Kabaka proposed to me via email, Nnaabagereka reveals in memoirs
- Written by Denis Jjuuko
In her soon-to-be released autobiography on March 23, NNAABAGEREKA SYLVIA NAGGINDA candidly takes readers through her childhood, how she met the Kabaka, her hopes and fears on marrying into the monarchy as well as the joy of their twins. She also saliently delves deep into the role of the Nnaabagereka as well as her charity efforts to mentor young persons, writes Dennis Jjuuko.
Sylvia Nagginda Luswata, like most women, expected a marriage proposal like no other. Perhaps on the Riviera or in some other exotic place. After all, she was dating Uganda's most eligible bachelor at the time, Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi, only to be extremely surprised.
As Nagginda was going through her emails in late 1998, she saw one from the Kabaka. Being on different continents and in the pre- WhatsApp era, email had become one of the couple’s most common means of communication. And in the email, the Kabaka simply wrote: “Dear Sylvia, I think I am ready if you are.” Like that! Nagginda doesn’t remember her exact response, but she said yes. That response changed her life story and made her one of the most recognizable faces in Uganda today.
But the email didn’t come out of the blue. Sometime in 1990, Nagginda’s friend Dr William Kalema, a close friend of Kabaka Mutebi, told her of a prince whom she needed to meet. But Dr Kalema made the mistake of asking her to send him her photos so he could forward them to the prince. She thought it was inappropriate. A year later or so, her aunt current government minister Joyce Ssebugwawo, who was visiting her in New York told her about the same prince.
Dr Kalema and Ssebugwawo hadn't talked about it together. But still, she concentrated on her work and didn't think much about a man she had never met. Then, in 1993, Nagginda decided to take a break in New York and reconnect with her roots in Uganda.
She wanted to check out the country and see if she could relocate. She had always wanted to find a way to contribute to the development of her country of origin. She was friends with Barbara Mulwana and had met the late, industrious business mogul James Mulwana at Barbara’s graduation in America.
James Mulwana gave her a consulting contract for six months to be part of the team organizing the first Uganda Manufacturers Association trade fair. James Mulwana was a close associate of the Kabaka. At the Kabaka Mutebi coronation at Naggalabi in Buddo, Nagginda attended the event along with the Mulwanas, but given the mammoth crowd that descended on that hill, the Kabaka was perhaps too busy with the tonnes of bark cloth and animal skins to notice her presence.
The opportunity would come a day later. Kampala businessman Gordon Wavamunno organized what I would call a post-coronation party at his exquisite mansion in Munyonyo. Naturally, the Mulwanas were invited. Nagginda tagged along again. All guests lined up to welcome the newly-crowned 36th Kabaka of Buganda. He shook hands with everyone, including Nagginda.
A day later, Kabaka Mutebi sent his friend Dr Kalema a message saying that he had seen “Sylvia at the party.” And then the Prof Ssetenza Kajubi family also had an after-coronation party. The Kajubis are also friends with Nagginda. This time she went with the Kajubis to the Kabaka’s residence in Kololo, where she joined his convoy to the party. At the party, they kept eyeing each other but couldn’t talk. Mutebi again sent Dr Kalema a message about her.
That second encounter wasn’t in vain. They started talking afterwards until after Nagginda decided that it was time to go back to America. And then they lost contact. She even heard that the Kabaka was dating somebody else.
But it seems the Kabaka’s heart was still ‘beating for her.’ In 1998, her friend, Sam Kyewalabye, who is a cousin of the Kabaka, told her that the Kabaka was looking for her and wondered whether he should give him her telephone number. She didn’t have any objections, though she believes he had already passed it on.
As a Muganda, she didn’t think he would not pass on a telephone number if the Kabaka asked. And he immediately called, and they rekindled their love affair, culminating in the famous wedding of the century in August, 1999.
Nagginda reveals this in her yet-to-be released autobiography titled The Nnaabagereka. This is most likely the second book authored by a prominent member of the Buganda royal family since her late father-in- law, Ssekabaka Edward Muteesa’s Discretion of My Kingdom.
It shows how much Buganda has changed over the years. It is inconceivable that since the kingdom was first established, a wife of the Kabaka would write a book, but it also shows how Sylvia Nagginda Luswata has taken on her role. Anyway, in it, she takes the reader through her hopes and fears — her own and even her mother’s—on marrying into the nearly 1,000-year-old monarchy.
She feared if the Baganda would warm up to her and how she could fit into a role that is broad but largely undefined. See, the title or even office of the Nnaabagereka is fairly recent. The title itself started during Daudi Chwa II’s reign in the early 1900s.
Before that, the Kabaka’s wives largely stayed in the confines of the palace. Her most immediate predecessor, Nnaabagereka Kisosonkole, had died long before Nagginda assumed office, and the kingdom hadn’t had a Nnaabagereka since her death many years earlier.
The kingdom itself had not been in operational existence from 1966, when Obote attacked the palace, until Kabaka Mutebi’s coronation in 1993. She had no one to ask. But also, the Nnaabagereka had never had a public office like we see it today.
The good thing was that Nnaabagereka Nagginda had been raised in one of the most prominent Buganda families. When she was born in England in 1962, her mother was a young nursing student, and her father was a student too. Like was usually the case in England at the time, when a child was born between an unmarried couple, she was up for adoption.
Her mother couldn’t take it. Then her maternal grandfather, former Buganda treasurer Nelson Ssebugwawo, was visiting London and suggested that she be brought to Uganda rather than being adopted by people who knew nothing about her culture.
When she was about five months old, she was flown to Entebbe and placed in the expansive home of Nelson Ssebugwawo in Nkumba. Until later, when she was about five years old, she thought Ssebugwawo was her biological father and her grandmother as her mother. She resented her biological father when she first met him.
And she only met her biological mother when she was 10 years old. She resented her too. Nagginda reveals in detail growing up in Nkumba — the adventure and even mischief of childhood. Her tomboy character, such as opening soda bottles with her teeth and sneaking into the kraal to milk cows, caused her grandmother to always remind her that she was a girl and didn’t have to behave that way.
She was never spared the rod by grandmother Catherine Ssebugwawo, even though she was loved and perhaps more than any other child — at least that is how some of the other children in the family felt. Unknowingly, she was being raised to be Nnaabagereka.
She studied in several schools in Uganda before she was reunited with her mother in New York to pursue further education, eventually ending up as a journalist and public relations consultant working with the United Nations and later at Fannie Mae, probably America’s largest housing bank.
The book also chronicles the establishment of the Nnaabagereka Development Foundation, which, like almost anyone else starting anything, struggled to get established and become the platform for children, youth and women empowerment that it is today. She talks of the struggles of establishing Ekisaakaate, her flagship program, and being the kind of mother and wife that she is.
She takes the reader through the birth of her daughter, Princess Katrina Sarah Ssangalyambogo, and how she didn’t tell the Kabaka about it until after the first trimester and kept the sex of the baby secret from him and everyone else until towards her birth.
When it came to family, she hadn’t known about Princesses Joan Nassolo and Victoria Nkinzi until much later, prompting her to ask the Kabaka how many children he really had while on a date in London. To which at the time he said that people only knew Kiweewa Jjunju but he had the other two girls as well.
She feared whether it was right for her to marry a man who had three children at the time from three different women. Nevertheless, she decided to marry him. She had always wanted to see Ronnie, as she fondly calls him, for who he is beyond his famous title and office.
Nnaabagereka also reveals that in 2010, she was blessed with twin girls, Jade Catherine Nakato and Jasmine Rebecca Babirye. If you are a keen observer of things Buganda, you have probably seen these two girls with the royal entourage at public events alongside Prince Richard Ssemakookiro and his cousin Grace Nsubuga.
It is an exciting read to understand who really the Nnaabagereka is, and the chapter on her wedding is as emotive as the wedding itself in 1999. It is punctuated almost on every page with a quotation from some of her closest friends and family, along with glowing tributes to how she has handled her role as the “mother of Buganda” and the impact she has been able to create. And most importantly, who she is as a person.
The Kabaka has been impressed with what she has accomplished so far and has given her a glowing tribute on the back cover.
“Her efforts have encouraged the youth in general and girls in particular to live, study, play, work, and prepare for the future wisely. She has happily influenced many in a positive manner,” Kabaka Mutebi concludes.