Kibedi, a pillar of Busoga who fought dictatorship

Wednesday June 15 2016

Kibedi in his early years. Courtesy photo

Kibedi in his early years. Courtesy photo 



Yes. It was dawn, but Monday’s dawn was one with a difference in Busoga. The sub-region of slightly more than three million people woke up to the news of the death of yet another of its pillars, Ambassador Joshua Wanume Kibedi.
The deceased, who remains the youngest person ever to have served as Uganda’s minister for Foreign Affairs, passed away at St Thomas’ Hospital in London.
A member of the family in Iganga said the deceased could have succumbed to complications arising out of hypertension.

“He has not been well for quite some time now. He developed complications when one of his partners ran down his firm while he was serving as Uganda’s Ambassador to the United Nations,” the local family source revealed.
According to Mr Henry Kyemba, a boyhood friend of the deceased with whom they were to later serve in the cabinet of former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin Dada, Kibedi was born in Namalemba village in Bugweri County, Iganga District, between 1941 and 1942.

He went to the nearby Busesa Primary School where his father, Elkanah Kibedi, was the headmaster before joining Busoga College Mwiri.
Around 1960, he was shipped off to the United Kingdom for “Inns of Court” training, or attachment to a law firm for apprenticeship training which later saw him qualify as a Barrister at Law.

He returned to Uganda around 1966 and joined the law firm of another Barrister at Law, Mr Godfrey Lukongwa Binaisa, who was by then serving as Uganda’s Attorney General.

Mr Binaisa, who was to later become one of Uganda’s Presidents, was at the time working on what was later to become known as the ‘Pigeon hole Constitution’ and so left most of the day-to-day workings of the firm to the young barrister.

However, the young Kibedi had in his time at Busoga College Mwiri and London and through ties to his uncle Shaban Nkutu, earlier joined the then ruling Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC).

“He was a very strong UPC member right from the start. He had actually graduated through the UPC youth ranks,” recalls senior citizen and retired politician Henry Kyemba.

It would appear that the political might that his uncle Nkutu, a former national chairman of the ruling UPC, minister of Health and MP for Busoga South East, wielded in the party and government spurred the young Wanume Kibedi into aspiring for more than simply being a member of the ruling party.

In 1969, he made a statement of intent. He declared that he would be taking on the then minister for Foreign Affairs, the late Sam Odaka, for what was then known as Jinja Constituency. Mr Odaka moved to avoid preventing this youthful opponent from coming up. The case ended up before President Apollo Milton Obote, but elections which had been scheduled to take place later in 1971 never materialised as developments in both the military and the political spheres culminated in the coup that brought Idi Amin to power.

Kibedi was the brother of Idi Amin’s first wife, Maryamu Kibedi Amin, with whom the dictator had hooked up during his time in the army in Jinja.
Amin’s decision to appoint him as Uganda’s minister for Foreign Affairs, and his subsequent role in trying to give the brutal dictatorship a human face, were as surprising as the January 1971 coup which brought his brother-in-law to power.

“Although we knew that he was his brother-in-law, it wasn’t automatic that he would be a cabinet minister. And knowing Amin the way we did, as a man of few words and one who didn’t know English, we could see from the statements that were coming out of Kampala that it was Kibedi writing them for him,” Mr Kyemba recalls.

Looking back, Mr Kyemba, who in a record 18 months between 1971 and September 1972 served as Amin’s principal private secretary, permanent secretary in the Office of the President, secretary to the Cabinet, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Culture and Community Development before becoming the Minister for Culture, says his friend had been taken hostage.

Victim of circumstances

“Kibedi was an immediate victim of circumstances. Everyone felt that Amin needed a voice of reason and moderation. That feeling cut across the country and someone had to do it. Unfortunately, the advice and direction he (Wanume) gave was often neglected,” he says.

Well, it was not long before the relationship between Amin and his voice of reason and moderation went sour.

In January 1973, a group of soldiers led by Capt Issa Habib Galungbe, stormed Scindia Road in Jinja Town and abducted his uncle Shaban Nkutu. He was later killed and buried in a grave at Mailo Mbili Cemetery on the Jinja-Iganga highway.

Two months later, Kibedi confirmed that his brother-in- law had been responsible for the murder. Mr Kibedi announced his resignation and fled into exile in Britain.

His sister Maryam soon followed suit, abandoning her children in State House and fleeing to Britain.

President Amin was livid. He divorced his wife on radio and television before using the same platforms to accuse Kibedi of having been behind various crimes, including the disappearance of the late former Chief Justice Benedicto Kiwanuka.

Kibedi denounced his brother-in-law in the international media.
He would go on to run a successful law firm, Gaiso and Co Solicitors at Lewisham High Street in London, Britain, where he had sought refuge.
He assisted many fleeing Ugandans with immigration challenges.

During the early years of the NRM/A guerilla war, he linked up with his cousin, Third Deputy Premier and Minister for East African Affairs, Ali Kirunda Kivejinja, who was working with the NRM’s external wing, to support the war effort.

After taking power in 1986, President Museveni appointed him Uganda’s ambassador to the United Nations.

Around 1990, Mr Museveni named him Uganda’s ambassador to Moscow, but Mr Kibedi turned down the appointment and offered to resign in order to concentrate on rebuilding his law firm.

Among the Basoga, counting one’s children is a considered to be a taboo so the family will not say by how many children he is survived. It will, however, tell you that he is survived by a widow, Elizabeth, with whom he has been living in London.

The letter

Ever since I resigned from the office of Foreign Minister of your government in April 1973 you have not ceased to broadcast slander, calumnies and other fabrications about me. Hitherto I have not bothered to answer back because I found it unnecessary to deny statements whose falsehood was obvious.

Furthermore, I wanted to give you plenty of time to wallow in the mire of your own lies, contradictions and other inconsistencies, the more so to expose your true character...

I consider that you have had your say and it is now my turn to speak. The time is further opportune because the matter which was the central cause of my resignation, namely the large scale liquidation of innocent people in Uganda since your assumption of power; is once more at the centre of world attention. The international community of jurists has recently issued a critical report on it, to which you have taken vehement exception, and you have also appointed a judicial commission to “inquire” into the “disappearances”

As a person conversant with the truth relating to these and other issues arising from your misrule, I will now make my contribution.

1. The expression “disappearance” is an euphemism for Uganda’s innocent dead – the thousands of people who, since the inception of your misrule, have been liquidated for personal, political or factional reasons, entirely outside the processes of law. The victims are said to have disappeared because after their murders their bodies are clandestinely disposed of or mutilated beyond recognition, never to be recovered by their relatives. The expression is not at all related to the thousands of Ugandans who, as a result of your misrule, have been obliged to live in political exile in many parts of the world. You are not going to deceive or confuse anybody by suggesting that the exiles have also disappeared.

2. The international news media has often accused you of being responsible for the massacre of innocent people in Uganda. Ugandans themselves, whether in or out of the country, have long taken it for granted that you are the mastermind behind “the disappearances”. A number of people who previously held high office in your government have resigned such positions and gone into exile in protest against the reign of terror that you have unleashed in the country.

3. I want to confirm that indeed that you are personally responsible for the liquidation of people who have “disappeared” in Uganda ever since you came to power. People have “disappeared” either because you have specifically ordered their liquidation as individuals or as a group or because they have fallen victim to the murderous ravages of lawless elements who have thrived in the country as a result of your deliberate refusal to restrain the criminal activities of such elements, or to place any sort of discipline over them. You have in effect placed such thugs completely above the law, since they know that they can kill, maim and loot with impunity.