Prisons Boss Byabashaija Gets New Contract
But Who Is He And How Has He Kept The Job For 12 Years?
By John V Sserwaniko
Commissioner General of Prisons (CGP) Johnson Byabashaija (Vet Dr) has headed this vast institution now for 12 years (since May 2005) and a grateful President Museveni has just given him a new contract to remain in charge up to 2020. This will be his 5th term at the helm of Uganda Prisons Services. Because there is consensus he has performed well (ushering in numerous reforms over the years), the Rebecca Kadaga-led Appointments Committee of Parliament will unanimously approve his reappointment as CGP.
Byabashaija joined Uganda Prisons immediately after completing his Bachelors in Veterinary Medicine at Makerere in 1983. For unknown reasons, he never planned to strictly practice vet medicine. He aspired to join prisons having researched and established it was possible to practice his animal medicine from there.
This came to fruition, after his graduate studies in Glasgow Scotland, in 1986 when he was put in charge of livestock and poultry activities at the famous Kigo prison. In September 1986, Byabashaija who had just returned from Scotland, was made Deputy OC Kigo prison. He was also put in charge of prisons hatchery.
Poultry was serious business for Kigo prison and this made Byabashaija busy. He was the manager directly overseeing the production of poultry products, sales & marketing. This perhaps is how the highly shrewd businessman in him was born. The assignment also exposed him to many other opportunities including social capital, meeting new people every day and creating contacts.
Most importantly, he says, he was able to practice the animal medicine which he had studied for 5 years (1978-1982) at Mak Vet School. The Kigo hatchery he managed daily hatched thousands of chicks which would be sold as an income generating project for the prison. Buyers were mostly from the community in the Kigo neighborhood and beyond and these same people would come to the hatchery for benchmarking and to learn good poultry farming practices.
At some point, the Byabashaija-managed hatchery grew its capacity and daily produced 4,000 chicks and the in charge had to get market for all of them. One of the earliest occasions at which Byabashaija personally met the President, who got to know him personally and see his potential, was in 1990 during the annual agricultural fair in Jinja.
Prisons was one of the exhibiting entities and Museveni, who was struggling to teach his UPDF men entrepreneurship, was fascinated to see how far the prisons had gone. He came to the prisons stall where young Byabashaija (then in his 30s) impressed him with his eloquence and entrepreneurial mind.
The man from Rubabo in Rukungiri told Museveni they can do even much more if they get some logistical support to expand on what they were already doing. “I have given you better and bigger equipment,” Museveni instantly announced ordering his PPS to follow up to ensure the pledge is expeditiously delivered. This came in form of brand new Funky Incubators shipped from Denmark.
Museveni was later fascinated to find Byabashaija had actually a Masters Degree in Poultry Science from the University of Glasgow in Scotland (1984-1986). It was an unusual for someone highly educated to be attracted to prisons work that was poorly remunerated.
It took high levels of patriotism for one to do that, Museveni said to himself. He had just taken government and was desperate for the educated young people to work with in crystallizing his transformation vision for Uganda. Byabashaija did the Glasgow training on a British Council Scholarship which he got months after graduation at Makerere where Prof Elly Katunguka, Mondo Kagonyera and others were his lecturers.
After graduation, he stayed in Scotland for another 3 months for practical hatchery management training and his hands-on approach was at display during the Agricultural Show at Jinja where he impressed Museveni. He joined prisons at a time Ibanda was the CGP.
In the subsequent years came long serving Joseph Etima from whom Byabashaija took over as CGP. Byabashaija, whose master’s thesis was on hatching and incubation, was to run the Kigo hatchery for many more years. By the time he left, production capacity had grown to 20,000 chicks per week.
His Kigo Prisons hatchery at some point qualified, through competitive bidding, to get the deal to supply big entities like UDB but the deal was cancelled at the last minute on grounds procurement procedures hadn’t been properly followed. Byabashaija started to become frustrated with this unnecessary bureaucracy which he saw as creating inefficiencies.
So in 2000 he felt he had done his part managing the prisons hatchery and he quit that responsibility. As he sought results, Byabashaija always overlooked many procurement procedures governing government entities. To him the end always justified the means and he was always willing to defend himself giving justifications for non compliance whenever auditors raised questions regarding why the right thing was being done without following procedures.
ROLE IN LC SYSTEM
The many years he served at Kigo prison exposed Byabashaija to opportunities around him in the Kigo neighborhood. An influential Kabaka advisor Edward Nsubuga (owned Ranch on the Lake) was among those young Byabashaija regularly interacted with. Actually Nsubuga had a ranch on the land currently housing Victoria Serena and Byabashaija was his vet doctor.
They always interacted and it was during one of those casual discussions that Nsubuga dared him to consider buying land in the area so that beyond residing in prisons premises, he has something he personally owns. “Up to this day I’m still surprised by his insight and far sightedness.
He kept saying this place will change some day and there will be a bypass road,” Byabashaija reminisces the frequent fatherly advice he got from Mzee Nsubuga (RIP).
Byabashaija took the advice. He saved until he got Shs200,000 (equaling his 4 months’ salary then) which he used to buy the initial ½ acre Kibanja (mere plot without title). “That place was then a wasteland and leopards walked around freely and many times strayed into my prisons residence. We had an LC1 chairman for the area but who also never stayed there because it was bushy and risky for human habitation,” recalls Byabashaija who isn’t shy to admit the more 10 acres in that same Kigo area today.
He used the LC1 chairman to always identify good plots for sale. After buying from Bibanja owners, he went to Buganda Land Board in Mengo and regularized his tenancy by taking a 49 year lease. “The place has now changed so much that if I were to sell my 10 acres plus I would be an instant billionaire,” Byabashaija said in an interview.
After constructing his house, he relocated from the prisons house to his own. It was then that he became a poultry farmer falling back on the experience and contacts accumulated during the 14 years he managed the prisons hatchery in Kigo prisons. Because of the nearby Victoria Serena, Mirembe Villas, the Entebbe Express High Way and other great developments taking place, this Kigo area is now a very prime residential area.
Indeed many great people (including Quality Supermarkets owner) have bought properties on the hills surrounding Byabashaija’s residence. As early as 1988, amiable Byabashaija had built enough social capital with which he eventually stood for LC and was elected chairman, a position he held for many years until he abdicated.
This was for Kigo Lunya village in Mutungo parish (LC2) where he served as information secretary. “I really know that place by my palm because I was among the very pioneer residents and I have seen it grow from scratch to the great residential neighborhood it is today,” Byabashaija says while reflecting on the modern Golf Course Serena has built in the valley outside his swanky residence.
He isn’t only a resident in Kigo-Lunya. He is an entrepreneur who has created jobs for many others. Making use of the vast land he owns in the area, Byabashaija (who is also constructing a big residential apartment on the hill opposite Victoria Serena) is a big time poultry farmer.
His farm is on the road going to Ziranumbu hill just opposite his residence. Having left broilers and layers business for his less wealthy neighbors, Byabashaija is now into poultry breeding and his farm currently has over 11,000 birds. That he spends Shs11m on power per month says a lot about the vastness of his breeding operations. His breeding capacity is 15,000 birds per week.
He says currently his operations are low as he is still recovering from the slump that came with election period. In a good season Byabashaija can reap millions in poultry exportations to Rwanda, DRC and other regional destinations. Currently his market is mostly poultry farmers from Kajjansi and nearby areas.
To these he daily sells one day old chicks. The business is managed by his wife (General Manager), son who handles the IT aspects and young brother who does marketing and sales. In total he has 24 employees there. He is also into fish farming though his ponds have lately been affected by the ongoing road works by CCCC and nearby Victoria Serena.
Gratefully he has so far been compensated for lost business. Even when he trusts his wife, son and brother, Byabashaija every day returns home late but can’t sleep without inspecting his farm.
Having been born in September 1957, Byabashaija will be 60 September this year. He is the 1st born in a family of 7 siblings. His staunch protestant parents were both primary school teachers and prioritized education of their children. Except those who died, all Byabashaija’s siblings are professional people doing very well in their respective trades.
Actually one of them is a doctor and is into satellites and drones business. Byabashija’s first time in Kampala was 1973 during his S2 Geography trip to Entebbe Botanical Gardens. He grew up as a very tiny naughty Mukiga boy and recalls some of his hilarious acts at Makerere College School where he did PCB/M. He is famously remembered for standing up to bullies who always switched off power to prevent colleagues from revising in the dormitory after preps. Gen Mugisha Muntu was his contemporary at MACOS and deputy head prefect.
Being a tiny noisy boy, Byabashaija always kept an empty soda bottle which he used as a shield in case anybody attacked him in the dormitory. He one time hit a bully with it and the boy collapsed prompting Byabashaija to flee the school and went to stay with his uncle who was a lecturer at nearby Makerere University.
He says he chose MACOS “because it was a sure deal to join Makerere because of the proximity”. Indeed having performed well, he qualified for Vet Medicine at Mak and resided in Mitchell Hall where Besigye, Benon Biraaro and Sejjusa were his contemporaries. His other OBs include Rwanda Justice Minister Tarsis Karugarama, Dr. Beingana and others.
Byabashaija, who joined Makerere in 1978, was social and active in Sports at Mitchell hall though he also spent adequate time in the library because Vet was a hard course. At Mitchell, his assertiveness as a fresher prompted others to choose him chief morale booster for the hall. This meant he always had to make noise and entertain others during social gatherings.
He was among the UPC youth wingers at campus. His parents were apolitical but grandfather was famous UPC man in Rubabo. So in 1980-81, he joined GRC representing Mitchell and was part of the UPC powerful clique that forced Guild President Opio Oloya to resign. Saying the UPCs wanted him dead, Oloya fled to Canada and a UPC person was made Guild.
“Yes we participated in that but my moderate approach to things saved many NRA collaborators at Makerere; people like my good friend Gen Muntu but most vividly I remember hiding Benon Biraaro for such a long time otherwise the UPC functionaries wanted him dead,” Byabashaija says when asked if he regrets the brutal UPC actions those days. “It was my party then as a young man and I consciously joined it. Why do you want me to apologize when I personally didn’t wrong anyone?”
Before joining MACOS, Byabashaija studied at Mutolere SSS in Kisoro (1971-1975) where IGP Gen Kale Kayihura was a year ahead of him. He did his PLE at Nyakishenyi P/S (1971) and has PGD in Project Management from UMI. He also has many other qualifications emanating from the short courses he has undertaken.
He has also spoken at many international conferences in South Africa, Vienna Austria, Thailand, New York, Romania & Dakar Senegal. Towards the end of the interview, I ask the father of 4 children whether he has ever acted brutally beating up a prisoner.
“Not really but I have kicked him once. I was still the Kigo OC and someone tried to escape. I kicked him badly and up to this day I feel bad when I remember what I did to him.” Byabashaija has generously invested in his children’s education: the oldest son (26 years) graduated in ICT at Aptech, the daughter (21 years) is a 2nd year law student at Coventry University and his youngest girl Doreen is in S3 at Kings College Budo. The other child is a 1st year reading Architecture in the Canadian University of Minnesota. Byabashaija is also a staunch Christian and a strong pillar for St. Johns COU in Kigo-Lunya.
In Rukungiri he is a lay Canon under Emmanuel Cathedral Kinyasano having been commissioned by Archbishop Ntagali in 2016. In his free time, he enjoys being at his farm, Rotary meetings, football, cricket and golf.