1969 – 1979: The Teaching Years

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

Lao Tzu

In 1969, two brilliant young lawyers: John Winston Katende and Edward Fredrick Ssempebwa, complete their legal training at the University of East Africa in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. They set out to drastically change Uganda’s legal landscape, which hitherto, has been dominated by non-indigenous Ugandans. Their dream is to infuse intellect and rare tact into this field, which has attracted only a handful of ethnic Ugandans.   

Making a commitment to remain united (a promise they have kept for 50 years), they establish Katende, Ssempebwa & Company Advocates aka ‘KATS’. However, being cognizant of the need to widen their horizons, they seek advanced legal training abroad.

Besides augmenting their academic portfolios, they have the vision to realize that future legal challenges will demand exposure to international legal regimes. John Katende heads to Massachusetts to join Harvard University in the United States of America, while Prof. Ssempebwa opts for Queens University, Belfast, in Ireland.

Idi Amin Coup

In 1971, Idi Amin seizes power in a military coup. Uganda is under military dictatorship until 1979.

In a bid to contribute to the churning out of more stellar performers in the profession, the duo strike a delicate balance between private practice and the world of academia. At the time, Uganda had few lawyers and the Law School had just started. The two Founding Partners volunteer to be among the very first lecturers at the newly established Department of Law, at Makerere University.

John Katende teaches ‘Introduction to Law’ and the ‘Law of Business Associations’ while Prof. Ssempebwa imparts knowledge in ‘The Law of Contracts’ and ‘Constitutional law’.

With time, they also become lecturers and external examiners at the Universities of Dar-es-Salaam, Malawi, Nairobi and Zambia.

“Teachers affect eternity; no one can tell where their influence stops.”

Henry Brooks Adams

Among an entire generation of lawyers tutored by the two and other lecturers, are the current Speaker of Uganda’s Parliament, Rt. Hon. Rebecca Kadaga and the Chief Justice, His Lordship Bart Katureebe.

Below is a photo montage, which is a representative sample of ‘students’ that they introduced to the Law.

The late Cyprian Kawoya (RIP), a former Magistrate and alumnus of University College of East Africa, at Dar-es-Salaam, is the first full-time Associate to join the firm. Sadly, he is picked up as he leaves the High Court in Kampala, in 1982, during former President Apollo Milton Obote’s regime, and brutally murdered in broad day light.

John Katende authors ‘The Law of Business Associations in East and Central Africa’, which quickly becomes one of the leading text books in all law schools across East and Central Africa.

His two student research assistants, while writing this text book, are Amama Mbabazi, who, years later, is appointed as Uganda’s Prime Minister and John Sentamu who scales heights and becomes – and still is – the Archbishop of York in Britain.

Prof. Ssempebwa authors scores of articles, published in international publications in the fields of: ‘Law and Development’, ‘Regional Integration’ and ‘Constitutional Law’.

One of the Firm's early headed papers

The Firm’s phone numbers and postal address have never changed!

Also worthy of note is that prior to introduction of mobile telephone services, the Partners’ residential phone numbers had to be included on the headed paper.

Although it sounds comical today, there was once a time when lawyers would file a case in court, seeking judgment of a mere Uganda Shillings Nine Thousand Eight Hundred and Twenty (UGX 9,820)In today’s currency that amount is equivalent to a paltry two and half bucks (US$2.5). 

It should be noted, though, that at the time of the claim, you could purchase a halfway decent car for UGX 3,000.

John Katende conducts a good deal of Public Interest Litigation on behalf of people who are falsely accused by the Gen. Idi Amin regime, in the 1970s. This is a suicidal undertaking in light of the fact that, the military regime has little respect for the rule of law. His daring legal efforts save many lives, including two notable Makerere University students: Rt. Hon. Ruhakana Rugunda who is currently Uganda’s Prime Minister and Ambassador Olara Otunnu who is later appointed Under Secretary General of the United Nations.

Idi Amin Overthrown

In 1979, Idi Amin is overthrown by Ugandan liberation forces, with the help of the Tanzania national army.