid on the charm really thick and used his natural born charisma like a magic wand, there is much to be said about Seya’s style and how the mayor really did clean up nice. At one time famed as the man who sold the “best suits in town”, Seya could tie a tie. He considered smartness a virtue and the price of his suits was no object. He only minded the quality. He didn’t just rock formal wear. He somehow managed to look dignified in his casual clothes as he showed visitors around his farm. He knew how to make it all look good or maybe he chose it right but no one could accuse him of not being well groomed. Perhaps this is what made him such a lady magnet?
If there was a beautiful woman in town whom everyone was talking about, Seya had her in his sights and give it a little time, and she would be conquered. He had his wife Gera, with whom he got engaged in 1979 after the death of his first wife. But in later years, he let his admiring eye wander from time to time. He once confessed that he knew people were calling him Soda w’abakyala (ladies wine) but he was a Hajj after all and who are we to have counted?
The smart and beautiful lawyer Naava Nabagesera swept into Seya’s life in the late 1990s at the time of his stay and return from the US where he had been incarcerated. She is said to have converted to Islam, became Aisha and married Hajj Ssebaggala before later returning to Christ and disappearing from his life as fast as she had come.
With Sylvie Owori, he had a love child, later the subject of a custody battle in court, with Seya complaining he had been denied access to his child. Seya was also linked to “Ekitone” singer Desire Luzinda in a mystery affair that kept us guessing.
Ssebaggala the farmer
In case you thought he was just a politician and businessman who did not know how to get his hands dirty, think again. Seya was quite the farmer, rearing rabbits, growing matooke and tomatoes. He could pull off a casual short sleeved shirt and gumboots, just as well as he did his office suit.
Seya the confident
He may have lost the fight for his life but he never gave up in the battle with the English language. Rest Well Seya, thank you for sharing a dose of your confidence and being charming while at it. You made it all seem easy and when you smiled like that, it was enough to make us forget everything you had mispronounced.
“However lowly he was educated, however average he was in terms of appreciating the statecraft and national issues, he is a man who would champion a particular cause that turned out to be very popular and in the end, he was embraced by majority of the people in Kampala, who idolised him,” said Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, who replaced Ssebaggala in 2011 as the city’s mayor.
Perhaps it is a testament of his unending faith that even months before his death, he had taken a new and ambitious turn, wearing new colours, willing to try again. Ssebaggala was last seen in public in August at the National Unity Platform party headquarters in Kamwokya, a Kampala suburb, where he had gone to return nomination forms for the Kampala mayoral race.
Seya, died of cardiac arrest at Kampala International Hospital last Friday, his younger brother Hajj Latif Sebaggala, the MP for Kawempe North, said. He had been on life support for weeks, family and medical sources said.
“It is I think is you should know, why Nasser Ntege Ssebaggala has been on the Mayor of Kampala was not been taken to the IGG or Police…” (taken from a recording of a media interview)
“The President come clearly, he give me the biggest Minister…ministry. Look at my eyes, that is why you see that I am sure, I’ll be there.” (On his appointment as Minister without portfolio)
I’ve been the current mayor. Now I am a Cabinet minister. To me on my life, it is a great achievement. The minister without port(o)folio, you are working all the positions, all the areas. I think I am happy because now, I won’t be (ate word) in one ministry. I will be moving around.
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