Kiryowa Kiwanuka: Emerging from the shadows as Museveni fixer to Attorney General

Former presidential candidate Amama Mbabazi’s lead counsel Mohammed Mbabazi (left) talks to President Museveni’s lawyer Kiryowa Kiwanuka (right) during the 2016 presidential elections petition. PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

  • Rise to the top. Kiryowa Kiwanuka has been President Museveni’s legal fixer for a number of years, but now his master has entrusted him to be the government’s chief legal advisor.
  • Derrick Kiyonga writes how Kiwanuka, an unembarrassed NRM apologist, has emerged from working behind the scenes to a front role where many trials await him.

From their back seats, Kiryowa Kiwanuka and Elison Karuhanga had quietly followed proceedings in the Supreme Court as former prime minister Amama Mbabazi challenged President Museveni’s 2016 presidential victory, saying he had rigged.  

While Karuhanga was defending the Electoral Commission (EC), Kiryowa was representing Museveni, and for days, it seemed things were going according to plan.

Mbabazi’s legal team, at least on the face of it, had struggled to make a case and Museveni’s legal team’s strategy of keeping Kiwanuka out of action seemed to have worked, as the President’s leading lawyers Didas Nkurunziza, Ebert Byenkya and Barnabas Tumusingize had done a great job.
But all of this changed the moment Severino Twinobusingye, one of Mbabazi’s lawyers suggested that they had discovered discrepancies between their declaration forms and those presented by the EC.
Astonished by the suggestion, Kiryowa  left his back seat and took up one of the front chairs and subsequently took over the mantle questioning where Twinobusinye was getting the figures from.  

If there’s a moment that could have defined Kiryowa was that: though powerful Kiryowa, who was appointed by Museveni to be his twelfth Attorney General, has always been shadows – popping up once in a while – for instance between 2013 and 2014, he got time to be the president of Uganda Golf Union where he remarkably served two terms despite clamours from the golf fraternity to amend the constitution to allow him to rule as long as he wishes.  

Before 2016, Museveni had been dragged to the Supreme Court twice by his former physician-turned-rival Kizza Besigye who, too, was alleging that his former patient had rigged elections but going by the official court record, Kiryowa’s footprints can’t be traced anywhere in those cases.  
Lawyers such as Dr Joseph Byamugisha used to defend Museveni in the Besigye petitions tended to be allies of Mbabazi who was at the time seen as Museveni’s right hand man.  
Even in 2013, when NRM wanted to oust the so-called rebel MPs from Parliament, lawyers John Mary Mugisha, Twinobusingye and Chris Bakiza, who were recruited by the NRM to do the job, were seen as Mbabazi’s cronies.
But as the 2016 general election was gaining momentum there was a big-time fallout between Museveni and Mbabazi thus creating a void that many say Kiryowa readily filled without engaging directly on elective politics.

Mbabazi, who now wanted Museveni’s job, had come to define what NRM was about and this dominance perhaps had suffocated many including Kiryowa who always bides his time.
“It gave all of us space,” while chuckling, a lawyer who has represented the NRM told this writer when prodded about the consequences of Mbabazi’s departure.

With Mbabazi out of the way, Kiryowa now had to lead from the front and this is what exactly he did in 2015 when Benjamin Alipanga, a Mbabazi proxy, petitioned the Constitutional Court asking to stop the appointment of Justine Kasule Lumumba as new secretary-general, Richard Todwong as her deputy, Rose Namayanja as treasurer and Dr Kenneth Omona as her deputy.  

When Mbabazi rebelled, the NRM reacted by giving Mr Museveni powers which included directly appointing officials who superintend the ruling party’s secretariat.
Mbabazi wanted to stop this. He instructed Mugisha, Twinobusingye, Michael Akampurira and Fred Muwema to represent Alipanga at the Constitutional Court but Kiryowa, who for the first time led the NRM legal team, at least from the frontline, took the day.

The rebel MP’s case went to the Supreme Court and by that time Mugisha, Twinobusingye and Bakiza had withdrawn as their boss Mbabazi had started hobnobbing with the Opposition. It’s Kiryowa who filled the void left and although the NRM lost it’s now very clear that he had now replaced Mbabazi and he is said to have Museveni’s ear more than the former premier to the extent that it’s alleged after the formalities of going through the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), Kiwanuka forms another layer of scrutiny that those who want to appointed judges must beat if the President is to appoint them.  

“You just have to be in his good books,” a High Court judge who preferred anonymity such that he could speak freely, told this writer.
Born on June 8, 1973, Kiryowa has been here for a long time unswervingly representing the interests of State House.  
In 2001, Winne Byanyima, wife of Dr Besigye, who had rebelled from the NRM to form the Reform Agenda, which reenergised the political Opposition, defended her Mbarara Municipality parliamentary seat after seeing a full-bodied challenge from Yusuf Ngoma Ngime who had the backing Museveni.
Kiryowa, who had just formed his Kiryowa & Kiwanuka Advocates, perhaps at the behest of Museveni, was hired by Ngoma-Ngime, in what could turn out to be his first case in the limelight.  

Byanyima, on the other hand, hired constitutional law giant Peter Walubiri, who interestingly represented Dr Besigye in both the 2001 and 2006 presidential petitions.
Ngoma-Ngime ‘s instructions to the youthful Kiryowa were that he wanted a recount but High Court judge Vincent Musoke Kibuuka, who has since passed on, was having none of it.

Byanyima retained her seat. Soon after this case, Kiryowa’s law firm changed names from Kiryowa & Kiwanuka Advocates to Kiwanuka & Karugire Advocates as he teamed up with Edwin Karugire, Museveni’s son-in-law.   

The law firm which represents State agencies such as Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC), Vision Group, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), National Medical stores, among others, recently morphed into a simpler version: K&K Advocates.     

Seen in the NRM as one who wants a government to function well, the Opposition considers him as a hard-nosed Museveni supporter who can do anything for the regime - something they say an Attorney General shouldn’t be doing.

“I have faced him in several legal battles and there’s no doubt he is grounded in law,” Walubiri said when asked about Kiryowa’s appointment. “But the truth this is not about law, it’s about politics. It’s about Museveni sending his own people to be in charge. He doesn’t want people who will disturb him. Kiryowa’s links to State House are clear.”

It’s clear to see why the Opposition is nervous about Kiryowa being the chief legal government advisor.  
When Museveni’s much-awaited Cabinet list came out, Burhan Byaruhanga, the NRM candidate who lost the Nakawa Division mayor race, used his Twitter handle to shower praises on Kiryowa.  
“As [the] dust of ululations settles, I take this opportunity to congratulate you [Kiryowa] senior counsel for catching the eye of the fountain [Museveni],” Byaruhanga tweeted.

“I have had the honour of closely working with you and it’s my considered view you are a law general. Serve your country with diligence and dignity like you have always done. God bless you.”  
Byaruhanga is not an ordinary NRM politician or an innocent Kiryowa fan. In 2013, Byaruhanga, who was presenting Nakawa Division at City Hall, spearheaded a group of councillors who wanted Erias Lukwago, the Kampala Lord Mayor, impeached.  

The feeling was always that it was Museveni who wanted to oust Lukwago but he was using councillors as proxies. This was confirmed the moment the councillors hired Kiryowa to represent them before the Justice Catherine Bamugemereire tribunal where they accused Lukwago of abuse of office, incompetence and misbehaviour.
The tribunal gave the councillors the green light but the High Court halted implementation of the Bamugemereire findings.
“This is all about President Museveni trying to undermine the will of the people of Kampala,” the embattled Lukwago said severally. “But he will fail.”
Before he could unleash his Cabinet in 2016 as the norm has become, there was a list that was circulated on social media in which Kiryowa was the Attorney General.  
When the real list came out the position had been given to William Byaruhanga who is said to be a legal fixer of Caleb Akandwanaho, alias Salim Saleh, Museveni’s brother.  
Though he is a partner at Kasirye & Byaruhanga Company Advocates, Byaruhanga is well known for being a shrewd businessman and striking lucrative deals in the boardroom than being an advocate who goes to court to argue cases.
Throughout his five-year tenure as Attorney General, Byaruhanga shied away from media interviews, always having a similar script: “I’m in a meeting”.  

As Kiryowa takes over the Attorney General’s chambers found on Bauman House, there are huge expectations that he will have a different approach from Byaruhanga.
“He has been going to court unlike many of the Attorneys General who has been more on the boardroom than court. So we think he will understand us more,” a senior government lawyer who asked his name to be withheld because she is not allowed to speak to the media said.
This view was echoed by Karuhanga who worked at the Attorney General’s chambers between 2012 and 2013 and is now a partner at Kampala Associated Advocates.

“Mr Kiryowa Kiwanuka is the perfect choice for the Attorney General. He is a lawyers’ lawyer. He is deeply knowledgeable on matters of practice and has an excellent head on shoulders,” Karuhanga said. “I have no doubt that he will execute his duties as the head of the bar and the principal legal advisor of the government with excellence.”   
Whenever Museveni or the First Family have had serious interests in anything, Kiryowa, who has a Master degree in Petroleum Law and Policy from the University of Dundee, Scotland, has been deployed and this was seen when he was posted to head the board of Uganda Petroleum Authority – the body that regulates and monitor the petroleum sector – in 2015.
The belief among Kiryowa’s backers is that being Museveni’s right-hand man could be a blessing in disguise as he will be able to turn around the way things are done in the office of the Attorney General without fearing that he will be reported to the President.
“Nobody can tell him that the President has said this and that,” a lawyer who has been representing the NRM said on condition of anonymity.

“Actually, it’s him who can guide the President more so on legal matters. So the Attorney General’s chambers will be different from what we have been used to. Kiryowa wants the government to work and that’s what he will be doing.”
The major challenge Kiryowa, who did his first Law degree from Makerere University in 1996, is going to grapple with at the Attorney General’s chambers is the understaffing which has been put at 60 per cent.  

Last year, former Attorney General Byaruhanga informed the parliamentary Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs how State Attorneys miss court or have to constantly ask for adjournments, in the process stretching the patience of judges to the limit, leading to the loss of cases they would have won.

How will Kiryowa, who has been working in the private sector for most of his career and consequently is not used to the bureaucracy and protocol in civil service, change things quickly?
“The fact that he has been the President’s lawyer we think he will easily get resources because the main issue here is that we have no resources,” explained a female State lawyer.

Those who are positive about Kiryowa’s appointment again use make a case for him.
In 2017, after years of hesitancy, Kiryowa took over the wheels of Express Football Club which plies in the local super league.
Express, which was formed in 1957 by Jolly Joe Kiwanuka -- Kiryowa’s grandfather – had been on one financial crisis to another with no light at the end of the tunnel as relegation beckoned.

A few seasons after Kiryowa took over and went through an untidy initiation process, Express is one of the most organised and financially stable clubs in Uganda which has translated into results on the pitch.
The club, notorious for having chaotic supporters, was by the time of writing this article topping the league table standings and the supporters have uncharacteristically been well mannered.

“If KK could do to the Attorney General’s chambers what he had done for Express FC, then we shall be grateful,” a State lawyer said using Kiryowa’s acronym.  
Museveni’s latest Cabinet has been rubbished for being stuffed with mobilisers who critics say are devoid of any technical know-how and intellectual capabilities to the task at hand.  

The President seemed to acknowledge the same analysis, but he instead likened himself to Jesus Christ who is famous for working with social outcasts.   
“When Jesus started his movement, there were intellectuals like the Pharisees. But, Jesus went for the fishermen. So, when you see my [Cabinet] list, know that I am in the path of Jesus,” Museveni said.  

Undoubtedly, Kiryowa doesn’t belong to the group that the President has categorised as “fishermen” as he has the intellect that even the Opposition envy, but the striking fact about his joining of the Cabinet is that it’s coming at the time when Amelia Kyambadde, his paternal aunt, who is said to have played a major role in linking him to the powers in the First Family, has been ditched from the Cabinet, where she has been a mainstay since 2011.  

Kyambadde has been an aide of Museveni since 1977 and his boss has previously attributed the longevity of their relationship to the fact that she jealously guarded his secrets long before he became President.
Kiryowa, 48, seems to have borrowed a leaf from his aunt.

Museveni’s past Attorneys General...

1. Joseph Mulenga
2. George Wilson Kanyeihamba
3. Abubaker Kakyaama Mayanja
4. Joseph Ekemu
5. Bart Magunda Katureebe
6. Francis Ayume
7. John Patrick Amama Mbabazi
8. Edward Khiddu Makubuya
9. Peter Nyombi
10. Fredrick Ruhindi
11. William Byaruhanga
12. Kiryowa Kiwanuka