If you have ardently followed happenings in Uganda especially on the political and legal scene over the last five years, the name Male Mabirizi should surely ring a bell.
From suing the Kabaka to challenging President Museveni’s candidature in the East African Court of Justice, to questioning Robert Kyagulanyi’s academic documents, Mabirizi has been in the thick of it all.
Many have since labelled him a maverick lawyer who fears no one. To the journalists who constantly encounter him, Mabirizi can be a joy to deal with or a pain in the a**e.
Some people think there is something mentally wrong with Mabirizi, who after Law School, opted not to take the bar course to become an advocate.
“I am not interested in filing as many suits as possible as many people say but my interest is in challenging illegal and unlawful decisions. As citizens, we have a duty to protect our society through the law. The motivation is that you find yourself in a country where you expect to live but you will be lucky to have that skill. When you get that chance to get educated, it would be useful to do something to give back to the community,” he told The Nile Post.
Mabirizi identifies himself as a Muganda of the Kkobe clan. He says he grew up in a humble family in Nkokonjeru, in current day Buikwe district.
He was born to Hajji Muhammad Mutumba and Mastula Ndwadde-Wazibwa.
He studied in Nkokonjeru Primary Muslim School in current day Buikwe, Nateete, Crane High School (O-level) and Kawempe Muslim for A-level. From there I went to Makerere University to do law on government sponsorship after managing to score 25 points at A-level,” he says.
The lawyer is also quick to say he chose business instead of joining the Law Development Centre to pursue a course in legal practice, as is with many others who go on to become advocates.
“While at MUK in the second year, I started a business of moneylending and in the fourth year I made a choice not to go to LDC to practice law because I realised there was no way I could combine both.”
Before 2015, the most prominent Mabirizi was the now deceased city property mogul Godfrey Mabirizi of Mabirizi Complex along Kampala road.
It is therefore not surprising that when the media reported in 2015 that Mabirizi had sued the Kabaka, many thoughts it was the city mogul.
Mabirizi admits that he became famous when he sued the Kabaka.
“I think that’s when the media picked a lot of interest in me and the case,” he says.
Since then, he has not looked back.
Mabirizi says that while studying law at Makerere, current Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago visited his class and urged students to spare some time to serve humanity and the rule of law.
“One time at Makerere, Lukwago(Erias) visited and his message was that although you are looking for money, try to get time for rule of law and that is the motivation for me to file these suits,” he says.
To many commentators, Mabirizi is not motivated by anything but rather money and that he is being used like a pawn in the chess game.
“ Being used by which people? Every time I hear such thinking, I realize some people are not serious. That is undermining me and my grandmother who was illiterate but took me to primary school. She took me to school to make a difference. My dad paid fees to make a difference. When you say I am there for hire, it beats my consciousness,” he says.
“If I am being used by some people, why am I fighting wars which have no profit? If you talk of the age limit case, who was paying me ? When I talk about Kabaka asking people to register and turn their own land into lease, who was paying me? We buried our own grandparents on that land, why do you want us to hire it? Who is paying me if I fight Museveni, Kabaka, Kyagulanyi, and the Chief Justice? I think all that is propaganda caused by people’s disbelief. Most Ugandans lack that self-confidence that they can do some things.”
Mabirizi insists he has defied the odds to become distinct from others.
“I have not just seen this but I saw it in my O-level at a medium school where if a student performed well, others would say they cheated. They said it was impossible to get 25 points and I asked myself whether this was true. I read books and never cheated but the only thing I did was using candles when power went off. I scored 8 in 6 at O-level.”
“When I went to Kawempe Muslim, I discovered that some people were disillusioned… I read books and got 25 points. I think after getting through this illusion, people think everyone must be like them when this is not the case.”
Pressures from family over cases
For a Muganda to drag the Kabaka to court, just like Mabirizi has done twice is abominable in Buganda and that could lead to dismissal from the family and let alone the clan.
Mabirizi, too, has had to withstand pressure from family and friends over his legal battles with the kingdom.
“I get pressure from family members and friends because most of them are cowards. When I hinted at suing Kabaka, my own father was annoyed asking how a Muganda could sue Kabaka. I told him I was protecting him from illegal clan leaders but still he was not happy with my decision. From my mother’s side people said I was embarrassing them for suing the Kabaka.”
“When it comes to the political cases, they always fear for my life saying I would be kidnapped or killed. At the end of the day you get less support from your family because they think the things I do are risky. Nevertheless, some members support me and contribute financially.”
He however says that what keeps him going is remaining focused and ignoring the pressure from anyone.
“I always give them examples that people have been dying but not because of politics. People die in accidents on a daily basis but not because they sued Kabaka or Museveni. If it’s my time to fight I will fight and when my time to die comes, I will die.”
Voluminous evidence he files
To show that he is serious, Mabirizi took less than a day before filing an appeal challenging the judgment of the panel of Constitutional Court judges in the age limit case.
Ordinarily, it would take one at least three days but for Mabirizi that was too much time to ask.
In one incident, he brought a truck full of evidence in form of evidence to the Supreme Court.
Asked where he gets the time to do research before coming up all that voluminous evidence, the lawyer laughed hard.
“Time is available to every man and what differentiates us from others is how you distribute it. Some distribute their time by going to bars, others spend time with women and others go to saunas. If you have a passion, you will find time for it,” he says.
“This is not new because when I was reading to get 8 in the best six in S.4 in a medium school and getting 25 points at Kawempe, it was a lot of hard work. For example in Kawempe, in Mbogo House I introduced a tapping system. It was a system of a paper and a pen where if one was sleeping, he would write their name and time to be woken up on a paper. Essential in our dormitory, every time of the night, there was someone who was reading. As you went to sleep, you would check on the list to see the next person to wake up to read and then you sleep. Getting 25 points was not easy because it involved sleepless nights.”
Most memorable suits
Just like anyone has memorable incidents in their life, Mabirizi has a number of cases he says will always define his career.
“The first Kabaka case of Kkobe clan was a memorable one because it was family-oriented and I am happy that what my fathers and grandfathers had failed to do was accomplished by myself. After suing, the Kabaka removed those people(we were suing) from leadership. The person I was supporting as the head of Kkobe clan is now at the helm of the seat.”
“Furthermore, right now he is the head of all clan leaders in Buganda. It shows it was not a losing battle. Even after fighting with Mengo, after recognizing him, Kabaka said he was the best among them and made him the head of all clan leaders in Buganda. “
Land case against Kabaka
Mabirizi says the case in which he dragged the Kabaka to court for collecting rent fees from his subjects is his memorable one.
The maverick lawyer says the case where he asked the Chief Justice to recuse himself from the 2021 election petition filed by Robert Kyagulanyi is also another one to be proud of in his life although it was not a success.
He says that the East African Court of Justice accepting to look into his case challenging the judgment of the Supreme Court in the age limit case also made him feel proud of the work he is doing.
“It was another milestone because I opened the door when the court said whereas the Supreme Court is the final court in Uganda, we can look into its decisions to see whether it complies with provisions of the East African treaty. In the past, we were told that if you lose a case at Supreme court, just appeal to God. Now I have opened it and you can go to Arusha.”
When asked about the fear of being condemned to heavy costs in the cases he files, he equates himself to a business person who fears no risks.
“The remedy for costs is so simple in such a way that you either pay them or go to prison for six months. Should I fear six-month imprisonment and then instead leave the country in shambles? Should we lose our burial grounds because we fear being taken to prison or suing the Kabaka yet our relatives have been buried there since 1930? It’s a comparison of what is at stake. Sometimes I get to pay costs and others, I don’t but we should not be misled by fear.”