Before his conviction and sentence on Friday for embezzling Shs210 million from the Global Alliance for Vaccine Initiative (GAVI), Capt Mike Mukula had tried to position himself as power broker between MPs who questioned the investigation into the death of Butaleja Woman MP Cerinah Nebanda and the Executive.
During a 93.3 Kfm Hot Seat show on December 27, he regaled in his efforts, talking about how he had been in contact with the President, Vice President, Speaker of Parliament, General Salim Saleh and the Inspector General of Police.
In days that followed, he was seen in group photos at the Presidents country home in Rwakitura where a meeting to resolve apparent disagreements between Parliament and the Executive over the Nebanda death inquest was held.
Those who spoke to him regularly and cared to listen saw an excited man.
He appeared anxious to win back favour with the powers that be.
But he also tried to keep an image of an independent politician, a picture he tried to cultivate since being thrown out of a Cabinet position.
To lawyers, Mukula’s conviction was legally deserved. To anti-corruption activists, his punishment was another major victory in the fight against graft.
Pleading his case, Mukula once carried a full suitcase of evidence to show he never stole the money. He also showed evidence that any money that came his way had been dully paid back to the treasury.
But to Solomon Webalearaali, a senior lawyer and activist, “an offence was committed; returning the money was secondary.”
“The message this sends is good, it is a message that people can no longer embezzle or steal public funds and remain unpunished,” he says, quickly adding, “I am not happy about the conviction of Mukula as a person but the punishment of corruption and corrupt tendencies.”
But Mr Webalearaali is also conscious of the politics. Of the four people charged with embezzlement of Shs1.6b from the Gavi account, two have been convicted and sentenced but the sentences are so diverse.
Alice Kaboyo, a former State House aide was convicted after she confessed guilt and was sentenced to a fine of Shs20m. She diverted Shs250m from the Gavi account.
The other two, Maj. Gen. Jim Muhwezi, Mukula’s former boss at the Health ministry, and colleague Dr Alex Kamugisha were set free.
Beyond the law, a victim of his mouth, Mukula takes a flamboyant gait and is difficult to miss. He speaks fluently and is often wont to ensure his presence is recognised. But he is also a people’s person and will be in the “Ki-Russia” side of the stands during games involving the national team, attends more album launches at Bivulu’s than any other politician and will not hesitate to abandon his privately registered 4x4 or classy Mercedes to jump on a boda boda to appear on a radio talk show.
Though he was swept by the political Tsunami that attacked the ruling party leaning politicians in Teso sub-region in 2006, losing his seat as MP Soroti Municipality, he never faded from public view and instead grew in popularity so much that he bounced back in 2011.
Without faulting the judiciary, critics look at the process believed to be politically compromised to explain Mukula’s current woes. It’s believed that Mukula is a victim of politics and his own mouth. Holders of this view cite four areas all centered in State House.
One of the sauciest beats of information to come out of the Julian Assange’s pile of documents stolen from the US government about Uganda was a US embassy filing that captured a conversation between the embassy officials and Mukula in which he stated that President Museveni was preparing his son, Brig. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, to succeed him. The revelation made headlines but piled misery on Mukula. He was viewed with suspicion and snide remarks littered comments about Ugandans who were “sweetening themselves to foreigners.”
Money to the First Lady
Mukula proudly told his friends and was later to announce in court that he was not guilty because it is not him who took that Gavi money. He said Shs54 million of the Shs210m he was accused of taking had been requisitioned and handed over to the First Lady, Janet Museveni. But worse than his statement, were his rather loud corridor whispers that seemed to suggest that rather than him, it is the Ruhama MP who should have been in the dock.
The Odinga factor
As a friend, Mukula invited now Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga to Kampala before the December 2007 elections in Kenya. It is believed that Kampala quietly backed Mr Mwai Kibaki against Mr Odinga. After the elections, chaos erupted in Kenya and Mr Odinga’s supporters accused Kampala and uprooted the railway link to Kampala in Odinga’s Langata constituency.
Though he was later to try and broker peace between President Museveni and Mr Odinga, he was viewed with suspicion as he had hinted on securing the support of the rich Kenyan politician for his politics in an alleged plan to build a Luo political network in the region.
Mukula has openly indicated plans to challenge for the country’s presidency in 2016 under the ruling NRM party.