By Independent Team
On May 23, just one day before President Yoweri Museveni was due to announce the first names in his post-election cabinet, then-Vice President Gilbert Balibaseka Bukenya received an important phone call. It was the president’s secretary with a single message: “the president will not nominate you for the position of Vice president.”
Bukenya lost his job in May in the wake of Uganda’s February elections; however before this he was the longest serving vice president under President Yoweri Museveni.
Although arguably popular, Bukenya’s time in office was marred by allegations of corruption and colourful revelations about his private life.
In an exclusive and wide-ranging interview with The Independent Bukenya spoke about his life as VP and after, including why he now wants presidential term limits back, his views on President Museveni and Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, the death threats he has been receiving and what he thinks is driving the Inspector General of Government (IGG) –Raphael Baku to prosecute him over CHOGM. Bukenya recalled that phone call with disappointment.
“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,” Bukenya told The Independent, “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 the opportunity to serve.”
Even before he was sacked in a post-election cabinet reshuffle, former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya looked like a man who was sitting beside his packed suitcase and only waiting for the bus home.
Bukenya, 62, had given interviews in which he reportedly said he had already let President Museveni know that he was set to retire. But when news of his sack came, people who lived with him at home in Garuga off Entebbe Highway and at his farm in Lwantama in Kakiri, Wakiso district say he looked troubled.
They describe how he would spend endless hours seated alone on the verandah of his house, barely moving outside his gate and appearing to be deep in thought. The over 50 government vehicles were withdrawn from him together with the Presidential Guard Brigade (PGB) and 10 VIP police personnel that had been attached to him. He remained with just five guards and visitors to his home were restricted.
The jolly man who enjoyed hosting throngs of people at his home every day, to learn about Prosperity for All programme from his farm, was suddenly all alone; but not for long.
Soon he was back to his old haunts, attending music galas, hugging pretty women, looking trimmer and smiling again even as he trudged in and out of court over the CHOGM corruption case and a challenge to his re-election as MP. Everything looked bright when in mid-September he signed a petition to compel the government to release secret agreements it has signed with oil companies and was cordial with his successor, Vice President Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi, when he attended the Buganda MPs meeting with Buganda kingdom officials. But it was all a facade. The former VP is a tormented man.
He told The Independent that he feels persecuted and not merely in the case regarding his role as chairman of the CHOGM cabinet committee.
“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,” he said, “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 granted bail and I was told to pay a bail bond of Ug. Shs. 50 million cash. (Aprox. USD 17,500.Editor) There are stupid allegations that this money was given to me by Kiiza Besigye. It worries me because it is ISO (Internal Security Organization) generated. That’s tainting my name because Dr. Besigye never gave me the money.”
“There is also another rumour that Bukenya is associating with underground movements against government and that he is mobilising 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.
“I am bringing this because I left Uganda during Amin’s time as there were unnecessary killings of human beings, unnecessary intimidation, and false allegations about people which would lead to death of some people. Now I am fearful of this beginning to happen in our country,” he said.
The former VP spoke of his relationship with Besigye and denied ever meeting the opposition leader or being in touch with him. Bukenya said the last time he spoke to or met Dr. Besigye was in 2001 when the latter delivered to him his famous scathing critic of the NRM. “He delivered the document to me in my capacity as Minister in charge of the Presidency at the time and I have not met him since then”, Bukenya revealed.
Bukenya has made a habit of making serious allegations in the media and turning around to deny them. Since his famous “there are mafia in the government,” interview that he gave to The Monitor newspaper, there has been a tendency to view his claims with skepticism.
But in the interview with The Independent, the former VP appears to genuinely fear for his life and when confronted at the end of the interview with the reminder that he once offered the Monitor an interview, only to deny the contents, the medicine Professor was steadfast that he meant all had said.
The main threats appears to come from a group he says told the president in his face that “Bukenya is going out mobilising and talking only to religious leaders in the Catholic domain, staying in bishops’ houses and that the purpose of it is to overthrow the president”.
“This was told to the President by a senior leader in this government in my presence. And it was an absolute lie which I even asked the president to investigate; I have never had an answer,” he says, “For me that’s danger number one; telling the president of the country a big lie.” (Read the full interview).
In a separate development, The Independent has learned that the trial of Prof. Bukenya in Uganda’s Anti-Corruption Court is proceeding despite attempts by President Museveni, his Attorney General, Peter Nyombi and Bukenya’s successor, Edward Ssekandi to stop the trial.
The Attorney General in an 18 page letter dated June 20, 2011, a copy of which The Independent has seen, analyses the evidence against Bukenya and advised the President thus; “Accordingly, there is no evidence to warrant the prosecution of Prof. Gilbert B. Bukenya for the offence of fraudulent act or corrupt act contrary to Section 95(1) (d)” (The Independent is not at liberty to print the contents of the letter because it discuss the merits of the case. We respect and abide by the sub judice rule – Editor)
Reliable sources close to the President told The Independent that subsequent to the Attorney General’s letter, the President directed the Attorney General, Peter Nyombi and the Vice President, Edward Ssekandi to meet with the IGG, Raphael Baku and prevail upon him to drop that charges.
Nyombi’s letter is likely to have informed President Museveni’s view of the case against Bukenya when on July 11 at a meeting of the ruling NRM Party parliamentary caucus, the President who is also the Chairman of the NRM is quoted (Daily Monitor July 13, 2011) to have said, “What I know is that there was a power struggle between Bukenya and some businessmen but I found no merit in the case. But since the Inspectorate of Government is an independent body, let them investigate thoroughly.” This comment was criticized by the Judiciary spokesman Elias Kisawuzi and a senior constitutional lawyer, Prof. Frederick Ssempebwa.
Following the directive of the President, the Attorney General and Vice president met with the IGG and discussed the Bukenya case with the view that charges should be dropped.
The Independent has learned that the IGG stood his ground and instead of dropping the charges, when Bukenya appeared in court after losing his Constitutional challenge to his trial, the IGG slammed further charges against Bukenya.
The Attorney General in a half page letter dated Aug. 18 wrote to the President and said, “When we met with the VP, the Ag. IGG insisted on the prosecution of Prof. Bukenya in spite of my advice. I am concerned that should the prosecution lose the case, Prof. Bukenya will sue the government and compensation will run in the hundreds of millions”. President Museveni has neither responded to nor acted on the letter according to information available to The Independent.
Political pundits including Bukenya himself believe the IGG’s adamant stance is borne of confidence gained from association with centres of power that have the audacity to defy the President. Kampala lawyer Bob Kasango disagreed and said to The Independent, “Politically, yes one could say the IGG snubbed the President, but the President designated his Attorney General and Vice President, both lawyers, to speak to their fellow lawyer and settle the matter probably out of court. And that is normal practice. Legally, the office of the IGG is answerable only to Parliament and should not be directed by any other person in the execution of its constitutional duties which include investigation and prosecution of certain cases and so Baku is right to carry on if he thinks he has a good case.”