Why Semei Kakungulu is my role model

The three essential elements of leadership, according to Fushan Yuan (one of the Zen masters), are humanity, clarity and courage.

My reflections on the life of the rarely exalted Ugandan statesman, Semei Kakungulu, indicate that he espoused the three essentials of leadership.

On the other hand, if one looks closely at the names and motivations of the culture of parliamentarians and ministers in Uganda, one finds not only a glaring absence of these three essential elements, but also a disturbing inability for most to withdraw on oneself. I strongly believe that successful leaders focus their attention inward to find a sense of calm and peace that draws others to them.

Kakungulu didn’t have the powerful v8 SUVs that modern leaders demand to simply zip around the country changing nothing but leaving nothing but a trail of dust behind. With his unparalleled clarity and courage, he not only conquered eastern Uganda for the British, but also planted cashews and the towering milicia exclesa (mivula) trees in striking symmetry.

Kakungulu’s legacy also included the countless feeder roads he built in order to connect the new administrative units of Eastern Province.

What is even more impressive is that Kakungulu did not have the minimum of an advanced level certificate to have such clarity of the impact of his trees more than 75 years later on the environment and the economy. when they were felled for wood. To the extent that some ideologues, like Yoga Adhola, remember him as a ruthless mercenary whom the British used to impose colonialism in eastern Uganda, I draw inspiration from his tireless role as an environmentalist and administrator.

President Museveni, while speaking on the day the late Jacob Oulanya was hastily replaced as Speaker of the 11th Parliament, joked about how some parliamentarians had become fugitives due to incessant financial demands from voters. While that remark came more as comic relief to many, it underscored the fundamental lack of clarity as most MPs do what government is supposed to do for taxpayers. Most leaders are fascinated by the misconception that money is the solution to the many problems facing Ugandans.

Therefore, we are all going to throw money in envelopes at any problem hoping against hope that it will transform people’s lives. It is an obvious lack of lucidity, courage and humanity. But what exactly are these three essential elements of leadership from the Zen lessons, and why are they crucial to leadership development today?

According to Master Fushan, “One with clarity follows proper behavior and right duty, recognizes what is safe and what is dangerous, examines people to see if they are wise or foolish, and distinguishes right from wrong. The brave, on the contrary, go to the end of things, no doubt settle them, they get rid of everything that is wrong or false.

I believe that understanding the drivers of the high levels of apathy and powerlessness that have become so prevalent in Uganda today would provide much needed clarity.

To undertake to remove these obstacles to social transformation with courage and humanity is what the country urgently needs. But it takes humility, self-awareness and empathy from those in leadership positions.

So if Kakungulu has done a lot for this country without fuel cards and other tools, why do our leaders have to watch the roads become impassable? Do we sit and watch the hospitals rot and promote death? Should all schools that were centers of excellence end up in obscurity? How long can we afford to watch NRM development models from “Entandikwa” to the most recent Parish Development Model (PDM) fail miserably to change reality for the majority in this country? Do we no longer have patriotic fire in our bellies to at least see that the PDM makes the difference despite our political affiliations?

Mrs. Joan Acom Alobo is the female deputy of the city of Soroti

Rebecca R. Santistevan