KAMPALA- President Museveni asked Gilbert Bukenya to quit the 2011 race for the NRM Secretary General slot or lose his position as vice president.
Prof Bukenya reveals this in his new book titled “In the Corridors to Power” which Sunday Monitor has a pre-release copy.
The former vice president on Tuesday shocked the ruling NRM party establishment when he climbed the podium and campaigned for Opposition DP candidate Brenda Nabukenya in the Luweero Woman MP by-election instead of rooting for his party’s candidate Rebecca Nalwanga. The opposition candidate won the seat by a landslide.
This is the second book in which the former vice president is documenting his political journey. The first, titled Through the Intricate Corridors to Power was published in 2008 by Fountain Publishers and largely dwelt on his humble beginnings as a peasant child and skirted around the political controversies understandably because he was still a member of the executive.
In his latest book, Prof Bukenya comes off less inhibited and makes some startling revelations about his interactions with his boss, President Museveni.
The big decision
One incident he dwells on is the events in 2009 which he describes as “perhaps the most formative” one for his political life at the vice presidency.
He says, that year, he made a decision to run for the slot of Secretary General of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) party that many scoffed at or at the very least, were puzzled by.
Prof Bukenya says at one time, he felt stuck as vice president because the office of the vice presidency is to a large extent a ceremonial one and as months and years went on, he found himself increasingly limited to roles that were of less value and useless to the nation.
Prof Bukenya says for the previous six years, he had tried to involve himself in activities that were of value to the poor but the vice presidency office had limited him to do so and therefore, he hoped by clinching the post of Secretary General, he would be able to reach out to the poor and help uplift their standards of living.
But this revealed a side of his party that he had never known.
He tells of an incident at the peak of his secretary generalship campaigns when one of his friends, whom he identified as Madvani, called him and advised him to think twice before he offered himself for that post because he (Mr Bukenya) was “an outsider” whom they would use and dump at anytime.
“Gil, you are an outsider to the NRM. They will use you but will never accept you. This thing of Secretary General, you will never get it and they will do whatever it takes to fail you. Don’t you see your friends, Sam Njuba and Wapakhabulo? When time comes, they will knock you down”, Prof Bukenya quotes Madvani telling him in one of the meetings.
Prof Bukenya reveals how President Museveni summoned a meeting to ring fence the post of Secretary General at State House that had attracted three party heavyweights that had joined the race.
The three were Mr Bukenya, then Security Minister Amama Mbabazi and then Trade Minister Maj Gen Kahinda Otafiire. Mr Bukenya says the President was not pleased by his declaration to take on his then blue-eyed boy.
“In June 2010, the President called me in for a meeting. I had already formally told him of my plans to contest. The moment I walked into his office, I could see that he was not happy with me. He scanned my face with a somber expression before asking, ‘Why are you scrambling for this small job as Secretary General while you are vice president?’ I was caught up over which response to give to him. I wanted to participate more actively in consolidating the party in rural areas, and I wanted the party to be a participatory organ for change. I then asked him if that was not what he wanted to see happen. He looked absent minded,” Prof Bukenya writes.
He continued: “I took a deep breath and said to him “I can do away with the ceremonial position of Vice President, Sir.” He locked eyes with me instantly. I could see that he was shocked by my statement. He merely looked at me, neither supporting nor dismissing my wish. Just silence. I was puzzled because I had prepared myself to hear him say at the very least “Do not vie for that position”.
Why come out now
When this newspaper on Saturday asked the former vice president his motives for writing the book and making these revelations now, he said: “You need to write down your experiences because it helps others to further their knowledge. People should not be afraid to write because they held sensitive positions. Writing these experiences helps future generations to learn and make correct and informed decisions”.
Prof Bukenya’s fall out with his party, according to his new book, seems to have been cemented by the manner in which he exited the country’s number two job; through a telephone call by a junior State House official on the directive of President Museveni.
“On May 30, 2011, at 8.15 pm, a telephone number from State House rang my phone. I answered it to find a woman’s voice on the other end. At that moment, I knew the reason that this phone call was coming. I said, ‘Hello PPS” thinking that it was the PPS at the time, Grace Akello. She replied, Your Excellency, I am not the PPS, I am Miriam Kankunda, the Secretary to the President.’ What is it? I asked,” Prof Bukenya writes in his new book published by Editorial Kimpres Limited-Bogota-Colombia.
The disturbing call
Prof Bukenya says though he expected a call from State House at that moment, he did expect it to come from the Principal Private Secretary to the President, but not a mere secretary.
“The voice that had started so sharp suddenly seemed timid as she stammered the rest of the words “I have….. I have…… have been directed by the President to tell you that he will not be nominating you for the job of Vice President at tomorrow’s party caucus meeting. He thanks you very much and he will be writing a personal letter to thank you. I paused for a long moment, and then simply replied, “Very well. Thank you for the message and tell the President thank you as well,” he writes.
Prof Bukenya says up to now, he has never received the thank you note from President Museveni, which his secretary said the President would write.
Basajjabalaba delivers hard message
Prof Bukenya discloses that three weeks to the National Executive Committee, in a meeting called to harmonise the election of Secretary General, there was an interesting debate chaired by the President where it was proposed that some candidates pull out of the race.
“Everyone that was contesting was asked to move out of the room to give space for a decision to be reached. As I gathered my things and turned to walk out, a secretary tapped me on the shoulder. “Your Excellency,” she said “The President is requesting your presence in the lounge”.
“I stepped into the suggested room, where I found a young businessman that I recognised from previous meetings. His name was Basajjabalaba.
I took a step back thinking that I was in the wrong room but as I began to walk away, he said to me: “Sir, I have a message for you from the president…the President says he will retain you as the vice President if you pulled out of the race”.
Prof Bukenya said at the moment, he was lost for words as it had turned out that it was barter trade of sorts. He says he felt demeaned but thought Mr Basajjabalaba was acting on behalf of Mr Mbabazi, which turned out otherwise.
“As [Basajjabala] ended this statement, the doors swung open. The President strode into the room and asked with visible irritation, “Gilbert, why are you scrambling for this job when you are already vice president? You really are not pulling out? He turned and walked out of the room to continue with the meeting.”