David F.K. Mpanga on Life


#360Mentor is a continuation of the #40DayMentor series. In this episode, Robert Kabushenga (RK) speaks to David F.K. Mpanga (DM) on Life.

RK: Good to have you Daudi, you and I go way back. Welcome to #360Mentor

DM: Thank you, Robert. It’s my pleasure to be here.

RK: Let me ask you the most famous question I ask here, so were you born speaking very good English?

DM: I was lucky to be born, Robert. I was born of Joyce Mpanga (thankful to God she is still alive. 89 years old now) and the late Fred Mpanga. They were in exile at the time. So I was born a refugee. Thankfully, I didn’t spend most of my infant life in refugee status. We got back to Uganda in 1972 or 1973? Thereabout. I went to Nakasero Primary School and King’s College Budo.

RK: Eh! Wait. Daudi, you said you started school here?

DM: Yes. Unlike my friend Brenda Ntambirweki, I didn’t have the privilege of doing my nursery school in England. 

RK: It’s called a silver spoon. 

DM: Though our circumstances were the same. We’re both refugees. 

I went to Nakasero primary then Budo and then St Edwards College at Oxford, after which I went to Oxford University. I did the bar at the Inns of Court School of Law. I was called to the bar in 1993. It’s very important to put context to one’s life so that listeners can know how long it takes to achieve success. Since 1993, I have been practising law. I started off as a pupil. Then I got tenancy in 1994. 

RK: What is tenancy? 

DM: Pupillage is like apprenticeship. It is the equivalent of clerkship, what we do for advocates in Uganda. You do pupillage for a year. But for us, six months you are just following someone, a pupil master, around. Learning how to draft, how to write opinions etcetera. And then in the next six months, you can go to court on your own but under some kind of supervisory license. You can’t go to the higher courts but you can handle small matters, small claims, magistrate, county and district courts and the like. Essentially, the judge is also informed that you are a learner. 

RK: Daudi, just to go back, because you said you needed to put context to this. You said 1993 is when you started. Majority on these streets were not yet born. 

DM: True. That’s like 28 years ago. 

After one year of pupillage, I went for Tenancy which is a fulltime place in a barrister’s chambers. The chambers are called 5 Paper Buildings. I was doing mostly whitecollar crime and administrative law. I did that for 4 years. And in 1997 I made a decision that I wanted to come home to Uganda. In 1998, I returned. I had to go back to LDC for a year while working for Mugerwa and Matovu Advocates which is now MMAKS Advocates. 

In 1999, having done LDC, I enrolled in 2000 to become an advocate of the high court of Uganda and I worked for Mugerwa and Masembe.

RK: Daudi, for people who may not have a clear understanding of the lawyering profession, what does enrolling mean for your career?

DM: Enrolling just as calling to the bar means that you are being admitted and allowed to practice law in the court of a particular country. Being called to the bar in England, entitles you to appear in the courts of England and Wales. Being enrolled as an advocate of the High Court of Uganda, entitles you to appear in the courts of Uganda as an advocate. So only a person who is enrolled can call themselves an advocate. And that’s what happened to me in 2000. 

RK: I want to take you back a little bit. You spent the schooling bit of it. How did your folks wind up as refugees in the UK?

DM: My folks wound up as refugees because my father was the attorney general of the Kingdom of Buganda in the 1962 arrangement where we had a federal government. He was the attorney general and senior advisor to Kabaka Mutesa who also became the President of Uganda. In fact, matters came to head in 1966 but things had been brewing since 1964. The tension started through the issues of referendums on the lost counties. But there were other issues around the funding of states. And a lot of that entailed legal arguments in court. At that time, the attorney general of Uganda was Godfrey Lukongwa Binaisa, and he told me before he died that many of the issues that would have brought matters to the head sooner were resolved by the two attorney generals sitting at lunch at Speke hotel, they knew each other very well. They did a lot to diffuse most of the legal issues that were playing out in the courts. That was when they were still politica issues. When they became military issues, there was a violent overthrow of the 1962 constitution. That violent overthrow occurred when my father had gone to England where upto that time, the last court of Appeal for Uganda was the British Counsel. My father had gone to represent Buganda in a British Counsel appeal in matters relating to funding and etcetera. Then he was also involved in preparing for Sir Edawrd Mutesa’s political asylum in the UK. My mother who was here had her father killed in the 1966 events but also started getting threats and was being followed. She’s written about this in detail in her book It’s a pity she’s not a boy. The end result is that she too had to go to exile. By that time, they had my sister Lydia who was born in April 1966 and these events occurred in May 1966.  So, I suspect as a result of boredom, having a lot of time on their hands in the UK, I was produced. 

RK: Daudi, I guess it would be important to ask you to share some experiences. Your dad passed away when you came back to Uganda during one of the most difficult times. You’ve written about this before; the trials and tribulations of your mother trying to get medical attention for him, do you want to talk about that?

DM: Very briefly. It’s an interesting saga that I learnt about from my mother. From about 1975, my father started ailing. He started having problems they couldn’t quite understand. Doctors came to the view that they needed to examine and find out what was wrong with him and those days, being referred abroad for further treatment required foreign exchange which you had to apply and get permission to get. You couldn’t just convert your shillings into foreign exchange. And to get that, you required to get the doctor’s referral and other paperwork. My mother had to run around collecting all this paperwork in order to be able to convert some of this money so that my father could get treatment in the UK or somewhere else they could get the treatment. My mother was able to get the paperwork but was not able to see the Minister of Finance for a long time. Eventually, the secretary told her when he would be in. When he got the papers, he just tore them up and threw them in the bin. He didn’t even ask her, he just threw them in the bin. My mother couldn’t say anything other than “thank you”. That was a military regime and the minister was Gen Moses Ali. My father could not travel. They had to open him up. It’s called the laparotomy. They opened him up to see what was wrong. They found out that he had pancreatic cancer which had extended quite extensively through his abdomen and various organs. He was really weak by then and he could not even recover from anaesthesia. He died on the 10th October 1976. 

From that, I gave the lesson to the people who are in government offices. That column appears in my book, The Politics of Common Sense.  But I think that anybody who knows me knows that that was a seminal moment in our lives. My father at the time was 51, I am 51 this month. And I consider him young. 

I was 6 at the time. I was very young and my last born is now 10. And I consider her very young. It also taught me a lot. The time around which my father died. I thought when my father died that the world would come to an end. Literally, everybody that I knew was at home. There was a lot of crying. It looked like the world would come to an end. When we drove out to go to the funeral in Namirembe Cathedral, I remember seeing lots of people walking around town as we were crossing from Mbuya to Namirembe. And I asked my mother why all these people were moving about and my mother said, they were going about their business. and I asked her; don’t they know that daddy died?”

RK: Oh wow!

DM: And she said, no they don’t. They didn’t know him. At that moment, it made me realise that the world doesn’t rotate around me or us. These people did not know my dad. My world had just crushed and stopped and I thought everybody’s world too had crushed and stopped. But it is very important to know and understand that regardless of who you are and where you are, the world stops for no man or woman. Things just keep moving. It’s important to live your life understanding that you are not indispensable. Not even to your loved ones. Because we’re still alive and you’re gone. The space between you and being here living is the most important space that you have. Because life carries on.

RK: So, these events, apart from that specific lesson, how do they shape you as a person?

DM: I was installed as my father’s heir a few months later in January 1977. So when I go to customary last funeral rites and I have to give a few words of advice to the customary heir, I always tell them I have been in this (customer heir) business since 1977. 

RK: Hahaha you’re a veteran. Yes.

DM: Which also means that I had to be a father to my siblings, all of whom are older than me. I am the last born. It meant that we grew up in a single parent family. Very resilient and very industrious mother which also made me a feminist. Quite early on, I understood — growing up with my mother’s sister, my late Aunt Penina and my grandmother. They were a great part of my life. 

It showed me first hand the struggles that women go through to raise families. The injustices that occur to women just because they are women. My mother was very brilliant at storytelling. She forced us to read and speak Luganda. This was very useful to me later in life. It also taught me that you cannot take many things for granted. And patience. 

In that setting you learn that material things may not be everything. The value of happiness. The value of having people. Some people may brag that my father has a benz or has this and yet your biggest yearning at the moment is a father. Not a benz. 

RK: You just want the man to be there. 

DM: Exactly. Or you are just glad that you are in school. It changes you in very many ways consciously and unconsciously. 

RK: In light of all those experiences, you and I are children of the same generation. There’s something you described at the beginning. Being a professional. In your experience, do you know of any particular incident or time when it occurred to you to be professional.

DM: I cannot think of one seminal event, Robert. I can think of a series of things that made me want to become a lawyer. Those things included the various injustices that I saw occurring at various levels in the 80s. Initially I wanted to be a pilot like most kids. I subsequently decided that I wanted to be a doctor. That was informed by the fact that I was asthmatic and slightly a sickly kid who spent a lot of time with doctors. But also a number of my mother’s siblings including the late Prof. Kanyerezi who was a role model and a father figure for me was a doctor. So I wanted to be a doctor. My cousin Dr Nandi Kanyerezi who was here before doesn’t know that I also wanted to be a doctor. That was me aspiring to professionalism looking at people exercising skill, exercising judgement, being humane and being admired made me want to be one.

I quickly realized that being a doctor required me to understand maths and sciences. To be very honest, I was and I have been very good at many things but not maths. So I then moved quickly into something that was close to me; being a lawyer. And the urge to be a lawyer was kind of sharpened by the urge to represent people who had problems. People who were in trouble. And also bring justice where there was no justice. One of the earlier incidents I can think of was in P6. We were unfairly punished by a teacher called Mrs. Ndyabagye. I went home and I wrote Mrs Ndyabagye a letter which I showed to my mother. I credit my mum for having let me take the letter to Mrs Ndabyagye because I was complaining of injustice. I think she had not given us a hearing. I was advocating against collective punishment of something I was sure I was not part of. I pinned the letter on the notice board and I put my name on it. 

Mrs Ndyabagye called me in. They had a small staff room and I thought I was in trouble. Interestingly, they did not cane me or cause more trouble. They just asked me why I had done this and I stood my ground and I think they found it amusing. So it’s the little things like that that eventually made me want to become a lawyer. 

RK: 27 Years, one would say you are on top of your game now. What would you say to people who are at the beginning or trying to find their way or are caught up in the middle of this journey. What makes for a successful professional career?

DM: I think the first thing I would say for a person that is starting out, is think of this as a long journey. You are running a marathon, you, Bibi Rukwengye and others are always running. I don’t know whether to show off the watches or show off the distances….

RK: By the way, at the beginning of 2020, I was doing 7 kilometres. Please, it’s not showing off..

DM: Hahaha. The first thing is to understand that this a long journey. Professional career requires you to plan. Your career requires you to plan your life maybe in 10 years and manage it in blocks of five. I think it’s the best way to look at it. In many interviews that our young people will go to, you will be asked this seemingly random question; where do you see yourself in 5 years time? It’s not very random. Actually, it’s based on an understanding that professional licensure is measured in chunks of about five years. 27 years is a long time but not very long especially if you break it down into those small segments. 

The first thing, for someone who is in A Level or even university. You need to get to know the subjects that will get you into the career you want. I find many young people who approach me for mentorship, I ask them what do you want to be? And they say, truthfully, I don’t know. Now I don’t know the answer for a couple of years. But after a while, it begins to create a couple of problems that you might not yet understand or perceive. If you don’t know where you are going as Louis Calos says in Alice in Wonderland any road will take you there. Because you are not at major crossroads in your life where you need to make determined paths and decisions that will lead you into the career that you want to pursue. You must at least have an outline of the road that will lead you to that career. Find out the right subjects, the right skills set, the right schools, to choose if you can make the right choices and subjects. It’s never completely fatal because there is a lot of things that will be added onto you as you move. But  at A level and university, you need to have an understanding of what you want to do.

Then you are going to start the business of getting  the 10,000 hours that you need to hone your skill. They usually start at 18/19. First year of university. Where you might be able to drift and carry on it is a long game, it requires a lot of patience. There are very few things that are going to give you lasting and sustainable rewards that you just snap into. If you look at 18 year olds or 19 year olds mostly in sports and the arts that are making a lot of money at the moment. Most of them started their careers when they were about 5/6 or 7. Lewis Hamilton started driving at 7. 

RK: Messy started messing around at the age of 4. 

DM: An understanding that it’s a long game, it takes a lot of time. A lot of patience and a lot of self application.

The second thing I advise young people in that process; professionalism is very important right from the get-go. And in that I mean, getting a skill, acquiring judgement. Working very hard. Being humane. It’s very important because you start in the way you intend to finish. I was about to use hard Luganda words but let me not…

RK: Please go ahead, there is no problem.

DM: They say ‘akaliba akendo,okalabira ku mukonda’. You see the gourd that you see being used to fetch water was initially a fruit on a plant. You can see that it will be a gourd used to fetch water right from the beginning. In many ways, if you are going to cut a professional career, it’s easy to start with professionalism. It’s easier to continue in that form than trying to learn when you are 15 years old because you’ve formed habits and they are hard to break. How you apply yourself to your work, getting into those habits early is very important because you carry on with them. 

Integrity goes without saying that it is very important. People will not trust you if you are not honest. If you are not ethical. And you cannot give what you don’t have. In any profession, honesty is a very integral part of professionalism. And you need that. If you are starting off with employment, your employer’s got to trust you to deliver your work in time, to store value for them etcetera. All those things require trust. If you are a dishonest person, whatever you are building is not sustainable. You will be caught. And the minute that you are caught, it’s like crystal when it breaks. It is difficult to put it back together and have it perfect in the way that you would have wanted.

Lastly, I will talk about networking. We discovered from the big tech billionaires of social media that there is big value in networking. Previously we didn’t realise it in terms of shillings and dollars but a professional career is really a measurement of your networking worth. There are very few professions that I know of that you can work without personal referrals, without getting ahead via networking. Networking is not a selfish climb on people in order to get you somewhere, I think it is more about you providing your give or take. You help. You are assisted. You connect to other people. You reach out to your superiors. But there is nothing as telling as people who are obsequious to their superiors. 

RK: Daudi, can you explain the meaning of the word obsequious.

DM: That’s an ordinary English word. Obsequious people are bootlickers, flattering etcetera. You do all these things to this person because you want them to give you a job or whatever you want but you are being rude to the waiter bringing you drinks as you are doing that. You are rude to your employer or employees. In my definition, you network in all ways; upwards, downwards, inwards and outwards to your colleagues and equals, to the people who bring you the business, to your inferiors who work with you or under you. So networking includes socialising, helping people and working well with people. It is not an exploitative one way business of just acquiring things.

RK: Transactional stuff.

DM: Exactly. It is more than that. So networking is very important. 

RK: Daudi, you and I and our dear friend Aga have spent countless hours in conversation. One of things I must give you is your mastery of communication in both Luganda and English. The thing that I know you do very well is deployment of language at an appropriate time and in the right context. How does one develop the skill of communicating appropriately? What are the principles of that?

DM: I think the most important principle is understanding what communication is for in the first place. Communication is trying to reach across to someone else’s mind and tell them something. If you are an advocate, you are persuading them to do something. Right from greeting to asking for a favour to telling a story, we communicate all the time and the most important thing about communication in my mind is being understood. There is nothing worse than thinking  that your communication should be about impressing people. This is commonly done by lawyers. When you are younger in the profession. But in many professions there is a jargon, buzz words, words that are used in particular circles and you want to employ as many of these as you can in order to impress. The moment that you  do that, you realise that you lose a large chunk of the communication because people do not understand you. It’s far more important to be understood than to impress. And it is very easy to impress if people can judge you by the result of understanding you than saying all these big words and leaving people in wonderment. Or even worse agreeing with you when in fact you are not agreeing to the same thing. Us lawyers call that ‘common mistake’. I may be telling you about A, if you say yes, I believe you have agreed A yet to you it was B. Both of us walk away thinking we have agreed when in fact we have not. 

RK: How do you learn communication?

DM: As I said, the first thing is try to be understood. There is no one who has a monopoly of the best way to be understood. Being understood requires you to be simple. It requires you to use examples and to my mind there is no better way of using examples than telling stories. And there is no better way of getting stories to stick to people’s minds than telling funny stories. If a story is good and funny, people will remember it. You and I know the Zaabwe principle very well.

RK: Hahaha, if I may remind you, there is also Galikunsalo. But you go on.

DM: Based on the experiences of a young man called Zaabwe. So it’s important that you use simple language. It’s important that you use examples. It is important that you use examples that people can understand. It is important to know your audience. You tell them in a memorable way. And judge your situation. When I was practising in England, I used to practise before a jury; a judge and a jury. And a jury is sully 12 people picked at random. And I was practising at times in places which were predominantly white folks who did not have similar experiences to mine. Many times I used to get like PSTD moments of sabasaba and I would think to myself, do these people even understand what sabasaba is. But you have to make a case to persuade these people on behalf of your client. And you have to use examples and draw from things that these people will understand. There would be no value of me drawing from my Ugandan experiences. So you have to judge your audience and the people that you are communicating with. What are the things they understand? What do they relate to? 

RK: Talk to us about public service. What is it about public service that gets you to do that?

DM: It is the understanding Robert, that no man is an island as the saying goes. We are connected to each other. And all of us in different ways have opportunities to do public service. Whether it is in the voluntary sector or public sector or elective politics or even politics with a small p. Wherever you are best placed to offer yourself to give service, it is important that you do. Because if not you, then who. 

RK: Exactly!

DM: Who is the person that was willed to be the servant of everyone else and must do things to your satisfaction. Your criticism is blunted in many ways if you also don’t do that which you can within your capacity and to the best of your ability. 

Public facets have many aspects and facets as I said. Like those who belong to rotary will agree that service before self is a very useful way of thinking about self because it completes you and completes me in many ways. If all I did was work and come home to serve my nuclear family alone and I didn’t go out to service my extended family and my community, I would be cheating myself because there are so many people who put in the work in public service. 

Public service itself in whichever way you look at it, if you do it well, you can impact as many lives as possible. We get out of our homes not to build the economy. We get out to get food for our people and ourselves. We build the economy as a byproduct to service our immediate dependants and ourselves. But you can leverage that by getting into public service. You go out to make this community much better. The excellence that we admire in those communities and countries that work better than ours, is mainly excellence that is made up of so many people doing small civic public things with dedication. If more of us engaged in public service to the best of our ability, in our capacity. I think that society would become better. It creates an upward spiral as opposed to everybody just expecting everyone else to do it and nobody does. Or the one person who does it does it badly. 

RK: It is worse if it was not done at all. 

DM: Absolutely. But the biggest question is if not me, then who?

RK: Exactly. Let’s go to the extracurricular stuff. Both of us have an agony and each time we have to go through it, we must postpone our pain because we must deal with the pain of supporting Arsenal Football Club. Our sons are more diehard supporters of Arsenal than ourselves. Each time we have been through that pain for like ten years now, how have you dealt with your son and the problems of Arsenal?

DM: Not so long ago, my son told me that I conned him into supporting Arsenal. But I guess he wouldn’t say that if he had supported Arsenal during the days of Thiery Henry. But I think a very valuable thing in extracurricular activities, first of all, human beings are multifaceted. The things that make people tick include sport, music, art, socialising. Again young people, when you go to an interview and they ask you what your hobbies are, it is a very valuable thing to be able to speak of something other than your professional career. It’s important that you’ve read all the books and you have a first class degree but nobody wants a robot. People want to work with human beings. 

I can’t tell you the number of projects I have landed as a lawyer not because I was the supremely best and uncontainably best lawyer in Kampala but because I could talk to someone about something that we had in common. I have sat with people watching formula one races and that person on a Monday is thinking of which lawyer they would like to employ and remembers me cutting a joke about his driver or team and he says, can you come around, there is a problem I have. Or say to you as you are leaving, come by my office tomorrow. And he is the CEO of a big entity. These things of being a gunner, teach them to your children. Teach them that they have to be broad people. I didn’t con my son into being a gunner so the gunners are the best team and he chose arsenal. 

Having chosen arsenal, he became a fanatic supporter. He has stripes some of which he has outgrown, he uses them as pyjamas.  And some are in better build that others he uses them for crucial matches. And then hugs a cushion for comfort. I think being a gunner teaches you patience, the value of loyalty, brings out the aspect of hope. You need to keep hope and optimism alive. A person that is not optimistic,that doesn’t expect better sometimes even against evidence becomes a depressed person. But it helps you to manage and understand expectations. One of the things that my 15 year old son has learnt is to manage expectations. When things were going relay bad earlier on the past couple of years, after bad matches, he would turn on the playstation and make arsenal win. 

RK: He learnt compensation psychology. 

DM: He learnt to succeed in things he can control. He couldn’t control the other match, he would play this one and win. It also helped him understand football terms; formations, players and their ratings and the like. That makes you more interesting and a more rounded person but being a gunner teaches you a lot of things including dealing with pain. 

RK: For me, what I would say as a father, it’s given me an opportunity of common ground with which I can have long conversations with my son. I look back and there wasn’t very much in common that we would spend hours talking about unless he was lecturing me about the downside of consuming alcohol. With the common ground of sports we can talk about many things and it gives me an opportunity to pass on the lessons you have just described. 

DM: Correct. It’s the same for me. I have been privileged enough to tell him that I struggled with mathematics in primary school. I promised him that we would go to the Emirates if he could pull off the maths in his final exam. He managed to pull it off and I also had to pull off some maths to make sure that we went to the Emirates. And I was very fortunate to watch a game in 2019 Manchester United at the Emirates and beat them 2 nil. It was very exciting and  a bonding experience for both of us. 

RK: I don’t think he has forgotten that or that he will forget it in a very long time. 

DM: Absolutely not. 

RK: It leads me to my other question, you said that human beings are multifaceted which brings me to you; deejaying, how did that come about?

DM: I have loved music for the longest time. For as long as I can remember I have listened to records. For the younger people used to the digital age, it’s hard to explain. Music used to come in records. These are things I have shown my children and they are quite amazed that I have LPs and cassettes. Music had sleeve notes and sleeve art. I would look at my elder brother’s music collection and I would read all the notes. I never picked up a music instrument much as my mother took me to learn to play the piano. The piano came at the same time as a popular program called Daktari, I don’t know whether you remember that. 

RK: Please don’t go down that road, the memories are still fresh.

DM: I never ever wanted to miss Daktari. I missed playing a musical instrument but I really highly appreciate music. As time went on, I became more curious, I started listening to the patterns.. and for as long as I can remember, there has been a song in my mind. I have been humming or singing a song to myself. And I have different songs for different moods. Sometimes I will be thinking of something very serious and I have a certain song in my mind and another when I am sad and another when I am happy. And when I could afford it, I started collecting music. That was like in my A levels. My uncle the late John Masembe also got me into music. He would write on the sleeves with his beautiful handwriting and that got me loving music and admiring DJs secretly. But I never had the opportunity of learning music technology as it is now. Imagine waking up to Mrs Mpanga and telling her ‘I want to be a DJ’.

RK: I don’t know how that would have ended. 

DM: It would have ended in her asking “kyo kye ki” -what’s that? and that is a rhetorical question. 

I started collecting music at A level, and continued at university. When I would come on holiday, the biggest nightclubs at the time were Club Clouds, Tropicana 1/10. The owner of Clouds is still a friend Charlie Twagyira employed Alex Ndaula and then conceded Club Clouds to some friends of mine. These friends, knowing that I knew and loved music encouraged me to buy music. I would go to Brixton to buy 12 inch mixes which are usually the rap version of popular songs. They were always the best. I would buy those records and bring them here for sale and get myself some pocket money. Also the pride of thinking we have got this song first in Kampala. You can’t imagine that sometimes a song would take a year or two to arrive here. 

RK: Those were always bragging rights. 

DM: Absolutely! And the DJs would make tapes which they would then sell. That’s how I started getting into music collection. There’s time when it was exponentially growing as I was earning a salary. My first fat paycheck as a barrister, I bought a music system. 

RK: We are children of a particular generation. 

DM: For sure. As time progressed, I started making playlists. As music became digital on various apps. One Christmas party, I stood by the DJ. He must have been wondering why I was standing by him instead of dancing. And we struck up a conversation. I told him about my passion for music and he told me he would teach me how to DJ. And this was not very long ago. We are talking about 2019. He told me to call him after the christmas season and I am sure he thought I was joking. But I called. He brought his equipment and started. He was surprised that I knew a lot of the music. I mostly play oldies RnB and HipHop. He was supposed to teach me the DJ programs but he was surprised I knew all the music. Then he challenged me to buy a controller of my own. That was a Saturday. On Monday I called him after buying the controller. I asked him what do I do next? 

RK: He must have wondered, what’s going on here

DM: In God’s strange ways, he was preparing me for the lockdown. That was around January/ February 2020. And when the lockdown came and I had a lot of time at home, I had something to do. I had a small collection  that DJ Moze had given me and I was playing around with the controller. 

I would tell you the story of a friend who betrayed me and put that out into social media but that friend was you so I will tell the story in another space. You brought some matooke to my house during lockdown and you had music playing and you wondered why there is music playing on the other side of the house. I remember how surprised you were when you saw the controller. That’s how I started dabbling in the DJ business.

RK: Tell me, what does it do to you as an individual, what does it mean to have something completely out of your line to have something you do?

DM: It is a very beautiful release. It’s something that takes away from the tensions you endure in the world. It makes you think of new ways of doing things. As I said earlier, I am 51 and one of the ways they tell us to keep dementia away is to use your brain in new ways. The brain is a muscle.. the more ways in which you learn to do new things, the more fit your brain will be.  It’s like how regular exercise helps me get tension out of my body. DJing is just fun. There are new challenges that I would like to learn. I am at the beginner stage. So I am always practising. I couldn’t put out the things I am getting good at. I am not yet good at things like scratching and other illustrious things. I watch endless videos on YouTube and practice on my own when I have a minute. It’s dedication and doing something you love. 

Comrade Otoa: You have talked about the long term game. And you did a merger with an international firm and you have been phenomenal in your work but you partnering with an international firm, could you speak to that. What inspired you to do that?

DM: This question links to something I shared earlier; planning your professional life. When I started together with two colleagues,we had a five year plan. In 2003, our plan was to be amongst the top five corporate firms in Uganda we wanted to break through and be recognised as such. And we were lucky to be recognized by Leading Chambers within four years of our existence. The next thing on our plan for the ten years, was to be practising on an African level. We had this project called Africa 2013, I was responsible for it. The multinationals we wanted to serve envisioned Africa as the next big thing. We have an east Africa division which runs Rwanda, Kenya, Zambia and they have to make a decision on who represents them. You might have a strong relationship on the ground with counsel. When a decision is made, they like to have it in one area of contact. You might have a client and lose a client because you don’t have someone representing you at a place where decisions are made. 

The second thing is that after privatisation with multi nationals coming into Uganda, and into the region, we had a number of gateways into the region. The gateways were London, Dubai, Nairobi and Johannesburg. These places, you need to have a way of speaking to the people whilst there at the early decision stage. By the time the client comes into Uganda, they have already spoken to someone who is their guide in Uganda and you would be lucky if they have chosen you but it might not be sustainable. We thought that it would be useful and best for us to be racising at an African level. We were at a conference in Nairobi and we happened to meet some people who were the African partner for Bowmans and another in Nairobi. They had an idea of setting up an African Law Firm. We sat down and talked to these people over lunch who were looking for work just as we were and their plans were resonating with our plans, so we kept in touch and over a period of 6 to 9 months, we ended up buying into the idea of what was the Bowman Glifan African Group which was a group that spanned Tanzania, South Africa, Uganda and Kenya, Botswana and Madagascar and the idea was that in this network. We would work like the European Union. It has a number of untold benefits as a practitioner. It opens us up the possibility of doing work across the continent. 

I am a very strong Panafric East African who has lived in Europe and came back partly because of that feeling that I didn’t belong and it caused me a lot of pain that our work is out there and that we are divided. Because we don’t have scale and we don’t have skill. The Ugandan economy can only allow me to scale upto a certain level. You can’t have a 20, 50 or 100 partner firm in Uganda because our economy cannot sustain that. But if you go out on a wider scale, you can get the benefit of having 130 or 150 partners. There is a guy who has done only bonds since he left university. There is a lady who has done only environmental work, you can call on everyone. We can now compete with international law firms for work which would previously be done in London or elsewhere. We can now sit on top tables and young lawyers can see that this is possible. 

The way the world is going we must network across Africa, across regions and for the appeal for a Pan African rather than tying up with an American or British firm which is not a bad thing was about me saying we are Africans. We understand and can talk the language of the ground game. But it’s also enabling us to get the kind of quality of work that international law firms have. We can scale across many countries 

Brenda Ntambirweki: You are one of the lawyers in the market known for employing women and empowering them. What message would you have for the other men in the room who are doubtful about giving women a chance and empowering them? 

DM: This is a very important question because it affects half of our entire population. I was asked to speak at Bulange to men at a gender event. And I said to them, we have never asked ourselves why we have two legs, why we have two ears or two eyes or how to walk. I don’t know why we need seminars or the need for men and women to work together. To have our full potential brought out. How empowering it is in general for both men and women to succeed. I can’t see a downside in that. In the legal profession, many women have to take time out to fulfil a biological function which is essential to our species. It’s never dawned on me that we should penalise them for that. In fact, they are very much for the better for that. They are much better at many things. In terms of networking in ways which impede the success of women’s profession. We need to find ways of enabling networking in ways that grow female partners in our profession. And we need to be very conscious of it. There’s a consciousness needed around this. It is not a favour. We need all of them to play. You can’t grow wrong. If your business empowers women, it will do better. It will succeed. 

Jason: How would you describe a life well lived to your children?

DM: A life well lived is a life where you have engaged your passions. Live a full life in the sense that you are happy. Success is not about material things alone but how you have touched people’s lives. Legacy. What do people think of you? And how you make them feel. If I teach that to my children and they learn it, I will have been successful as a parent.

But I will also tell my children, and I endeavour to teach them the dangers of materialism. One of the greatest ills there is now in society is materialism. Ostentation and showing off. Wanting to be seen. These people are getting depressed, starving themselves, stealing and lying to people to get money. Lying that their lives are so glorious. I was at a restaurant not so long ago with my children and we had a great laugh. We saw some people (influencers) and they were taking these beautiful pictures in a nicely set up restaurant. We were in the real world and they were faking the image of the world. They were doing this happy laugh out loud face without a single sound coming out, looking like they are laughing hard with their eyes closed. And they would do it just for a split second and go back to themselves. That is fake. If we understand that it is not real and that there is the best we can be then I will have succeeded in bring up my children as good citizens 

Bernard Mukasa: Young people have a lot of instant gratification, how does one standout?

DM: Young people, the best way to stand out is sharpening your skill and understanding that competition is no longer local. Our competition is regional and international. You have to scale up and do things in a way that cannot be copied and replicated by somebody in another place. You must be the person who can identify people’s problems and come up with the quickest, most sustainable solution. And also be fun to work with. I always tell the young people I work with that I have not seen anyone reach out to an undertaker with a birthday card or something. For all their professionalism, they bring memories of sorrow. They are not the people we want around ourselves when we are having fun. As a professional one should endeavour not to be like that. Be a person people are fun to be around. You will be surprised at how many referrals you will get. Artificial intelligence can’t tell good jokes, or at least not yet. 

It’s important to be adaptable as a young professional and to understand that the landscape has changed. Sometimes people look at us and think we are an overnight success. It is important that people don’t think I am an overnight success. I am 51 and I have been practicing for close to 30 years. There is no such thing as sustainable overnight success. It doesn’t exist. 

RK: I may add as well that I have been in the media for 30 years.

DM: Correct. If you want to enjoy your success. You must be able to stand out. You must be adaptable. But you must be able to take care of your health. Exercise. Get into the habit of eating well and sleeping restfully. 

For one I parted ways with alcohol about 15 years ago and I am happy that I did. Because  sobriety is another very crucial thing. I am not saying it’s the way for everybody but it’s useful. Do various things in moderation. Apply yourself because the competition is that much bigger.  Where it used to be one university, it’s a number of them now. Even LDC which used to have one campus, now has three. The same is true in other countries. And all these people can do your job. You must stand out. 

Tio Kauma: If you were speaking to you 18 year old self today in retrospect, as a word of younger people that are listening in?

DM: If I sat down with my 18 year old self, I would tell myself that life is a marathon and that I should employ the effort that is necessary to succeed and understand that there are a number of things I will never have a second chance to succeed at and other things I will have plenty of chances ot do. 

I think if I am to look back on the few things I regret, my regrets are about things for which I had only one opportunity to do. Sometimes it might be about people who are no longer with us and you didn’t spend time with them. It’s opportunities you missed as you thought they would always be around. You lost time doing things you could always do. That is what I would tell my 18 year old self.

2 thoughts on “David F.K. Mpanga on Life

  1. Thank you very much David for this.
    A bunch of thanks to Sir Robert. I have really learnt alot from this. Just like many others.

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