Sunday June 26 2016

My track record is clear; I am the best for AU job

Dr Specioza Wandira Kazibwe

Dr Specioza Wandira Kazibwe 

By Ivan Okuda

At what point did you pick interest in the AU Commission job?
I have to let Uganda and Africa know that I have been a pan-Africanist since secondary school and have taken public service as deployment. Whereas I have been working with and supporting the African Union, it had never occurred to me that I would stand for a position in the African Union. It is my government that sought me, asked me to give my CV and write my vision of what should happen at AU.

How is the competition like so far?
The competition is within yourself all the time. I never imagine I am competing with anyone for anything. There are currently three nominated candidates, one from Equatorial Guinea and Botswana; they have both been ministers of foreign affairs.

What in your view is that critical role you have to play?
My calling is within the ideology of pan-Africanism to situate Africans and Africa in their right place globally. That means you have to believe you are African and whatever you do must be in Africa’s interest. Other people’s interests are secondary. I represent the dignity of Africa and other people should know Africans are capable, they have the brain, capacity and can move their continent without interference from anyone else.

Talking of interference let me pick your mind on the International Criminal Court which has come under attack from some African leaders, calling for withdrawal on the account of bias
The role of the chairperson of AU Commission is to implement what the heads of state have agreed on. Right now the position of the heads of state is to investigate the feasibility of Africa getting out of ICC and that includes reasons why ICC was put in place and what we need to address the issues why ICC was put in place.

Well the other argument on the flip side is that the voices against ICC are coming from leaders who are candidates for ICC by virtue of their wanting human rights record
Only one country was against Africa withdrawing from the ICC. It is a matter of capacity building. Africa has matured. We cannot outsource everything. Our economies are growing and now is the time for us to start the path of cultural independence, meaning building the democratic institutions in Africa and African-based institutions based on African values.

When you speak of the dignity of the African people someone somewhere in South Africa will say you come from a country and serve a government whose actions don’t speak to dignity of its people. Tear gas and contested elections are the order of the day here
When people are being tear gassed and not ‘bullet gassed’, it is a process that shows there is order and systems to maintain order and protect those at peace and doing their things and also those disturbing the order.
I have lived in Uganda, instead of tear gas it was bullets, instead of sticks it was knives and pangas and even next door in Rwanda. Before independence it was your arm cut off by government if you were not in a right line. All those are symptoms of a society re-aligning itself to lawful management of the affairs of society.

But their Opposition leaders are jailed and tormented with all tribes of frivolous charges and their elections are relatively free and fair
If you break the law you will be jailed and what is the parameter for determining fairness in elections? It is the votes that have been counted. People can contest and say that didn’t happen and it is wrong.

Your nominating country, a foreigner would argue, is led by a man who belongs to a pack of African leaders who have overstayed their welcome, amended constitutions to extend their power retention projects and done everything under the sun to suppress legitimate Opposition
I must say democracy has to be defined and after you have defined, it is about participation of the people expressing their will. If the Constitution says you can stay in power then that be it. There are countries in the world that are not democratic at all, people are born and die leaders.

It is also about freedom of choice. When a Constitution is amended after MPs have been bribed with Shs5m surely that is not democracy but ‘money-cracy’
It is very easy to say people have been bribed with Shs5m. I recall I was at Parliament at the time we changed the Constitution and I had a system in my constituency that money was put on the constituency account and we used it to consult, among other things. Except that clause, there were other issues about local government, when to revisit the Constitution, affirmative action, those were being addressed and people spoke to those issues.

Now the problem in Africa is that politics has taken the upper hand. To me right now politics should be important but not the most important thing. That is where attention should be, but once we think democracy is about changing from one person to another like you change your shirts, we get it wrong.

Sounds pedestrian but it is out there. People are saying this is yet another job for Dr Wandira. Why should we be bothered?
That talks to the role of AU. The AU is the executive seat for all countries of Africa and all policies that unite us together as Africa are discussed and the implementation done there. For now it coordinates the regionals, the interface of Africa as a whole with the global community, cross border infrastructure like a policy on these mobile phones. Who will ensure every African has their bundles for airtime fairly priced? At the next summit we are going to launch an AU passport so you can move from here with your skill as a journalist and work in any part of Africa.

There were reports you had been given $1 million for this campaign
The ministry has already secured Shs3.5b to clear all the arrears and budgeted for the current financial year to pay this year.

You sat in the AU’s Panel of the Wise and Uganda was all along forfeiting its financial obligations? You should be embarrassed that the country now has to rush to clear dues because a Ugandan is contesting
It was not forfeiting, it pays when it gets the money to do so because that all shows credibility is more important than richness. Uganda’s contribution to AU is heavier than the money it is meant to subscribe. Uganda was a founder member of AU, she has been at fore front to contribute to security in Chad, South Sudan, Somalia and is one of the two countries that have committed to subscribe to the AU Force.

The other question that keeps popping up is, was Specioza Wandira the best the country could offer for the job?
Like I told you, I was asked to produce a CV and the government assessed. But as an individual, I think I am the best; I am qualified, tested, experienced and I am a pan-African.

Let’s get back to the monies. Has government cashed in Shs3.5 billion to facilitate your hunt for support for this position?
I have not been given any million dollars. What I have been given or promised to be given is my per diem and they hand me a ticket to look for votes.

I ask this because Mr Museveni has been quite generous at expending tax payers’ money to support your endeavours. You got sizeable money to pursue a doctorate at Harvard University
Which was wrong because Ugandans don’t read. The Shs1.5b is out there in the Harvard School of Public Health; how much do you pay annually and per semester is all out there.

So it is not true government of Uganda paid your fees for the doctorate at Harvard?
That is true, but the amount of money even frightens anyone who would wish to go to Harvard which is a bad thing. You say Shs1.5b to do a doctorate at Harvard and you frighten those who want to go there.
So how much did the taxpayer incur for that doctorate?
You go and do the research, go to the website of the Harvard School of Public Health.

So how much did government give you for all that?
I don’t know. I don’t remember.

You need to clarify this madam because it is a matter of national importance, how taxpayers’ money is used
You know my mind (for the interview) was not on this. It doesn’t matter what the public is saying on how much I was given. What matters to me is that the country spent money and I came back with what that money was meant to do and it has prepared me for the AU job even if it had been Shs10b it would have been worth it so I am not bothered so they can talk. How much is shs3.5b?

Equatorial Guinea is giving their candidate $10m and access to two jets for this campaign. That Shs3.5b, part of it is to pay the arrears and I understand about half a million dollars to launch the campaign and prepare for the AU Summit.

Let’s tackle your public record now. You almost brought down the Micro Finance Support Centre Limited (MSCL). The IGG had to investigate claims you were withdrawing Shs500,000 each day you set foot at the office
First of all, I was never part of the management of MSCL. I was the chairperson. I had been working here (at Ministry of Health-based office), looking at population health so I was tasked to investigate that centre and after three years I came up with a report.

When I became chairperson there was no board, finance manual and my role was to give guidance and research into the institution. I found a lot was going wrong and when you raise dust sometimes people run away and leave dust on you. The IGG cleared me and I didn’t sign for any money nor receive any money in cash and whatever I received followed the accounting procedures.

At the heat of this scandal you remarked, “I don’t care what people say!” This is not the language of accountable leaders, it is actually impunity
Because most of them in the newspapers were saying wrong things, I am a positive person and I know it is wrong doers who make a lot of noise. Go to the Micro Finance Support Centre and verify.

Scandal seems to be the catch word for projects you are involved in. In 2011, you were back in the news, this time with other ministers for alleged meddling with Shs10 billion of a presidential initiative to support market vendors
Did you hear my name again? Was I called to IGG? My name sells newspapers so these stories come up.

And then the legendary valley dams saga. You actually remarked that those who couldn’t see the dams in Karamoja must be blind and there were no dams
On the dam saga, I am the one who saved Shs3.5 billion out of a $27m project secured by government and chewed by Ugandans we investigated. Go to IGG and find out who ate the money. I was the minister who asked for investigations.

At the time in 1999, a group of MPs from Busoga including Rebecca Kadaga, Salaamu Musumba and Isaac Musumba held meetings between Jinja and Iganga and rallied others MPs to go soft on you over this saga
It was not a question of being soft on me, but to read the documents. None of them was reading the documents. The documents were clear on when the project started, it commenced long before the Ministry of Animal Husbandry was merged with Agriculture. The documents were clear on when the tenders were evaluated. I wasn’t the minister then so I arrived when $24m had been eaten. The President actually said people should be bothered that Naigaga has ensured Shs3.5b is going to produce something.

Some people find you crude and loose mouthed, there are statements you utter and someone hides their head under a table. There are concerns you are exporting this arrogance to AU
Researched statements! I don’t make statements when I haven’t researched. It is the reason my boss the President asked me to do a course related to evidence of policy. I fore went three scholarships in Italy, Cuba and Canada to study plastic surgery. I had chosen Cuba and was going to come and start a specialised plastic surgery unit, looking at the African skin and how it responds to trauma but the President said you seem key on evidence of policy so I put my science background aside to study sociology, econometrics, demography and quantitative statistics for two years and that is how and why I resigned from vice presidency to concentrate on studies.

I am keen on your record with power and public office, especially sense of accountability. In a meeting over the market vendors saga you told the President’s deputy adviser on markets, “You woman, keep quiet. I was in State House before you.” Another dose of impunity over there madam
It is the way you report; she was reporting that the President said this and that, so I told her I was there when the President said it and this is what he said.

Are you arrogant?
Yes I am arrogant. To be self-assured is interpreted as being arrogant. It is actually good to be arrogant but you should have read and have information so no one can counter you. I know who I am and I separate the levels of interaction.

How is your support base like so far for the position of AU Commission chair?
This is a government campaign, it is Uganda campaigning. The electoral college is presidents and heads of 54 states so the President is actually my chief campaigner and has canvassed more than I have so far.

Your last word?
I ask Ugandans to put their confidence in me. I will not let them down because for the tasks I have been given my track record is clear.

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