Who is Simon Mugenyi Byabakama? Flash Uganda Media looks at his biography, early life, education and family of the current Chairperson of Uganda’s Electoral Commission.
Simon Mugenyi Byabakama is a Ugandan lawyer and judge on the Court of Appeal of Uganda, which doubles as the country’s Constitutional Court. He was appointed to the Court of Appeal on 11 October 2015.
He’s the current Chairperson of Uganda’s Electoral Commission (EC). He was appointed to that position on 18 November 2016, replacing Eng. Badru Kiggundu whose 14-year two-term reign had elapsed.
Byabakama is a hardworking man and seemed to have attracted several critics now as EC Chair.
Early Life and Education
Simon Mugenyi Byabakama was born in Hoima District, on 31 January 1957. He attended local schools in Hoima for his primary school education.
Then Byabakama joined Kabalega Secondary School, in Masindi District for his ordinary level of education attaining his Uganda Certificate of Education (UCE) in 1976.
Byabakama after his A-Level class joined Makerere University, Uganda’s largest and oldest public university, graduating in 1980 with a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) Degree. Later the same year, he received a Diploma in legal practice and then admitted to Uganda’s Bar.
Work and Experience
Justice Simon Byabakama’s first job was as a Resident State Attorney in Masindi District in 1981 until 1987. He was then elevated to Senior State Attorney in the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP), in Uganda’s Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs.
In 1992, he was promoted to Senior Principal State Attorney at the DPP’s office and was appointed Deputy Director of Public Prosecution, his rank at the time he joined the bench as High Court Judge in May 2008.
For the many years in DDP’s office, he prosecuted quite a several high-profile trials, including being the head prosecutor in the famous murder case against the Tooro Prime Minister, John Katuramu; Kooky Sharma, and the rape case against the top opposition strongman, the four-time presidential candidate, leader of People’s Government, Col. (Rtd) Dr Kizza Besigye Kifeffe.
Simon Mugenyi Byabakama was appointed as a judge of the High Court of Uganda in May 2008, to serve as the Resident High Court. A judge in Lira from June 2008-2010. Then Soroti from 2010-2013
Redeployed to Masindi from 2013-2015.
In October 2015, Judge Byabakama was among the six High Court Judges appointed to the Court of Appeal/Constitutional Court on promotion by the fountain of honour.
Justice Byabakama at Uganda Electoral Commission
In November 2016, Justice Simon Mugenyi Byabakama was appointed to the Chairmanship of the Electoral Commission (EC) of Uganda in November 2016 replacing Eng. Badru Kiggundu whose tenure ended on November 17, 2016, after 14 years of service.
In his capacity as the Chairperson EC, he was sworn in as a member of the National Identification and Registration Authority, on the 9th August 2017.
The Commission was at the receiving end of criticism early 2020 when it proceeded to gazette and pave way for the swearing-in of a sole candidate in the Busia LC5 chairperson race.
This was after the court had issued a temporary halt to the process pending determination of the merits of his opponent’s case who was not happy saying they were unfairly kicked out by the EC over a technicality involving a mix up of names.
Byabakama is, however, faced with a perception dilemma; with State capture of institutions like the one he leads, forming part of the discourse especially among the opposition ranks.
Also, he has his cross to carry resulting from his handling, as lead prosecutor, of the 2005 Dr Kizza Besigye rape trial in which he went to the sewers, alongside the police and other State Security Agencies, picked the rawest mud and threw it at a man who offered himself for president.
Besigye’s defence lawyer David Mpanga submitted then, that the charge against his client was a sheer fabrication from the beginning to the end, eloquently moving court to appreciate that it was nurtured and nursed at the State House and taken for implementation to the Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID).
The nature of the case was so obvious that whoever participated in it, perhaps including the judge, clearly knew that this was one of those dirty political games politicians play when they have a formidable challenge.
Justice Byabakama on the sacking of EC officials
The Electoral Commission in July 2020 dismissed reports that its top officials were sacked by President Yoweri Museveni earlier.
Addressing journalists at the EC headquarters in Kampala, Justice Byabakama said the officials tendered in their application for early retirement citing personal reasons.
This follows reports across different media platforms that President Yoweri Museveni had ordered the sacking of top eight officials of the Commission over allegations of corruption related to the printing of ballot materials for the 2021 elections.
Sam Rwakojo, the long-serving Secretary of the Commission, the head of Public Relations Department, Jotham Taremwa, the Director Technical Support Services, Namugera Pontius and the Principal Procurement Officer, Wanyoto Godfrey had awarded an unqualified company to print ballot materials against the President’s advice to award the same deal to Uganda Printing and Publishing Corporation (UPPC) that had entered a joint venture with a German firm Verides Identy Solutions GmbH.
But Byabakama feigned ignorance when asked about the real reason why the officials would resign at such a time when the Commission is organizing elections.
Point to note noted, Rwakojo’s contract had just been renewed at the time of the sacking. But Byabakama reasoned that somebody resigning even after their contract has just been renewed is normal in employment.
On the printing of the ballot materials, Byabakama said they have not yet awarded the contract to anybody but the process of identifying the right Company was on the rail.
However, clearing the allegations that the IGG was investing the EC on how they had procured warehouse facilities at 7 billion instead of 6 billion, Byabakama said that they weren’t aware of the case.
“I didn’t know the IGG had launched an investigation into the Commission, I just read it in the media, I don’t know whether there’s any link to the retirement of the officers.”
The sacking or retirement of top EC officials came at a time when the country is in high gear making preparations for the 2021 general elections. Although Byabakama admitted that EC will be affected, he said some systems will, however, help absorb the shock.
“The systems are managed at different levels, sometimes the Secretary goes on leave, does it mean that the Commission stops running? I want to assure you that the Commission is built on systems, not individuals. There are other persons to manage the work they have been doing“.
“The Commission is moving on and the roadmap will continue to be implemented,” Byabakama noted.
He, however, added that they have started on a process of identifying people who will hold these positions at least in the interim before substantive replacements are appointed.
Justice Byabakama to NUP party
Justice Simon Mugenyi Byabakama, the EC Chair earlier in August 2020 mentioned that the choice is up to the National Unity Platform (NUP) to follow the law or act outside it as the contest continues over the choice of red as its dominant colour.
Byabakama reasoned that the Commission has never gazetted change in colours for the party; it only honoured the request for a change of name.
“If National Unity Platform is a law abiding political organization, which I want to believe they are, you can’t use something which has not been cleared under the law because you can only adopt that a party colour or the symbol once the commission has gazette that change,” Byabakama said.
He stressed that the Commission only consented to the gazetting of the party name, not the party colours as claimed by the NUP leadership.
“Therefore it is up-to National Unity Platform to decide whether to act within the law or to act outside the law. It is their choice,” he said.
Byabakama said NUP applied for a change of its colours to make red the dominant one but the request was turned down because the colours had already been taken by another party.
“This year they again applied to the Commission to change the colours of their symbols and umbrella from the ones the old party used to have, to now a dominant red against the blue and white background. The commission replied to NUP that their proposal was not tenable in the sense that red was already a preserve of UPC party,” he said.
However, Robert Kyagulanyi, the President of NUP insisted that the party will continue using the colour noting that when a political party has registered colours, it has a right to use it.
“Mr. Byabakama and the Electoral Commission should be ashamed of themselves. They are on a test, they are on trial. People are looking at them and they want to see whether they are independent or not,” Kyagulanyi said.
Kyagulanyi accused the Commission and the UPC of being used by the regime. “We know that President Museveni has not only used the Electoral Commission but also UPC,” he said.
Justice Byabakama on scientific elections
The chairperson EC, Justice Simon Mugenyi Byabakama in June 2020 said that the use of media platforms such as radio and television stations to conduct campaigns is the only option during this period as the country continues to fight COVID19 pandemic.
Speaking to journalists, Byabakama urged politicians to think about the lives of people because mass gatherings are a big risk. He lashed out at those who keep on criticizing everything and vowed that the exercise will take place despite the criticism because it is a Constitutional mandate.
“When you look at the other processes for example, nomination for the candidates to appear in the nomination centre, and present themselves and necessary requirements, they have to do it physically or in person. The only difference this time is that the number of people who will accompany the candidates will have to be reduced, “he said during an interview.
Byabakama noted that there’s no need to worry because standard operating procedures will be observed during the process and the candidate will be represented by their agents. In his statement after casting the vote, one shall directly go home to avoid congestion at the polling station.
He added that voting will not scientific as applied to the campaigns and the Commission will ensure a free and fair election. And on the polling day, standard operating procedures against COVID19 will be strictly followed, huge numbers of people not permitted, observe social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus.
Byabakama said that presidential candidates will enjoy all the privileges with all the equal airtime but they will have to meet their costs.
Byabakama thereafter informed all those who want to contest in the elections that the Commission is ready to welcome their suggestions because it can’t work in isolation in ensuring that people of Uganda exercise their constitutional right in choosing their leaders and condemned those criticizing the process.
He urged that it is very important for every person to participate in this activity to ensure the smooth running of the process more especially during this critical time.
Justice Byabakama on NUP flag bearer
The EC earlier just after Bobi Wine and his group acquired NUP said it is reviewing a petition challenging how the Kyadondo East legislator, Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine became president and presidential flag bearer of the National Unity Platform (NUP) party.
Byabakama said that when then party president, Moses Kibalama Nkonge wrote to them last year, changing the National Unity Reconciliation and Development Party to National Unity Platform, they had no reason to suspect he didn’t have the authorization of the party members.
Byabakama’s explanation follows a letter written to the Commission by members of NURDP querying how the name and the leadership of their party had changed.
The members questioned the entire extraordinary delegates conference allegedly held on July 14, 2020, and attended by only 51 unverified members out of a delegate’s member list of 400 people. The meeting allegedly rubberstamped Kyagulanyi as the new party president and his associates as party offices bearers without conducting a proper election.
But this, the petitioners said violated the party’s constitution and provisions in the national constitution on internal democracy of political parties. Byabakama confirmed receiving the letter and said that the EC legal department is studying it to see whether they have any remedies and if not they advise the authors to seek court redress.
“So, we are going to look at the petition challenging the change of leadership. We shall look at the petition looking at the leadership of Mr. Honourable Kyagulanyi at party, Byabakama added“.
On the contested red colour between NUP and the Uganda People’s Congress, Byabakama said the red colour is synonymous with the UPC and therefore, NUP id using it illegally. Byabakama in a media briefing said according to their documents, NUP has registered a white umbrella with a blue background as their colours.
“16 years ago, those people went and registered this political party with the EC and had all those colours approved. So if anybody thinks we are breaking any rules, let them go to court,“ Ssenyonyi said.
According to Section 8 of the political party and other organizations Act, a political party or organization shall not submit to the EC for registration, any identification symbol, slogan, colours or name which is the same as or similar to the symbols, slogan, colour or initial of any organization.
On the other hand, Section 11 of the same Act states that were as a political party or organization intends to change or alter its identification symbol, colour or name, the political party or organization shall notify the Electoral Commission of its intentions.
Section 11, adds that the Electoral Commission in the case of change shall within 21 days after receipt of the notification cause to be published in the Gazette a notice of the intended change or the alteration, which can only come into effect upon approval. As per the records available at the EC, NUP changed names in 2019 and its leadership 2020.
Bobi Wine was elected unopposed as the president, David Lewis Rubongoya as Secretary-General deputized by Aisha Kabanda, Flavia Kalule Nabagabe as Secretary for Women, Joel Ssenyonyi as the publicity Secretary and Fred Nyanzi as the Secretary for mobilization.
Justice Simon Mugenyi Byabakama is married to Dorothy Kasaija Mugenyi and he is a father of six sons and daughters.