Macdusman Kabega the ‘devil’s advocate’

Lawyer Macdusman Kabega (L) listens to a colleague after the trial of former VP Gilbert Bukenya at the Anti-Corruption Court last year. Photo by Faiswal Kasirye.

What you need to know:

Mr Kabega is famous for successfully handling the most difficult criminal and corruption cases and getting his clients rather effortlessly off the hook.

A sleek black Mercedes Benz rolls into the compound of the Criminal Intelligence and Investigation Department (CIID) headquarters in Kampala and heads for the parking lot. But the driver does not come out until a group of people arrive and head for the gate, towards the interrogation room. They are suspects.

The driver of the Mercedes Benz then emerges from his car. He is immaculately dressed in a black suit; and takes slow steps after the men who have gone ahead of him.

This is a routine practiced by distinguished criminal lawyer Macdusman Kabega for years, and he seems to relish every step of it.

For those who do not know him, his presence will not make much of a difference. But for those who have interacted with him, especially his fellow lawyers or crime investigators, especially police detectives, his presence draws mixed reactions.

Commonly referred to as the ‘devils’ advocate’ by journalists and some fellow lawyers, Mr Kabega is a man loved and hated in equal measure, especially among security circles, especially at the Directorate of Public Prosecution.

While many advocates adore and respect him, a section of the CIID officers and ordinary police see him as a person who has abetted crime in the country.

Mr Kabega is famous for successfully handling the most difficult criminal and corruption cases and getting his clients rather effortlessly off the hook. While at it, he never walks into the court room without his clients.

He normally waits in his car at the law courts’ parking, reading, until the prisons officers deliver his clients, when he gets out and walks them into the dock.

As other lawyers joke and discuss issues in the court room, Mr Kabega often sits alone, reading or standing in a corner, waiting for the proceedings to begin.

He exhibits the highest level of discipline in the courtroom and never speaks, unless it is his turn to argue his case. And when it is his turn to speak, he takes his time, drawing attention to himself.

And this has earned him respect, and during break time, it is common to see several young lawyers approach him, seeking for counsel and help with a case, even those from rival firms.

A hearing that involves his firm attracts many young lawyers, some coming to learn while others just get entertained by legal jargon he unleashes.

In arguing his cases, he makes reference to more than five previous cases, while the prosecution may quote two or three. The pile of documents that he presents to court alone can send the prosecution into panic.

The lawyer is famous for staring a witness in the eye, a tactic President Museveni’s former legal adviser Fox Odoi says has worked in his favour, helping him not only play into the psychology of the witness but punch holes in their testimony.

Mr Odoi recalls his time as PGB lawyer, arguing a case against Mr Kabega: “As humble as he may be, he will tear up your witnesses once he comes to probing them. Whenever I saw him, I knew my witnesses were not safe, few survived him.”

Mr Odoi describes what Kabega does as “passion”.

Informed and articulate
Even for senior advocates like Eric Sabitti of the Electoral Commission, appearing with Kabega in court is always a learning process. “He is well informed and articulate facts without mixing them.”

“That man is amazing. How he can coordinate all these cases is a surprise and believe me all his clients have no doubt he can handle the case,” a detective once told journalists after seeing Mr Kabega move from one area of CIID headquarters to another.

Mr Tom Samuel Magyezi, his colleague at Kabega, Tumusiime and Company Advocates, in just five words, describes Mr Kabega as “Professional, Hardworking, intelligent, humble and focused.”

Mr Kabega turned down an opportunity to become a High Court Judge in 1989, saying he was neither ready nor interested, opting to represent suspects in murder cases.

He began his career as a State Attorney in the late 1970s, before rising to the level of Director of Public Prosecutions in the late 1980s and started his private practice in 1995 specialising in criminal defence.

His humbleness, composure and respect during proceedings are what many have loved about him and earned him respect among the prosecutors. Court sessions that involve him are exciting as witnesses are pondered with question after question and legal jargons like “I object your honour” are more frequent with prosecutors seeking to protect their witnesses from Mr Kabega.

The judges and magistrates love his approach and it can be seen in their concentration on his “well researched submission” as one magistrate once put it.

At rulings to cases he has handled, despite the fact that he may lose the case, the presiding judge will always find points in his submission to agree with.

He has handled famous cases such as that of businessman Kato Kajubi, accused of murdering 12-year -old Joseph Kasirya. Though he lost, when President Museveni asked the DPP to revive the case, the Judge quoted him extensively in his ruling.

In the famous case in which former Arua Municipality MP Godi Akbar, Kabega lost but he put up a spirited thus saving his client from the noose when he convinced court that he acted in self-defence. He also represented Capt Magara, who shot at the crowd, killing two people instantly during an FDC rally at Bulange, Mengo in 2006.

He also represented former chief spy Brigadier Henry Tumukunde in the General Court Martial, where he was charged with spreading harmful propaganda, contrary to the Army Code of Conduct; and in the High Court, where he challenged President Museveni for forcing him to resign as Army MP in 2005.

In the same General Court Martial, Kabega represented Brig Stephen Kashaka over charges of creating ‘ghost’ soldiers.

He also represented renowned cardiologist Dr Aggrey Kiyingi, who was acquitted of accusations of masterminding his wife, Robinah Kiyingi’s, murder by hiring gunmen.

While in the DPP office, he successfully prosecuted most of the high-profile cases that included the trial of former minister and spy in the Obote II government, Chris Rwakasisi, and former Vice-President, the late Paulo Muwanga. Rwakasisi was only recently pardoned by President Museveni.

His ability to handle corruption-related cases was made evident when he successfully defended former Vice-President Gilbert Balibasekka Bukenya, who was earlier this year let off the hook, when the Anti-Corruption ruled that prosecution had not put up a prema facie case worthy defending.

Mr Kabega is also involved in the Alcon Ltd against the NSSF case, which is still at the Supreme Court. At stake is $16 million of workers’ funds, which could be handed over to Alcon should the highest court in the land rule in its favour.

As police detectives handle multiple investigations into corruption scandal into different ministries, the man to watch is Mr Kabega, who is currently representing majority of those accused of embezzlement, causing financial loss and abuse of office.

Mr Kabega is representing the interdicted Principal Accountant in the Office of the Prime Minister, Mr Geofrey Kazinda, who is now in court for different charges. He is charged with embezzlement, false accounting, forgery, conspiracy to commit a felony and causing financial loss amounting to Shs316.8 million.

Interrelated investigations are into Ministry of Public Service Pension sector where more than Shs63 billion was allegedly paid to ghost pensioners through Cairo Bank. Mr Kabega is also representing six managers from Cairo International Bank, each with an individual role played.

Recently, when Cairo bank officials were being interrogated at the CIID Headquarters in Kibuli and Mr Kazinda was brought in a wheelchair, the lawyer was one, Mr Kabega.

At CIID Headquarters, Mr Kabega’s face is not new. All detectives will always associate him to the big case.

Disclaimer: We did not speak to Mr Kabega for this story or solicit for his comments. We wrote it from observation, and by speaking to advocates who have met him and those he has worked with. The story is based on his notable work.