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Bukenya’s worst mistakes

By Mubatsi Asinja Habati

How the CHOGM corruption case benefits the mafia, Museveni, and the donors

When former vice president Gilbert Bukenya was sent to Luzira Maximum Security Prison on Oct. 3 on allegations of corruption, it looked like the final blow to a man who has always exuded confidence and charm.

It was such a low point for a man who until recently was called “mahogany” because of his perceived solid position in President Yoweri Museveni’s government that many people who gathered at the Anti-corruption Court in Kampala shed tears.

Bukenya became the first top-gun in the corruption battle over the procurement of goods and services for the Commonwealth Heads of State and Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Kampala in 2007. Over Shs 500 billion was allegedly swindled by individuals involved in the preparations.

Bukenya is accused of abuse of his office, and fraudulently influencing and directing the award of a contract for supply of 204 executive motor vehicles for CHOGM to Motorcare Uganda Ltd in total disregard of the regulations governing public procurement.  He denies the charges.

The Inspector General of Government (IGG), Raphael Baku, who is prosecuting the Bukenya case has been accused of targeting Bukenya and clearing a raft of top officials, including Amama Mbabazi the current prime minister and Foreign Affairs Ministers, Sam Kutesa of wrong doing. It is alleged that the duo are the inner core of President Yoweri Museveni’s cabinet and therefore “untouchable”.

Cissy Kagaba, director of Anticorruption Coalition Uganda, is among who doubts government’s fight on corruption. “It’s the same old story. This is not the first time that high profile people are arrested; heads roll, headlines are made, government given credit and that’s the end of the story;  the same people then apply for bail because it’s their constitutional right,  and then the usual happens- dragging of the case, and we never get to hear about it again.”

It has also been pointed out that IGG Baku, who is a former aide of Mbabazi and subordinate at the NRM secretariat, has not shed the habit of jumping when Mbabazi barks.

Jumping the queue

Bukenya problem is that, although he is a relative neophyte in the NRM inner sanctum, he appears to have been perceived as a contender in the proverbial “queue”, the word famously coined by Mbabazi to describe those perceived to be in line to succeed President Museveni. For a long time, Mbabazi has been perceived to be the frontrunner.

Bukenya’s political pendulum swung to its highest when as vice president, he succeeded in becoming a carbon copy of the President to the extent of even mimicking the way Museveni walks, speaks, and gestures. He even began wearing safari hats just like the president.

Museveni’s son, now Col. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, was rising in the army and Bukenya too allowed his son, Brian Bukenya, to enroll as a cadet. However, just as he was about to graduate, Bukenya’s son was killed in a road accident at Bbira along Mityana Kampala Road. Brian Bukenya, 26, had just finished his law course at Coventry University in the UK when he joined the army. The driver of the pick-up car in which Brian was killed handed himself to police saying the he lost control of the van.  An inquiry was set up into the death but the report has not been made public.

However, insiders say, his son’s death marked a turning point in Bukenya’s life. During the funeral, Museveni recounted how Bukenya had consulted him on his son’s decision to join the army and he had given the green light. Bukenya described his late son as more of a brother and trusted friend.

By modeling himself after Museveni, Bukenya attracted many challengers in the queue. In fact, even before the oil saga and throughout his eight-years as VP, he behaved like the proverbial sword of Damocles was hanging over his head. From 2007 when a man accused him of snatching his wife and he was photographed in witchdoctor’s shrine, Bukenya has been portrayed at “the king of bizarre” by some media houses.

Recently there have been photos of him mainly hugging women.  Bukenya was also facing a challenge in court over his re-election as Busiro North MP for allegedly bribing voters. At one point he alleged that a “mafia group”, within the government and largely understood to be Mbabazi, Kutesa, and former minister Hope Mwesigye was working to bring him down. He later called a press conference at which he retracted the allegations and shook hands with Mbabazi.

Defying Museveni

Bukenya appears to have swum into the shark’s path when he disregarded President Museveni’s and his party’s caution not to run against Mbabazi for the post of Secretary General in the 2010 party elections.  Museveni’s favoured candidate, Mbabazi, won but the President is known not to countenance disobedience.

His toughest political challenger, Col. Kizza Besigye, who is leader of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change was once Museveni’s blue-eyed boy. They fell out when Besigye released a dossier intended as an in-house critique of NRM and Museveni. Since then Besigye has endured harassment, imprisonment, humiliation, and torture.

When his childhood friend, Eriya Kategaya, opposed lifting presidential terms limits, Museveni kicked him out of cabinet together with longtime favourites like Jaberi Bidandi Ssali and Miria Matembe.

Bukenya, therefore, did not earn any friends in high places when on Sept. 21, even with his other troubles raging, he appended his signature to a list of renegade MPs from across the Isle clamouring for a recall of parliamentary to discuss oil agreements Museveni and company want to remain secret.  Mbabazi has been accused of taking bribes to influence the award of oil contracts but he denies it.

Museveni has said publicly that, in his view, Bukenya has no case to answer over CHOGM, it appears he has left his fate to the sharks. The donor community, who forked most of the CHOGM money that was swindled have for a long time been baying for the blood of an implicated top official, the so-called crocodiles. Museveni can now hand them the glazed head of his former VP.   But in the eyes of many, it has been widely agreed that since Bukenya and Mbabazi’s star could not rise at the same time in Museveni’s government and one of them was bound to pay heavily.

Additional reporting by Haggai Matsiko, Eriasa Mukiibi and Agather Atuhaire

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