How Matembe’s relations with the First Lady deteriorated

Happy times. Ms Miria Matembe (left) and Dr Specioza Kazibwe, a former Vice President, watch a play at Pride Theatre, Kampala, in 2013. FILE PHOTOS

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Final part. ‘The Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Betrayed’ is former legislator Miria Matembe’s first-hand account of her experience in the NRM government. In the fifth and last part of the series of the book excerpts, Ms Matembe reveals how her fight against corruption brought her on collision course with Ms Janet Museveni.

“I became the First Lady’s trusted confidante on work-related issues and she always consulted me whenever she had a new project to do. She was very happy with the work I was doing for her. One profound incident that served to draw us closer and cement my relationship with her was the 1995 Women’s Conference in Beijing to mark the Women’s Decade.
It was puzzling that Dr Specioza Kazibwe, the then Vice President, and the Minister for Gender did not deem Ms Winnie Byanyima and I fit to be part of the 100-member government delegation to Beijing, despite the fact that we were outstanding women leaders who were doing a lot to uplift the plight of women in Uganda. People wrote about it in the press, questioning the wisdom of leaving us out of the delegation.
However, since we were internationally acclaimed for our activism in the women’s movement, Ms Byanyima and I received our invitations straight from the United Nations headquarters in New York. We were on the programme to address the NGO forum plenary sessions and I remember Ms Byanyima addressed the plenary in one morning session, while I addressed it in the afternoon.
On the evening before I was meant to return to Uganda, I received a call from the PA [personal assistant] of the First Lady. I understand they had been frantically looking for me all over Beijing and had even been to the hotel where the Ugandan delegation was staying, but could not find me since I was not part of the official government delegation.
The First Lady asked me to stay on because she wanted me to help her work on the speech she was going to present to the conference. When I told her I was scheduled to return to Uganda the next day, she wondered why I was returning home when the conference was just beginning. I told her that I had come specifically to address the NGO forum plenary and was not funded to attend as a government delegate. She wondered how I, of all the people, could have been left out of the government delegation. I actually suggested that she could work with Ms Joy Kwesiga, who was the chairperson of ACFODE then, but the First Lady insisted that I stay because she wanted to work with me.

Personal interaction
In regard to the logistical challenges, she said she would get back to me, and indeed, at midnight I received a call from her. She told me that she would send her PA to pick me up the next day and I went to stay with her in the State Lodge in Beijing. During my stay, we shared a lot together and, in fact, that was the time when I really got close to her. Every evening, we sat in the sitting room and talked about many things. It was also the time when I got to know how close the First Lady was with God.
I admired her relationship with God and wished to be like her. Down the road, I eventually became born-again myself before the end of 1995, and I must admit that her deep knowledge of God played a big role in inspiring me to return to the Lord.
We continued working well together on several projects. I remember clearly that Ms Joyce Mpanga and I worked tooth and nail to assist the First Lady to establish an organisation called the National Strategy for Advancement of Rural Women (NSARW). We worked around the clock and spent months drafting the structure and constitution of NSARW and it successfully started operations.
We even assisted in the process of hiring senior staff, including the appointment of Ms Margaret Kakitahi as the executive director. I don’t know what became of that organisation later, after the First Lady went into politics and was appointed a minister, but what I know is that initially, NSARW did a lot of work towards the empowerment and advancement of rural women.
Generally, the First Lady has done commendable work in terms of the advancement of women, mainly through NSARW and UWESO. I am proud to say that I was part of that success since I was actively involved in the founding of both those organisations.
Having appreciated my work and passion, the First Lady wanted me to be appointed to a ministerial position. I don’t know whether my appointment, finally, was caused by the First Lady’s lobbying or if it was out of President Museveni’s own volition, but what I appreciated most was not merely being appointed a minister but the particular ministry that I was appointed to head. It gave me great honour and a sense of fulfillment to be appointed the pioneer Minister for Ethics and Integrity because it confirmed to me and to others that I was considered a person of high ethical values and integrity.
The appointment showed that when the President chose to establish a ministry for the building of ethical values and to fight against corruption, it was in me that he saw the most suitable person for the task.

No Longer at Ease with the First Lady
After I had been appointed a minister, the First Lady called me to her home and we had a cup of tea. She told me that she was very happy that I was finally a minister. Like me, she was also particularly excited that I had been given the mantle of fighting corruption and building ethics and integrity in public office.
She told me a story that involved corruption that had touched her. It was about a woman at Mulago Hospital whose uterus was about to be removed because her documentation had been misplaced and no health worker there would look for it unless they were paid a bribe. Luckily for that woman, someone intervened and her uterus was saved.
The First Lady went on to say that she wanted to join hands with me to fight the scourge of corruption in Uganda. This was music to my ears. It was an indicator that my campaign against corruption would succeed now that I did not only have the good will of the First Lady but also that she was willing to actually join the fight herself. I was truly exhilarated, and in my characteristic naïve innocence, I told her, “Now that you’re joining me to fight corruption, I am confident that we will succeed. In fact, the best place to begin is here – right here in the Office of the President and State House. This is where our fight against corruption must start.”
It is very difficult to describe how her face changed in a split second. All of a sudden, her countenance switched. If she had been a white person, her face would have turned pale. She stared at me with an open mouth as if I was from Mars, and then she asked, “State House? And the Office of the President? Do you mean here?”
“Yes, madam,” I replied. “You know this issue of the Uganda Commercial Bank (UCB)? In fact, I had wanted to meet the President and talk to him about it. People are reporting that Gen Salim Saleh is involved. Also, in other high-profile corruption cases, people are pointing fingers at Hon John Kazoora and Hon Sam Kutesa.”
She interjected and asked me which Kazoora I was talking about. I replied that I was talking about the Kazoora from Ntungamo, her uncle and guardian.
I added: “People are also talking about [Mathew] Rukikaire in connection to the UCB issue. They say he knows what is going on.” Mr Rukikaire was at the time the Minister for Privatisation, which was handling the sale of UCB. I told her that these were very high-profile people and, therefore, I needed to tell the President about the cases. I asked her to help me get an immediate appointment with him.
By then, her face had totally changed. She looked at me angrily and said: “Matembe, naiwe buzima ori omu bibi bya’bairu na’bahima? Hatishi nyowe obunkweta ohurire, biri naiwe obaire ofire?” Meaning, Matembe, are you also involved in this nonsense of the Bairu against the Bahima? I thought you were a sensible person whom I could confide in, but it seems you are also hopeless and useless.”
I was so shocked and dumbfounded, and I asked her how the issue of the Bairu and Bahima (historical rivalry between the two sub-groups of the Banyankore) had come into the matter.
She answered: “You can’t be serious; you mean you want to waste Mzee’s time with this nonsense? All this while, I thought you were someone of substance, but you’re just like those who are involved in that nonsense of persecuting the Bahima. Look at the names you have given me; Kazoora, Kutesa, Salim Saleh, Rukikaire. Don’t you see?” That was very shocking to me. I said, “I am very sorry, mama. I didn’t intend to appear like that because the issue of the Bairu and Bahima has never been part of my life even as I grew up. After all, I come from Kashaari where we are a combination of both.”
She went on: “How does Uncle Kazoora come into this? And Kutesa? What about Saleh? These are people who sacrificed a lot for this country!”
I was shocked and lost for words. I managed to say, “Madam, I am sorry that this is how you perceive the issue I have raised. For me, when you said you would help me and be a key ally in my work, I candidly opened up to you. I thought I could confide in you so that you are aware of the reports out there.” I went on to tell her that these were allegations, of course, but we had to go ahead and do some investigations to establish the truth.

Before I left she said: “Okay, Matembe, I will also carry out my own investigations to find out if Salim Saleh is involved in the UCB sale scandal.” She promised to call and tell me what she would find out. Although she never called to tell me what came out of her own investigation, within two weeks after our meeting, it came to light that Saleh was irregularly involved in the buying and selling of UCB, which caused a big loss to the country.
Mr Kutesa was later to be censured by Parliament over corruption, while Mr Rukikaire resigned his ministerial position over the sale of UCB. It is now widely known that Mr Rukikaire was not corrupt and was only culpable for failing in his oversight role as Minister for Privatisation to detect the fraudulent deals.
From that time, my steady relationship with the First Lady was derailed. The frequency of our meetings reduced, although, once in a while, she would call me to discuss one issue or another. In one of those meetings, I mentioned Gen Saleh’s involvement in several corruption scandals at that time. This time she agreed with me and actually asked me to let her know whenever I heard anything about Saleh being involved in corruption deals, so that she could try and deter him from proceeding with the deals.
Later, in fact, she told me that whenever she confronted Gen Saleh after my tip-off, he would not deny the issue, but wondered where she got all the intelligence from. Of course, Gen Saleh had no idea that it was I who was tipping off the First Lady. To this extent, she tried to support my anti-corruption efforts, as she had earlier promised. When she eventually realised that the allegations I had made at the beginning were true, she changed her attitude towards me and our relationship went back to normal, although it was not as vibrant as before.
However, I kept her abreast by telling her what the public was saying on these issues. Sometimes, her own name came up in the corruption talks, and whenever that happened, I would go and tell her. She always assured me that it was all false and that people were simply telling lies about her and then we would get scriptures to read and pray about the false accusations.
We continued working together until the elections of 2001, in which people close to her and the First Family sponsored Ms Jovia Rwakishumba to run against me, as detailed in earlier chapters. Unfortunately, as Mr Kutesa told me at that dinner, it was indeed true that the First Lady was affected by my alleged support for Ms Byanyima, which the newspaper swearing-in photo had falsely implied. Consequently, our meetings and friendship ground to a halt.
It was not until 2003, two years later, that I heard from the First Lady. Ms Mary Karooro Okurut, who was then the Press Secretary in the Office of the President, called me and told me that the First Lady wanted to see me. I was in Mbarara but I promised to contact her once I returned to Kampala. I went to her office and was informed that indeed she wanted to see me, but she was now engaged in some activities and would call me soon.

The call that never came
I kept waiting for her call, which never came. At about that time, there was a women’s prayer breakfast at Sheraton Hotel that I attended, and the First Lady was the guest of honour. After the function, she rushed out. As I was getting out of the hotel, she had already entered her car, but looking out of her window she saw me and motioned me to go to her.
When I reached the car, she greeted me but I was astonished by what she told me. “Mbwenu Miria nkakwanga, nakwanga, nakwangira kimwe, kwonka Ruhanga yayanga, yaguma ayangire, nambwenu ninyija kukweta tubigambeho.” Meaning, ‘I hated you and hated you, but the Lord did not like this; the Lord has been convicting me all this time and so I will call you and we shall talk.’ I replied that all along I knew the devil had been fighting us but I had been praying about it.
Somehow though, we never got to discuss the cause of the hatred, but our relationship got back on track and she resumed delegating me to represent her in work that involved women.
In the meantime, I anxiously waited for the opportune time that the First Lady and I could discuss the cause of her hatred, but before that time came, the infamous Kyankwanzi ‘third term’ conference took place.
As already discussed, I did not mince my words as I expressed my opposition to the removal of the presidential term limit, and I went as far as mobilising the country to resist the desecration of our Constitution for the sake of her husband’s continued stay in power. That marked the end of my relationship with the First Lady.

As a matter of fact, when it was finally revealed that the UCB scandal involved Saleh and the late Sulaiman Kiggundu, Mr Rukikaire came to see me in my office to seek my guidance as the Minister for Ethics and Integrity as to what he should do. He confided in me that he did not know that there was fraudulence in the sale of UCB or even that Saleh was involved.
I advised him to resign since it was the most honourable thing to do in those circumstances, because the MPs were ready to censure him anyway. He wondered if resignation would not imply that he was guilty. I told him to make a statement, telling the country what exactly happened, and to also apologise for the mess in his ministry, and own up to his falling short in the supervision of his ministry to the extent that serious business like the sale of UCB went on without his full involvement and awareness of all the details.
After our meeting, Mr Rukikaire wrote his statement and delivered it to Parliament. Up to now, he can stand in public with his head held high because he was exonerated from corruption. It is also important to mention now that even when the allegation for which the First Lady had wrongly accused me of being involved in the petty Bahima-Bairu issues turned out to be true, she did not at any one time call me to say that I was right.