Keith Muhakanizi: A man of big titles but above all, a good human being

Keith Muhakanizi. PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

  • Duty called, he rose to the occasion, played his part and now the creator has recalled him. We keep his family and friends in prayer.

Mr Keith Muhakanizi, who dedicated his entire adult life to distinguished service of country and mankind, has rested from the trials and tribulations of this world. As many have noted, it is the exit from the Shakespearean stage of life, of yet again, an eminent economist and public servant of his generation.

I will, in this modest obit, restrict myself to a couple or so experiences I had with him.

A few years ago, I requested to meet Mr Andrew Mwenda. He asked me to find him at the Ministry of Finance. When I reached there, he asked me to find him at the office of the Permanent Secretary/ Secretary to the Treasury.

There, I found his legs on Muhakanizi’s desk as Keith sat back in his chair. This was odd but spoke volumes about how close the host and guest were. More importantly for me, the PS came off as unassuming, free from the trappings of power and just “a cool guy”.

My meeting with Mwenda effectively took place in Muhakanizi’s office, in his presence. Another person who wanted to see Mwenda also joined us in Muhakanizi’s office. Basically, he was conducting his private meetings in the office of easily one of the most powerful men in town, his legs (with shoes on) comfortably placed at his host’s office table.

The discussion swung across different subjects. From the economy (I recall his remarks in opposition to the creation of numerous districts which was a burden to the Treasury, but the political class were unstoppable in their bid to bloat the cost of public administration). Then the discussion shifted to the politics of the day. I remember something to do with the appointment of Lt Gen Henry Tumukunde by President Museveni as a pivotal component of his 2016 campaign infrastructure.

Muhakanizi jokingly told Mwenda, “You know Tumukunde is my relative.”

“Yes, I know Tumukunde is your relative,” Mwenda replied.

The host went on, “If I were that relative of mine, hmm, you arrest me, put me under house arrest, keep me out of office for that long then you appoint me to lead your campaign… if I am that relative of mine, I will chew all your campaign money.” He touched his lips to demonstrate it. It was all banter really.

What stood out for me in that meeting is that Mwenda intended to write an article in his Independent column. He was, in effect, picking Muhakanizi’s mind for his article, taking notes and in between, Muhakanizi would summon one of his officials from the line department to give more insight or cross-check something. Then they would erupt into an argument, Keith stands up, hits the table, Mwenda stands up too, gesticulates to illustrate his point then they laugh in unison, calm down and get back to business.

This, for me, as a university student, felt like sipping wine from the feet of Greek philosophers of old. I wished it went on, all day and night. The sheer intellectual wealth in that room penetrated the heart and mind wholly.

My second experience with the departed colossus of the Ugandan economy was a brief one. Around third year of my time at the School of Law, Makerere University, by which time I was a full time writer with Monitor (having begun that journey in high school), I was asked by Mr Joseph Beyanga to join KFM radio’s morning crew (D’Mighty Breakfast) for a segment called “The Hotspot” which was opportunity for a bit of analysis and perspective of the events that were of public interest to the listeners.

This segment was started by Mr Chris Obore who had since joined Parliament as director, communication and public affairs.  On one of those mornings, I was discussing something to do with the economy and, typical of a 22-year-old in a liberal media environment such as Monitor offers, I was projecting the economic situation in Uganda as grim, citing (selectively), stats that buttressed my argument.

Muhakanizi called management and asked to be put on air to give his perspective as the man in the kitchen of the country’s economy. That he was listening and was happy to dive into the debate was heavenly for me and even more humbling that he shared his perspective with such grace and respect for divergent views, inviting me to his office for a lecture on the economy.

Lastly, again, with reference to Obore. In his days as investigations editor of Monitor, Obore wrote a number of investigative stories about National Medical Stores (NMS) and how officials there were deliberately inflating prices of anti-cancer drugs.

Officials at NMS were buying anti-cancer drugs from countries like India that were just about to expire at give-away prices (later inflated) that would arrive in Uganda and be destroyed after. There were a host of other despicable things that the good chaps at NMS were doing.

Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) fought back. NMS was vicious in its responses. Obore (Monitor for that matter) pushed back with explosive investigative pieces on this issue. Obore left to join Parliament. I had grown through the newsroom from the teenager writing lifestyle stories to now the Special Projects and Investigations Desk writer.

Working under the guidance of Charles Odoobo Bichachi and Patrick Matsiko Wamucori, I started on the anti-cancer drugs story, from where Obore had left. We published more articles exposing NMS mischief. But NMS fought back.

Enter Keith Muhakanizi. Keith had a contact in one of the security agencies that he regularly used for special operations/assignments when he was in Finance. That contact had written for him a report on the issue of anti-cancer drugs and the Monitor stories.

Muhakanizi was persuaded that there was a problem but he could not, as the supervisor of accounting officers, take action, simply on the basis of newspaper stories. He asked that security operative to pose as a whistle-blower from Ntungamo, write to his office (quoting the Monitor stories) and pose as someone with a patient at UCI who can’t get affordable drugs and now suspects the reason is what Monitor has been writing about.

On the basis of that dossier, Keith ordered a special audit into the issue of anti-cancer drugs and the audit report affirmed what UCI had been raising. Both UCI and Monitor were vindicated by the auditors, thanks to Muhakanizi’s efforts behind the scenes. Long story cut short, there were several meetings thereafter and Parliament since passed the Uganda Cancer Institute Bill, 2018. (now an Act) that, among others, empowers UCI to do its own procurement of drugs.

What does all this say about the man? He was a fine economist, intellectual, public servant and so many other things but above all, he was just a good man, a decent human being, a patriot with remarkable conviction in his own role in making his motherland a better place. At 64, God called him a tad too early but as Mr Mwesigwa Rukutana has observed in his glowing tribute, God’s decisions are His alone. Rest in peace, giant. You played your part. You left our country better than you found it.

Mr Okuda is an advocate of the High Court and a writer