By Independent Team
The inside story of political intrigue, dirty tricks and revenge
On Monday May 21, 2007, Maj. Gen. Jim Muhwezi was in the VIP lounge at Entebbe Airport on his way to London. There he met Foreign Affairs minister, Sam Kutesa. After exchanging greetings, Kutesa told Muhwezi that he was travelling to Nairobi to join President Yoweri Museveni for an East African Community meeting. The two men talked briefly and parted.
The next day soldiers guarding their home woke up Muhweziâ’s wife, Susan, in the wee hours of the morning with ominous news: a heavily armed platoon of 33 or so soldiers had invaded their home. The aim: to arrest her husband. Mrs Muhwezi dashed to the balcony to see what was going on and to her consternation, there they were ‘“ a large group of soldiers walking single file into their compound.
Family sources say Mrs Muhwezi watched soldiers take fighting positions as if ready to battle. But battle who? Astounded, she called their family friend, Mrs Natasha Karugire, daughter to Museveni. ‘We have fully armed soldiers invading our home,’ Mrs Muhwezi said, ‘What is going on?’ Sources say Natasha immediately called her husband, Edwin Karugire, who was on his way to drop their children to school.
‘Susan has called me saying soldiers have invaded their house,’ Mrs Karugire told her husband, ‘can you please rush there and check what is happening?’ Mr Karugire obliged. Within a few minutes, Karugire was at the Muhwezisâ’ home. The presidentâ’s son-in-law was the first person to arrive at the scene. He was shocked to see the Chief of Military Intelligence, Col. Leopold Kyanda, seated in a small tinted car ‘“ apparently the one commanding this unusual invasion.
Meanwhile, soldiers had simultaneously invaded the homes for Muhweziâ’s former colleagues at the ministry of Health, Alex Kamugisha and Mike Mukula for similar arrests.Â They also invaded the home of Alice Kaboyo, a former aide to President Museveni. All the four were being accused of misappropriating Shs 700m of GAVI funds. The three suspects were taken to court, charged and sent to Luzira prison.
Informed sources say that this arrest and the manner in which it was done would not happen without the personal approval of President Museveni. But then why conduct it in a brutal and macabre way like this? Highly placed sources say the target was Muhwezi. Mukula, Kaboyo and Kamugisha were mere pawns in the game.
Then, the story became confusing. Museveniâ’s daughters ‘“ Diana, Patience and Natasha all went to Luzira to visit Kaboyo and pray with her. Sources close to Kaboyo say that Museveni sent his son, Maj. Muhoozi Keinerugaba, to Luzira prison. The mission: convince Kaboyo to accuse Muhwezi of taking all the money. In exchange, Kaboyo would be let free. Kaboyo is a cousin to Mrs Janet Museveni, the wife of the president and therefore an aunt to Muhoozi. She grew up with the Museveni family ‘“ living with them in exile in Sweden and upon return to Uganda worked all her years at State House in different capacities. In a rare show of defiance, she turned down the request.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday May 23, 2007, Muhwezi received an emissary from Kampala in his hotel room in London. ‘The situation in Kampala is very bad,’ the emissary said, ‘I think you should not go back. They may kill you if you go back. Please seek political asylum here.’
However, the major general was not convinced. What was Kampalaâ’s game plan? It was clear that government must have known that Muhwezi was leaving the country. He had gone through the VIP lounge which teams with security agents. He had talked to Kutesa who must, or at least should have told the president about Muhweziâ’s trip to London.
Now, sources say that the emissary (name withheld without request) had been sent deliberately to scare Muhwezi from returning. The macabre way in which the arrests were done was aimed at scaring Muhwezi from returning to Uganda. If this trick worked, then Kaboyo, Mukula and Kamugisha would be released. All blame for GAVI would be placed on Muhwezi ‘“ who would now be projected as a fugitive running from justice. Why would Museveni want Muhwezi out of Uganda and its politics? It is a dark story of political and family intrigue that will be told one day.
Meanwhile, Muhwezi decided that he would return to Uganda immediately. He had booked a British Airways direct flight from London Heathrow to Entebbe to arrive on the morning of Monday May 28, 2007. He called the chief of Police, Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura and Kyanda and let them know that he was returning as scheduled. However, he booked another ticket, this time through Nairobi so that he could arrive at Entebbe at 11 pm Sunday night May 27, 2007. The trick worked. People at the airport were unprepared for him. He cleared through immigration and went home.
On the morning of Monday May 28, 2007, Museveni was meeting a group of people at State House Nakasero. The president, sources say, was in jovial mood. He told his visitors that Muhwezi was only running but would not hide. We are going to get Interpol to arrest him, the president promised with an air of confidence. But some of his listeners knew this was mere bravado. Observers say he actually wanted Muhwezi more as a fugitive in exile than as a suspect on trial in Kampala. The president was deeply involved in the GAVI funds and if Muhwezi was put on trial, the truths would come out.
Just as the president was finishing the line on Interpol hunting down Muhwezi, an aide walked over to him and whispered to his ears that Muhwezi was back in the country. Shocked, the president asked how? The aide said Muhwezi had personally reported to CID headquarters. ‘He is being interrogated by the police as we speak now.’ It was difficult for the president to hide his surprise at how his former spy chief had beaten the system. The aide said that a crowd of supporters from Rukungiri were at CID offices to provide support to their Member of Parliament.
Beaten at the game, Museveni took to the public podium. He claimed that he was now on a campaign to rid the nation of corruption. He would never tire to fight the thieves, he said. For a couple of days, Museveni kept this tone. But all his children were visiting Kaboyo, later Muhwezi and praying with them in prison. Something was amiss. Then the president wrote an article in Sunday Vision of June 1, 2007 claiming that he had always had an organisation called Restrain Relatives Resistance Movement (RRRM). Which relatives was he resisting now? Was the battle over Muhwezi tearing the first daughters from their father?
When senior cabinet ministers like Maj. Gen. Kahinda Otafiire stood surety for Muhwezi, Museveni was angry. He told the nation that it was wrong for senior cabinet ministers to appear to condone corruption by openly supporting the thieves. Muhwezi supporters responded that their man was innocent until proven guilty. Clearly, Museveni wanted Muhwezi isolated.
Indeed, sometime in 2007, Museveni had held a meeting in his bedroom ‘“ of all places ‘“ at State House, Nakasero. In attendance was Muhwezi, Janet and Muhweziâ’s mother in law, Constance Kabonero. During the meeting, Museveni asked Muhwezi to apologise to him. In exchange, the president promised to forgive Muhwezi for any wrong committed in the GAVI funds saga and even influence the IGG to quash the prosecution. Muhwezi said he did nothing wrong, and therefore could not apologise. All he did was to carry out the instructions of the president in using GAVI money. Janet appealed to Muhwezi to apologise. But Muhweziâ’s mother-in-law told her son to follow his conscience: if you know you are innocent, do not apologise.
These details were leaked among Muhweziâ’s close friends with the historical high command of the UPDF and the NRM. It was clear that this was not a war on corruption. Many people realised the president had another agenda. Sources say that Muhwezi and many other leaders in NRM decided that the presidentâ’s double standards must be exposed. In doing so, they would be able to show that Muhweziâ’s arrest was not driven by desire to punish him for any wrong doing. It was political persecution. To prove this, they needed someone the president trusts to commit a wrong. Then they would expose all the dirt and put the ball in the presidentâ’s court to take action.
It is open knowledge that Security Minister Amama Mbabazi has been the presidentâ’s blue-eyed-boy. For many years, Museveni has gone out of his way to openly show his preference for Mbabazi. In his public pronouncements, Museveni has said Mbabazi is honest. Many NRM leaders whose reputations have been tarnished have been waiting for an opportunity to expose this false side of Museveniâ’s claims.
On Wednesday May 23, 2003, Vice President Specioza Kazibwe resigned her job. The next day Museveni had a meeting with Mbabazi. Sources say the president told Mbabazi that he would become the vice president. The decision would be announced the next day, May 25. Sources Mbabazi was shocked to hear on radio the next day that Gilbert Bukenya had been appointed vice president. Some NRM insiders believe this is the reason Mbabazi has been hostile to Bukenya. Bukenya stole Mbabaziâ’s job and with it, observers say, Mbabaziâ’s position in the queue for succession.
The purchase of Mbabaziâ’s land by NSSF in a process full of gross violations of procurement procedures came as a long awaited opportunity. Analysts say the current saga is really not about Mbabazi. It is about Museveni. He has been put squarely in the court of public opinion to demonstrate his commitment to his own promise to fight corruption. If his open claims to fight corruption have any substance at all, the president must be seen at the steering wheels of the fight to hold Mbabazi to account.
Here, Museveni has already faltered. He has kept an unusual silence over a matter that has consumed public debate. He has also exposed his other side of being indecisive. If he keeps Mbabazi, he will have shown not only his double standards but also the emptiness of his previous claims to fight corruption. A leader needs to demonstrate even-handedness in dealing with public matters. The presidentâ’s credibilityÂ is now being openly tested by the NSSF-Mbabazi saga.
NRM leaders say that if Museveniâ’s claims to fight corruption are to have any credibility at all, then he should take action on Mbabazi. It is Museveni who personally asked the Inspector General of Government (IGG), Faith Mwondha, to investigate GAVI funds ‘“ on phone and in writing. He followed the inquiry to its last detail. It is Museveni who formed a commission of inquiry to investigate the Global Fund money against the express advice of the secretary to the treasury, also permanent secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, Chris Kasami.
At every twist and turn of the Muhwezi case, it was Museveni leading battle. If it was not a political vendetta, then Museveni must treat all corruption cases similarly. Other public officials have suffered severe punishment for relatively minor offenses. The presidentâ’s legal assistant, Hussein Kashilingi, was arrested, jailed in Luzira and later arraigned before courts on charges of extortion. Jeff Onegi-Obel, a former advisor to Museveni suffered a similar fate over the NSSF-Nsimbe deal.
On October 19, 2007, Museveni met a delegation from Rukungiri over the Muhwezi saga. During the meeting, the president told his visitors that he took Muhwezi and company to prison to appease donors. ‘Even this peace you see I am enjoying with donors,’ the president is quoted to have said, ‘it is because of sending Muhwezi to jail.’ In that single sentence, the president appears to have revealed that his public pronouncements to fight corruption were just that ‘“ empty rhetoric!
Indeed, observers say, the presidentâ’s standing on these matters is generating increasing challenges from within both the leadership of his party and also from its base. For example, during the aforementioned meeting with the Rukingiri delegation, these ordinary men and women challenged Museveni on his declarations to fight corruption. They asked him why he was hell-bent on punishing Muhwezi when those who plundered DR Congo resources or bought junk helicopters had not been arrested.
According to those who attended the meeting, an old man called Ssezi Tuhimbise even accused the president of complicity in the GAVI funds scandal. ‘We hear you know about how this money was spent,’ Tuhimbise said in an impassioned voice, ‘Abasaija okabehinduura omu muhini nkenfuka’ literally accusing the president of hypocrisy i.e. that ‘you colluded with your ministers of health to use GAVI funds and later turned against them.’
NRM insiders say that it is this series of events that has shaped the current battle-lines in the NSSF-Mbabazi saga. Mbabazi has become the rallying call for all those who feel short-changed by the system. Sources say that NRM leaders like Mathew Rukikaire and Kirunda Kivejinja were forced to resign over small issues; in Kivejinjaâ’s case, over 800 litres of fuel while Rukikaire because some privatisation deals had gone wrong under his watch. When Rukikaire called Museveni to inform him that he was resigning, sources say, the president was, to his shock, more than ready to let him go. He was willing to sacrifice him to assuage the public yet so far he is strong with Mbabazi in spite of the public furore.
Sam Kutesa was censored for little more than remote involvement with a procurement deal at the airport. His crime was conflict of interest. Muhwezi was censured with Museveniâ’s personal involvement on allegations including conflict of interest. Even Salim Saleh resigned over trying to buy Uganda Commercial Bank (UCB). All these people feel a deep sense of grievance that they were thrown to the wolves over deals that were small and accusations that did not have much merit.
Other NRM politicians have suffered public ridicule: Bukenya has suffered endless media attacks many of which his followers believe are orchestrated by State House or people closely associated with it. The president has sided with the IGG in the battle between her and Otafiire over Naguru. These are the circumstances that have nourished the forces that want to see Museveni take action against Mbabazi. If he does not, he will only accentuate internal frustration and bickering in the party. Some even say that it may generate open resistance to him. But as internal bickering and acrimony take their toll on the party, will Museveni finally say kwaheri to Mbabazi? The jury is still out.