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It is hard to be happy as a judge

By Joan Akello

Justice Bart Magunda Katureebe of the Supreme Court talked to Joan Akello about his legal and political life.

Any three things we don’t know about?

I ’m a very private person; a family man with a wife, six children and 9 grandchildren and; I’ve met two living saints Pope Paul II and Mother Theresa who I met on a plane. Her convent later contacted me to help her fix an appointment to meet Cardinal Nsubuga (the Late) which I gladly did.

How does it feel being the most senior judge?

It is extra responsibility. The constitution says that in the absence of the Chief Justice, the most senior judge has to chair the sitting of the court. But the most senior judge is responsible for day to day management of the court without real administrative power. That is for the chief justice.


What is your idea of perfect happiness?

It doesn’t exist but if you have a happy family, have no problems with the public.

Are you happy as a judge?

It is hard to be happy as a judge because the pay is little and difficult to please the court of public opinion.

What is your greatest fear?

Finding myself in controversy like bribery allegations.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

Some people say I’m too humble that’s why some may take advantage of me.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Dishonesty.

What is your greatest extravagance?

First of all, I don’t have that much money to spend but I think I spent extravagantly on my children’s weddings.

What is your current state of mind?

Stable, happy and composed.

On what occasion do you lie?

There is no room to lie in my line of work. But sometimes in order to protect a greater good like family or state secrets. Even court may hear cases in camera.

What do you most dislike about your appearance?

My weight.

What is the quality you most like in a man?

Being himself, easy to get along with, straightforward, kind and not arrogant.

What is the quality you most like in a woman?

Truthful, can live within your means as a wife or girlfriend and, natural.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?

Bernadette; my girlfriend for over 40 years.

When and where were you happiest?

When I married my girlfriend on April 16, 1977.

Which talent would you most like to have?

Writing, I have been trying to write a book since January.

If you could change one thing, what would it be?

I would ask God to make me more forceful and aggressive.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

I’ve educated all my children and seen five of them marry. I’ve served in all three arms of government as Attorney General, Supreme Court judge, elected delegate in the Constituent Assembly, minister and Member of Parliament for a total of 13 years. As a private practitioner, I got a mention in Chambers Global: The World’s leading Lawyers for Business 2004-2005.

What is your most treasured possession?

My wedding ring.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Losing a loved one, my father’s death was my lowest. My mother died 16 years after dad aged 97.

What is your favorite occupation?

Outside Court, it’s farming.

What is your most marked characteristic?

Happy and satisfied with what God has given me in terms of family, positions and wealth.

Who are your favorite writers?

Shakespeare, John Grisham, and Arthur Hailey; especially his books – Hotel, The final Diagnosis, and Airport.

Who is your hero of fiction?

Cordelia in Shakespeare’s King Lear. I named my first daughter Cordelia.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Mahatma Gandhi; his non-violent but very effective way of protest in India is admirable. A lot of things done in violence could be achieved peacefully.

Who are your heroes in real life?

My parents. Father never went to school, worked as a house keeper for the Catholic priests for over 40 years at our local parish but he made sure the six of us went to school.

Which living person do you most admire?

Bernard Onyango, Makerere University Academic Registrar until he passed on last year. In 1971, I didn’t want to study law at Dar-es-salaam because of the politics at the time and love. The first official I approached at Makerere was rude. But when I explained my case to Onyango, he signed my admission forms. He taught me how to handle people in those ten minutes I spent in his office.

What is your greatest regret?

Having found myself in politics, it put me in the limelight but it also gave me the opportunity to serve my country.

How would you like to die?

A Runyankole proverb says Ndifa gye ogishanga aha munwa gw’ekiina, loosely meaning that you can never know that you’ll die well. That can only be known when you reach the edge of the grave.  But dying in your old age without anybody cursing you is dying well.

What is your philosophy as a judge?

Impartiality is the life of Justice as William Pann stated. I have met Pope Paul, Mother Theresa, Saddam Hussein and Bill Clinton. If these were all to appear before me, they would still be entitled to the same weight of justice.

What is your motto?

Never do tomorrow what you can do today.

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