Updated by Faith Barbara Namagembe at 1910 EAT on Wednesday 22nd March 2023.
In her autobiography scheduled to be released tomorrow, NNAABAGEREKA SYLVIA NAGGINDA LUSWATA candidly takes readers through her childhood, life in the United States, hopes and fears of marrying into the Buganda Kingdom royal family as well as raising a blended family with the Kabaka.
As Samuel Muhindowrites, Nagginda discusses the role of ‘obuntubulamu’ (Ubuntu/humanity) as a human capital asset. Nagginda assumed the role of Nnaabagereka approximately three decades after her predecessor.
In those decades, the kingdom had transitioned through a tumultuous period, including the attack on Mengo palace by Apollo Milton Obote in 1966, his abolition of kingdoms in Uganda and exiling of Kabaka Fredrick Mutesa II to the United Kingdom where he died in 1969.
Growing up, Nagginda spent the better part of her life at the residence of Nelson Ssebugwawo – her paternal grandparents – in Nkumba. She had been brought to Uganda as a five-month-old baby after her birth in the United Kingdom, born to Rebecca Musoke and John Luswata on November 9, 1962.
The young parents had contemplated handing the child over for adoption or sending the baby to Uganda. They settled for the latter. Ssebugwawo, her paternal grandfather, whom she called taata for years, was a treasurer of the Buganda Kingdom. In Nkumba, Nagginda was a darling.
She reminisces several incidents when grandmother Catherine Ssebugwawo reprimanded her for climbing trees, involving herself in manly conversations like Formula One with the boys in the household, and using her teeth to open soda bottles as the designated bottle opener among her friends.
On her first visit to her maternal grandparents, Nagginda recognized that the electricity and TV set, which seemed normal at Nkumba, were luxuries at the new home. Her grandmother Catherine complained about her poor shape when she returned from her maternal grandparents, due to the poor diet and poor conditions of living.
In her earlier days, Nagginda writes, she received two prophetic foreshadows pointing towards her possible ascension to royalty even when born among non-royals. The first one was made by family herdsman Bijiji and another from Professor Abukuse Mbirika.
Bijiji was employed by the Ssebugwawos to look after their cattle. Nagginda credits Bijiji for teaching her how to milk and look after cows. But when drunk, Bijiji was always at loggerheads with Nagginda. Inebriated, he would refer to her as ‘Muk’embuga Nakindazi’ a name she didn’t like at the time.
In hindsight, Nagginda recognises that Bijiji’s taunts could have been an indication of something bigger, as muk’embuga loosely means royal bride. In the late 80s, Nagginda left Uganda for the United States of America to join her mother.
It is during this time that she met Abukuse Mbirika, a Kenyan professor, who had earlier visited Uganda. He bought a book which chronicled the Buganda culture. Abukuse used to refer to Nagginda as omumbejja (princess). Abukuse’s innocent remarks were inspired by Nagginda’s demeanour of a perfect Muganda princess that his book had described.
Both men were not wrong, for Nagginda walked down the aisle with Ronnie, as she refers to Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II, on August 27, 1999. When Nagginda married the Kabaka, he already had three children, Kiwewa Junju, Joan Nassolo and Victoria Nkinzi.
“They have been a blessing in my life. Suffice it to say, I thought Ronnie had one child, our son Junju. He never mentioned the other kids until our last London visit a few months before the wedding. So, I asked, Ronnie, how many children do you really have? ‘Three’, he said. ‘Three? I quizzed. ‘Yes’, he replied, ‘but most people don’t know the other two – they’re girls’.
I was quiet for a few minutes, hoping he would say he was just kidding. He didn’t. He wasn’t kidding. That rattled me for a bit, although I never mentioned it to him. I thought to myself, how am I going to raise three stepchildren, moreover from three different women?
I ruminated on this over several months. At some point, and I am not sure exactly when, the issue became inconsequential
to my decision to proceed with our relationship. My first order of business was to try as best as I could to connect with them,” she writes in the book.
Even when Nagginda’s eyes were set on bonding with the trio, the early days were not rosy. She had come in with rules that
the children did not quite welcome. From this, Junju said he learnt how to negotiate, and not make demands.
“I knew that she loved me and didn’t want to quash my desires,” he says in the autobiography.
Two years later, Nagginda delivered Sarah Katrina Sangalyambogo, who was followed by a set of twins, Jade Nakato and Jasmine Babirye, born on December 6, 2010, at Kampala Women’s International hospital. She passionately talks about her twins, who she says are happy and passionate about people.
The Nnaabagereka also recognizes her stepson Richard Semakookiro, who is younger than the twins.
“He is growing up alongside his cousin brother, Grace Nsubuga. The two are smart and inseparable, with lots of energy, as boys will always be boys. They love cartoons, gadgets and cars.”
Nnaabagereka highlights her struggles with saboteurs, who at some point told the Kabaka that her Nnaabageereka Development Foundation was competing with the Kabaka’s work; her struggles with protocol and security; the need to establish a balance between her private and public lives.
She credits the tested knowledge of Buganda experts, who became her walking stick. The choice of witty Luganda proverbs and chapter titles translated into English describes the 21st-century B(Uganda)n reader. As the Nnaabagereka of Buganda,
Nagginda envisages a future Buganda where her descendants can freely articulate themselves both in English and Luganda.
The book is a bowel of opportunity and optimism for a reader to enjoy the age-old history of Buganda and her queen.