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Rwakafuzi: free justice for the poor

Ladislaus Kiiza Rwakafuzi is a human rights advocate. For more than 25 years he has provided free services to the needy whose rights have been abused. Beneficiaries include victims of the September 2009 Buganda riots victims, suspects in the murder of Muslim clerics, and others.

But the 54-year says he is not proud of the practice of law in Uganda. He says it is largely for financial gain rather than pursuit of justice.

“The kind of law we practice is trading the skills and there is nothing we are seeking to achieve as we want to win cases at any cost”.

He aspires to be different and most of his clients often see him as the only resort because of his willingness to confront centrifugal political forces armed only with the law and a fierce belief in pursuit of justice.

He is also a publisher of law reports; something he started to earn an extra buck while in his third year studying law at Makerere University in Kampala.

But Rwakafuzi started out wanting to be a Catholic priest not a lawyer. It started when he was at Muduuma Primary School along Mityana road and one of his teachers, Bakulungero who was an ex-brother, told he had the unique character common to priests. He was a bright pupil and the same teacher often rewarded him with portraits of Pope Paul VI that made him more attracted to the Catholic clergy.

Upon completion of primary seven, Rwakafuzi joined Nyenga Seminary for senior one. After only a year, Rwakafuzi applied to join Katogondo Major Seminary where he completed senior four. He did not complete HSC there because he was expelled for engaging in politics.

“We had political differences between DP and CP yet I didn’t like people being divided over small things, so I decided to join CP in 1981 as a way of diffusing tension,” says Rwakafuzi.

The rector cautioned told him that priesthood calls for serving everyone regardless of their politics.  He joined neighboring St. Henry’s College Kitovu to study sciences but switched to arts.

“I realised that I would do better with law and make a contribution to society through defending human rights,” he says.

He still had his dream to become a catholic priest after completion of his degree at the Makerere University law school. But this was cut short when he fell in love with a high school mate.

“I realised that I could not go back to the seminary because I was no longer worth it,” he says.

But this relationship failed after two years and Rwakafuzi recalled a young girl whom his parents had arranged for him to marry when he was in Senior Five. She was in primary five then. He decided to go back to her. Ruth had studied to senior three, was still small and shy but he persuaded her into starting a family together.

“We started staying together upon acceptance of her parents and had two boys,” he says. The union is still standing 26 years later and according to Rwakafuzi, it is based on humility “because with it one can forgive and ask to be forgiven”. Ruth resumed school and has a Master’s Degree. They have four children; two girls and two boys.

Rwakafuzi has also dabbled in politics. At university he was elected guild representative for his Northcote Hall. Later he was appointed to organise guild elections for 1986/7 and immediately introduced major changes. For the first time, results were announced and declared at each polling station as opposed to one central station. Sadly, the Northcote candidate lost and angry students pushed him out of the hall to a disused room outside. He completed the law course in 1990; the same year he opened his law firm.

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