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Mahogany felled. In an interview with Daily Monitor in 2005, Prof Gilbert Bukenya alluded to a corrupt mafia group in government. Prof Bukenya had been traversing the country to popularise the cultivation of Upland rice. However, he was also accused of having used the tours to hold secret meetings with soldiers and Catholic leaders, an insinuation that he wanted to become president. The interview helped save him, but it marked the beginning of his end, writes Isaac Mufumba.
Last month Dr Margaret Mary Musoke, former vice president Prof Gilbert Bukenya’s wife of 29 years, filed for divorce accusing him of a litany of misdemeanours, including abandoning his marital obligations and dabbling in adultery.
One must concede that Prof Bukenya enjoyed a meteoric rise. Within eight years of having joined elective politics, he had become Busiiro North MP, served as chairperson of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) Caucus, minister of State for Trade and minister for the Presidency before he was named vice president in May 2003. He held the post for eight years.
His sources of strength were believed to be in Buganda and the Catholic Church, but Mr Mwambutsya Ndebesa, a historian at Makerere University, dismisses the belief.
“He was not appointed vice president because he had a strong constituency or background in the management of public affairs. It was not because he had the potential to shape the politics or destiny of the country. It was just patronage. Vice presidents in Museveni’s Uganda are like presidential assistants. They do not have any power,” he said.
Whatever it was, in an interview with Daily Monitor in 2005 he alluded to a corrupt mafia group in government, which revealed internal struggles with people believed to be close to his boss.
Prof Bukenya, who had reportedly undergone military training shortly after he was named minister for the Presidency, had been traversing the country to popularise the cultivation of upland rice. He also imitated Mr Museveni so much that he too would don wide-brimmed hats and casual shirts, and gesticulate and roll his eyes like him.
However, he was also accused of having used the tours to hold secret meetings with soldiers and Catholic leaders, an insinuation that that he wanted to become president. That is apparently anathema and earns one the sack.
The interview helped save him, at least for a while, but it marked the beginning of a series of moves aimed at humiliating him again and again.
Losing to the Mafias
In the interview, he claimed that the mafia was feeding President Museveni, who he had earlier described as the only man with a vision, with wrong information.
Though he did not name who the three ‘Mafiosi’ were, it was understood that he was talking about Mr Sam Kutesa, Ms Hope Mwesigye and Mr Amama Mbabazi, who he had indirectly accused of arrogance in his dealings with members of the NRM Caucus before the leadership of the caucus was handed to the backbenchers.
“At the time we had a Movement Caucus in Parliament for only a select few. They would simply come and tell you ‘we have decided with the President that on this issue you vote this way… In most cases this information was given without opportunity for reasoning, arrogantly and on the assumption that we have no brains except to do as they say. We decided to fight the way this caucus was formed. We wanted a caucus which was inclusive of all Members of Parliament who supported the Movement,” he wrote in his book Through Intricate Corridors of Power.
Well, the alleged mafia had the last laugh. He was a few days later forced to convene a press conference where he humiliated himself by retracting his earlier comments.
“What I meant was that competition in the government procurement process sometimes gets so stiff that some bidders are tempted to resort to underhand methods. And this was in reference to the Iris case in the National IDs bid process,” he said in the presence of Ms Mwesigye.
Mr Amama Mbabazi was to later show up for what he said was a photo opportunity with the Vice President.
“I have been telling journalists that this man (Mbabazi) has been advising me since I joined politics. How could I have harassed him? Sam Kutesa has been advising me, how could I have harassed them? I am delighted this is over,” he said.
In March 2007 “news” broke that Prof Bukenya was involved in an extramarital relationship with one Jamila Nnaku, who claimed to have gotten traditionally married to Prof Bukenya and that the bride price had been received by her mother.
That was soon followed by allegations of snatching one, Ms Margaret Kabasinguzi Nyabongo Akiiki, from her husband, and a host of other reports of escapades with other women. His image was clearly in tatters.
On the morning of September 13, 2010, Prof Bukenya and Gen Kahinda Otafiire suffered a humiliating defeat in the race for the post of secretary general of the NRM. Mr Amama Mbabazi bagged more than twice their combined vote haul. Bukenya was left with lots of egg on his face.
In his other book, In the Corridors to Power, which he published in 2014, Prof Bukenya reveals that Museveni had actually tried to ring fence the post for Mbabazi by asking him why he was scrambling for it when he already had the vice presidency. That face off with Museveni and the defeat that followed must have put him on notice that the end was nigh.
In January 2010, the Observer carried a story in which it indicated that the vice president had written to his boss notifying him of his intention to retire at the end of that year.
“I am retiring from politics next year (2010) because I have reached my retirement age. I have already tendered in my retirement letter to the relevant people,” the newspaper quoted him to have said.
Prof Bukenya, who was also the vice chairman of the NRM in Buganda, never denied the story. It would suggest that it was true, but why then was he to fault his former boss for directing a low cadre officer, Ms Miriam Kankunda, to call him on the night of May 30, 2011, to relay that news that he was not to be reappointed.
Humiliated before PAC
In March 2010, Prof Bukenya declined to appear before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament which was investigating the abuse of more than Shs500 million meant for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) 2007.
Bukenya, who had been required to answer queries related to his role in the award of a Shs9.4b deal to supply at least 200 executive vehicles to Motorcare and the award of a contract to supply 80 units of BMW R 1200 police outrider motorcycles, argued that under the law he could not subject himself to PAC, which the Attorney General agreed with.
However, President Museveni pulled the rug under him when he met the committee on April 29, 2010, and distanced himself from some of the controversial decisions that had been taken by the Cabinet committee on Chogm. Bukenya was compelled to appear before PAC, which indicted him along with eight Cabinet ministers.
On June 11, 2011, Prof Bukenya was arraigned before the Anti-Corruption Court and charged with abuse of office and influence peddling in the procurement and hire of BMW vehicles at a cost of Shs9.4 billion.
Early in October, the bail that had been granted by the magistrate collapsed following his committal to the High Court.
A tearful Bukenya was sent to Luzira prison. Though the IGG was to later drop the charges against him, the fact that he was the only one out of the nine ministers who had been indicted by PAC who did time in jail smacked of a selective application of the law and an attempt to kill off his political ambitions.
“I am a mahogany; they tried to uproot me but failed. They tried to burn me into charcoal, but failed,” he told his supporters shortly after he was released on bail.
Four days into his stay in Luzira, the High Court threw him out of Parliament having found him guilty of voter bribery, but Bukenya bounced back during the December by-election taking 10,728 votes (76.7 per cent), while his closest challenger, Mr Kasta Bukenya, got 3,035.
The events of October angered Bukenya. During the May 2014 by-elections in Luweero he broke ranks with the NRM and campaigned for the Opposition candidate, Ms Brenda Nabukenya.
He quit the NRM and announced the formation of the pressure group, Pressure for National Unity (PNU), which was to later participate along with the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), Democratic Party (DP), Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC), People’s Progressive Party (PPP), Conservative Party (CP), Justice Forum (Jeema), Uganda Federal Alliance (UFA) and Mr Amama Mbabazi’s Go-Forward pressure group in the ill-fated attempt to form The Democratic Alliance (TDA).
Bukenya returned to the NRM after the collapse of TDA, but the years of hacking had surely taken their toll.
The Mahogany tree was finally brought down by a hitherto relatively unknown Dennis Ssozi Galabuzi during the 2016 general election. Mr Galabuzi, who took the Busiiro North seat, has since been appointed minister of State for Luweero Triangle.
Prof Bukenya has been living a relatively quiet life since last September when he announced that he had quit politics.
Mr Ndebesa, however, wonders whether he had ever been a factor in the politics that he claims to be quitting.
“Had he been there from the beginning? Had he had any impact? Had he been appointed an RDC, minister of State, or minister? I think he had only created a myth for himself in that upland rice thing, but had never really been a factor in the politics,” he argues.
Whether he was or not is not the question now. What is, is why he has been behaving that way, if it is true that he has been engaging in “shameless sexual acts with women and girls”.
Mr Ali Male, a counselling psychologist with A-Z Professional Counselling and Support Centre, says that it is usually because one skipped a stage in the process of human development that (s)he will do things that he should have done much earlier in life.
“For each state of development there are certain needs that have to be given attention. If that does not happen, the need to address that need appears at a later stage. There can also be fixation or retardation in the human and behavioural development process. That may make them behave like they are much younger,” Mr Male says.
The divorce case is another low, but after the political humiliations and falls, it is inconceivable that Prof Gilbert Balibaseka Bukenya can fall any further.