Road trip that began Museveni, Katureebe relationship

Sunday June 7 2020

Chief Justice Bart Katureebe (right)

Chief Justice Bart Katureebe (right) swears in Yoweri Museveni as President in May 2016. PHOTO/FILE 

By Derrick Kiyonga

In 1980, Bart Magunda Katureebe, a State Attorney, and Yoweri Museveni, a minister of Regional Cooperation in the short-lived administration of Godfrey Lukongwa Binaisa, crossed paths for the first time. They nonetheless bonded immediately.

Museveni was going to Arusha, Tanzania, via Nairobi, Kenya, to sign an agreement establishing the East African Management Institute and Katureebe being a State lawyer tagged along to provide this minister with the much needed legal advice.

The ambitious Museveni, who was gunning for power, had just been forced out of his preferred Defence ministry.

As a result of this interaction, however brief it was, it seems Museveni was impressed with Katureebe’s legal proficiency. Sixteen years later, Museveni appointed him Attorney General in his own administration.

During their trip to Arusha, by road, it’s said Museveni asked Katureebe, who in 1974 had completed his Bachelor of Laws at Makerere University and attained a postgraduate diploma in Legal Practice from the Law Development Centre in 1975, which part of Ankole sub-region he came from.

“I’m from Bunyaruguru,” came the response from Katureebe much to the shock of Museveni who re-joined, “there are people like you from Bunyaruguru?”

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It was commonplace for people from other parts of Ankole to think that Bunyaruguru didn’t have educated people of Katureebe’s calibre.

Indeed, Katureebe was born in Bunyaruguru, in the western district of Bushenyi, now Rubirizi, on June 20, 1950, to Catholic parents Yowana Magunda and Virginia Ngoni of Rugazi village.

In his foundational years, Uganda’s future Attorney General had to go to the rural Rugazi Primary School, St Joseph’s Junior SS in Nyamitanga and Kitunga High School before eventually joining Namilyango College in urban central Uganda to complete his high school.

Katureebe’s contemporaries at Makerere University included Edward Khiddu Makubuya who would go on to become a professor of law and Attorney General, among other positions; MacDusman Kabega, who became Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in the late 80s before reinventing himself as a leading criminal lawyer; Constance Byamugisha who died in 2013 having risen to become a Court of Appeal judge; and the now retired Supreme Court justices Eldad Mwangusya and Jotham Tumwesigye.

In 1975, having completed school, Katureebe got his first job as a State Attorney and by the time he left for private practice in 1983, he had risen to the rank of Principal State Attorney, but he had to move not knowing that he would return later to lead the chambers.

His venture into private practice saw him form a partnership with a one Steven Kavuma, Uganda’s future Deputy Chief Justice.

From 1984 to 1985 they traded under Kavuma, Katureebe & Company Advocates. The collaboration in Katureebe’s words “didn’t work out,” prompting him to go it alone.

As Katureebe was starting his one-man law firm, Museveni, his old acquaintance, overran Gen Tito Okello Lutwa’s ragtag army.

On January 26, 1986, Museveni declared himself President, promising to restore the rule of law and he soon came calling for Katureebe’s labour.

Katureebe’s initial assignments in Museveni’s regime had nothing to do with law. From 1988 to 1991, he was minister in charge of Regional Cooperation. Between 1991 and 1992, he served as the junior minister of Industry and Technology before being appointed minister of State for Health from 1992 until 1996.

As he was being tossed from one ministry to another, the process of making the current Constitution commenced.
Katureebe wanted to be part of this monumental process and chose to delve into elective politics. He went back to his roots and contested in what was known as Bunyaruguru County constituency for a berth in the Constituent Assembly (CA), which midwifed the 1995 Constitution.

Katureebe won the election and served as a member of the Legal and Drafting Committee of the CA.

Becoming Attorney General
Once the constitutional making process was done, Katureebe, in 1996, won an election to represent Bunyaruguru County in the 6th Parliament, but his former station, the Attorney General’s chambers, had gone through hurried changes in personnel.

Joseph Mulenga, Museveni’s first Attorney General and also Democratic Party (DP) vice president, didn’t last long. He gave way to his friend Prof George Kanyeihamba who was reshuffled out of Cabinet the moment he opined that Ugandans whose ranches had been seized by the government he served should be compensated.

His replacement, Abu Mayanja, didn’t last long either. In his 2012 autobiography, The Joy and Blessings of Being You Are, Kanyeihamba wrote that Mayanja was dropped because of his Mengo establishment inclinations, which couldn’t be stomached by the National Resistance Movement.

“My successor Abu Mayanja had fallen out of favour, for what was believed at the time to be his royal sympathies and favourable remarks towards the Buganda Kingdom,” Kanyeihamba writes.

Museveni then gave the job to Joseph Ekemu. This particular appointment came with disastrous consequences. Ekemu, a former MP for Kaberamaido, was criminally charged and later jailed for two years for pocketing Shs113 million meant for compensating the people of Teso who had lost cattle during the insurrection that occurred between 1987 and 1990.

Museveni didn’t waste time. In 1996 he plucked Katureebe from the ministry of Health and appointed him minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs and Attorney General.

Katureebe’s task was to lead government under the new Constitution of 1995, which was no mean feat as he would soon find out.

On November 28, 1996, David Tinyefuza, now known as Sejusa, who was at the rank Major General, fell out with the NRM and the army’s top leadership after he criticised the manner in which they had responded to the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) insurgence in northern Uganda.

He had appeared before a parliamentary sessional committee on Defence and Internal Affairs. A member of the High Command of the UPDF, Sejusa thereafter wrote a letter indicating how he was resigning from the army.
“I find it unjustified to continue serving in an institution whose bodies I have no faith in, or whose views I do not subscribe to,” he wrote.

The two-star General’s resignation was rejected by Mr Amama Mbabazi, then State minister of Defence, on grounds that Sejusa had not followed procedures laid out in the law.

Sejusa’s reaction was instantaneous. He filed the first petition against the Attorney General at the newly shaped Constitutional Court under the 1995 Constitution, which had restructured courts.

Katureebe sent in a team led by Peter Kabatsi, the Solicitor General at the time, to defend the State’s position. But justices Seth Manyindo, Galdino Okello, Alice Mpagi Bahigeine, John Patrick Mashango Tabaro and Fredrick Martin Egonda-Ntende ruled that it was in violation of Sejusa’s rights when the army rejected his retirement.

The State consequently appealed and this time round Katureebe left nothing to chance as he personally appeared before the Supreme Court which overturned Sejusa’s victory at the lower court.

Justice Kanyeihamba, who was one of the seven judges to hear the appeal, led in quashing Sejusa’s victory on grounds that the UPDF was a disciplined and professional Force with well-established procedures, and it would be risky to let soldiers make unilateral decisions.

It was during Katureebe’s tenure as Attorney General that some Ugandans started challenging the legality of the Movement system which in effect had imposed on Ugandans a one-party system.

Uganda Peoples Congress’ James Rwanyarare and Oweyegha Afunaduula, in 1997, first gave it a try when they asked the Constitutional Court to declare that no Movement system as provided for in Articles 69(2) (a)70 and 271 (1) was in existence at the time the 1996 presidential and parliamentary elections were held.

Rwanyarare and Afunaduula, who were represented by constitutional law giant Peter Walubiri, were brave enough to ask the five judges to not only annul the 1996 presidential elections which were won by Museveni, but also the parliamentary elections.

Though the justices agreed with Katureebe’s team led by Nasa Tumwesige, the Director of Civil Litigation, and dismissed the petition on a technicality that a President’s election victory can only be challenged in the Supreme Court, it gave the Opposition political parties a glimmer of hope that the Movement system could be challenged in future.

No wonder, the 2000 referendum on political systems which stamped in the Movement as the legitimate political system at the expense of multiparty dispensation was ultimately challenged in the Constitutional Court by then DP president general Paul Ssemogerere in 2002.

In 1998, the Uganda military without permission sneaked into the neighbouring DR Congo (DRC) under the guise of neutralising rebel outfit Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) .

It was claimed by Kampala that the insurgents had turned eastern DRC, close to the Ugandan western border, into some sort of safe haven. The DRC which wasn’t interested in Uganda’s reasoning dragged her to The Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ), accusing top-ranking UPDF soldiers, notably Museveni’s young brother Gen Salim Saleh, of looting her resource such as timber and gold.

Katureebe flew out to defend Uganda but he abruptly resigned as Attorney General in 2001 before the court could conclude the matter.

In 2005, ICJ’s Justice David Porter ordered Uganda to compensate DRC to tune of $10 billion. To-date Uganda is yet to pay.

Katureebe’s resignation led to conjecture with many claiming that he had ended his decade’s long love affair with Museveni because he wasn’t in agreement with the lifting of presidential terms lifts- a conversation that had gained traction within the NRM at the commencement of the millennium- and it finally happened in 2005.
He was replaced by former speaker of parliament Francis Ayume who tragically met his death in a motor accident in 2004 in Nakasongola District.

Next Sunday, read about Katureebe’s decision to re-join government four years after resigning to set up a big law firm.

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