Daniel Kalinaki's weblog

A commentary on news and events in Uganda and elsewhere


Just an ordinary bloke.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The revolution and its children - Part II

KAMPALA - Former health minister Maj. Gen. Jim Muhwezi (seen here in this internet pix while still holding that office) returned to Uganda in the same way he'd left -- stealthily -- on Sunday night. One (seemingly credible) account suggests that he flew BA from Heathrow to Nairobi and then flew the last KQ flight into Entebbe on Sunday night, met his lawyers for several hours and presented himself for arrest on Monday morning.

At the time of writing, Muhwezi was still in Luzira prison from whence he says he is not in a hurry to apply for bail, that he is innocent, and that the real culprits in the embezzlement of part of a $4.3 million grant meant to immunise children will be revealed. Oh, he also draws comparisons between his predicament and that of Nelson Mandela who was jailed for 27 years for opposing apartheid ("Mandela is my hero, Muhwezi gushed, less than 27 hours after being remanded for theft, among other charges).

From his swagger on his way to court to his lake-side (jail) comments, Muhwezi has the confidence of a man with an ace up his sleeve. It is not clear whether Muhwezi intends to only clear his name in the matter or willing to bring down the roof at State House which has its fingerprints over the matter.

In my last post I expressed dismay (not as strongly as I could/should, but maybe old age is catching on) with the massive outpouring of support for the first two former ministers arrested, Mike Mukula and Alex Kamugisha, and of the former presidential aide, Alice Kaboyo.

It was shocking to note that people poured out to support the accused officials, not because they genuinely believe in their innocence, but out of indignation that the 'system' could turn against its own.

Muhwezi also condemned the raid at his house and questioned whether Museveni's government was doing the same things previous governments, which they fought, had done. In other words, the government is being measured, not for arresting and prosecuting former public officials, but for the high-handed manner of that arrest.

I suspect that corruption has become so endemic in our country that it has become a legitimate tool for the accumulation of wealth and power. The president is accused of stealing votes to retain power; ministers steal from their ministries as do the civil servants; policemen steal exhibits and demand for bribes from accused and accusers; NGO workers steal from their donors; MPs steal from the taxpayers, and so on. You can almost sense the public feeling that the ministers are the victims in this matter. There was almost no public uproar over the much-bigger Global Fund scandal because half the country appeared to have had its fingers in the cookie jar!

I was born before Museveni came to power -- but not that far off. In a way, I still see myself as part of the Museveni generation; those born and who've grown up under his rule. I remember, as a young primary school pupil, Museveni's speeches in the countryside, chalk and blackboard at the ready for demonstration, about the fundamental change he was bringing.

Twenty one years later, some argue that things are falling apart and that the centre, like Chinua Achebe proclaimed, can no longer hold. Others defend Museveni's record to the hilt. What about you, dear reader? Do you see the fundamental change? Are Museveni's failures blinding us to his achievements? Has his lengthy stay in office and his efforts to prolong that even further cost him whatever achievements he had to his name?

In other words, is the Muhwezi/Mukula/Kamugisha/Kaboyo case a sign of rot in the system, of the system's anti-corruption machinery finally coughing to life, or a smoke-and-mirror bluff that shows that the more things change, the more they stay the same?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Has the revolution began to eat its children? - Part I

KAMPALA - What a dramatic day! Former health ministers Mike Mukula and Dr Alex Kamugisha were this morning arrested, interrogated and, later in the afternoon, charged with corruption.

It all relates to the $4.3 million corruption scandal under which chunks of the said money from the Global Alliance Vaccine Initiative were 'eaten' as folk say in these parts.

The two ministers have been remanded to Luzira prison until June 6, 2007, and the hunt is now on for Maj. Gen. Jim Muhwezi, the head of the ministry at the time who has vowed to go down fighting.

A source who attended the court proceedings tells me that several 'cadres' and officials of the ruling National Resistance Movement were at Buganda Road Court in Kampala to protest against the arrest of their fellow cadres. Spotted in the crowd was Singh Katongole, the NRM deputy treasurer, Prof. Peter Kasenene, former privatisation minister and several others.

None of them seemed to consider the charges labelled against the ministers -- and another former State House aide who is still at large -- unfair. They seemed more irked by the whole idea of the 'system' turning against those who helped build it (and according to the charge sheet, their pockets) in the process.

Has the revolution started to chew its children?

Here is an extract from a statement Mukula's lawyers prepared for the press in the course of the day:

"Today the 22nd of May, 2007, at around 6.30 a.m. several soldiers of the [Uganda Peoples Defence Forces] dressed in battle fatigues and armed with heavy automatic weapons together with several police officers riding in 13 vehicles including 5 mobile patrol pick ups raided our client's residence...

"They cordoned off an entire street adn besieged our client's residence for more than an hour...Our client was then driven in a high speed convoy complete with baring sirens in total disregard of other road users and subsequently dumped at the CID headquarters...

"We condemn in the strongest terms the manner in which our client was arrested. As a political leader, he was undeservedly hounded out of his house as if he was a run away criminal whose guilt had been predetermined..."

Of course all the officials are innocent until proven guilty. But when 'inner cadres' of the regime are picked up, sirens blazing in a manner more commonly used with pesky opposition types, the sounds of infant bones being gnashed under the giant molars of the revolution can be heard all over the hills of Kampala.

To be continued.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The pot and kettle are both black!

Robert Kabushenga, in today's Newvision, of which he is CEO, takes a snide swipe at Andrew Mwenda and Timothy Kalyegira, accusing them of dancing on the late Brig. Noble Mayombo's grave.

Robbo, as Kabushenga's friends refer to him, takes exception to the obits that both hacks wrote about Mayombo, and accuses the "Mwenda-Kalyegira axis of commentary" of "deliberate distortion", of "elitist arrogance and narcissim", and of being "diabolic". He did not accuse the duo of causing global warming, selling nuclear fuel to Iran or arming the Janjaweed, but maybe he only ran out of space.

I read Robbo's piece at the end of a week in which I have been thinking a lot about the African culture of never speaking ill of the dead. It is a line of thought that emerged as I wrote my own obit for Mayombo for The EastAfrican (see post below). I personally thought that Mayombo's life was a contradiction and said as much. I was, thus, a bit disappointed that Robbo did not include me in the axis of evil commentary.

I also thought that Kalyegira's column, last Saturday, was one of two things; read as an obit on its own, it lacked balance. As a critique of the effervescent see-no-evil, hear-no-evil eulogies of Mayombo in the dailies, it was brilliant. Andrew's piece in Sunday Monitor was a bit weepish and flaccid.

So what got Robbo foaming at the mouth? He accuses Daily Monitor of being a "mouthpiece of the Forum for Democratic Change", and its owners of a deliberate effort to "create despondence and undermine(s) our national self-confidence". Without saying so, he refers clearly to the Nairobi Stock Exchange-listed Nation Media Group.

Robbo draws parallels with the way Daily Nation covers President Mwai Kibaki, as well as members of the opposition and sees two editorial standards; one for DN, another for DM; "one that promotes social responsibility in Kenya and another one that advocates anarchy".

Robocop is armed and loaded.

I agree with Kabushenga that Daily Nation covers Kibaki's 'policy pronouncements' better than Daily Monitor covers Museveni's. But is it part of a grand conspiracy theory? I don't think so. Daily Nation also covers Kibaki better than New Vision covers Museveni.

(Part of the reason is that Kibaki's policy pronouncements are few and far between and therefore easier to give prominence, but that does not vindicate some of the Monitor's -- and New Vision's lapses).

However, what Robbo is doing is not new, but equally dangerous; insinuate ill-motive in everything Daily Monitor publishes, add a pinch of salt, a spoonful of xenophobia and you have a flambe of hate, marinated in its own juice, topped with rejection and with spite offered as a side dish.

It is easier if it's just the odd critical foreign correspondent; deport him.

Robbo does not point out one fact about Mayombo's life that the Daily Monitor got wrong. He also says nothing about the gushing eulogies the paper also carried on Mayombo. He chooses to only see evil, hear evil.

The Ugandan media has several weaknesses; money, people, processes, public image, and the products themselves. To critique the media through politically-partisan foggy lenses swings the debate away from the critical issues that need to be addressed.

It allows us journalists wiggleroom to ignore valid criticism by labelling it the rantings of the politically wounded. It puts undue pressure on Daily Monitor not to run anything critical of government lest it confirms the conspiracy theorists. It puts New Vision reporters under pressure to write conformist articles, lest they follow their more independent-minded editors out of the door. Media managers spend time scheming against the competition instead of planning for their readers.

Robbo, of course, has a right to critique his rivals' content and reportage. He is better off doing so as a media executive, to improve that of his own enterprise, and not as a party cadre criminalising alternative thought by pouring scorn and ridicule upon political opponents, real and imaginary.


P.S Am I the only one who imagined, on reading the NV, Kalyegira frantically calling the editor of his Saturday column, asking to be allowed to add a juicy rejoinder before the paper went to the press?

Monday, May 07, 2007

Brig. Mayombo; the death of an enigmatic officer and gentleman

Brig. Noble Mayombo, 42, who died in Nairobi’s Aga Khan Hospital after a short illness last week, was an enigmatic face of President Yoweri Museveni’s government; brilliant and brutal; kind and cunning; ruthless but forgiving.

He was also daring – he dropped out of law school at Makerere University to join Museveni’s rebel National Resistance Army in 1985 – and driven; he would return a few years later to complete his degree and later, a masters in human rights law.

His was a life of contradictions; despite his degree in human rights law, he was accused, during his time as head of military intelligence, of allowing the torture of suspected rebels and political opponents in ‘safe houses’.

In its 2004 report on Uganda, Human Rights Watch accused the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence, then under Mayombo, of widespread torture, illegal detentions, and the execution of political opponents like Patrick Mamenero, who had supported opposition candidate Kizza Besigye in the 2001 presidential election.

Yet many people saw Mayombo’s noble side and will remember him for brilliance, not brutality. That brilliance first shone through in 1994 when, aged only 29, he was picked as one of the army delegates to the Constituent Assembly then debating a new Constitution for the country.

It was here, in his opening speech to the Assembly, that Mayombo’s political ideology – of the carrot and, often, a large stick – came to the fore. Quoting the legal philosopher James Bright, Mayombo said: “knots which the law cannot untie may have to be cut by the sword.”

He added: “I and many others in uniform today symbolise the politics of resistance to misrule and injustice in Uganda. We wear uniform not out of choice but compulsions to keep power away from those who think power is an end in itself, to keep power away from those who think the people of Uganda are not important, to keep power away from those who think they cause use power to kill, plunder and settle personal scores with impunity.”

His critics, including opposition leader Besigye whom he forced into exile in 2001, claim that Mayombo abused his power when he rose through the ranks. His defenders, particularly in the army say, in effect, that the sword was required to untie the knots.

His impassioned and persuasive arguments helped entrench the Movement as the ruling party in a no-party state and set off a meteoric rise through the army ranks, from Lieutenant in 1994 to Brigadier by the time of his death. As expected, there were grumbles about the speed of his star, especially among more stagnant officers – but Mayombo was not the only beneficiary of quick promotions, and there is little to suggest that he was undeserving.

Brig. Mayombo was extremely loyal and unrestrained by pride; the enduring image of him as President Museveni’s aide-de-camp – one of the several short stops on his career trajectory in the 90s – was of him kneeling down to lace up his master’s shoes after Museveni had just visited a mosque in Kampala.

Mayombo was also very loyal to his family and friends; his father, an elderly reverend last week spoke of his son’s generosity in paying for the old man’s medical treatment in South Africa, one of many tales of his philanthropy. But loyalty came after service to the cause; Mayombo famously ordered for the arrest of his brother, Okwir Rabwoni, in 2001 just before the latter joined Besigye, whom he supported, on a campaign flight to Arua, northwest Uganda.

Even here the contradictions showed; Mayombo helped his brother obtain visas and money to go into exile in the United Kingdom – but later prevented Okwir from being granted asylum by swearing an affidavit declaring that the applicant would face no danger if he returned. As it were, Okwir has since returned to the country and apparently made up with his brother before his death.

Both brothers strongly professed Pan-Africanism and Mayombo, who received military training in Libya, routinely spoke out in support of its ideals of a peaceful and united Africa – but he was one of several Ugandan army officers accused by a 2002 UN Security Council report of plundering mineral resources from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

All officials named in the report, including Mayombo, denied the allegations and a subsequent judicial commission of inquiry found no evidence to initiate prosecutions. True to form, Mayombo made both foes and friends while in DR Congo. Prof. Wamba dia Wamba, who once headed a rebel faction supported by Kampala last week recounted to the government-owned New Vision newspaper how Mayombo had put his life on the line and braved bullets to save the rebel leader’s life. There was another touch of ingenuity from Mayombo; to get the light-skinned professor past the Rwandan army to the airport, he dressed him up in UPDF camouflage and painted his face black. Genius.

In person, Mayombo was full of humour and vivacity but the smile he always wore never concealed his sometimes ruthless cunning. And cunning he was. In 2002 when the Daily Monitor, which, like this paper, is also published by Nation Media Group, wrote an article claiming that rebels had shot down an army helicopter in the north of the country, irate government officials scoured the law books to find a way of shutting down the paper. Finding none, Mayombo recommended that the newspaper plant and offices in Kampala be sealed off as a crime scene to allow police investigations. The closure lasted a week.

He got on well with journalists always giving quotes and returning calls when he could – but he could also be ruthless in his clampdown. When he was appointed as chairman of the board of the New Vision last year, Mayombo promised to uphold press freedom and allow the hacks to get on with their work. A few months later, the editor, William Pike, and his deputy, had been forced out for carrying articles critical of the government.

It is widely agreed that Mayombo, who was defence ministry permanent secretary at the time of his death, had, despite such an action-filled career, not fulfilled his true potential. There have even been suggestions that he was a potential successor to President Museveni, or at least continue to be a king maker. We shall never know.

His death, due to a failure of his pancreas, and after such a short illness, has sparked off speculation that he might have been poisoned. Defence minister, Crispus Kiyonga announced last week that government was not “ruling anything out”. But excessive consumption of alcohol can lead to the condition – and Mayombo, in his social times, certainly knew how to negotiate his way around the bend of the bottle.

How will Brig. Mayombo be remembered? His family (including wife Juliet and six children) and friends mourn a loyal and loving man; the president mourns a most-trusted confidante; while the regime mourns an intellectual who was also capable of ruthless implementation.

It is perhaps a sign of which side of Mayombo Ugandans most identified with – or perhaps a reflection of African respect to the dead – that the country was united in mourning this enigmatic officer and gentleman.

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