By Matsiko wa Mucoori
The riddle of his retirement story
On January 9, Bukenya called NRM supporters to his hotel in Garuga in Entebbe and denied he intended to retire from politics this year. Instead he stamped his resolve to stay in politics much longer than the public thinks. I want to declare that I am not going anywhere. When the time comes [for NRM primaries], I will return and contest as Member of Parliament for Busiro North as chairman for the NRM in Wakiso district Bukenya is quoted to have told the supporters, who were decked out in NRM party colours at his hotel and were begging him not to abandon them at the hour of need.
Over a week earlier, press reports had trickled in that Vice President Gilbert Bukenya had intimated to a source that he had submitted to the President a letter of his intention to retire from politics this year. The reports did not give a clear reason why Bukenya, who is five years younger than the President, intended to retire. However there was speculation that it was due to intrigue within the party ranks.Â Others speculated that Bukenya’s intended retirement was an attempt to preempt his fate in the impending cabinet reshuffle following accusations of influence peddling in the purchase of vehicles for the 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). The ongoing parliamentary investigations have implicated Bukenya in wrongdoing. But he shot back saying the President was fully aware of his role in the car deal. This prompted the Presidentâ€™s Press Secretary, Tamale Mirundi, to tell Bukenya to stop using the Presidentâ€™s name to shield himself against allegations of inappropriate conduct in the CHOGM car transaction.
Following Bukenyaâ€™s strong public rebuttal, itâ€™s difficult to confirm the claims of his intended retirement. But equally, given his previous record, it would be unwise to dismiss the claims as absolute falsehood.
In May 2005, also in the heat of a speculated cabinet reshuffle, Bukenya invited Conrad Nkutu, the then Daily Monitor Managing Director, to his home in Kakiri, to tell him that there was a mafia gang of top government officials close to the President who were plotting to bring him down. He said the so-called mafia had orchestrated a covert investigation into his wealth.Â In the interview with Nkutu, Bukenya said: â€œWhile I believe in fair play, I am getting very frustrated by a continuous investigation aimed at knocking Bukenya, by friendly forces. I donâ€™t know their names (the investigators) but it must be the IGGâ€™s (Inspector General of Government) office. They went to my house in Kakiri, photographing my cows and pigs! I hope they are photographing animals of other leaders. Otherwise it is not fair. Let them go for every leader who has cows.â€
After the story ran, Bukenya showed up at a press conference at State House, sandwiched between ministers Amama Mbabazi and Sam Kutesa, to deny that he had ever told anyone about the existence of a mafia group in government or that it targeted to bring him down. Surprisingly, Nkutu had even sent him the draft story to confirm its contents before it was published and Bukenya had okayed it. Whether the President had planned to drop Bukenya from cabinet or not, cannot be proved. But clearly, if the President sacked Bukenya, it would confirm his claims of an inside mafia group working for his downfall.
In April 2007, in the middle of a sex scandal when a State House secretary, Jamilah Nakku, said she was Bukenyaâ€™s second wife, he dismissed calls to resign and vowed to defeat â€œblackmailersâ€ behind what he dubbed branded a â€œmalicious character-assassination campaignâ€. In response and probably to stave off the attention on the alleged scandal, Bukenya hosted hundreds of supporters at his ranch many waving placards denouncing Nakku.
At the peak of the controversy on the Land Bill in 2007, Bukenya was quoted in the press as having told worshippers in a church that the bill needed a complete review because it had a lot of weaknesses. He later denied having made such a statement. Again there had been talk of a cabinet reshuffle.
Critics say its Bukenya strategy to always make statements that are likely to put the government and the President in a difficult situation to throw him out whenever he feels his stay in cabinet is uncertain.
Whether his alleged intention to retire from politics is true or whether, if its true, it is sustainable in the long run, is a question that has no ready answers.