Does Museveni fear or tolerate them?
Kampala, Uganda | IAN KATUSIIME | Names like Gen. Elly Tumwine, Maj. Gen. (Rtd) Matayo Kyaligonza, Mwesigwa Rukutana, Sam Kutesa, members of the First Family, Maj. Gen. Kasirye Gwanga often pop up in the media.
They are cited in cases of corruption, land grabbing, street brawls, and abuse of office. And President Yoweri Museveni appears unable to beat them into line. They are untouchable. Although many enjoy their untouchable status with civility, others act with impunity.
They swagger in the corridors of government. They run others off the road in their monster SUVs with heavily armed escorts and sirens blazing. When required to appear before parliament or judges, they disregard rules of procedure. They are contemptuous of anyone who questions their authority.
Many are either in cabinet, in the army as generals, and occupy cushy vague but powerful positions in Museveni’s state machinery. Some use the “we fought” refrain. Others simply dismiss compliance with the law, practices, and civil decorum because they hold too much sway in the workings of government.
In some cases, their “untouchable” status appears to depend on their closeness to Museveni but in others, it appears Museveni also cannot touch them.
It has not always been this way. In 1988 Otafiire resigned as minister of Internal Affairs after he pointed a gun at a woman during an argument in a bar. The woman was the wife of Sam Kutesa. At the time Kutesa was not in Museveni’s government since he had defeated Museveni in the Mbarara North parliamentary election of 1980 and was between 1985 and 86 the Attorney General in the Gen. Tito Okello government that Museveni overran in 1986.
An Associated Press story that reported it on November 02, 1988 said President Museveni accepted Otafiire’s resignation ″because the National Resistance Movement government will not tolerate any indiscipline displayed by anybody regardless of his position, such as shown by Otafiire.″
Museveni’s statement was broadcast on the state-owned Radio Uganda.
Later, Otafiire said he felt resigning was the right thing.
“When I pulled a gun at a lady in a bar, it was not a corruption case, but I resigned. I came out and said as a senior officer of the army, I don’t know what I am doing,” Otafiire said in 2008.
Today, Kahinda Otafiire is minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs and Sam Kutesa is minister of Foreign Affairs. Mwesigwa Rukutana is the deputy Attorney General, Gen. Elly Tumwine is the minister for Security, and Maj. Gen. (Rtd) Matayo Kyaligonza is Uganda’s envoy to Burundi and head of the ruling NRM party in western Uganda. It is not clear if any of them, or any other big shots in government close to the First Family, could apologise or resign over anything.
Museveni enabler or hostage?
Kawempe North MP Abdulatif Sebaggala says the untouchables behave the way they do because the President is their chief enabler. He says Museveni prefers to look the other way.
“They have that arrogance because the President is their godfather,” he says. “You saw the way Gen. Tumwine behaved in our committee of Human Rights; the President is hostage to these people.”
Kyaligonza sparked public condemnation first when he was in January this year caught on camera assaulting a police officer, Sgt. Esther Namaganda, who flagged down the car he was riding in for making a prohibited a U-turn in the middle of a busy highway. Kyaligonza attacked Namaganda together with his two escorts in Seeta, Mukono.
Namaganda filed a case of assault with the police. Mukono Chief Magistrate’s Court issued criminal summons for Kyaligonza but he has never showed up.
Despite condemnation Kyaligonza was unapologetic. At one point he called MPs “stupid” for saying he should be recalled from his diplomatic posting.
Deputy Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukutana hit headlines over a spat when he appeared before the commission in February. He had a heated exchange with the Commission Chair, Justice Catherine Bamugemereire. Rukutana refused to testify saying he wanted 30 days to prepare. The Commission objected saying his plea was not commensurate with the commission’s terms of reference, which is time bound. Bamugemereire accused Rukutana of disrespecting her and threatened to take the matter to Museveni. Matters crested when Rukutana told off the judge in no uncertain terms.
“I don’t give a damn. Let her tell the president, she can even report me to God,” Rukutana told journalists as he left the venue of the inquiry.
His behavior elicited mixed reactions from the public. Some said if Rukutana had been a deputy attorney general in another country and behaved in that manner he would have been punished for it. But others said the Land Commission was high handed on the minister and deserved what they got.
Rukutana was also one of three ministers accused of swindling Shs14 billion CHOGM money. The other ministers were Sam Kutesa and John Nasasira. The Anti-Corruption Court acquitted them in November 2012 after the prosecution case collapsed.
When a photo of Rukutana with an AK47 slung over his shoulder went viral on social media in 2018, there was animated discussion by the public on how a custodian of the law such as the deputy attorney general can openly brandish a gun at a time when Uganda was dealing with rampant gun violence.