The danger of a disempowered central bank

Bank of Uganda

A story is told that one day General Idi Amin called up Governor Joseph Mubiru, of Bank of Uganda. Amin was short of cash which he desperately needed to beef up his army, after Israeli and Britain who had incidentally helped him take over government in January 1971, failed him. Faced with the threat of war from Tanzania, harboring the fallen President Obote, he was furious when they balked at his request for ammunition.

Amin, the story goes, turned to the Central bank for money. But when he asked Governor Mubiru, he gently pointed that he had no such powers due to strict money supply controls. “But can’t you print for me money?” the General boomed. “No, that will worsen inflation,” replied the cool central banker.

The General was not used to being disobeyed. On September 20th 1972, Governor Mubiru, just after visiting his ageing mother in Masaka, was stopped and thrown into the boot of a Peugeot, which was driven to Malire barracks. That was the last he was seen alive!

I have taken time to cross check this story. Actually by the time he disappeared, Governor Mubiru had already left the central bank and was waiting for a posting with IMF. There is some mystery about what prompted his disappearance, soon to be followed with that of Chief Justice Ben Kiwanuka later in the same month. However, even as this story may have certain loopholes, there is some credence to the fact that under Idi Amin the independence of the central bank was severely compromised.

The  primary objectives of Bank of Uganda, as once shared by Governor Emmanuel Mutebile is “ to protect the interests of depositors and to ensure the overall stability of the financial system, through prudential regulation and supervision of deposit-taking institutions.” Central banks world over ensure monetary stability especially by controlling inflation. The primary weapon central banks use is through managing interest rates which are raised once inflation heats up to discourage money supply in the economy. High interest rate force borrowers to access less money as it is increasingly costly to borrow. On the other hand central banks use money to pump life in a weak economy by lowering interest rates enabling more business access funds for investment. In brief at the heart of Uganda’s economic growth is a professionally managed central bank.

But not all has gone well ever since Uganda founded Bank of Uganda in 1966, which Governor Mubiru was a prime mover. By the time Amin regime had collapsed in 1979, inflation had worsened eroding the earnings of ordinary Ugandans. In fact, the value of the shilling had depreciated so much that future regimes had to periodically devalue the shilling.

Between 1981 and 1988, for instance, the government repeatedly devalued the Ugandan shilling in order to stabilize the economy. Yet the money supply continued to grow at an annual rate of 500 percent. In July 1988, the government again devalued the shilling by 60 percent. Eventually government’s efforts to bring the economy under control succeeded in reducing the country’s staggering inflation from over 300 percent in 1986 to about 72 percent in 1988.

Since then Uganda’s inflation rate has stabilized at 5-7 percent, quite within the norm. The benefits for the economy are obvious. Low inflation brings confidence in the economy, as stable prices ensure that earnings are not rendered useless. People can deposit their savings in banks and not fear loss of value. It is this money that banks lend out for investment.

If it were not for the prudent management of the central bank, there is a possibility Uganda’s inflation could easily have worsened back to the 1980s nightmares. To get a reality check on this, one has only to take a peep at Zimbabwe’s economy. After series of economic mismanagement, brought on by the ill-advised land seizure from white farmers causing a steep drop in Agricultural output, capital flight by investors and economic sanctions forced on her by donors, Zimbabwe’s inflation at one point run up to 431.1 Quintillion percent ( that is 431,900,000,000, 000,000,000) change in prices in one year, as reported by the 2008 Annual Report, Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.

It is against this background that recent moves to humble and perhaps downsize the powers of Bank of Uganda, are worrisome. Bank of Uganda has the power to regulate all financial institutions in the country, including closure, especially once it observes customer savings are being threatened with a worsening balance sheet due to mismanagement. If a customer happens to go down to his bank and finds it no longer has enough money to release, a rumor can sweep through town, and before one realizes queues are in the middle of streets, of depositors desperate to withdraw their savings. This panic run can lead to a run on banks climaxing in a collapse of the financial system.

To avoid such a scenario Bank of Uganda has been quite aggressive to act decisively against any financial institution that failed to pass its periodic test. Since 1993 she has closed seven banks: Greenland Bank, Teefe Trust Bank, International Credit Bank, Crane Bank, National Bank of Commerce, Gold Trust Bank and Cooperative Bank.

As expected not everyone has been amused. Where one would have tried to research into why our local banks have been more liable for closure,  predictably many have resorted to question the management of the central bank, with possibly the goal of undermining her powers to regulate. In 2019 a report presented by the Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (Cosase) to parliament urged the punishing of various central bank officials accusing them of not following procedure in bank closure.

So, there is no applause, even after protecting depositors whose savings might have withered in face of a ruined financial system. As the central bank continues being bludgeoned with suits, Uganda needs to pause and ask if we believe in a robustly managed central bank, that protects depositors. This is not to argue that there are several management lapses at the central bank, flourishing on some abuse of power, as revealed during parliamentary hearings. These ills must be addressed. But not at the expense of leaving behind a much humbled central bank, that next time its radar senses a commercial bank that has over shot its luck, it’s fearful of touching the powers that be!

When the rule of law breaks down!

When the rule of law breaks down!

Born a year after Uganda had been declared independent, from the Brits who had casually lumped it together into some African nation, I grew up restless and concerned why some of my relatives then somewhere after decided to flee out for a life of exile. One happened to be a man Ugandans would hear a lot about since he had a big role in crafting the laws of modern Uganda, writing the 1962 and 1966 constitution- Godfrey L Binaisa, QC.

Now one day while at home I was delighted to learn he was back in Kampala. His first exile had just ended in 1979, soon after the fall of Amin government. As we all gathered for a family reunion, suddenly came news of his abrupt appointment as the fifth President of Uganda, after a palace coup he had no hand in.

Unfortunately hardly a year passed and he was pushed back to exile, after another palace coup in 1980. He hated living out of his country. In 1986 he returned to Uganda, once NRA took power, and went and boarded in the dream house he had left unfinished upon Mutundwe hill. By then I had progressed to Makerere university, and on weekends would occasionally visit with him, trying to catch up with a famous uncle I missed growing up under his wings. I realized he talked nothing but politics which consummated his whole life, but I had no interest there. All I wanted was to hear beautiful family stories.

Living in an unguarded house, one day, in 1987, he heard an old colleague of his in the struggle to remove Amin back in the US as members of the Uganda Freedom Movement, Dr. Andrew Kayira, lately a Minister of Energy, who had just been released from jail on treason charges, had been assassinated and he was next on the hit list. He fled, in the night, to New York, US, back again for the third stretch in exile. There he resumed his law practice, arguing various landmark cases, till he retired.

Always he dreamed of returning to Uganda. In 2001, then aged 81, he was persuaded to return to Uganda because he heard the country was safe. The rule of law had returned and there was no need to fear, for an ex-President to languish away in exile.

Settled in a government-rented house in Muyenga, I would again spend long hours visiting with him. But this time I was more alert to the politics of Uganda. Once I asked him why he fled the country in 1972. “It was because the rule of law had broken down,” he said. “I was not going to wait to be abducted and then be butchered, by an Amin kijambiya (matchete) man, as others were.”

His escape came when as President of Uganda Law Society; he walked directly to President Amin and tricked him to fund a trip for a Commonwealth Conference in London, to “defend Uganda’s rule of law!” It was a cynical plot but Idi Amin fell for the ruse. That was it. After the conference, he did not return, but decided to start a law practice as a Barrister in UK. This was quite common with many Ugandan professionals who disgusted with the breakdown of law at home, elected not to return.

Yet exile came at a cost! For while away his mother, Nalongo Binaisa, the family pillar, passed on. He was the first born son, but he could not return to bury his mother.

These thoughts came crushing my mind when I read that yet another Member of Parliament, Mohammed Ssegirinya, Kawempe North just released on bail by a High Court judge, had been abducted and thrown like a carcass into a wickedly speeding van (New Vision, September 29th 2021, pp 9). This coming in the very month of September, 49 years since Chief Justice Ben Kiwanuka was abducted, never to be seen again, hit me like a cruel joke.

In the 1980s Prof Yoweri Kyesimira, a developmental government critic and Hon Balak Kirya, once Cabinet Minister turned President Obote foe ( Kirya had been kidnapped from Kenya where he had fled after Obote who had prior to his fall in 1971 detained him for five years), after being released on bail, were also one day after court release, abducted and whisked back to Luzira jail. From what I gather it is these injustices, among others, that led to the heroic NRA insurrection based in Bulemezi, which at the end left a once peaceful province scattered with maimed skulls and charred bodies all over.

If a sanctioned High court releases a suspect on bail, then hooded armed men come speeding, in a van, not in any uniform, kidnap and whisk him away to an unknown destination, then one must wonder if we are back to the jungle law of the gruesome 1970s and 1980s! I paused to ask myself where are the lawyers, clergy, legislators, opinion leaders, intellectuals to wonder at what this means to the rule of law in the country upon which all sustainable development sits! Nothing but a chilling silence…

My apprehension is because I know history has a crude way of repeating itself. Years back, in the 1930s, Rev Martin Niemollar, was a Lutheran priest who supported Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, aggrieved as were many Germans by the loss of World War 11 and the penalties imposed on her by the Allied powers. In power Adolf Hitler started exhibiting a reckless disregard of the rule of law, as he centralized all power unto himself, to begin the execution of minorities, especially the Jews. Rev Martin Niemollar  started speaking against this excess. But it was a bit late. In 1937 he was arrested and placed in solitary confinement.  He was only released in 1945 by the victorious Allies.

After he was out, reflecting on what had just passed, six million Jews gassed to death and an atrocious war that left over 75 million lives lost, this is what he said: “First they came for the Communists. And I did not speak out!  Because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Socialists. And I did not speak out! Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists. And I did not speak out! Because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews. And I did not speak out! Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me! And there was no one left to speak out for me!”

The writer is Assoc Prof of Management, Uganda Christian University, Mukono. He is the author of “Things Fall Apart in Uganda” (Kampala: 2013).

What happened to the dream of national unity?

United

As some might remember modern African nations where curved out of desperate tribes (nations), with different histories. Here in Uganda the British found tribes like Buganda and Bunyoro both with a unified history spanning over 500 years. Once conquered it was understandably never the concern of the western colonizers ( Britain, France, Belgium, Portugal) to unify these African tribes into one strong nation. Actually, for the British, they governed through a Divide and Rule official policy. The Baganda, led by collaborator chiefs, for instance, were used as allies to subjugate the Banyoro, whom their people had long historical links, into one Uganda nation.

Once most of these colonized nations became independent in the early 1960s, the primary duty of an African President was therefore to foster national unity, lest the nation splinter. This is what became of Congo ( Katanga secessionist war 1960-5 ); and, Nigeria too ( Biafra secessionist war 1967-70) both of which were engulfed into bitter wars leaving millions dead.

Closer home founding fathers like Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Milton Obote of Uganda had no other but make it their mission to unify the new nations, with all their differing tribes. However, they met opposite success. Obote’s failure unlike Nyerere was that you had ancient kingdom’s here in Uganda and his policy of coercion (in 1966 his forces attacked the Baganda king who fled and died in exile) met stiff resistance. In hindsight, persuasion and not force, might have worked in Uganda, perhaps.

Given this troubled history you would think President Yoweri Museveni who often talks of his beloved dream for an integrated East Africa would be desperately working towards that goal of national unity, the unfinished business of Uganda before we march into East Africa federation. One unrivalled strategy would be to minimize tribal chauvinism. In 1994 Uganda’s neighbour, Rwanda, broke down into a genocide as the nation had longer ignored the necessity of not glorifying one tribe over another.

So, going by recent presidential speeches on the national stage many are left to wonder.

First, during the State of nation address, June 4th, 2021 we heard of “a real Munyankole” ( not “real Ugandan”) being promoted. This is 2021 and not 1921; after a century of intermarriages, travel and exposure among different tribal members of Uganda. What advise can we give our children who have grown up intermixing that they have no idea of “real” members of one tribe over another!

There was also a disparaging reference to those “Banyankole who eat pig..”! Pork is a delicacy enjoyed throughout Uganda, and while this might have been said in jest, there are thousands of Ugandan households who fetch a living from this industry. Why, as President, a fanatical cattle keeper, in his own right, should he jeopardize the livelihood of others who choose other means!

And, during Heroes day, June 9th, giving another national speech we got to understand the Baganda support an evil system, the mailo land tenure. For all its historical faults well addressed in our 1995 constitution the mailo land tenure, founded on the superior concept of private property, has created the most prosperous region in Uganda with Kampala, Wakiso and Mukono districts responsible for over 70% of Uganda’s GDP.

Besides, the Baganda have always generously welcomed members of other tribes in this thriving land market economy. Which tribe in Uganda has not had a member reap benefits from the mailo land tenure? Yet, the Baganda must be evil- for a people who support an evil system by inference must be evil too, or for a pass, just dumb.

When after 68 years of independence from the colonizers who bought us into one nation, we are still bothered with “real” people in one tribe, bash one region over another, openly despise the means of livelihood of others, you wonder how one modern African nation can ever unify into a unified pan African country!

Will torture ever end in Uganda

Police Brutality

At the height of the presidency of Idi Amin, one of the most terrifying experiences to happen to anyone was being summoned to the “public safety unit” at Naguru. There on arrival, you would be welcomed with a cup of some strange tea- chai!

Chai involved stripping you naked. Soon after an officer on shift with a broken old beer bottle would start shaving your head till it was soaked with dark beads of blood. After you would be thrust into a rusting tyre rim and the flogging would follow till the officer would tire of your helpless screams.

You were then thrown in a packed cell, filled with inmates locked up on spurious politically motivated charges. Somewhere at night, as your family swept everywhere for your whereabouts, names from a list would be called. If you heard yours it was the end. Those that remained behind would soon hear the screams of bullets unleashed from a magazine in the adjoining room being emptied all in your flesh.

Dr Colin Sentongo, an official with the Ministry of Education, who narrowly survived execution, in his memoirs, “The unique story of an African education economist (2020),” recalls while there a prominent Masaka based lawyer called Mr Mawagi being brought over and greeted with chai. He was a strong man and even after combing his head with a broken bottle and flogging him with his head stuck in a rim he didn’t utter a sound. The chief torturer gave up; he feared this new inmate to withstand all that pain without flinching had “juju” powers.

Left on a verandah, all soaked in blood, Mr Mawagi spotted Colin. Weakly, he called him, “This country is in big trouble. There is no law and order. What right do these people have to torture me like this? Have they charged me?” That night Mawagi was picked from his cell and executed.

In 1979 Ugandans were liberated of this terror by the soldiers of Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLA) with help of Tanzania. But the country would soon be plunged into another bloody orgy with political factions jostling for power. This would culminate in a guerrilla war perched in the Luwero Triangle of central Uganda.

It is there that one first heard of a new form of torture- kandoya! This one involved flattening you with your arms ringed at the back and then with your rib cages extended and bursting the flogging would commence. Meanwhile the basement floor of one of Uganda’s best hotel, then, Nile Mansions, was turned into a torture chamber, that once dropped there, you would flood in a sea of blood and be consumed by a din of woes.

In 1986 the National Resistance Movement (NRM) took over the reigns of government ready to turn a new leaf. A commission of Inquiry into violation of Human Rights was set up where every victim of torture was encouraged to come forth and share their past ordeal since 1962. One of the Commissioners was Mr. John Nagenda, the writer. I met and talked to him last year about its work. He expressed regret that given the nature of atrocities committed no one was put on trial. In the spirit of being magnanimous and extending an olive branch, President Yoweri Museveni ruled against pressing charges, no matter the crimes committeed.

If Uganda had any hopes of an end to torture these hopes would quickly evaporate once the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) army came on scene to wage a war against NRM government. I once had a survivor drop in my office, a student who somehow had made it to university. She could never recover from the nightmare; but who would! As a young girl she had been treated to seeing her parents thrown in a pot of cooking oil on fire by rebels accusing her family of loyalty to government troops. Victims would be mutilated, eyes gauged, ears cut, legs burnt, and noses scissored, raped and left with maimed bodies.

Come today. Many had thought we had heard and seen it all, only to be jerked with yet new gory tales. A headline story that run in the government-owned Luganda daily, Bukedde, early this week, February 9, 2021 had a young man called Ronald Ssegawa. After being abducted his captors started by plucking out his nails before flogging him with electric wires. Thinking he was dead they dumped his lifeless body at the Mulago hospital mortuary, where he was found. He is fighting for his life.

In 2012 Uganda aware of this macabre history passed the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act. One of the main sponsors was African Center for Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims (ACTV). The story behind is that in 1983 Dr Samuel Nsamba having survived death from torture decided to start this human rights advocacy organisation to spare Ugandans from suffering the same ordeal.

For over a decade I have had a proud association with ACTV as a consultant. I have interfaced with its work in sensitizing state actors against torture. But in spite of all this torture with all its sadism and wanton meanness continues to elude this nation. “What are the courts for? Why are they still paying judges and the rest of court workers?” the Late Mawagi asked as he bled from his wounds. It is now 44 years since this galllant Ugandan querried and many in the country are still asking the same questions.

Only time knows if this nation will ever outgrow this scourge of torture going on behind dark walls. The writer is an academic and works with Uganda Christian University, Mukono

Lessons from the attempted assassination on General Katumba Wamala

General Katumba

There is a saying that in life “never miss learning from a crisis!” In the wake of the attempted assassination of General Katumba- Wamala, there are important lessons, perhaps Uganda may pick up.

First, is the importance of being a good person in life and acting civil towards others, especially the less fortunate. The Baganda call it, “obuntu bulamu”! Those who have seen the video clip of the wounded Ugandan General being helped out on a boda – boda, may want to wonder, that, what if General Katumba had been known to be a bad person in life, would the crowds have extended a helping hand! Except for that blotch which shocked many of him landing blows on a fellow legislator filibustering against the removal of age limit in the 1995 constitution, many here recognize General Katumba as a personable Mzei.

Years ago, in 1979, I was a witness to the fate that befell some of Amin soldiers for defending an unpopular regime. There were soldiers sent by Libya’s Muammar Gadhafi to pop up his murderous regime, hanging around the Mulago power station. Poor fellows little they knew what they had been sold on. When saba- saba bombs started landing and they scattered no one was there to give them cover. When other Amin soldiers were also fleeing, all their once invincible ammunitions leveled to the ground, the crowds would sneakily point them towards the hidden troops from Tanzania, falling into a bloody nest, and quickly executed.

After Amin fell the soldiers that formed the new Uganda Army perfected themselves in sheer brutality. I once saw a soldier shoot a civilian matatu driver, near Makerere University main gate, only because the driver had lost control of his car and rammed into his. That image of the poor driver with blood spurting out of his severed neck has never left my mind. So, when the Obote regime fell at the hands of the Lutwa- Okello soldiers, when the NRM troops finally besieged Kampala, as before I saw crowds pointing them in the very direction of their enemies, where they were quickly slaughtered.

But people forget so easily. These days I tend to see some high-ranking soldiers and big shots, of a thuggish nature, riding carelessly in their fleets, bought at taxpayers expense, sirens blowing and pushing small people off the road, down into trenches. Think of it, a time may come, when these “big shots” need a hand from these little people as we saw when a General stood helpless in the middle of the road, with all those VIP vehicles passing by!

The second lesson is the importance of having a good national health care system. Again we go back to that video clip. The disoriented General is crying out for help and later before he embarks on a boda boda wonders which hospital they are speeding him to. Ugandans of today may want to be reminded that in 1969 when President Obote was shot in the mouth immediately hospital attendants at Mulago hospital were readied to receive him. Indeed, once there, he received expert care, from some of the best professionals you could find, in the world, and quickly got back on his feet.
But in this case the General was motorcycled off to a private clinic, and later, to a private medical facility, which thankfully saved his life. But still, remember, this is a four star General, a cabinet minister in charge of infrastructure, who is certainly privy to national security matters. Even our friends in the US in their zeal for the private sector know fully its limits. In October, 2020, after being diagnosed with Covid 19 President Trump was admitted to Walter Reed Military Hospital, not just any other medical facility.

I can guess too, if these private medical facilities, had failed to restore the General to full health, the next step.

Back in November, 2009 when the then Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Defense, Brigadier Nobel Mayombo’s health took for the worse, he, had to be rushed to neighboring Kenya, for treatment where he lost his life. In 2013 the late former Deputy Prime Minister, Eria Kategeya, was too evacuated to a Nairobi hospital where again he lost his life. It is habitual for many of our senior government officials and the well- connected to boast of having treatment in overseas hospital which costs the tax payer over $150 million annually.

The third lesson is, lest we forget, General Katumba is not the first person to be hit by bullets from a run away boda boda with concealed number plates. Back in July 2005 I lost a dear friend and prayer- partner called Mrs Robinah Kiyingi, then a leading attorney in Uganda, also hit by bullets from a runaway boda boda.

Common sense would long have dictated that this country regularize the boda- boda industry, which account for nearly 20 admissions daily at Mulago Hospital. One report from the Traffic Police Department indicate that over 7,000 people were killed in boda-boda accidents within a two-year period from 2015 to 2017! While in Rwanda you find all boda- boda riders have clear numbers, ride on one side of the road, and are assigned particular stages, here it’s a puzzle. Some of us have cried ourselves hoarse on this issue only to be deflected by perennial debaters. Friends, if a boda boda with concealed number plates can follow a General for that length, unbothered, then who is safe here, at all!

The fourth important lesson, I shall present in form of a question: “What became of all other assassination investigations and conviction of culprits- Joan Kagezi (2005); Felix Kaweesi ( 2017); Ibrahim Abiriga (2018); Mohammed Kirumira (2018); Moslem clerics!” Back in September, 1945, after World War 11vetaran, GW Senkatuka, aggrieved by the decision of Buganda Kattikiro Martin Luther Nsibirwa to sign away land at Makerere for the government, shot him dead; the British with astonishing speed had him arrested and hanged him in subsequent months. Many would imagine that any serious government desirous for the protection of her people, and even itself, would long have apprehended these unknown assailants and won some convictions too. For all we know the killers are still at large.

So, why should we wonder, if another gunman looms out of the shadow to pick up from the last assassination? Shall we now believe so much in government’s frantic attempt to institute an investigation, which seems a standard operation, with every assassination!

This week I received a very sad mail. In November 2020 after my old work colleague, John Kittobe, was gunned down during the riots, I wrote his obituary and pointed out that I doubted his death was by accident. The BBC Africa Eye investigation team analyzed over 400 videos of these shootings and found there was a link with security forces in the over 50 Ugandans who by admissions of government were assassinated. The son of my late friend sent me that report. It was like a healing wound being opened up all over again. Remember, there has never been any public inquiry into these arbitrary deaths of innocent Ugandans.

Many people are visibly disturbed by the murder of the General’s daughter and driver, for how could they not! But how can we also afford to forget that hundreds of other Ugandans who have been assassinated as much before? Their lives count as much. And yet justice, for some reason, is long incoming!

The final and most important lesson here is that when we willfully create a lawless country for our ends, manned by all sorts of paramilitary forces often behaving with impunity, fail to strengthen our law and justice institutions, averring to untouchable security organs, we end up with a country where no one is safe, including, sadly, the high and mighty.

The writer is Associate Professor of Management, Uganda Christian University, Mukono.

A letter to a university student!

Student

“My dear nephew these days I have been traveling a lot on business and I am behind on a lot of news. However, I have just noticed that you students are back to your striking ways and you are now seated at home.

In between my busy schedule I just thought I might take a few minutes to share some thoughts of the little I know about life. And, let me first share with you that as a University student it’s of course well and good to be involved in student activities, including peaceful demonstrations, which is your constitutional right.

Almost all the great changes around us have all been inspired by students. It is students like Alexander Hamilton who led the American Revolution. This much tired government of yours also sprung out of student activism. I would be worried if students are not engaged and debating the issues affecting a troubled society.

But then be careful. I will tell you this story. In my days at the university we had two types of students. There were those who had demanding courses and then those else with less demanding. Once as I lay on my bed enjoying my free reading and wondering how to kill time I suddenly heard a battle cry calling for a strike. Students were fed up with bad food. My course was not that heavy, or so for me, and I tended to have a bit of time after lectures.

So once I heard the battle cry I quickly jumped off my bed and followed our platoon leader. We got to Main Hall and immediately invaded the Dean’s Office. The Dean was a man called Mr George Kihuguru. I was told he was the one causing all our misery. So we started banging on his door that he show up and explain himself. What I recall the government sent soldiers, soon, and dispersed us all, with a few beatings.

Something I noticed that day as some of us participated in this strike, is most of those of with more demanding courses, especially medics, were a no show. We actually looked down upon them and considered them betrayers of our student solidarity. I could not appreciate them at that point. But these days when I meet those that finished their course on time, went on to have successful careers, I certainly have only respect and understanding. There are those who had the time for play, like me, but some students, did not have that luxury.

Service above self

In later life I would meet the man we now called Uncle Kihuguru only to find he was the nicest man you could ever come across. Now retired from university I got to realize that he had actually been working hard for us students. During the war that removed Amin from power Uncle Kihuguru had kept the university going, looking for food and putting his life at risk. He had retired honorably because he hadn’t used his office to gainfully advance himself at the expense of the university, which as you may know is quite common to find among a certain class of public servants.

Well, let me tell you a thing or two. There are certain things you just don’t know when you are far from that decision making desk. Also, because there were honest men like Uncle Kihuguru, that is why you found that university still in place, which I hear a few of you students want to burn down to ashes because you are mad at something.

As you may know your grandfather not only emphasized education but had also the means. I never for once was sent back home for fees, because he paid all in full. Well, at university I found myself sitting next to students far much older than I. I was curious. Then I discovered for many it was not for lack of ability. School fees had always been an issue.

So as you strike remember there is that student who has worked himself up to where you are. He thinks he has now finally arrived. You know there are those among you privileged or just foolish and don’t care much if the university is closed. But for some students you are just robbing them of or derailing their dream.

Just the other day a close friend of mine invited me to a graduation party of a niece, whose parents had died. The family had paid her fees. Now they told this young graduate, “Since you have finished school go out and get a job. But always remember extending a hand to others. That is what success is for us! Not just looking out for yourself!”

The love of parents

And then there are the parents. I have worked most of my life in university and I want to share what you may not know. Almost every other day I get calls from parents.  There are anxious to know if their kids are on track and soon graduating. There is nothing as sad as seeing a parent who comes and finds his kids had not been attending lectures, and hence not graduating, in spite of all the money already paid.

Never forget those parents and the sacrifices they take for all of you. Many start paying for fees while you are still in diapers. Do you know some kindergartens are even far more expensive than university! They take you all through the most expensive schools they can afford. They deny themselves many things, dreams which they also had. These parents you see struggling in ramshackle cars have often deferred the pleasures of boasting a nice car because of you. Many have never known anything like taking a holiday and most are still renting. But because of you they want you to do well in life. If they have not had similar opportunities, like for some to go to university, they want you to enjoy them. You are their success. Think of them please as you all strike down there.

Universities are changing

As you strike do remember also universities have long changed. When I joined university we all would be ushered into halls of residence. The universities run our lives and they even gave us free money- boom- much of which in my case I spent on booze. These days what I know many universities are closing down residence halls for lack of money. Students are mainly admitted into private hostels and told to manage their lives. These students, unlike us, start managing their finances early, well knowing the value of a penny. Some even take up jobs to make ends meet.

I didn’t want to bring up this but maybe I should. Your other grandfather who went on to head this country sailed to England for further studies early in 1950s. Something happened with his fees and he found himself short of money. But other than return to the country with empty hands he decided to take up odd jobs. Among them was digging graves during frosty winter. Finally he passed and returned with his law degree from Lincolns Inn, an accomplished barrister and went on to become not just an Attorney General but also a Queen’s Counsel. We loved him telling us that story, including once of being a miner, seeing how far he had gone in life. So let the challenge of fees not derail you. Just like your grandfather do not give up. Go out and get a job and pay up if you must.

Now another thing as a university don which I have seen and also shook me is to see the growth of online education. Do you know that actually many universities are now shutting down because parents, scarce of money, have decided to have students secure their degree through virtual learning. We in University are all wondering how our industry will thrive in the future. One thing I know is that in the very near future most of the students will not be going to physical campus for their degrees. Why? Because they can get those degrees online, and at far less cost.

There is in fact a young man I know already. His parents wanted to take him out once he was done with high school. But he asked for the money and put some in a commodity exchange business while undertaking an online degree. He has had some missteps. But tell you by the time some of you eventually graduate he will not just be armed with a thriving business, but also with a finance degree from Open University, UK.

A new generation

If I may conclude with something useful let me talk about the nation you belong to. Forget all the rosy stories you hear and read happening in this nation of yours. It is in auto pilot mode amidst turbulence. I have seen here services break down in a way I had never imagined. We are heavily indebted to daylight robbers.  Our once beautiful city has been reduced to a slum. I see all you young people fleeing the country in droves, being abused as maids, because there are no jobs here. Look at the type of public hospitals around you all in shambles

Now if I may ask, are you guys meeting and talking over these health and infrastructure challenges which are facing your nation! How can you help put this country back together and make it a source of pride among the community of nations, as it used to be. What new frontiers of knowledge are you exploring?

Or consumed by what is going on, you have decided to be another self-absorbed wasted generation bemoaning how hard your life has been and how the world now owes you so much! Are you also in a hurry to go out and loot the treasury as you commonly hear!

How I wish some of you are using your time wisely and coming up with classic novels like Ngugi who wrote “The River Between” in those residence halls. Isn’t it sad that we still have our children dying of malaria for lack of a vaccine. What are you doing about it? Don’t you feel sad that our people still eke a living while still using a hand hoe! Are some of you students dreaming up the latest Facebook business, started in dormitory rooms? Or just thinking of going out and breaking more windows, piling abuses upon your Vice Chancellor because he has told you to go back to class!

I believe every generation comes to have an impact. Some of us older folks are now waiting on you, having seen all the havoc those amongst ours have caused. Believe me it breaks some of us. But may be yours will be a blessing; stand for good and not evil.

Have a purpose

Now, just before I sign off I want to take you back to that day when I jumped off my bed to join in a strike. If you had happened to ask me why, all I could have told you is, because others are doing so. I didn’t have any clue what was important to waste time fighting for. Yet before you realize your university days will be over. And you have a whole life ahead of you. So just know where you should put your time. Have a purpose.

Send greetings to your mother and siblings. Tell them to stay in school. Always say your prayers, honor God in all you do,  keep out of trouble, work hard at your books and excel. You have been a good example to all and we are all proud of you. And the future is bright.”

The writer is Dean, Faculty of Business & Administration, Uganda Christian University, Mukono

The assault on Katikkiro Charles Peter Mayiga and the trials of Buganda’s Premeirs!

Peter Mayiga

A long time ago the good people of Buganda came up with a saying, “Basiima ogenze!” Loosely translated, it means, “a worthy servant is appreciated when long gone!” Observing the bashing of the sixth Katikkiro ( Buganda premier) to serve under Kabaka Mutebi, ever since rumors of the Kabaka’s failing health started circulating, the old saying certainly is most appropriated.

Although he has been a long and dutiful servant of the Buganda kingdom, a man who has vested almost all his working life in promoting kingdom affairs, to some out there Mayiga has suddenly become Buganda’s number 1 enemy. But should you be surprised! Apparently many of those who proceeded Katikkiro Mayiga in the most important office there is in Buganda after Kabaka, and labored so much to build a great Buganda, were treated as much, if not worse.

It is interesting to recall how the very man whom Katikkiro Mayiga succeeded, Eng JB Walusimbi, was treated so disdainfully before. To begin with some people may remember it was  Walusimbi who stood valiantly to ensure the Kabaka was granted safe passage to  the province of Bugerere, in 2009, when relations with the central government were at their lowest. This was a pivotal do or die issue as no other; indeed it sparked off ugly riots.

Prior to that Katikkiro Walusimbi had also while serving as Omwamika (Treasurer), promoted charity contributions in the form of purchasing a Kingdom certificate to help out with the kingdom’s revenues. The Buganda kingdom without executive power lacks tax powers and is often scarce of funds. This innovation therefore helped sustain the kingdom operations.

In spite of this and many other worthy contributions, it did not prevent the quick tongues to start circulating rumors that Walusimbi was a mole of the central government. In some of these circles it was alleged the central government was returning the favor by lavishing his engineering firm juicy State House contracts. Hurt, as he was about to vacate the office, the soft spoken Katikkiro Walusimbi gave a blistering speech to the Buganda Parliament- Lukiko, where without mincing words he pointed out the kingdom has many people full of “enkwe” ( duplicity)!

This sober truth was once shared to me by none other than the long serving  Katikkiro J Mayanja- Nkangi. “It is a delicate job serving in that office and managing all the intrigues,” he, on one occasion revealed to me, as I queried why some people even though their track record in serving the kingdom is undisputable, had fallen out of favor. A case in point is how the man Nkangi succeeded in office, Katikkiro Micheal Kintu, fell in 1964.

When a young legislator called Appolo Milton Obote was first presented to Ssekabaka Mutesa 11, by his old Budo schoolmates at Bamunanika palace, and urged him to bless UPC party with an alliance with KY, there was one man who resisted these entreaties. Katikkiro Kintu, suspected a ruse, and would not bring himself to trust the unknown Obote, trying as much to dissuade the Kabaka from committing. He was ignored. At the Lacanster conference where the 1962 constitution was debated he put on a spirited fight for Buganda’s independence.

It did not take long for all his premonitions to come true. Events started playing out soon after independence with UPC insisting on holding the Lost counties referendum, against the spirit of the alliance. Once Buganda had lost the two counties following the referendum, whom do you think was blamed! A mob quickly descended upon the Lukiko and demanded Katikiro Kintu’s immediate resignation.

Some years ago I happened to talk to one of Katikkiro Kintus grandchildren about his latter life after he was unceremoniously booted out of office. “Having been pushed out like that he quit Buganda politics altogether,” the grandson told me. “Whenever people approached Kintu for some comments about the situation in Uganda he would just shrug them off!”

Katikkiro Kintu had succeeded another premier who had been equally shown the door, without much credit. In 1953 Katikkiro Paulo Kavuma while serving as premier faced the unpleasant challenge when the British took the decision to deport Kabaka Mutesa who was opposed to their intentions for an East Africa Federation, which the kingdom felt threatened. Immediately there are those who started suspecting Katikkiro Kavuma was involved in the plot. They expected him to resign. But as he explained in his memoirs, Crisis in Buganda, he felt it was better to continue holding on to the reins of government. His standing in must have paid off; in 1955 the Kabaka returned safely to his throne.

Well, what happened? Quickly he was relieved of the premiership, with many still convinced he had been part of a scheme with the British to rob the king of his power.

Earlier on Kattikiro Kavuma had succeeded the son of Katikkiro Appolo Kagwa, Kawalya- Kagwa, who too had been pushed out like his father.  In 1926 Kattikiro Kagwa had been forced to resign when he failed to secure support in his battles with the British for supremacy in the region. The war of the “beer permits” where  Katikkiro Kagwa felt he had the final say on who to license permits, which the British deferred, ultimately led  him  to quit his 33 years hold on to the premiership.

Kagwa had done so much for Buganda and Uganda. Certain revisionists tend to be more preoccupied with Kagwa’s land acquisitions or even ancestry. Yet it is important to note that it was Kagwa who welcomed the introduction of major cash crops like coffee and cotton which formed the backbone of Uganda’s young economy, prevented White settlers invading Uganda and taking over land as they did in Kenya, inspired Buganda government to start schools like Kings College Budo which has given this nation three heads of state, welcome missionaries who build hospitals like Mengo hospital, inspired the construction of magnificent cathedrals like St Paul’s Cathedral Namirembe, presiding over a calm period of progress after the turbulent religious wars of the late 19th century.

His unceremonious departure hurt him deeply. A sad man, a year later, he collapsed and fell dead in a train while in Nairobi.

For his son Kawalya- Kagwa, who became Katikkiro in 1945, he started losing support when he fronted the idea of introducing electricity and piped water to the region, by blessing the British plans to construct Owen Falls Dam. As ridiculous as it might sound to some there was a huge public outcry in Buganda against Katikkiro Kagwa for welcoming this developmental initiative, precipitating his fall in 1950.

But if there was any Katikkiro who was so resisted for his initiatives it is Katikkiro Martin Luther Nsibirwa. A protégé of Katikkiro Kagwa who had mentored him into the Buganda government service, he was first forced out of office when he supported the Namasole ( Queen mother)  to remarry which earned him the ire of many traditionalists. Succeeded by  Katikkiro Samuel Wamala, the latter’s term came to an abrupt end after the 1945 riots, of which he was accused of sponsoring.  Katikkiro Wamala along with a dozen Baganda chiefs was arrested and exiled to the Seychelles, written off as a mad man, where he soon died.

It is important to note that as heroic as Wamala’s fight against British domination was, even to this day, he is rarely mentioned nor much honored although he lost his life in Buganda service.

After being recalled from retirement to succeed Wamala, Katikkiro Nsibirwa drew ire from the public when he signed off 200 acres of Makerere land for the British to expand the university. This was a decision of remarkable courage by a man clearly ahead of his times. When you fall out of favor among certain Baganda, they start questioning your ancestry. “Oyo ndaba si Muganda”- loosely translated: “Of course, he is not an indigenous Muganda!”  He was written off by many. The day after signing off the Makerere land, while about to enter Namirembe Cathedral for morning prayers, Nsibirwa was shot dead by a one Senkatuka!

Today, like many of his predecessors, Katikkiro Mayiga is under assault. He is accused on some forums of being a central government mole and of course, guess what, his ancestry is also questioned, just for the usual dig! Much like Walusimbi, baseless rumors are also circulated of self enrichment from kingdom projects, We are not sure where this tide will end, if it will sweep him with a forced resignation, like others.

I first met Charles Mayiga  in 1978 when together we joined St Henry’s College, Kitovu as carefree students, un aware of all the demands later to fall on our generation. As Katikkiro for some of us he has not disappointed. For the record it is under Katikiro Mayiga’s leadership and prior roles serving in Buganda government  that remarkable feats have been realized. As Personal Assistant to the Kabaka he was pivotal in the restoration of Kabakaship; since then, he has seen the finishing the construction of Masengere, launching of BBS Television, return of considerable Buganda government titles, assembling a full time cabinet, launching a university, establishing Ganda provinces in the diaspora, defending the Ganda culture, and more. He has done all this at the expense of furthering his professional career as an Advocate. But for now, all that does not matter. Basiima ogenze!

All which leads me to conclude here by asking, if and when Katikkiro Mayiga leaves, as some are bent on seeing his back, which Muganda will the Kabaka find, so unblemished. But then I am heartened because one thing I know of  Kabaka Mutebi, is that unlike the flippancy and total lack of appreciation found in so many, he is a listening and decisive king, who knows to give due where is due!

The writer works with Uganda Christian University.