The memorable experience of working with Mutebile, Kassami and Muhakanizi

Left-right: Former BoU governor Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile, Former PS Ministry of Finance Chris Kassami and Keith Muhakanizi, one of the longest-serving technocrats in President Museveni’s government. 

What you need to know:

  • Chris Kassami (Died March 2016): Kassami, who retired in 2013, died in 2016 at a Nairobi hospital.
  • Mutebile (Died January 2022): The Central Bank governor died last year at a hospital in Nairobi.
  • Muhakanizi (Died April 2023): The PS in the Office of the Prime Minister and former Secretary to Treasury, died in a Milan hospital after battling cancer for years.

I decided to write this tribute when Keith Muhakanizi died on April 13 in Milan, Italy. I acknowledge that as an economist and civil servant, he did not perform his duties in a vacuum; there were several other players, as is the case in all organisations. It is important that I briefly say something about them.

I reported to the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development on April 3, 1989, on promotion to under secretary. Mr Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile was the Permanent Secretary. I shall limit readers of this article mainly to the performance of the economists.  Under the Permanent Secretary, himself a renowned economist, were Chris Kassami (RIP), Kamya (RIP), Okullo Ongar (RIP), Mary Muduuli, Kalibwani, Hadija Gava, Harriet Mugerwa, Steven Kalanguka Kayondho, Keith Muhakanizi and Damon Kitabire. There were some others employed under a World Bank project. 

Kamya retired and Ongar (then a commissioner in-charge of Economic Planning) died quite early in 1991. At the time of his death, the Ministry of Planning had very little money available. I remember after the funeral service at All Saints Cathedral, Mutebile took me aside and asked me to take the ministry Bus and fill it with fuel from his petrol station on Jinja Road. This was his personal donation and a great act of compassion for the dead officer. The ministry did not even have a pick up at the time. We took Okullo-Ongar by bus for burial in Loro, Apac District.

Mutebile built this nucleus of a winning team through his ability to guide, provide training and even push people to excellence. This was not a place where an officer could hang his coat to represent him and then disappear. It was result-oriented and time-controlled office. It was also because of the clear political leadership of Joash Mayanja Nkangi (RIP), the then minister of Planning and Economic Development, who was supportive, knowledgeable and knew about keeping boundaries in a diverse environment.
Around 1995, in the first major act of restructuring government, the ministry was merged to that of Finance to form the new and bigger Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development. 

It was obvious that at the time that the staff of the Ministry of Finance would be overrun by the staff of the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development who had been aggressively seeking, receiving funding, and undertaking further graduate studies both locally at Makerere University and from renowned overseas Institutions. Then most Finance officers had seemed contented with one degree. The only exception was Patrick Ocailap who quickly secured a scholarship for further training in the US.

Some of the staff of the core team from the former Ministry of Planning and Economic Development decided to find other avenues. For example, Hadija Gava found a job with IGAD while Florence Kutesa also moved on later. What that meant was that these officers mentored by Mutebile were competent in their fields, to be able to get jobs outside of Uganda through competitive interviews.

Kassami was later appointed Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education and when the ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development was briefly spilt, again he was transferred to the Ministry of Planning, though not for long, as the two ministries were soon re-merged, until today. This movement disrupted Kassami, a very brilliant economist. He was an introvert who put a lot of efforts into the economic policies of Uganda.
By the beginning of 1999, two directorates – Budget (D/B) and Economic Affairs (DEA) – were vacant. DEA was very popular with staff who had studied and readied themselves for appointments. PS/ST Mutebile wanted Kitabire to occupy the position of DEA and Muduuli to occupy the post of director for budget. 

However, there was Muhakanizi who also wished to be promoted and was particularly interested in becoming DEA. Muduuli was appointed as director budget, leaving Kitabire and Muhakanizi to tussle out for the position of DEA. 

Muhakanizi sought me out in my office to ascertain if there were other officers likely to apply for the post of DEA. When I informed him that Kitabire was a likely candidate, he told me that in that case, he would not apply as he did not want to compete with his friend. But unknown to management, Kitabire had applied for a scholarship from the World Bank for a doctoral degree. He requested for a study leave which was denied. He later resigned from service. Muhakanizi was then appointed DEA before the end of 1999.

The first time I really had a discussion with Muhakanizi was towards the end of 1989. I was still relatively new in the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development. The reason for his meeting me was to seek my views on a job offer he had got from UNDP in Kampala. The salary was attractive. He informed me that with the salary he was receiving, he was failing to get married. He was then dating a girl. Yes! That same one who became his wife.

Naomi Adong Wanyama 

I asked him to give me time to think about it. I proceeded to inform PS Mutebile, stating my worry about possible staff flight to greener pastures when we had spent so much money on training them. We agreed to provide some salary enhancement to staff without breaking the Public Service regulations. But to get that extra allowance, the officers had to meet several targets in a given time frame.

We were pleased when Muhakanizi stayed on. A few months later, I was invited to his wedding. The reception was held at Farmers’ House on Parliament Avenue. That was also the time that I got to know that his mother was the elder sister to James Kahooza, the former PS/Secretary to the Treasury.

The second time Muhakanizi sought me out on a personal matter was when we were working in the newly merged Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development. He came to my office and without preamble said to me, “Mama wange, I have bad news. My wife is likely to have her leg amputated and we are taking her to South Africa.”

I jumped out of my chair, moved towards him and held his hand in silence. All the while knowing how useless I was in this case, I made lame promises of helping the family.
I knew more than anyone else and as accounting officer of that ministry, how I could not raise decent amount of money to assist a spouse of my officer. It was bad enough for me since there was no insurance policy for public officers. Somehow, they travelled and thankfully she was treated and returned wholesome. The next time I met her at their petrol station, she was glowing. This is the story of the man who would eventually become a great civil servant and a long serving PS/ST.

In summary, Muhakanizi lived and practiced economics. Former Deputy Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukutana’s tribute pretty much summed up the person we called Muhakanizi. An extrovert who said things as he saw them. He was the epitome of energy. He was funny yet bold. To me he was a tad cheeky by always addressing me as “mama wange” both while I was under secretary and long after my retirement from the ministry.

Muhakanizi never compromised government work. I was not surprised when he was appointed PS/ST after Kassami had retired. I had thought at one stage that Mutebile, then governor of Bank of Uganda, might ‘poach’ him. But it was well that he remained in the Ministry of Finance to deserve the appointment to the PS/ST.

After the end of my contract with the Uganda National Bureau of Standards, I once more returned to the Ministry of Finance to sit on the audit committee, of the Accountability Sector falling under his ministry. Sometimes I would meet him at the ministry’s staff canteen. On one occasion, he asked if I was receiving my pension promptly every month. He went on to inform me that his greatest desire was to achieve the target when pensioners were paid promptly then he would retire a happy person.

My only surprise was when Muhakanizi was posted to the Office of the Prime Minister. Public Service Standing Orders on transfers notwithstanding, in my view, Muhakanizi was not cut out for the job of administrator. He belonged to the realms of the economic think tanks. I must, however add, that in this tough talking man there was a soft person. He cared for his staff and prioritised their welfare. He valued acting first and apologising later. He valued gathering information for decision making.

Finally, I wish to salute and bid farewell to Tumusiime-Mutebile, Chris Kassami and Keith Muhakanizi, some of the best economic soldiers that this country has natured. I owed them this for the unforgettable experience of having worked with them.
I am very grateful to my former staff I worked with for editing this tribute and having it published.

The writer, Naomi Adong Wanyama, is a former Under Secretary, MFPED 1989-1999.