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I defend rebels

By Joan Akello

Caleb Alaka, 38, the sought after lawyer talked to Joan Akello about his life and clients

Any three things we don’t know about you?

My father was a banker but later became a Reverend. I have a knack for tackling very challenging issues. I’ve had very scary clients like Kato Kajubi, army officers, Winnie Byanyima when she fell out with government, Dr.Kizza Besigye in two presidential petitions, Norbert Mao, Erias Lukwago, and the 2010 terror suspects.  I wanted to be a dramatist as a kid but decided I wanted to be a lawyer when our headmaster said only a boy called Sabiiti could apply for law. I felt insulted as a literature student. Sabiiti became a teacher.

What about your love life?

There was a time I was handling election appeals for Hon. Kassiano Wadri, Beti Amongi, and won them all but the media concentrated on my love life. It was like a crime to date Jackie Chandiru. Relationships are very complicated; they are on and off.

Weren’t your children affected?

No; I engage and teach them to respect, be responsible,and succeed in my absence.

What does Alaka mean?

It’s an elephant grass -like shrub that is used for thatching the roof or as a torch when women are collecting white ants. I was named after my great-great-grandfather. I was told he was courageous.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

It starts with you; learn to live within your means.  Money is a visitor.

When were you happiest?

In 2008 when my two little sisters who I’ve looked after from when I was 13 years graduated and in 2002 when I won my first case, a murder case in Court of Appeal.

What is your greatest fear?


What trait do you most deplore in yourself?

I do a lot of self-appraisal and self-criticism whenever I lose a case or fail.

What trait do you most deplore in others?

Dishonesty; lies hurt.

Lawyers are said to be lairs!

Many are not brave enough to state how much they want but instead say a judge wants money which they know they will not hand over.

What is your greatest extravagance?

If you love a woman, you do your best; it’s not being extravagant. I bought a Land Cruiser and gave it to a woman.

What is the quality you most like in a man?

Honest. My allegiance is to myself and country; I relate to people because of honesty, not tribe.

What is the quality you most like in a woman?

Intelligent, good hearted.

Who is the greatest love of your life?

Titi my daughter. She looks like my late mum; very intelligent and, my sister Joyce Alaka.

What are your greatest achievements?

Built my first house in Kampala at age 24, worked with other lawyers like A.F. Mpanga, and handled ground-breaking peace agreements with the UNLF II rebels who killed NusuraTiperu’s father. They were over 2,000 who handed over their guns and West Nile became peaceful. In 2008 when I met Joseph Kony in Garamba, I told him, you’re never going to defeat Museveni and he was so bitter and asked me can Museveni defeat me? I said no, so either you sign this agreement or don’t think of ever coming to Uganda. I give credit to the government and the UPDF but feel I directly played a big role in bringing peace. I’ve handled big constitutional petitions and been involved in cases which finally opened multiparty democracy and contributed to jurisprudence, good governance.

How did you meet Kony?

I received calls and told military intelligence that the LRA rebels want me to be their lawyer. The first time I met Kony, I was scared; he can laugh until he tears and then looks at you with eyes penetrating through you. He’s very enigmatic. I consoled myself that it’s him who needs me; so he can’t kill me.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Being pinned for somebody else’s’ mistakes. It happened to me when Law Council suspended me for allegedly filing an election petition in the wrong court. I had not filed that case and they did not hear my side.

Who are your favorite writers?

I’ve read widely. Ngũgĩwa Thiong’o especially Petals of Blood, Devil on the Cross, Robin Sharma’s The monk who sold his Ferrari– my favourite. It is about a lawyer who learnt that life is not about winning cases though for me it is.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Idi Amin; apart from his brutality, and failure to respect the right to life, he had a good wish for the local people. Even Museveni admits some of his positives.

Who are your heroes in real life?

Robert Kyaligonza the owner of Namirembe Hillside and Amooti Kaawa, the owner of Progressive SSS Bweyogerere; they are the pioneers of private secondary education. Museveni has had a big impact in Uganda and is trying to be nationalist to leave a legacy. It may be too late.

Which living person do you most admire?

Phillip Karugaba, Chief Justice Bart Katureebe who has been very consistent, left a successful law firm to save the judiciary and Justice Steven Kavuma; the criticisms against him are a bit unjust.  He, Justices Augustine Nshimye and Remmy Kasule sustained the Court of Appeal for two years.

What’s your philosophy about life?

Live life now and take life simple, everything which is happening has happened. Museveni, used to criticize Obote for amending the UPC constitution, has he not changed that of NRM to lock out Amama Mbabazi?

How do you want to be remembered?

As a man who was controversial, defended rebels, loved, practiced the law, and represented the most feared clients.

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