By Dr. Martin Lwanga
On Wednesday, I was invited speak on behalf of the Old Budonians during the memorial service in Namirembe about the late Hon Peter Nyombi. I knew him in many different capacities – as a brother in Christ and family lawyer. My late father assigned him to read to us his last will in his chambers and expertly guided us at that difficult hour.
Not many years ago I used to meet with Peter almost every week for Bible study. One evening in our small fellowship meetings Peter alerted us he had decided to join politics and stand for parliament. Most Christians in Uganda are wary of politics, considered a dirty game. We prayed for him but I recall a certain disquiet among us all. Anyway he stood and lost. Then many of us felt he should just give up politics which we feared might compromise his faith.
Occasionally on a lazy afternoon I would drop by his law chambers to check on some legal work he was doing for me. We often spent hours chatting about life and would once in a while be joined by his class mate at Budo, Sam Mayanja, who had his chambers also in Udyam House, before moving on to become a founding partner in Kampala Associates.
As he waded through the tough political terrain Peter would share with us some intriguing stories. He was running against a rather crude guy who would do anything to stop him. “They will rig and cheat without shame!” Inwardly I kept wondering what he was doing there.
But Peter was a fighter. Against all concerns he stood again. Finally he won and went to serve his constituency for two terms. Peter would later be appointed Attorney General of the Republic of Uganda.
Now Peters life in public would raise many ire’s and drew nervous concerns to many of his old friends, this writer included. After he became the government chief legal counsel he often defended some government policies many were at pains to believe. So controversial were his stance that his peers in the Uganda Law Society at one point decided to suspend him. I considered that sad for a man of his particular standing.
Often as I sat in my living room watching him on TV presenting the government position that among others were bent on handing Uganda a life- presidency, I would wonder if this is the Peter I had once known. One day I expressed my disquiet with a friend. “Now you are seeing the real Peter!” this friend warned me. I still held out hope.
Late one evening at a kwanjula my phone alerted me with a message that there was a cabinet reshuffle. I waited. The list finally came out. Peter had been dropped and not even assigned the usual landing ground of Senior Presidential Advisor!
I was naturally concerned for him given his strong backing for a government that had left him alienated from many of his friends. By then we were no longer meeting. I was not even sure if his law firm was still in operation.
What I would later discover was that when he was dropped, rather crudely, and I guess in the usual way of things here without warning, he simply handed back government property without protest. Then, quietly returned to his law chambers. He never stood up to cry foul. I know he must have been hurt, given all he had given to a government he had so staunchly supported and had cost him his reputation among his peers. But he did not make it a subject.
Then one day, late in the evening, I bumped into Peter at Nakasero hospital where I had a patient. I naturally asked him what he was doing around such a bad place of the sick. He told me he had just battled cancer, quite successfully, and now he had a disturbing case of diabetes which almost took his sight. There was a certain brotherly calmness though around him so unlike the recalcitrant image I had got used to seeing of him on TV. More, his faith in Christ was very much alive.
Out of the limelight he was back to his old life, and was now a regular at a Friday fellowship meeting at Namirembe that can be traced to Simeon Nsibambi, the father of the revival Bakole movement in Uganda. I met him again around Christmas of last year, with his extended family and, as in the old, we talked about life, gently and of our common faith in Christ.
Some in the public in Uganda have been particularly hard on this man, even in death, failing to realize how complex life is. There is an old movie which I keep, called Schindler’s List. It’s about a character of that name who was close to the brutal Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich government and of which his business enterprise prospered. He would later be accused of being a war criminal. But what many did not realize was how Schindler used his access to the corridors of power to save thousands of Jews, whom he employed at his ammunition factory. His true story would be told long after he had gone.
I wish my friend Peter had lived longer to give a more clearer account of the decisions that drew so much controversy which he championed. But in the end it didn’t matter. He is now with the Lord whom he accepted as his personal savior back in 1980 as a young man of 26.
In the end that was the real Peter Nyombi. He is being laid to rest today October 11th near his father whom he only buried last year. Gakyali Mabaga ( “So little done! So much to do!)
Martin M. Lwanga is Dean and Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Business & Administration at Uganda Christian University