FRANK BULIRA: Nyumbani Story & Dilemma of Being Minister’s Wife in Museveni’s Uganda

Florence Tumwebaze is a well-accomplished lawyer in her own right legitimately running her own law firm called KABIBI & Co Advocates based in Kampala.

She is youthful and also holds an MBA making her adequately qualified for employment anywhere including in a government MDA. Instead of looking for government employment [which wouldn’t be hard because her husband Frank Tumwebaze is an influential Minister in Museveni’s government and compared to the ease with which officials get fatty jobs for their spouses, relatives and cronies], Florence has opted to hassle as many young people do.

Besides her modest law firm and legal practice, she also oversees the day to day running of the family businesses which struggle to find business opportunities like any other. Key among these family businesses is Nyumbani Hotel in the poor slummy neighborhood of Kikoni which is famous for cheap hostels and accommodation facilities.

I personally live in nearby Nakulabye and I therefore frequently eat out at Nyumbani and that is how I peripherally come to know about Florence’s struggles which are barely any different from what all of us ordinary mortals go through on daily basis to make ends meet in this dusty city of Erias Lukwago.

This [Mon] afternoon, one of the members on one of the many whatsapp groups where I’m a member posted a social media link of a crudely written news story branding Florence scandalous simply because her Nyumbani Hotel featured among those few that risked all the stigma and accepted to serve as quarantine centers for the confinement of Ugandans and foreigners who had returned to Uganda from abroad at the height of the anxiety Coronavirus had created among Ugandans.

Because I travel frequently in the region, inland and even globally, I know how hotel managers were reluctant to participate in such quarantining operations notwithstanding the prospect of making some money. I and other friends shunned, for example, Gilbert Bukenya’s Katomi Kingdom Hotel, which we used to frequent, simply because rumour went round it had been involved in hosting some of the suspected COVID cases under quarantine.

Yet Florence took the risk of facing the stigma for her business and took in these quarantine cases at a time not many hotels were willing to let them in. The difficulties in taking them in were not just about the resultant stigma but also the prospect of not being paid at all because the quarantined kept crying of being very poor people.

We all remember how the original arrangement was that those quarantined would pay for themselves all the expenses involved in the quarantining period stretching between 14-21 days.

At Nyumbani, as I learnt from the frightened employees who often serve me as their client, each of the quarantined adults was to pay not more than Shs200,000 for the lodging, day & night resting and the meals including morning tea, evening tea, lunch and supper.

Mind you; feeding well in right quality and quantities is one of the ideal things one must do especially while facing COVID-related uncertainties as that is one sure way to boost one’s immunity which increases survival chances.

All these cases at first used to be managed at Entebbe-based Central Inn which government abandoned after pressure mounted from the public and MPs that the $150 (over Shs500,000) that was being charged per night was too much.

Nnyumbani Hotel – Makerere – Kinoni

The Ministry of Health and government then settled for Kikoni for a number of reasons including the fact that there was a possibility to get cheaper accommodation facilities because that exactly is what the place is famous for. The other reason was that students had been sent home and many of those huge structures were vacant.

And then most importantly, it was the place nearest to Mulago hospital (in case emergencies arose and one needed urgent access to the national referral hospital for proper management) were the cheapest facilities could be found.

The alternatives to that would be Kamwokya, Mawanda Road, Ntinda, Wandegeya etc whose facilities wouldn’t only be less ideal ()because of the resultant congestion) but are also more expensive.

Remember these are people who had rioted, with support of everybody, against Central Inn because it was too costly. The Health Ministry had to be careful to avoid similar accusations of hiding behind COVID to exploit the already struggling Ugandans.

In the end, Nyumbani, Grand Global and even Hon Nyombi Thembo’s Douglas Villas hotel were chosen as acceptable and available by the health ministry and those requiring quarantining services began being kept there under close management. It depended on what one preferred basing on affordability.

Some voluntarily went to Nyumbani, others Douglas Villa or Grand Global. After all they would each pay for themselves. Much later on when government came under too much pressure from legislators, media and the public, a decision was taken that GoU takes up the responsibility to pay these accommodation charges for whoever got quarantined at any of the designated facilities.

Whereas the prospect of government being the one to pay initially created excitement even among workers at these facilities, owners must be regretting because the Health Ministry, whose very strict PS Diana Atwine Kanzira is Florence’s sister, hasn’t yet made any payment.

And the toll this huge expensive venture, of having to decently feed people for so many days without being promptly paid, has taken on Nyumbani Hotel is visible to me each time I pass by what used to be my favourite hangout place.

The staff don’t seem to be motivated as before because of the COVID-related stigma and some of the friends we used to go there with have a lot of stigma towards the facility and their apprehension is because it participated in hosting potential COVID cases.

This is the reason I shared the pain Florence naturally must have endured when I read the social media demonization aimed at scandalizing her simply because her sister Diana Atwine is PS in government and her husband Frank is Minister in the same government. I haven’t stopped wondering what people in Florence’s shoes, and they are many, are supposed to do in contemporary Uganda.

Ordinarily, somebody as qualified as she is (lawyer with an MBA) should be holding a powerful government job somewhere while earning very well without even having to hassle much. But here she is toiling like all of us to earn livelihood only to get stigmatized simply because of who she is related to either by birth or marriage? As someone who knows something about her struggles like any other business person in Kampala, I find such attacks malicious, uninformed, crude and very rudimentary. In fact, whereas Florence is a down to earth lady,

Nyombi Thembo isn’t repentant about anything. He publicly admits there is nothing wrong he did offering his Douglas Villa to host Ugandans at a time many facilities were unwilling to.

A former Minister in Museveni’s government, just like Tumwebaze is, Thembo says he saw this as an opportunity to sacrifice future business opportunities (in case his business suffers future stigma and gets shunned) in order to serve humanity in his country Uganda. Just like in the Tumwebaze case, Thembo’s Douglas Villa, where I was once a resident, is managed by his wife who equally struggles to get and access business opportunities like any other person in Kampala.

Notwithstanding our political differences and desire to character assassinate some people, what should such spouses or even children do? They went to school and naturally have some opportunities because of who their husbands or fathers are but haven’t used that to insist on getting lucrative government employment, like many their peers do, but have chosen to go and hassle like all the other private citizens in the private sector

I have reflected on the latest social media attacks on Florence over and over again but I have failed to understand what wrong she has done apart from merely being wife to Frank my namesake and sister to PS Diana Atwine.

I would like to hear things like the service offered was inadequate both in quality and quantity. Things like her charges were outrageous making her business the least appropriate to host such people and yet she still got the business simply because she is PS’s sister.

Things like that. To my mind, the circumstances that led to these people being confined at her facility are such that there isn’t much anyone can fault her for beyond just making reference to her blood/marital relations! It’s fallacious for anyone to argue or demand that because Florence is Frank’s wife, she shouldn’t do any business or earn anything out of her legitimate sweat.

To agree with such defective reasoning is to demand that a well-accomplished lawyer like Edwin Karugire shouldn’t legitimately practice law anywhere in Uganda because she marries the President’s daughter. That Prince Jjunju shouldn’t do any work, including selling his legitimate skills to radio CBS, simply because Ronald Muwenda Mutebi, the reigning King of Buganda, is his father.

Yes, it is legitimate to criticize those holding public office while holding them to high standards but it’s important that we qualitatively improve the criticisms we make. In this case, it’s very possible that the target of those behind the authorship of such social media rants could be targeting her spouse or sister in the broader schemes of intrigue that are common in President Museveni’s government.

The authors were so careful and deliberate not to mention anything about actors like Honorable Godfrey Kiwanda the tourism Minister who was thickly involved in identifying and dealing with these facilities to host the suspected COVID cases. As someone outside government circles,

I guess that Kiwanda had to be involved not for any selfish reason or motive but because some of the people that found themselves involved in this quarantine business are visitors who were for tourism-related engagements only to be caught in the melee as Ugandan borders got locked down.

About Author: Frank Bulira is Kampala-based social justice activist.

Subscribe for notification