Shaban Nkutu: Uganda’s solid achiever
Posted Tuesday, August 28 2012 at 13:00
Profile. In a two-part series, we bring you the life and contributions of Shaban Kirunda Nkutu to Uganda’s infrastructure and health sector, 39 years after his death.
When the Milton Obote-led regime passed decrees advocating nationalisation in 1970, several private businesses became partially or fully owned by the government.
This move saw the expansion of and growth of those businesses and as well as the sprouting up of others.
Steering the establishment of several such parastatals and infrastructure was Shaban Kirunda Nkutu. Nkutu disappeared and died at the violent hands of Idi Amin in 1973 with one of the most outstanding personal records of public service and national development in the history of Ugandan Ccabinet ministers.
As Minister of Health (1966-67), he oversaw the construction of 21 regional referral hospitals and the establishment of a free, quality, national healthcare system.
Prior to this period, Uganda’s referral hospitals were limited to Mulago and the Grade B hospital at Entebbe.
As Minister of Works, Housing, Transport and Communications, he laid the foundation for Uganda’s post-independence infrastructure, transport and communications networks.
Nkutu, who inherited a murram national road system, was the father of Uganda’s national tarmac road network, the national landline telephone and postal services system and the [then] new Entebbe International Airport.
He also oversaw the construction of regional airfields, quality bus and rail transport services and the national housing and construction Corporation, which built Crested Towers, Serena Hotel and the International Conference Centre as well as housing estates across the country, including the Bugolobi and Bukoto Housing estates in Kampala.
He also oversaw the establishment of East African Airlines and the ports and ferries on Uganda’s lake shore, at Port Bell and Jinja, in addition to the Kalangala and Lake Kyoga ferries.
Nkutu was born in Nakibembe Village, Bugweri County, Iganga District on November 15, 1930. His parents were Hajj Ausi Kirunda and Zafalan Namuwaya.
The Nkutu family belongs to one of the 11 royal clans of the Basoga known as the Baisemenha who are direct descendants of the Bunyoro royal family. The clan traces its roots to the migrant Munyoro Prince Kakaire, son of Omukama Agutamba Nyamutukura, then King of Bunyoro. The Baisemenha clan arrived in Busoga with an army and put down its roots in Bugweri County.
The young Nkutu, a 6th generation descendant of the Omukama, became the beneficiary of a clan tradition handed down by Baisemenha clan leaders of earlier generations to focus the very limited financial resources available – not on their biological heirs – but on the education and career development of whichever young man best embodied Bugweri’s best hopes in its future generations to provide national leadership in Uganda.
Following this tradition, Prince Muwaabe - who had assumed leadership of Bugweri after its last pre-colonial Chief Menha Munhuulo had been deposed and exiled to Kenya by the British – decided to groom not his own son Salim Kivejinja but instead another young Prince, Zirabamuzaale who became Secretary General of Busoga.
Zirabamuzaale was one of the first three Africans in the Legislative Council, along with Sir Apollo Kaggwa of Buganda and Nyangabyaki of Bunyoro. Zirabamuzaale groomed and placed the clan’s hopes for representation and a role in post-independence Uganda on his nephew Shaban Kirunda Nkutu, whose mother had managed to get him to complete primary school. Under Zirabamuzaale, Nkutu was mentored for national leadership.
The young Shaban Nkutu studied at Mwiri College and was trained at Kibuli and Makerere College as a teacher. He was one of the first Muslims in Uganda to get a secular education. During his 20s, he served as a teacher and later as a headmaster at Bwala, in Masaka.
Across Africa in the 1950s, it was common for educated African teachers, then a rarity, such as Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, to emerge as nationalist leaders. It was during this period that Nkutu became involved with the nationalist movement for Uganda’s independence, first through the Uganda National Congress (UNC) and later the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC). He had earlier met Uganda’s future Prime Minister Milton Obote during secondary school at Mwiri and the two were close friends.
On the eve of independence, in April 1962, Nkutu, with the backing of Prince Zirabamuzaale and the populous and Baisemenha clan, stood for and was elected to Parliament on the UPC ticket to represent Busoga South East constituency, which comprised of the present day Bugweri and Kigulu counties (Iganga District), Bunya County (Mayuge District) and the whole of Bugiri and Namayingo Districts.
He represented Busoga South East until the military overthrow of the Obote I government by Idi Amin on January 25, 1971.
One of the legacies of Shaban Nkutu’s service in cabinet is that most presidents of Uganda have appointed a Cabinet minister from his family. With Adoko Nekyon and others, Nkutu co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Muslims, the precursor to today’s Uganda Muslim Supreme Council and was the lead advocate for secular education amongst Muslims.
As a political leader, Nkutu is mostly remembered for his service as Minister of Health in 1966 and as Minister of Works, Housing, Transport and Communications from 1967-71.
During his time in the Works Ministry, Nkutu was served by Permanent Secretary and Engineer in-Chief by Uganda’s pioneer African engineer, James Zikusooka, who died on January 30, 2012.
In September 2008, Zikusooka, long retired, wrote the following letter to the Mayor of Jinja Municipality: “I wish to formally recommend to Jinja Municipal Council, the re-naming of a road after the Late Hon. Shaban Kirunda Nkutu, M.P., who was one of the greatest sons of Jinja, Busoga and Uganda in the years following independence.”
“My late Minister initiated, planned, obtained funds for, oversaw the execution, completion, upgrade and/or maintenance of hundreds of infrastructure projects across Uganda...”