Mumtaz Kassam Keelite of the Month February 2013

1979 Law and Psychology

Mumtaz Kassam on Annapurna What am I doing now?

I am the Deputy Head of Mission, currently Chargé d' Affaires, at the Uganda Embassy Rome, Italy. I am also the Alternate Representative to the 3 United Nations Based Agencies in Rome, the Food and Agricultural Organisation, World Food Programme and International Fund for Agricultural Development. I was upgraded to Ambassador level after Uganda hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in 2007. I was part of the protocol committee in Uganda that was in Charge of the Royal Party. Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Phillip were in Uganda and Prince Charles and Duchess of Cornwall were also there. Several Heads other Commonwealth countries were also in Uganda.

Photo: Left Trekking in the Himalayas, the Annapurna trek  1992.

How did you get to where you are now?

I managed to complete my doctorate in Law, part time. The thesis was on Land, Race and Politics- The Asian migration to Uganda,  the subsequent expulsion and their return (1900-2010).

What has been your biggest achievement so far?

After the 1972 Expulsion of Asians from Uganda, when their properties were expropriated and the Asians given only 90 days to leave the country, I and the rest of my family became refugees. Our family was split up as we were made stateless by the Idi Amin regime in Uganda. My parents and younger brothers and sisters ended up in Malta as refugees, whilst the rest of my siblings and I became refugees in the UK. That is when my interest in Law and Human rights began and I went to Keele to study Law and Psychology. I then qualified as a Solicitor and practised in England. When Uganda passed the Expropriated Properties Act in 1982 to return the Asian properties that were confiscated by the Amin Government. I took a keen interest in the issues and in 1986, visited Uganda for the first time since being expelled, to assist in the repossession exercise. I then set up a law practice in Uganda and was assisting the government of Uganda in pioneering a system of return of these properties. The law and the process was complex and after the exercise was more or less over with 90 per cent returned to the rightful owners, or the owners being compensated, I was requested by the Government of Uganda to serve my country. The legal work done in Uganda on the Return of Expropriated properties to the Asians who were expelled in 1972, after a lapse of several years, is a unique gesture for an African state.

Mumtaz meeting Nelson Mandela One of my proudest moments was meeting Nelson Mandela soon after he was released from prison...

Photo left: Meeting President Mandela. He came to Uganda as part of his tour to thank the countries that supported his cause.

And your biggest mistake?

My biggest mistake has been in trusting some family members too much and not ensuring that proper documents and agreements were signed as once these properties were repossessed, the eldest member of our extended family did not keep his word and in the absence of a written deed of partnership, claimed that all the family properties were now solely his.

What are your ambitions now?

My ambition now is to publish my thesis as a book where a lot of legal and emotional issues relating to land can be expressed.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in a similar field?

Working as a diplomat has given me amazing exposure, particularly in London where, once I was a refugee and then coming back as a senior diplomat. My advice to anyone wanting to do diplomacy is, one has to have a very broad outlook to life, be keen on current affairs, be prepared to work long and irregular hours and basically have a knack of getting on with people of different backgrounds. Having trained as a lawyer assists my work tremendously, particularly in the UN agencies in Rome.

What made you choose Keele University?

I selected Keele University because I had not yet decided the choice of subjects for the degree course. I wanted to study either Philosophy, Politics and Economics, or Law with Psychology. The Foundation year at Keele helped me in making the right choice. I am a keen sports player and the facilities at Keele are good and the huge campus and greenery a bonus.

Graduation 1979 What kind of a student were you?

I was a member of several committees and helped organise cultural events and participated in sports such as tennis, hockey and squash.

How has Keele influenced your life?

Keele University showed me the benefits of campus life as you become part of a community of students from different walks of life and cultures. I have maintained my friendship with several graduates from Keele.

What is your favourite memory of Keele?

My favourite memory of Keele is how lovely the campus looked when it snowed and the many students who would take the refectory trays to go sliding by the beautiful lake!

What is your impression of Keele now?

I returned to Keele a couple of years ago to give a talk and I was pleasantly surprised as to how much it has grown with new faculties added. It is also much more cosmopolitan now.

Anything else you would like to add?

There was a good rapport between the tutors and students at Keele, being a campus university, and the proximity helped forge friendships which are long-lasting.