Have the curtains closed on Kutesa’s 40-year political journey?

Former Foreign Affairs minister Sam Kutesa (center, blue suit) meets ambassadors and high commissioners at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kampala January 27, 2015. PHOTOS/ FILE

What you need to know:

  • After 25 years of being a permanent fixture in President Museveni‘s Cabinet, former Foreign Affairs minister Sam Kutesa didn’t make it to a Cabinet of 80 ministers. Derrick Kiyonga writes how he finally exited.

Henry Kissinger, the former United States of America secretary of state, is quoted to have said, “America has no permanent friends, or enemies, but interests.” 

Winston Churchill, the UK prime minister, who steered the island through World War II, is quoted to have shared similar sentiments: “We have no lasting friends, no lasting enemies, only lasting interests.”

This Machiavellian principle has played out in Uganda’s body politic too.       
Until January this year, he had contested in every election organised in since 1980, meaning he has been a candidate in elections for more than 40 years. His name? Sam Kahamba Kutesa.  

His rival to this record is one Crispus Kiyonga, who has also participated in elective politics since 1980 when he became the only Member of Parliament (MP) who won a seat on the ticket of Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM), a party founded by Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, who last year added Tibuhaburwa to his name.

Where Kutesa eclipses Kiyonga is that in these 40 or so years, he has lost one election while Kiyonga has now lost two elections on the bounce.

Though for decades he has notoriously had a grip on politics of the central district of Sembabule, in 1980 when he set out to participate in elective politics, Kutesa, who was 31 years old, stood in the western constituency of Mbarara North, presently known as Nyabushozi.

Following a period of anarchy, the 1980 elections were the first elections to be organised in post-independent Uganda, and Kutesa, who stood as a Democratic Party (DP) candidate, took on his main challenger Museveni, the UPM candidate, who had fallen out with the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF) government.

The elections, according to critics, were riddled with sectarianism and religious undertones and the Mbarara North race wasn’t any different.

One of the biggest accusations levelled against Mr Museveni today by his opponents is gerrymandering constituencies and districts in a bid to give his National Resistance Movement (NRM)  party an advantage in Parliament.

But in 1980, he was on the receiving end of gerrymandering, or so he claimed.  
Once he lost, Mr Museveni, an Anglican, pointed out how he had won in sub-counties in Nyabushozi which he said were predominately Anglican.

But he had lost to Kutesa, a Catholic, sub-counties that had been carved from Ibanda into Mbarara North and that they were populated by Catholics.  

It’s not clear how Mr Museveni was serious about the case but he hired Hunter & Greig, now known as Kateera & Kagumire Advocates, and filed a petition in a High Court in Kampala therein listing 10 grounds of annulling Kutesa’s victory.
Museveni alleged a plethora of electoral indiscretions, including claims that registered voters did not appear on the voters’ registers and that the registers were not displayed for inspection as required by law, inter-alia.  
But in his first impression of his autobiography Sowing the Mastered Seed, Mr Museveni intimated that in the grand scheme of things, his group wasn’t serious about the elections, later on the case itself.  
“So we formed the Uganda Patriotic Movement in spite of knowing that it would have a poor chance at the elections since issues were already polarised along sectarian lines.

Moreover, as election day was set for December 10, 1980, we did not have much time to make adequate preparations,” he wrote, adding that he only used the election, rigged or not rigged, as a launch pad of his guerrilla movement.

After the disputed elections which saw the Afro-haired Apollo Milton Obote get a second term as president, Museveni declared war, his court documents gathering dust in the High Court, but Kutesa marched to the House since Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere, his DP leader, a pacifist, had decried the violence.  

Former UN General Assembly president Sam Kutesa (L) and former UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon.

Making up
It’s not clear at what point Museveni and Kutesa made up following the disputed elections, but many theories have been advanced.

As Museveni was trying to uproot Obote’s regime using the Luweero jungles, Lt Gen Tito Okello Lutwa beat him to this via a coup. When the semi-illiterate Gen Lutwa took on the mantle in July 1985, he tried to engage in the so-called peace talks with Museveni’s NRA in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.

At this point, the junta government had appointed Kutesa as Attorney General and he was crucial in these failed peace talks.  
Museveni, according to multiple sources interviewed for this article, instead used the peace talks for other things such as making peace with Kutesa and turning him into an informer.
Though he was the government’s chief legal advisor, Kutesa started dishing out regime secrets to the rebels who had continued to dig in despite the peace talks and calls for a ceasefire.

Once the NRA marched onto the streets of Kampala in January 1986, it’s said Kutesa, who was still working as a DP member, worked behind the curtains to convince the party’s leaders to join Museveni’s so-called broad-based government.

Subsequently, the DP stalwarts became part of Museveni’s first Cabinet, with Ssemogerere taking up the Internal Affairs docket while John Ssebaana Kizito, who has since passed on, became the first Regional Affairs minister.

In January 1989, the elections of the new legislature, the National Resistance Council (NRC), were organised. Kutesa didn’t return to Nyabushozi where chances of defeating Elly Karuhanga were simply minimal. He instead stood against NRM’s secretary general Jaberi Bidandi Ssali in Nakawa, but the results weren’t any different: Bidandi Ssali trounced him.

The NRC, which Kutesa wasn’t part of, passed a resolution which was to the effect that there will be Constituent Assembly, shortened as CA, which will debate and pass the envisaged Constitution. By and large, members who would constitute the CA were to elected via the universal adult suffrage and Kutesa once again shifted constituencies.

He dumped Nakawa and found refuge in Mawogola, Sembabule District. It’s said Luweero Bush War hero David Tinyefuza (now known as Sejusa) was the only person who could have beaten Kutesa in Mawogola, but the maverick General saved his brushes when he decided to go to the CA via the slots given to the army.  

Once in the CA, Kutesa chaired the select committee that debated the political system. Kutesa now was changed though years earlier he had entered Parliament on a party ticket, in the CA, he debated passionately in favour of Museveni’s Movement system (single party) against the multiparty party dispensation.

Kutesa’s bias for the Movement system forced other committee members to storm out of the room, but still the Movement system was adopted until 2005 when it ran its course following pressure from donors.
Once the Constitution was put in place in 1995, the following year was election time and Kutesa easily sailed through in Mawogola joining the 6th Parliament.

Museveni tapped Kutesa to be his minister of Finance in charge of Investment, a move that with hindsight proved catastrophic as it sparked off the tendency of Kutesa’s name being dragged in questionable dealings.
Uganda’s privatisation drive of the 1990s was marred by abuses and manipulations involving establishment politicians and well-connected individuals and Kutesa as minister for Investment played a bigger role and was exposed as such.
Until 1993, Uganda Airlines (UAC) had a domination of the ground handling operations in Entebbe until Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) relaxed the operations.

In 1996, CAA ended Uganda Airlines’ contract and granted Enhas a monopoly of ground handling services. Uganda Airlines took 50 per cent shares in Enhas, Sabena Airlines five per cent and workers of CAA and UAC also got five per cent.

The remaining 40 per cent went to two companies—Effortes, a subordinate of Caleb International owned by Salim Saleh, Museveni’s brother, and Global Airlink owned by Kutesa. In 1998, Uganda Airlines was “forced to sell” its shares to supposedly pay off some debts. The shares were bought by Effortes.

The manoeuvring and dealing annoyed MPs and in March 1999 Emmanuel Ddombo, now director of communications at the NRM secretariat, supported by former MP Okwir Rwabwoni, accused Kutesa of conflict of interest detailing that he held a Cabinet portfolio while at the same time presiding over Enhas, something they said contravened the Leadership Code of Conduct.

Kutesa was eventually censured, but in the same year, the bond between him and the President was strengthened after First Son Muhoozi Kainerugaba married Charlotte Nankunda, his daughter.
After the 2001 questioned polls, Museveni, much to the shock of the country, renamed Kutesa minister for Investment.
Even as he was named in corruption scandals, his style of politics had led to division within Sembabule, a reliably NRM district, that led to clashes later.
In the 1996 elections, Dr Festo Higiro Semajege, who had represented Lwemiyaga County in the NRC, mysteriously lost his re-election bid to Sam Rwakoojo, who would later go on to become secretary of the Electoral Commission.

Those in the know of Sembabule politics say Kutesa feared Dr Semajege’s political influence and thus supported Semajege’s ouster in favour of Rwakoojo, his nephew.
Ssemajege’s response was swift: He crafted a covert approach that ultimately ended with current Lwemiyaga MP Theodore Ssekikubo ousting Rwakoojo in the 2001 elections.
The emergence of Ssekikubo as an alternative centre of power deepened the rifts within Sembabule politics since Kutesa with his resources wasn’t about to let another bull in what he considered his kraal.

Kutesa’s camp has had Anifa Bangirana Kawooya, now MP Mawogola West having been Sembabule Woman MP for a long time, Patrick Nkalubo, and Dr Elly Muhumuza, among others.
Ssekikubo also marshalled his own group which had Herman Ssentongo who served as Sembabule District chairperson between 2006 to 2011, but he couldn’t do much after squabbles with Kutesa and Joy Kabatsi, who served as the junior minister of Transport during the last term and consequently decamped to Kutesa’s camp who egged her on to contested in Lwemiyaga where she lost.
Sembabule wrangles aside, Mr Kutesa’s political career will always be defined by his 16-year tenure as Museveni’s Foreign Affairs minister, or the country’s top diplomat.

Opposition politicians have for years insisted that Kutesa, despite being saddled with baggage, had expressed to Museveni that his Foreign Affairs his until he gets tired.
Whether that’s true or not, it will always be subject to debate. In 2007, Uganda hosted the much-hyped Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm).

But no sooner had the visitors left Kampala than corruption stories emanated. Later John Nasasira (former minister of Works), Mwesigwa Rukutana (then minister of State for Finance) and Kutesa were charged at the Anti-Corruption Court with a plethora of charges, including abuse of office and causing financial loss worth Shs14 billion spent on a new marina at the Commonwealth Resort Munyonyo ahead of Chogm.
A Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report had found both Kutesa and Nasasira blameworthy of peddling influence in the award of a contract worth Shs9 billion to purchase 30 BMW vehicles to be used during the same event.
The charges were later dismissed by a judge for want of evidence. Museveni’s response to the corruption scandal was equally intriguing: While Nasasira was demoted from Works to being NRM’s chief whip, Rukutana was sent from Finance to Labour, the unfazed Kutesa who insisted that the corruption scandal was a creation of politics, retained his Foreign ministry docket.

Whereas 2011 allegations by then Youth MP Gerald Karuhanga that Kutesa together with then Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi and ex-Energy minister Hilary Onek had pocketed multi-million dollar bribes didn’t come to anything, the 2017 revelations that he took a bribe of $500,000 in exchange for obtaining “business advantages” for a Chinese energy company whilst he served as president of the United Nations General Assembly from 2014 to 2015 could have been the final blow to his political career.

Chi Ping Patrick Ho, Hong Kong’s former home secretary, who was accused of bribing several African leaders including Museveni and Chad’s Idriss Deby, who was recently killed, was sentenced to three years by a New York judge.  
Kutesa denied the charges. On September 14, 2019, he dropped a bombshell when that he was retiring from elective politics and tapped his daughter Shartis Nayebare Musherure to replace him in Mawogola North.

Publically, Kutesa stated that it was about time NRM old guard gave way to the young generation, but many believed he was rattled by the scandal in the US.  
Also, the NRM primaries also revealed unpalatable news for Kutesa. Shartis lost to Museveni’s younger brother Godfrey Aine Kaguta, aka Sodo, showing how Kutesa’s political influence had significantly diminished.

Shartis insisted on standing as an Independent, but it was clear that she was headed to humiliating defeat until Museveni intervened and ordered Sodo to withdraw from the race on polling day.
“It was meant to save the Museveni-Kutesa relationship,” a source familiar with State House decision said.

Kutesa’s daughter is an MP, but her father is no longer in Cabinet where he has been replaced by Gen Jeje Odongo.  
It seems Kutesa saw this coming and he made plans. In 2020 his daughter Ishta Asiimwe Muganga was tapped as Honorary Consul of Israel to Uganda, Inga Kutesa, his son, was this year appointed as Consul of Oman to Uganda.

The only elective position that Kutesa remains with is that of NRM chairperson for Sembabule District. We hope that counts for something.

Sembabule politics   
Even as he was named in corruption scandals, his style of politics had led to division within Sembabule, a reliably NRM district, that led to clashes later.  

In the 1996 elections, Dr Festo Higiro Semajege, who had represented Lwemiyaga County in the NRC, mysteriously lost his re-election bid to Sam Rwakoojo, who would later go on to become secretary of the Electoral Commission.

Those in the know of Sembabule politics say Kutesa feared Dr Semajege’s political influence and thus supported Semajege’s ouster in favour of Rwakoojo, his nephew.  
Ssemajege’s response was swift.