By Independent Reporter
Until May 23, Prof. Gilbert Balibaseka Bukenya was Uganda’s vice president. He spoke to The Independent about life after leaving the office he held for nine years.
Did your appointment as vice president the first time come as a surprise to you or did you expect it?
GB: No. It was a surprise but I had anticipated it. You know I was a very junior member of the NRM party. I am not one of these people they call historical except that I was born in Kakiri and I always tell people to call me historical because the people of Kakiri were very crucial in starting the NRA war and I look after over 700 skulls of people that perished in the war. Anyway, I could see the president had tested me on many grounds to see whether I was suitable. I had noticed that especially when I was his minister of presidency.
Did the president call or consult you that he intended to make you vice president?
[Laughs] We discussed I think eight months before the appointment and we went through a lot of discussions. He would look at an issue and tell me I am preparing you for this. He even took a lot of my medical tests and he eventually rang me. The president is a very interesting human being.
In the same breath did you discuss your removal from office?[Silence then somber mood] No, he didn’t. That upset me a bit because a day before the NRM members of parliament meeting, his secretary rang me and told me tomorrow the president is not nominating you and I said thank you very much. I knew he was telling me your time is over.
Were you disappointed at the manner of transmission of the message or were you disappointed that you had lost the position?
I had thought about this for nearly nine months. I was not disappointed for losing the position but in the manner the message was transmitted – through a mere secretary yet we have been colleagues. I was expecting him to at least ring me and openly say “Bukenya thank you very much for working with me. I am sorry but I think it is time for a change” and I would have said thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to serve. We eventually talked after I had been removed from office and we are moving on well.
Did you have in mind any people who would have replaced you as vice president in the event you were taken out of the position?
No. I never thought about it but certainly the current vice president was a very strong contender he had performed very well in parliament, supported the NRM positions and for me I was very pleased.
The President appointed Amama Mbabazi as prime minister but he also retains his position as NRM party secretary general. Do you think the choice of prime minister was right? And do you think the prime minister should be secretary general of the party?
I think his appointment as prime minister is good. This man has been around with the President since 1974 so it is his time. He has learnt and has experience. He must know the operation of government since he has been with the president and knows the president. We had a lot of discussion about the position of Secretary General. In one meeting it was agreed by CEC and NEC that a Secretary General should be allowed to work as Secretary General without participating in government. It was adopted. I don’t know why there is this silence about it now. I am no longer a member of CEC. I don’t want to dig deeper whether CEC has already discussed that. But I remember at that time even the president was interested in that separation. May be they have changed.
Your Excellency soon as you were relieved of your duties, the next thing was prosecution relating to management of funds during the organization of CHOGM. Do you think that this prosecution is correct or indeed fair?
I was very surprised. I think it was hurriedly done. I don’t know whether the IGG wanted to show that he is now trying to catch the big fish because I don’t think it was done in fair way. I was chairman of the subcommittee who did not have any time to discuss or be involved in procurement. I never bought cars; the money came from the ministry of Finance to the central ministry of Foreign Affairs and it went straight to the relevant ministries to discuss how items would be procured. My job was simple; to guide this country on the way we were to run CHOGM. We would look at the money available and say because we have this amount of money we cannot buy 144 cars but we can hire them from those who have the cars and after using them, send them out. That was a policy issue. Because the case is under courts of law I can’t discuss much about it. But I am very worried about the way things are turning out. For the last two months we have been asking the prosecutor to give us the file of what they are accusing us of so that we can ably defend ourselves. No single file has been given to us up today even when the magistrate said they should give us the files. I am getting worried not because of the case but the things that are beginning to take place in this case and also my life. I am a bit worried now about my life.
Could you be more elaborate and specific on that because this is a matter in court but you are raising an important matter of personal safety?
I don’t know whether there is another motive besides the case. I don’t know whether there is another person behind the case who wants to prolong my agony. There have been situations of associating me with political opposition and political people who are doing wrong to the government. When I was in court I was given bail and I was told to pay a bond of Shs 50 million cash. There are stupid allegations that this money was given to me by Kizza Besigye. It worries me because it is ISO (Internal Security Organisation) generated. That’s tainting my name because Dr. Besigye never gave me the money.
Are you friends with Dr. Kizza Besigye, do you meet often?
I have never met Besigye since 1999. That was the time he had this paper he was publishing complaining about the Movement. I am the one who passed this paper to the president and I subsequently called the caucus to discuss it. That was the only time I met Dr Besigye. So I am worried about those things which are originating from ISO.
Why do you believe this is originating from ISO?
That is what I have been told. There is also another rumour that Bukenya is associating with underground movements against government and that he is mobilizing some people to cause commotion. They have been trying to search for my old friends. They have taken one lady to Serena and intimidated her to say that she was my secretary for CHOGM and that therefore she knows everything. That is absolute rubbish. They have intimidated her to say she has seen Bukenya talking to army people especially the Baganda officers; persuading her to give evidence. These are things that some people would be tried for treason.
Do you know if she was cooperative with them?
She was not. They attempted to give her money which she refused. I am worried about her because they may kill her.
Did she report these happenings to you?
So she is the source of your information?
She is just one source. There are other sources. I am bringing this out because I left Uganda during Amin’s time as there were unnecessary killings of human beings, unnecessary intimidation, false allegations about people which would lead to death of some people. Now I am fearful of this beginning to happen in our country. I am worried of people who try to bring false accusations about others to bring them down. I don’t think we should again have other extrajudicial processes that President Museveni has fought so hard to get rid of.
This is a very serious allegation that you are making. Do you know any persons that might be behind them?
I don’t know. That’s why I am in confusion. The president of the country stands up and says Bukenya is not guilty of the CHOGM cases citing his consultation with the Attorney General. And then there is insistence in spite of the fountain of honour saying so. This is not the first time the president is saying so. I remember during the Temangalo issue, the president said Hon. Mbabazi is not guilty. All he can do is apologize and the matter is closed. This one has refused to come to a close. What is inside it? So I am beginning to fear.
The Independent is reliably informed that the Attorney General and Vice President Edward Ssekandi were directed by the President to meet IGG Raphael Baku to drop the charges against you following a legal opinion by the AG that the case against you had no legal ground but the IGG did not honour the directive and slapped more charges against you. What would you describe the behavior of Mr. Baku as?
It is surprising because every country has the fountain of honour and whether the judiciary goes ahead to prosecute, the fountain of honour will one day exercise his prerogative of mercy. That is why I am worried and asking what’s happening. Where really is the problem? When I hear operatives intimidating people to testify against me I get worried. When my lawyers ask for files to build their defence, and they can’t get them, what is happening? That’s why I fear even for my life. But I have always said Bukenya will die in Uganda. I will not go back in exile. One person even called me anonymously and said “we shall put holes in your body”. That makes me fear that my life is in danger.
Did you advise this lady to report the matter to police?
We are doing that.
Have you reported what you call threats to your personal security to the police?
I am studying them quietly first.
The president has said in the NRM caucus that you are not guilty of the offences you are being accused of. Would you and your legal team consider calling him to testify in court?
I don’t think that it is necessary. I have instructed my lawyers to technically continue representing me in the case. If it is necessary, let’s see action. I am not frightened to go to a court of law because I am not guilty. I am appealing for judicial freedom.
You have an election petition in the High Court whose judgment has been postponed. Are you confident you will win this case?
I can’t be confident. But I have been to court and seen how that judge has been conducting court during the hearings and I think the judge is independent. Whatever decision he will make independently, without anybody ringing him, I will accept.
Looking back, in your years of service to this nation, what would you say I wish I hadn’t done that or I wish I had done this?
I wish could have put in more effort in trying to really remove poverty. I came out of a very poor family to become a very rich man and I hate poverty. But I don’t think I have done enough. Towards my removal as vice president I was beginning on a new programme of millennium villages, a new concept of building so that people live together, have piped water, a good sewer system, and then they go out into their gardens to dig just like it is being done everywhere in the world. I wish I had started on that three years earlier.
I socialize a lot. I enjoy life. As I do this some small people have taken advantage of that. Let me finally say I have not risen and coming down as one newspaper said. The rise and fall of Bukenya is not yet. I am still rising because political rising is not associated with political appointments. My fall from vice presidency was a fall from a political appointment. My fall from political function as a member of parliament is not yet even if the judge says otherwise in the election petition. I would still go and contest in Busiro North and defeat anyone who will stand against me.
In your political life are there people you wish you could say to, I am sorry I wronged you?
None. I have not been stepping on anybody’s toes.
Are there those you would wish they looked you in the eye and said ,sorry I wronged you Bukenya?
The ones who went and told President Museveni in my presence a lie; that I was mobilizing to overthrow the president. That man and woman will die guilty of a very big offence. If these came and said forget it I would be the happiest man in the world.
Are you comfortable naming them?
They will know themselves if they read your paper.
Thank you Your Excellency and all the very best in your endeavours.
Thank you very much and please publish this story . I have given it to The Independent because I trust it as a credible paper that reports the truth.