A Friend of Nature, Healer of Wild Animals [interview]

Dr Andrew Seguya is the executive director of Uganda Wildlife Authority, a role he has been playing since 2010, when he was first appointed in acting capacity.

Before that, he was chief at Wildlife Education Centre in Entebbe and also spent six years as a veterinary doctor in Botswana.

In fact, if he was marooned in a desert island with lions, they would probably recognise him and spare his life. Dr Sseguya shared his inspiring life experiences with Simon Kasyate on Capital FM’s Desert Island Discs show.

I am sure this is very familiar territory. You are always in the wilderness and so being on the dessert island certainly doesn’t scare you or bring, maybe, the adrenaline rushing into your veins?

It is a good imagination. It is a comforting feeling. That’s where all the stress goes away and we really return to nature.

Tell us about Uganda Wildlife Authority many of us, Ugandans, seem to think there’s not so much of wildlife left because we seem to think we have eaten the natural habitat of this wildlife…

Actually, the wildlife is well and kicking. We still control about 11 per cent of the land mass of this country, thanks to our government. We have the most charismatic wildlife species anywhere in the world.

We have the big five that people are always talking about we have them here in Uganda and also have the big five which are elephants and lions so we have the big five plus the unique tool which is the mountain gorillas and chimpanzees. We have more than half the living mountain gorillas in the world. With 880 left in the wild, we have more than 450 of those on our side.

Your job is clearly cut out but what exactly are you doing? What is your strategic move in the next four years?

What I do at the wildlife authority actually is to guide the organisation in terms of vision and strategy and giving leadership to the team because we have strategic directions and always want to keep healthy eco-systems, healthy populations of our wildlife, make sure these resources generate economic benefit to our people especially communities around them.

We want to make sure the country gets economic benefit from this resource [and] most important that the heritage is preserved not only for Uganda but the whole world all future generations.

Some people may argue that doctors do not make good administrators. How do you find the turf of being an administrator at the highest level as opposed to what you were doing treating animals in the wild?

You need to know something to be able to lead it and my work in the jungles six years in Botswana working with all sorts of wildlife in incredible situations gave me the kind of grounding that I needed to be a good manager. I understand the situations, animals, habitats and the people who are out there in the bush because for a long period of six years, I used to be in the middle of nowhere.

Away from this important mission, who is Dr Andrew Seguya?

I was born to Mr Emmanuel Iga Kibazo. I think he was one of the first land surveyors in this country. If I remember, he graduated in 1954 and Ms Gertrude Nakiganda, who is still living that was 1965, April 26. I was born in Mbarara in a place called Kakoba. Actually we grew up in Mbarara.

I went to school in Kakoba demonstration school. I started a lot of activity with animals when I was with my father because I remember we did a lot of surveying, especially in the Kiruhura area and in Mbarara. All those plots that you see were actually cut off by my father. We also used to travel to Kabale where we used to also do surveying. So, I know a little bit about the ranches and the people and of course, having gone to school in Mbarara and having grown there, I definitely spoke Runyankore.

This is the point where you say hullo to the people listening to us from Mbarara in their language that they understand the most and remind them of the time you were in Kakoba as one of them…

Yeah, that was a long time ago. I still say ‘agandi’, still accept the greetings. I still love the people and the food. I still work very closely with them with Lake Mburo national park being there. Some of them remember my father very well.

At least when I talk to them, they consider me as their son they still remember me and identify with me and I really enjoyed that part of my life.

Your childhood… born in a place that spoke a different language from your heritage, did you ever feel part of them never minding your name being different from their own nomenclature? Did you ever feel any form of segregation?

Not at all. In my young mind I only understood that I was a Muganda when we were transferred to Buganda. When that happened, I went to my first school, Katikamu Kisule, a primary school near Wobulenzi.

I was then eight years and I realised I was now speaking my language with an accent. I was used to speaking Runyankore because, I mean, as children growing up and playing, those were people I socialised with. As my friends were taking cattle to graze, I followed them.

Do you remember some of your friends from your childhood days in Mbarara?

I actually remember a gentleman called ‘Sample’ but I don’t know where he is right now. Actually, when I look at that time, I see what has gone with our environment and wildlife because when we were in Kakoba demonstration school, River Rwizi was a actually a very serious river with rapids and everything and what I remember about ‘Sample’ is we had gone close to the banks to play.

‘Sample’ had a sister who stepped at the bank and the ground left and she fell in the river and that was the last we saw of the sister and the sad thing as a brother would do Sample jumped into the river to rescue the sister and that’s the last I saw of sample and he was this playmate of mine, someone I really loved and identified with and Sample has never left.

Of all the kids I used to play with, that name stayed with me and probably will forever. I still remember his face up to this time. But what would happen was just beyond the Rwizi the buffaloes would come close to the school and we would be sent home because of the invasion of the wildlife.

But I don’t think you can find any sort of wildlife anywhere in Mbarara. At that time, my father used to hunt, he had a rifle and we didn’t have to go very far from Kakoba and that time the government allowed [it] but we would drive a few kilometers and get what you want.

Plays Peter Cetera called glory of love

Describe to us what your home was like?

Yes, I have siblings. I have brothers and sisters. My father was what you would call polygamous. My mother stayed with him in Mbarara but we had other siblings so with my mother we were eight people at the time.

For someone who started work in 1954, I think he was not exactly poor. He was quite affluent. I think we were the only family that had a brand new car in Mbarara, who wore shoes to school. But he was a very humble man. Anybody who remembers Mr Kibazo, the surveyor in Mbarara, will tell you he was a very humble man.

From the way you speak, you are certainly your father’s son…

Yeah, that’s the judgment you can take. Some people, when I am chasing them for the ivory, they may have a different view. Or when I am fighting for the rights of my employer and my organisation and especially my staff one thing I really treasure are people I work with.

What position are you of the eight children your mother had with Mr Kibazo?

I was the second last. I was a different type of second last so between me and the next child, Marion, who is our last born, there actually were seven years. It is not like he was surveying there and that’s because there is a sibling we lost before they were born.

Something happened there which I don’t remember but my mother can best explain that. So, I was last born for seven years. Those that have never been last born that’s something that you need to explain because I could get away with anything but luckily enough that didn’t make me a spoilt brat.

I played my part, I went through school but it was a very loving religious family. My father was very catholic and religion kind of let him go away with it when he retired in 1981. He actually donated his last days to working with Kiyinda-Mityana diocese. Until his death in 2011, he was working with the estate.

So Cyprian Kizito Lwanga, who was bishop at some point, would know him very well. My father was a surveyor since 1954. If he had a spoon of this land, I would be owning land in Kololo because he is one of the people who demarcated Muyenga, Kololo and Mbuya

Fast forward, I would want to put it to you this is a quality obviously you admire about your father. Would your son say the same about you now?

He would without a doubt.

I want us to flash back to you going to school. You have told us you went to Kakoba demonstration school and moved together with your transferred family now to Wobulenzi where you now get into a different setting.

At this point in time, do you know what you want to be in life? Do you want to be a surveyor like your father?

No, absolutely not. When we were transferred, we went to live in Bukalasa Agriculture College. It is where the house of the land surveyor was and I actually admired educated people because being an agricultural college, there were definitely students there.

I want to say I wish those days would come back because if I look at the kind of meals they were having as a young boy coming out of school, I used to enter into the dinning because it was on my way so I would have the buttered bread and eggs. They had a basketball court, tennis, soccer so I admired education very early and I said to myself that I wanted to be like them, probably not an agriculturalist but I wanted to be educated because of the way they spoke and reasoned.

Katikamu Kisuule can’t be said to be a model school so I came out of that but that wasn’t the last school. I moved two more times in primary. My brother was in the army working in Masindi my father was a pan-Africanist who believed in knowing other people. So one day, he said, “You people, yes, we were in Mbarara now Buganda, go to Bunyoro.”

The guy cut us off and sent us to our brother and I joined Masindi barracks school and the man enrolled me there. Now I was living among soldiers and their sons. I remember our prefect was Ocaya, a very g and tough guy, and our teacher was Sergeant Paul Waswa. Now they run molly and mall that gentleman was a sergeant in the army.

He was my teacher and then from Masindi, my father said come back to Buganda. I did my P.7 at Kiswa primary school in Bugolobi. I must have been the best in Kampala district that’s when I finished my primary school.

Plays “I knew I loved you” by savage garden

Dr Seguya, here you are joining secondary school as one of the best- performing students from primary. Which school did you go to?

Actually, it is quite interesting what happens. My father was trained at St. Mary’s College, Kisubi. I think the problem that my father created for himself was taking me to an army school because I grew some kind of defiant nature. So my father comes and tells me “Andrew, here are the forms.

You’re going to St. Mary’s College, Kisubi. “I said to myself all people who went to St. Mary’s went to seminaries and became priests and I told myself I think I want more to life at some point. I thought it was all a plan to have me end up in a seminary that was next door. Because he wasn’t looking I put a different school, Jinja College.

I had never been to Jinja or known the school but I think it was the spirit of rebellion that I didn’t choose anything else. I tell you I spent four years in Busoga and do not regret. I lived close to the source of the Nile for four years. There are Ugandans in this country that have not been to the source of the Nile. And I became a head prefect there. It was a glorious time.

From there, where did you go to?

After doing a bit of exploration, I decided to come back to main-stream. I think I was one of the best [students] in Jinja when I did my O-level and I said to myself, “Now I need a place that will take me very far.”

Where is that destination that you had in mind? Had you at this point decide you would be a doctor or engineer?

Actually I decided in primary when I left Wobulenzi and got transferred to Kiyinda primary school that’s how I think my father got into Kiyinda diocese and its where I met a gentleman who was our neighbour. That gentleman was Dr Magembe and he was a vet and it was when I decided that I have to be a vet.

This was a guy who could do anything and I actually travelled with him in his Landrover somewhere. He was showed a dog [and] two days later the dog was fine. Another time a goat and I said to myself, “this guy is very clever.” The guy was dealing with a goat, cow, pig so I said to myself that I will be a vet.

Didn’t it bother you that sometimes this man eats his patients?

I didn’t look at it that way. I was pleasantly surprised when I was a vet that if you can’t treat it, eat it. Eventually it would come on the plate. That joke aside, when I finished my senior four, it is when I said to myself that I need to go to a school that will prepare me for bigger things and that’s how I joined Namilyango college.

Plays “Lonely is the night” by Billy Squier

Andrew, you go to Namilyango College and you pass tremendously. Where did you go to study veterinary medicine?

I actually joined Makerere University. I had been given at some point a bachelor in dental science and I didn’t feel like it was my place.

You were in Jinja College as an interesting focused young man and even in Namilyango, a single sex school, but of course there were some escapades. May you share with us especially your interaction with the fairer sex? How was your relationship with you family at this point in time?

Those days were very difficult because they were days of the war. I joined senior one in 1981 and we had just come out of the war and then immediately after the war that brought President Museveni [to power] started, Mityana, where my father was retired to, was now part of the Luweero triangle.

So I was one of the people that were cut away from family. I went to stay with my aunt in Seeta. She was called Mrs Mambule and I had an uncle in Kawempe called Mr Mayombwe. The good thing with the African setting, the child is raised by the village so I didn’t have to ask where I would go, I just packed my bag.

Most of the time I was in Kawempe because I had my cousins one of them is Mr William Kiganda who works in Uganda Revenue Authority and we used to read together and I think it was about that time when we were starting university that people like Charlie Lubega had his Soul disco. Then there are places like Calendar restaurant. There was a group called Ice disco somewhere in Kibuye. I used to like how they played their music, so we did all those things.

And at the university, how was it because here you were faced with unaltered freedom?

University was interesting. I had a demanding course but while in Namilyango, my father knocked again and said you’re going to Namilyango and I disappointed him again. At university, life was a different thing. I was given Livingstone and it made sense because it was close to the veterinary school. But I was put on two university lists one of the university hall and then Livingstone.

One time I walk and go to Livingstone and set myself, you know Namilyango gives you confidence, so I met the chairman, met the interior met the sports captain. I knew I had value. My number was number five. I was a defender and for the university I played for my hall for the five years and took the university cup twice. I was more of [former Manchester United captain] Nemanja Vidic.

At Livingstone, these guys didn’t see much in me and they told me you have been forgiven you will come when the time is ready. I told them I am from the Namilyango team and I do semi-professional football in so I said to myself how about I repeat my story at the University Hall. So same day I walk into University Hall and repeat myself. It was like a bonanza.

They took me to my room and said this is your room is yours the worst that can happen you will have one roommate for first year and the rest it was be yours alone. It was S9 I said to myself why would I ever go to Livingstone. And I think I went to the best university hall at the university. I did my education and sports and I excelled in both.

At what point do you meet your dear wife and make a family?

We were the last people to do five years before they reduced them to four. When I finished university I was employed by the same university to teach. So, I joined Makerere as a teaching assistant in 1991 and taught at Makerere for 10 years. In between in 1994 I met my wife at Church.

I used to go to both the Catholic church where I was an altar boy and went to Seventh Day Aentist church because my mother was a Seventh Day Aentist. So I had very action packed weekend. I met my wife at the seventh day Aentist church. She was the daughter of Dr Samweri Biraro. For some reason we both went to Australia for further studies. She was actually a nurse when I met her. She studied in Kenya in university.

It is our tradition on the desert island to ask a hypothetical question: if you were marooned on a Desert Island whowhat would you take with you if you were given a chance to carry one thing?

There’s one person that supports me. It is just amazing. I sometimes do not know what to wear or to mix and match it. She knows what I am going to wear. I will take my wife because my survival is right there.

Selects “My Inspiration” by Peter Cetera and says:

“You know exactly why I chose it.”

Source : The Observer

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