From human rights to Law dean

Dr Roselyn Karugonjo- Segawa is the dean of the Faculty of Law at Uganda Christian University. The Standard’s Benezeri Wanjalainterviewed her and wrote a story.

Roselyn Karugonjo Segawa was born 44 years ago to Frederick Karugonjo (RIP), a lawyer, and Christine Gwala (RIP), a primary school Headteacher. She grew up with her grandparents, Engineer Gervase and Mrs Magdalene Karugonjo, and later with her father and her step mother, his wife, Mrs Josephine Bossa Karugonjo. Mrs Karugonjo is also a lawyer.  

 From a young age, she was encouraged to be a lawyer. Her mum (Mrs Karugonjo) was strict about her doing her school work. At the time, Roselyn says, she thought her mum was being too hard on her and delaying her play time. She saw it as a punishment but she now appreciates what she was doing. 

 Partly because of the studying discipline that was inculcated in her by her mother, she excelled academically. However, there was another motivating factor, her father’s smile. “The smile on his face as he looked at my report card after I had excelled. So I wasn’t even reading for my future, I just read to pass so that I could see my dad smile. That was all,” she says.

Schools

 She studied at a kindergarten in the vestry of an Anglican Church, in Bulindi, Hoima. She also studied at a nursery school in Muyenga, whose name she can’t remember, except that it was headed by a lady known as Nalongo. She attended Namugongo Primary School, a boarding school, from P1 to P4. Then she joined Nakasero Primary School, from where she completed her primary education.

For O-level, she studied at Kibuli Secondary School. She then joined Gayaza High School, where she did A-level. 

 In 1996, she joined Makerere University to study law. She graduated in 1999, and in 2000 she graduated from the Law Development Centre. 

Finding Christ 

 Roselyn comes from a strong Roman Catholic background. She viewed born-again people as “people who pretend to know Jesus more than me”, and she never wanted to be a part of that.

However,  she loved to read, and her roommate and friend, Rebecca Isiko, identified and took advantage of that “loophole”. She dropped Biblical tracts on her bed, and Roselyn read them. She kept cross-checking with the Bible to verify the authenticity of the verses. 

 Earlier, Roselyn had decided that she would eventually get saved at 35, “because that was the end of youth.” Therefore, she says, she couldn’t understand how, with 20 years to go, she was spending time in the Word. “So I said, ‘haa, now I’m going to get really bored in salvation,’” she recalls. However, she got convicted when she read in the Bible that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and on August 1st 1992, she gave her life to Christ. 

Roselyn later found out that Rebecca and her parents, one of whom was a pastor, had been regularly praying for her to get saved, and therefore her salvation was her friend’s answered prayer. 

At school, she decided to lie low and contain her `fire’, because she feared expulsion. Earlier, she had told her Muslim friend that she had given her life to Christ, and the friend had converted. When the friend went back home during the holidays, her parents beat her up badly. They also told the school administration, and fellowships were banned henceforth. Roselyn would have been expelled, if she didn’t have such good grades. 

 She excelled in her s4 finals and got admitted to Gayaza High School for A Level. She describes the two years she spent at Gayaza, as some of the best of her life. She was able to freely worship, as well as to engage in fellowship with like minded people. After Gayaza, she was admitted to law school at Makerere University.

Career

 During her studies in law school, she wasn’t particularly interested in most of the course units. She did them as a fulfilment to her obligation. However, when she was introduced to Human Rights related course units, a fire inside her was ignited. She knew it was the field she would dedicate her career to. 

“When I was choosing to be a lawyer, back in high school,” she says “I felt that the law should be used as a tool to balance out inequalities.” 

 In her final year at university, Margaret Sekagya of the Uganda Human Rights Commission, gave a guest lecture on human rights at the university. Roselyn was inspired. When she completed her studies, she sought a job at the Commission.  However,  there were no vacancies so she volunteered without pay for nine months. 

 She worked at UHRC for 13 years, rising to the position of director of monitoring and inspection, after serving as a research assistant, a human rights officer, a senior human rights officer, and a registrar. She resigned to pursue a PhD, in 2013, as well as to focus on consultancy work.

 Between 2014 and 2016 she worked on various consultancy assignments including the National Action Plan for Human Rights in Uganda, as the team leader of the human rights consultants for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the United Nations office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. She worked with Prof Christopher Mbazira of Makerere University, Mr George Baitera and Mr Fabius Okumu Alya on the plan. She admits that it was “a lot of work” but the money she earned helped cover her costs.

 In January 2016, she started teaching at Uganda Christian University, part time.

Postgraduate studies

In 2003, Roselyn went to the University of Pretoria, in South Africa, to pursue her Master’s degree (LLM) in Human Rights and Democratisation of Africa, while on study leave. “I was really privileged. When I applied, I was given a position on scholarship, and I took it up,” she says. 

 She fell in love with the university. She liked that the lecturers were approachable and that their teaching style was flexible. “You could have an academic relationship with lecturers that was personal. You could interact and ask as many questions as you liked, to get clarity. I liked their style,” she says. 

 She was inspired to return and do her doctorate at the same university 10 years later. She says it took her 10 years because she did not want to have a long distance marriage. “When I went to do my Master’s, I’d been engaged to be married to my husband. I thought it would be unfair to keep him waiting again,” she says. She had gotten married in July 2004, seven months after she completed her Master’s degree and returned to Uganda. 

 In 2006, they had their first child, Shanessa, and she did not want to leave her baby and husband. She had also just been promoted at UHRC. So she continued to work.

PhD

In 2010, she enrolled for the PhD and was admitted. Around the same time, she realised that she was pregnant with her second child, Shane. She abandoned the PhD. In February 2013, she finally commenced her PhD. She graduated in 2018.

 Roselyn was not a resident at the University of Pretoria, as she pursued her PhD. She had earlier agreed with her husband that they would not have a long distance marriage. So she did most of the work by online correspondence, and she went to Pretoria only when she needed to.

 Her husband is Moses Segawa, who is also a lawyer. He is a partner at the reputed law firm, Sebalu and Lule Advocates.

 She went in the first year because there was a course on research methodology that she had to attend in person. She went back to defend her proposal and she also went to meet her supervisor who said it was okay for her to communicate online.

“Prof Magnus Killander was a great supervisor. He would give me feedback in a very short time. I wondered how he did it,” she recalls. “You would spend months writing a chapter, then you would hand it in on a Friday, and by Monday you would have the chapter back with lots of comments. I found it gruelling, but also rewarding. Most people told me that ‘when Magnus is done with you, you will excel because he is an excellent supervisor.’”

 Her academic journey was not free of challenges. After two years, she had to start her PhD afresh- in August 2015. “My first supervisor was not as direct, so he did not tell me that my topic was too wide. In fact, the particular topic [that I had embarked on], had just been written on by another gentleman. So while discussing with the director of the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria, he felt that the topic had been overwritten. He advised me to start on a new topic, with Professor Magnus Killander, who then advised me to take on a different angle.” He helped her come up with a topic on the right to participate in development. “I narrowed it down to; what does this right entail, when you’re talking about national development and planning, especially in Uganda? And that’s what I wrote about.”

Joining UCU

When Roselyn went to  the   University of Pretoria, a love for teaching was birthed. However, it wasn’t until 2016 that she was able to teach. So when I heard that there was an opportunity to join Uganda Christian University, I said ‘I could do that’,” she says. She also learnt that Uganda Christian University was establishing an Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. 

 In 2015, she worked with a colleague, Joshua Niyo, to write the paper for the establishment of the John Sentamu Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. In 2016, she applied to teach part-time. She started out teaching jurisprudence, international humanitarian law, evidence and eventually she was able to teach human rights law. She coordinated the inaugural multi-disciplinary short course on human rights in August 2017 which was hosted by the Faculty of Law and the UN OHCHR. 

 She says she didn’t set out to become a dean. “I was just doing my job. I was happy to be a lecturer because I was free to teach and also do my consultancy work,” she says. 

 However in 2017, when the opportunity arose for a full-time lecturer, she took it up and she was appointed in August. She began to notice that Dr Anthony Kakooza, the dean then, was giving her more work and sending her to represent him.

 Then in 2017, after just a year as a lecturer, she was recognised by the Uganda Law Society as the runner up for the Female Academic of the Year Award. “I took it as confirmation that this should be my new profession. I felt that that was a nod from colleagues and from God that I was in the right place.”

Completing the PhD

In 2018, she had to go to South Africa for a month as she worked towards completion of her doctorate. “It was the longest I had been away from my family.” She went in July and returned in August, in order to be back in time to teach, but she continued working even after she returned.

 “There were so many comments to address. I felt like I was going crazy trying to address the hundreds of comments, on top of teaching. But I didn’t cut classes. I remember praying to God for wisdom because it was too much.”     

 She concentrated and handed in her final draft. She then waited to go and defend her thesis, but she was informed that she did not have to. That obligation had been waived. “That’s when they sent me the certificate that I had complied with the requirements of the Doctor of Laws and the degree would be awarded on December  7 2018. I was the happiest.”

 She said it was fulfilling because of the “fact that I had started something and completed it, with all the odds stacked against me, with all the distractions.”

During her month in Pretoria, she had just three hours of sleep everyday, waking up at 5am and only going to bed at 2am. She spent the entire day in the library and only ate once, in the evening when her relative, George, brought food to her apartment/ guest house.

 She credits her completion to the support system she had, especially her family. Her husband paid for her air tickets, and she travelled, on average, twice or thrice a year. He also paid for her accommodation whenever she was in South Africa. He also always encouraged her and checked to ensure that she was alright and had eaten.

 She says that both her young children also carried trays with fruit, up the stairs so that she could eat regularly. They also kept encouraging her and checking on her progress. She is grateful to her mother-in-law, sister-in-law and cousin who helped to take care of the children whenever she needed to be free to work. She is also grateful to her long-serving maid and her Watoto cell group that she hosted every Wednesday at their Butabika home. She is also grateful to Dr Kakooza, who kept encouraging her and pushing her to finish. 

She looks up to Margaret Sekagya, the former chairperson of Uganda Human Rights Commission, who is also her mentor. She highlights Justice Solome Bossa and her parents as her role models. She says that she finds it interesting that she has combined the professions of her father, and her two mums- law and teaching.

 She advises PhD students to pick a research subject that they are passionate about, because they will be stuck with that topic for three to five years. She says that one must be careful about their choice of a supervisor. The supervisor, she says, must be an expert and must share the passion. She adds that one must prioritize their research and give it adequate time. Her final piece of advice is to enlist support from family, friends and God.