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Sam Kutesa: The king of Sembabule losing his throne?

By Independent Reporter

President Yoweri Museveni may have to visit Sembabule to try and quell the political fever that is once again engulfing that young district amid squabbling by factions of his NRM party. This follows the Supreme Court ruling of November 10 that dismissed yellow girl Hanifa Kawooya from the Sembabule Woman MP position.

The eccentric Kawooya is supported by Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa, and the two have vowed to recapture this seat. On the other hand, the woman who has challenged her previous election in court for the last 3 years, Ms Joy Kabatsi, has vowed to defeat them.  Kabatsi is an NRM contesting as an “independent” because she was not endorsed by her party. The by-election is expected in early January 2009.

Kawooya has had a rough time as the woman MP for Sembabule. Most observers say that had it not been for Kutesa’s unrelenting support, that has often involved pulling political strings and gerrymandering in her favour, Kawooya would be history in Sembabule. She has spent most of her time in courts of law battling for her political survival rather than legislating on the floor of parliament. If she is not battling petitions over allegedly rigging the election, she is at the CID answering questions regarding her suspicious academic background.

In the most recent ruling, the quorum of five judges agreed that the Electoral Commission (EC) abdicated its responsibility to an individual by the name of Sam Kutesa. It is further agreed that on February 17, 2006, on the day of the election, Kutesa personally ordered then district returning officer, Mr Tibakuno Muwaya, who was the Returning Officer, to hand over that role to Kutesa’s chosen EC official, Mr Ibrahim Kakembo. Kakembo was hurriedly deployed by the EC on the whims of minister Kutesa.

Kutesa meanwhile has been the ‘king of the Sembabule politics’. He has decided who takes what politically. He has been the area MP of Mawogola County since 1996. Although Kutesa’s main home is in Nyabushozi Kiruhura district, he has secured himself strongly in Sembabule where he is sometimes referred to as the Charles Mugane Njonjo of Uganda, named for post-independent Kenya’s first Attorney General who earned himself the reputation of being extremely arrogant besides being filthy rich.

Apparently, Kutesa is considered to be the richest Ugandan politician since independence. He landed in trouble when he was censured by the 6th parliament, which accused him of accumulating his wealth through influence peddling. He has attracted many controversies, more so in his home district of Sembabule. Kutesa has been attacked by many upcoming politicians who resent his wanting to be the only bull in the Sembabule kraal.

Lwemiyaga MP Theodore Sekikuubo and Sembabule district Chairman Herman Sentongo have repeatedly knocked horns with Kutesa, and at times work has come to a near standstill in the district.Â

Recently, however, political developments have exposed Kutesa and some political pundits say that ‘the ‘King of Sembabule’ is slowly but surely losing his grip.

It all began in the 2002 election when Kutesa fronted Mr Henry Bitakaramire against the youthful Herman Sentongo in the area LC5 election. Sentongo trounced Bitakaramire in the hotly contested election.

But Kutesa does not admit defeat. He made it clear to Sentongo that the boundaries had been defined and therefore he had to be defeated. The mother of all battles came in 2006 when Uganda held multiparty presidential and parliamentary elections. Kutesa set up camp in Sembabule and Sentongo was defeated in the NRM primaries by Dr Elly Muhumuza. Sentongo refused to accept defeat, arguing that he had been defeated in the Electoral College only because Kutesa had used his enormous financial muscle to ensure Muhumza won.  He stood as an independent candidate.

At the time Kutesa embarrassed President Museveni at rally at Matete trading centre after the two disagreed on the candidate for the LCV.  Kutesa had branded Sentongo a member of the opposition Forum for Democratic (FDC) party. But Museveni told a rally at Matete Trading Centre that he knew both Sentongo and Muhumuza as his supporters and that it was for the voters to decide who would be their district chairman.

This irritated Kutesa, who confronted the president and told him openly that unless he went back to the podium and reversed his statement on Sentongo, he would quit the NRM.  Museveni refused to  budge and told Kutesa that he was rushing to hold another rally in Rakai. However, Museveni returned to Sembabule and repeated his earlier position of both candidates being NRM supporters, requesting only that since Muhumuza was the official NRM flag bearer, it was wise to rally behind him. However, the voters requested him to let them choose between the two. They chose Sentongo who won the LCV seat resoundingly.  Things have never been the same again. Kutesa and Sentongo have had endless wars, at times dragging in President Museveni.

As a result, Sembabule has been heavily polarised. There is the Kutesa group that is comprised primarily of Kutesa and Sembabule woman MP Hanifa Kawooya. The other group comprises the district LCV chairman Herman Sentongo, Lwemiyaga MP Theodore Sekikuubo and Joy Kafura Kabatsi, the woman who successfully petitioned the Supreme Court to have Kawooya thrown out of parliament.

Kutesa only bull in Sembabule

Foes and friends claim that Kutesa has built up this cult-like personality in Sembabule to the extent that he feels he is the only one who must be listened to and only his decisions should be respected.  Many recite a 1996 incident when Kutesa brought his little known cousin and now Secretary to the Electoral Commission, Sam Rwakoojo, to stand against Dr Higiro Semajege who is the Speaker in the Mengo parliament in the Buganda government. Rwakoojo, who was solely funded by Kutesa, trounced Higiro but his supporters later decided to ally themselves to another little known man, Theodore Sekikuubo, to defeat Rwakoojo in the 2001 election. According to many, Theodore’s election was a protest vote against Kutesa’s condescending attitude, one that made him interfere in the Rwemiyaga politics when he belonged to Mawokota.

Mr Simon kimbugwe, a councilor, says Kutesa is a moderniser.

“He has used his influence to bring good services, among them district status, built and aided primary schools. He has brought Chinese who are building an ultra modern primary school at Kawanda that matches the standards of Kampala,” he said.

For Mr Patrick Musinguzi, Sentongo who was nurtured politically by Kutesa and his late wife Janet “is now biting the hand that fed him”.

“The problem with Kutesa is that he thinks it is him only who has a right to think for Sembabule and nobody else should contribute,” said the LCV chairman Herman Sentongo in an interview. “When he chooses to pick on somebody to work with, he will pick on those with no back to challenge his decisions. Otherwise, there is no way one can understand why of all people Kutesa decided to pick on a one Hakim Mukiibi, an illiterate, to be his NRM vice chairman of the district,” charged Sentongo. To support this allegation, Sentongo further said that all the key district NRM leaders were thrown out of the NRM executive in the district. He mentioned that the likes of  Rwemiyaga MP Theodore Sekikuubo, himself as the district chair, and Joy Kafura Kabatsi, all of whom were denied a chance to be on the district NRM executive. He is reported to have applauded the voters after they elected the NRM executive minus the three key figures, telling them that they had successfully thrown out the wolves. “Mwebale kubinga Emishega omunju yeitu”… or “thanks for throwing out wolves in our decent house.”

 The district stagnates as the squabbles shoot overboard

There is no doubt that the unending squabbles between Kutesa on one hand and the Sekikuubos on the other have greatly hampered progress in this young district. The key political figures in this district seem to be concentrating all their time and resources trying to out do one another.

For example, of the 17 councilors in the district, 10 are from the Kutesa camp and have refused to serve in Sentongo’s cabinet. This created a stalemate at the district for sometime until Sentongo resorted to the old cabinet. The district did not have council sessions to approve the budget and it took the intervention of local government ministers Maj. Gen. Kahinda Otafiire and Hope Mwesigye for the stalemate to end. As a result of these endless squabbles, Sembabule has no District Service Commission because the one that the chairman of the district had proposed was thrown out by the dissenting councilors. This means that the district cannot recruit new staff, cannot promote, cannot confirm and cannot discipline.

 Who is Samuel Kahamba Kutesa?

The chain smoking and vivacious minister for Foreign Affairs, currently in his mid 60s, is an enigma to most Ugandans. He is a shrewd businessman and is said to be in the league of the richest Ugandans. What continues to puzzle most people is how Kutesa has managed to juggle the various volatile regimes that have ruled Uganda. He is the only Ugandan who managed to acquire a fortune when most elites were running out of the country for their dear lives under the various dictatorial regimes that have ruled Uganda.

Kutesa was born in Sembabule to a very religious family. His father is said to have traversed most of today’s Great Lakes region preaching the word of God. It is said that he died and was buried in Gahini, Rwanda.  He had gone to Rwanda on missionary duty. Because of that background, unlike most Bahiima families who were in engrossed in pastoralist lifestyle, Kutesa managed to go school and graduated in the early 1970s with a Bachelor of Laws.

Kutesa’s sense for making money began in his early days. However, the gods smiled his way during the short-lived regime of Gen. Tito Okello Lutwa. After the 1985 coup, Kutesa, who was a Democratic Party (DP) MPt for Ankole North (currently Kiruhura District), where he defeated Yoweri Museveni in the 1980 election was appointed Attorney General and handed the responsibility of convincing then rebel leader Yoweri Museveni to become part of Lutwa’s broad based government. It is alleged that it was during this time that Kutesa made a fortune. He has never looked back.

He has also worked himself up to becoming President Museveni’s confidante despite having snubbed him when he began the bush war that finally toppled the Obote government. Not only did he snub Museveni, he even accepted to serve as an MP in the Obote government, thereby legitimising the Obote regime. Some pundits say that when former East African Community Secretary General Amanya Mushega said that Museveni had surrounded himself with political creepers, he actually meant Kutesa and the likes of Presidential Adviser Moses Byaruhanga.

This January will determine if Uncle Sam as he is commonly referred is still able to maintain grip on his throne.

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