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Makubuya hails progressive legacy of former katikkiro Martin L. Nsibirwa

 Martin L. Nsibirwa

Martin L. Nsibirwa

Owek Apollo Nelson Makubuya, a senior advocate and senior palace advisor to Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II, has hailed the legacy of late Martin Luther Nsibirwa who contributed a lot to education in Uganda, despite his never having gone to any formal schooling.

Makubuya was the keynote speaker at the second annual Martin Luther Nsibirwa memorial lecture at Yusuf Lule CTF auditorium, Makerere University on November 9, 2023. His topic was, ‘Situating the role and relevance of cultural institutions in modern Uganda.’

Nsibirwa, a man who did not attend any formal school, taught himself to read and write, becoming a clerk, sub-county chief, county chief, treasurer and twice the prime minister (katikkiro) in Buganda kingdom. He achieved so much because of the coaching and mentorship in traditional governance from Sir Apollo Kaggwa.

He is well remembered for signing a document in 1945 that no one was willing to sign, offering Buganda land to the colonial government to expand Makerere College into a university. His other remarkable action as a progressive leader was his support for a queen mother (namasole) to remarry, contrary to historical traditions.

Nsibirwa had also embarked on land law reforms. However, for these brave and unfamiliar decisions, he suffered a sacking and an assassination.


“We should appreciate the importance of education, culture and history, especially the history of men and women that planted seeds for the future. These were people who had to make difficult decisions by balancing their traditional knowledge and demands of modern times. The failures of balancing modernity with tradition in the post-colonial era have led to constant conflict and the recurring crises such as the 1966/67 crisis, the 2009 standoff or the recent deaths in Kasese in 2016,” Makubuya said.

He challenged the audience to ask themselves three key questions and engage the large society in discussing them. The questions are: Can we have a governance structure where traditional and cultural institutions co-exist with democratic and political institutions; are these institutions capable of providing solutions to issues such as poverty eradication, fighting crime, unemployment to mention but a few; and can these institutions foster modern development?

Makubuya also used the occasion to launch and autograph his book tiled, Thrones and Thorns: Reflections on the 30 Years of Restoration of Traditional Rule in Uganda. Martin Luther Nsibirwa had 27 children; three are alive, including Rhoda Kalema, the eldest, aged 94. Kalema and John Nsibirwa, 83, were present at the lecture.


Makubuya thanked Makerere University for replacing the name of Northcote hall with Nsibirwa hall. He narrated how he recently researched the violent and repressive legacy of Sir Geoffry Northcote as a colonial official. He appealed for a decolonization programme that should include removing names of detested colonial officials like Capt Lugard.

“When driving in Kololo, you see names of roads that make you feel like you are in an English village,” he exclaimed.

Speaking in the name of Katikkiro Peter Mayiga, Robert Waggwa Nsibirwa, a grandson to Martin Luther and second deputy katikkiro, asked the leadership of Makerere University and the Nsibirwa family to involve the kingdom in organizing the memorial lecture in future, so that it can be on a larger scale to inform and inspire more people.

This particular lecture was sponsored by dfcu Bank, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and Makerere University Council. Former minister Kiwanuka Kagimu Semakula proposed that the Nsibirwa family creates an annual prize to be given by Makerere University to outstanding students to keep Nsibirwa’s name in perpetuity.

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