Corruption appears the one vice that has seriously bedevilled the NRM government. What is happening?
It has bedevilled all governments. What has happened now is that there is more freedom to talk about it, expose it and that is a plus. You hear about corruption more because there are foras and venues to expose it. In the past, there was no way you could talk; there was no radio, mobile phones and multiple media. The problem we are having with corruption is many of the government institutions are on treatment and not prevention. They are dealing with what has already gone wrong. If we are to do a thorough war against corruption, we cannot deal with symptoms.
Wouldn’t you agree with those who assert that corruption has actually become more prominent under the NRM than ever before?
It is in proportion with the good things also. Freedom has increased. There are more temptations today because there are more available things to steal. But what has not become more prominent? Security, the economy, the population, technology, unemployment, the media, communication, but more so, opportunities for gaining wealth; things to invest in. Corruption has not just come abound. It is in every society but it is when there is impunity; when you see that people have reached a point where they glorify the corrupt.
Do you see that happening?
Oh yeah. Somebody comes from nowhere and puts up things you cannot believe and nobody questions where he got the money. Instead young people are saying ‘oh that man is sharp’ and the old ones are saying, ‘oh amanyi okuyiya [he is smart]’. Glorification of wrong wealth has come in. But what is worse to me is impunity, people having no shame. When people are not scared and are doing corrupt things openly, then you know that it is now dangerous. It means the values have broken down, it means the bad people are going to overtake us and be in charge and then have the whole society derailed.
You were among the most vocal MPs at the height of the oil bribery allegations to demand that accused senior cabinet ministers resign. Do you feel disappointed that your pleas fell on deaf ears?
Somebody is accused in Parliament and there are allegations against you and instead of saying okay, you investigate me, or resigning, you have to push him by force? That shows really that people have no shame. But no, my pleas have not fallen on deaf ears. Actually those pleas were heard and the majority of them stepped aside. Those who refused, time will tell, but it was not in good spirit.
But those who stepped aside, like Mr Sam Kutesa, John Nasasira, Mwesiga Rukutana did so because of a court case on Chogm
Not only that. We discussed this and we talked to them but I don’t want to restrict my struggle to one case because there are going to be very many, and they are still coming. When you isolate one case it is as if it is the most important, no. How many have come up? Very many! The bicycle [local government deal], the UBC [abuse of state broadcaster equipment and facilities], the [Hassan] Basajjabalaba money [Shs142billion compensation scandal] more are coming. And I am not surprised because inevitably as long as there is freedom, people have the freedom to expose wrongs.
When you say time will tell, what do you mean?
I mean the truth will come out. The practise in societies that uphold values is that once you are accused of a corrupt case, you step aside and then you are proved right or wrong. You can commit a crime in two ways; by omission or commission. In our history of the struggle, we have always had those cases; of corruption, of people going against standard regulations.
It was established in the NRA and UPDF that the moment you are caught you are in prison. Why did we have to put our generals in the court martial which I chaired? It is a standard principle; whoever refuses it, is like the Banyonkole say wasiiba amasha omukibuga [he leaves cow dung in the compound but will have to take it away anyway]. In my opinion, the delay to tackle corruption is a delay we inevitably have to face. It is never too late to start doing the right thing.
If you were the appointing authority what would you have done?
If I were the appointing authority, I would not start from up, I would start from down. I would start by giving the people the power. I would have an open policy that once you are suspected, you should resign, investigated quickly and the truth is established and you are cleared or arrested. I would ensure there are regular meetings-barazas. What is happening in Parliament is digging; it is post-mortem and is already too late. Now expecting that government people who are corrupt should be the same ones fighting corruption is a waste of time. You cannot expect those who are at the table and being tempted by the puddings and the sweet things to be the ones to say take away the food. It must be the hungry, those who need that food.
Where does this leave the government’s current set up and multitude of institutions to fight corruption?
These need support of the masses. They belong to the people. What makes the church work and sustainable is that everyone contributes. Churches are the people.
How do you respond to those who say this fight against corruption cannot be won by the NRM because they are the cause?
It cannot be won by anybody then. To me the issue is not NRM. That is factional thinking. The cause is that it is everyone’s problem. My strategy doesn’t care a damn about what political power is in force. By the way if you want to hear my political position, I am now more convinced than ever before that it was a mistake to go multiparty.
Why do you think so?
The values that have remained are those of the movement system; the good values. The others which have come with it are divisive and are the ones which have encouraged more corruption, more abuse of office, more division of the people and everything we are doing is no longer national, it is partisan, which is a shame. Even the thinking, instead of somebody saying a thief is a thief, he wants to make him NRM. A thief is a thief, whether NRM, FDC or DP.
The challenge we have is that we are not well organised against corruption, all of us. I blame each one of us everywhere we are.
Dr Besigye believes there is fertile ground for liberation in Uganda to hold leaders accountable and deal with corruption. What do you make of this?
He is just looking from a small view of his party of wanting to get those in power out. Let them come and we all combine forces on strategy. Not just politicking and talking, blame. The corruption in the villages does not know the parties; the corruption in institutions doesn’t know only government. There is corruption in NGOs, in churches and religious institutions, in the parties themselves. I am not impressed by any individual who wants to bring the corruption issue on partisan grounds.
He may say what he likes but I am told there is corruption in FDC. I don’t have the details but I know there is corruption everywhere including NRM. It is not a secret. You see how these parties are fighting among themselves. But I am surprised because I don’t see these people interested in what we are doing. I don’t see any of these party leaders asking me, for example, what is this you are doing?
Do you feel you are on a lone campaign?
I am not alone. What I am saying is that it is not supported by any institution. That doesn’t mean we are alone because the population has come en masse. But I believe corruption unites us and I am going to push it, not that I am interested in power, not because I am in politics. It’s an obligation we must do or we perish. I am fighting because our struggle would have been for nothing. People don’t die, others get maimed and then you come and people fill their stomachs and then they cause the same problems you were fighting against.
In a recent interview, you said you would advise Besigye to repent and be brought back to the fold? What did you mean?
Everybody; even you, if you have done something wrong against your friends, it is good to repent and say I think I made a mistake, let us find how we can live together in the same house. But that is a choice. Destiny does not bring accidents, decisions do. What I am talking here is not to about parties. It is about our revolutionary cause.
How has he since negated?
The way he went in the first place was out of anger and I think he never even gave us a chance to discuss with him. He just took off and since then he became political. Forget about Besigye, there are those in the NRM who are worse off. If I told those to repent that is the right thing to say. There is no shortcut, if I make a mistake, I should repent. But you don’t preach hatred; you don’t preach war in a situation where there is no need for war. What causes hatred is fear, if you don’t fear somebody you don’t hate them. Now I would rather create fear in the corrupt but not fear of free people.
Some of your former bush war colleagues, in jumping out of the NRM have attributed their decision to the fact that the current government has since gone back against some of the fundamentals that inspired the bush war.
I can assure you that the Ten-Point Programme has never been deviated from. Every river that flows loses and gains water and I have no qualms about saying inevitably, NRM like any organisation is bound to lose some people along the way.
Some individuals are actually sceptical about your crusade against corruption and believe all of this will amount to nothing.
Those will always be there. There are three types of people; those who know what’s happening, those who don’t, and those who are just following. I am not going to be deterred, diverted or set off-course by critics. If anything they help you. That is why I have always told people that there is no movement without resistance, do not fear opposition. In the NRM we have always had constructive criticism and that is what I stand for. I am willing and ready and free to tell any member at any level in a constructive way, not because I am against them but because I think I have a responsibility as a Ugandan to tell them where I think they are going wrong.
What do you make of Brig. Henry Tumukunde’s recent comments on the apparent lack of freedom under the NRM?
He wouldn’t be saying this if there was lack of freedom. Perhaps he may not be having a forum where to participate. Otherwise for freedom, that was freedom. He said what he thinks and who has not said it. Some of them are saying it in an abusive way which is not necessary. But open and constructive criticism is allowed. No one can hold it against you. If he can clarify his point, people will listen.
How do you respond to allegations of skewed promotions and deployments in the army?
People who talk about the army should be careful because the military is one of the old conservative institutions like some of these religious institutions. They have systematic structures and functional organs that manage themselves. That is why they are dangerous. For somebody to be promoted there is a process. Sometimes there is also a vacancy. You cannot promote somebody to a level where you are not going to deploy him or her. If there is no big unit, how do you create a general? There is a process; there is a promotions committee, most of the things are in a systematic check. But you cannot stop people talking from outside.
And what do you say to criticism over the domination by individuals from western Uganda in the UPDF?
That is an old, old story which is no longer sustainable and no longer holds water. Fortunately for all the ranks now, most of the operating ranks, all the tribes are there. And that had to come as a process because the historical fact is that the majority of those who were senior were more from one region. That historical fact is slowly being corrected with the different people who are being recruited on quota basis.
Maj. Gen. Pecos Kutesa wrote in his book on the bush war about name calling and he told of names such as Karyasausage and Karyaburo, monikers apparently describing Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi. With recollection how did these names come about?
Let me tell you, we had fun, we had jokes. If we are to go by those, we will not end; I can tell you a million other names and nicknames. Like in school, when people are living together you call each other all sort of things. They were calling those who were in Nairobi [NRA external wing] and wondering how can someone in Nairobi be eating obuuro [millet flour], they must be eating sausages, while other people were perhaps hungry.
The reason I asked this question is that there is belief that individuals who were detached from the actual fighting on the ground in the bush appear to be closest to the centre of power today while those who fought have been side lined.
That is absolutely true. When you build a house, you must know that there are people who will stay in that house and as the house continues adding more rooms, you cannot say that I will continue sleeping in all rooms. Now as food and things start increasing, you could start seeing that some people are sleeping in better rooms than you are.
But as long as you are in the same house and you start complaining about who is sleeping on a big bed, you miss the point. Inevitably, whether you struggled at the forefront, the situation must continue changing and people who will be the best cook, cleaner of the house or who will be the guard, changes. But why I am saying it is absolutely true, what is lacking is how all these people can find a forum to discuss how do we live in this house, old and new? What is lacking is that now some people want to put locks on all the doors and hold the keys. No, that is what should be resisted, having one person who blocks all the rooms so that he is the one who opens for you.
Some officers are said not to see eye to eye with the Prime Minister, something that has its roots in the history of the struggle. What do you make of these apparent differences?
Did you watch [the play] 30 years of Bananas [by Alex Mukulu]? There were these effigies of former presidents and the one of Museveni was covered. In the play Alex was asked why is this one covered and he said this one is still doing exams. The Prime Minister has just been appointed and I think he is still doing exams. We don’t know whether he will pass or whether he will fail. So it is sometimes good to keep covering it until the results of the exam come out. So I don’t want to discuss this. He has just become Prime Minister; he needs to be given opportunity to see how he performs. Now individuals who don’t see eye-to-eye have their reasons. I cannot speak for them.
In 2005 Col. Fred Bogere and Brig. Tumukunde landed in hot soup for openly speaking and issuing commentary in the media just as you have done. Is it not true to suggest that some officers, including yourself are beyond reproach?
What do you mean? I am free to speak but cautious of the boundaries in a disciplined way. I go and tell him [whoever] what I think and when it is too much and we have no other way, I say it so that we can have a forum. It is a case for the common good. In the first place, individual interest never helps; it can only be useful once it is part of the common good.
These officers perhaps felt it had become too much and so they spoke out but they got reprimanded instead.
They make outrageous statements, [Laughs] instead of explaining an issue. You have been asking me about corruption, I have explained the issue. I don’t think anybody can take me to court that I have made an outrageous statement. When they get to make outrageous statements, then they must answer for them. It is not that I am beyond reproach, I keep within my limits.
The death of Prince John Barigye last year rekindled debate on Ankole kingdom. What are your thoughts on the restoration of this kingdom?
There is need in my opinion because you see constitutionally there is no problem. The process of how to do it is what we need to look at so that everybody at least is comfortable. It is a big sore among the Banyankole who love Ankole. It is not just a scar, it is a sore. When we see what other kingdoms are doing through culture, the cultural leaders; they might not be doing big things but just the pride of belonging, as a region, that is why it is a sore. My personal view is that it is something which needs serious discussion.
Why do you think the President is reluctant to have the kingdom restored?
For politics; he is conscious of the politics. He has his reasons and I don’t want to judge him. He has been making them known, they are not secret. But there are many Banyankole who really feel sad, including myself. I am very clear on that one; it kills marshalling the positive values because we are now in a position to sieve the positive values from the negative. If it happening to others, why not Ankole?
How do you spend your time?
Some people say I have no work when there is so much work. I don’t rest; I am always working organising people and different activities. I have very many groups and associations; we have tree planters association, nutritional tribe, anticorruption campaign, antimalarial campaign, smart partnership movement and they are all moving forward and people are benefiting. It is very exciting for me.
Is that the sort of activity to consume a military general?
You know anybody who is called a general; it is assumed he has reached a level of being able to do many things. In the military it means you can coordinate the land, air, water, intelligence, resources, command, and administration. That is what makes a general. Now, once there is no war, you can use those abilities in different ways. People ask me how do you manage to do art, music, business. I say it’s all like playing music; like conducting, you raise what should be raised at the right time and you cool down what you should. It is wonderful. It is how you manage your time, and you can choose to enjoy it or suffer from it.
Some people say you are on Katebe, are you in active service?
I am still active. I am still representing the UPDF in Parliament and it has kept me very interested in what is going on. I keep our own troops also counselled and coordinated. I am a senior presidential adviser and whenever the President wants me I help him on a number of things.
For those who may not know you, who is Gen. Elly Tumwine and how would you want to be remembered?
I am a sinner who is willing to repent and a lucky person who was given a new lease of life to share with the rest of the people. I am sharing what I know. We are what we know, we become what we hear, what we see but more importantly what we do about it. If you can describe me, I am a smart partner aiming at creating a smarter globe.