The Monitor (Kampala)

14 December 2011

Uganda: Is the Downfall of Princess Kabakumba Inevitable?

Kampala — Minister for Presidency Kabakumba Labwoni Masiko is in the middle of a storm for allegedly illegally using UBC equipment to run her private radio station.

A scandal now looms over the Princess of Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom's political career as she stares at a possible censure by Parliament if she does not resign as asked by her NRM party caucus.

By last night, word went round that she had, as recommended by the NRM caucus, resigned her Cabinet portfolio. Surviving the damage this scandal will cause to her political career seems unlikely. But why and how has it come to this?

Senior NRM officials say the accusation against Ms Kabakumba, was more obvious than other instances in which ministers have in the past been accused of abuse of office and pilfering public resources.

Unlike other cases that required investigations, for instance ministers Sam Kutesa, John Nasasira and Mwesigwa Rukutana, all accused of corruption and abuse of office, the police had reportedly recovered the UBC equipment at her radio premises.

With the exhibit in police custody, sections of the NRM leadership feel it has become too much for Ugandans to continue seeing ministers implicated but later set free. They want evidence of seriousness from the party in the fight against graft. "If she doesn't resign today (yesterday), we shall continue with our petition. We have 161 signatures and very ready with the petition to the President," said Rwampara MP Vincent Kyamadidi. "We shall forward it to the Speaker tomorrow ( today) in case she hasn't left by then."

But the NRM top leadership has in the past been accused of fighting to protect their own whenever they are cornered. Why is the majority of the party MPs unusually interested in 'flogging' minister Kabakumba?

Sources say the presidency minister's woes are a result of her character. The princess, who after Makerere University, attended kyakamukyaka training at Nabisuna Training School and was later posted to Masindi as an NRM political mobiliser, is a battle-hardened cadre.

During Cabinet and party meetings as well as her public speeches in defence of the government, Ms Kabakumba reportedly presents herself as a tough talker. Sources say it is because of this that her party members have shown lack of sympathy towards her troubles.

They now want her to become the third minister (after Sam Kutesa and Jim Muhwezi) to be censured in the 25 years of NRM government. "Her public relations with colleagues has been poor. If you have been bullying people, few would sympathise with you," said a senior NRM official, who declined to be named for fear of being seen to fracture the party. This lack of sympathy appears to explain Ms Kabakumba's failure to redeem herself even after she immediately came out publicly to declare her innocence.

Judgement passed

She is now largely perceived to have stolen the UBC transmitter and the public emotion is tilted against her even when investigations are still ongoing. Her purported personal failings aside, some sources say the princess's woes stem from her political life. Ms Kabakumba reportedly stepped on some toes at UBC when she was Information Minister and reportedly cajoled her successor Mary Karooro Okurut to 'axe' some employees at the public broadcaster.

To dodge the axe, the UBC employees, who had earlier reportedly concealed the illegal use of the transmitter by the minister, tipped off the police after reportedly securing a go-ahead from President Museveni. Our sources also say in her Presidency docket, Ms Kabakumba appears to have rubbed some of her senior colleagues the wrong way.

Even in Masindi District where her radio station is based, Ms Kabakumba is said to be at loggerheads with sections of elders in Bujenje Constituency who reportedly accuse her of protecting only the interests of non-Banyoro in-laws -the Bakiga.

Ms Kabakumba is married to Col. Henry Masiko, an NRM supporter and now works at State House as head of the patriotism desk. Her marriage to Col. Masiko, viewed by some as one of the factors that pushed her up the NRM ladder, seems to have put her in bad light in Bujenje Constituency, where accusations of land grabbing by some UPDF officers, were also highlighted.

Some elders in Bunyoro reportedly blamed the minister for hindering the retirement from the army of Lt. Patrick Kasumba, a former bush war child-soldier, who had tried to contest against her.

Severally, the elders reportedly unsuccessfully tried to meet President Museveni and lodge their complaints. They also sent a petition to Parliament against the minister's alleged connivance with the army to frustrate Kasumba's political goal.

Opposition at home

The Chief Of Defence Forces, Gen. Aronda Nyakairima, was also drawn into the Bujenje politics, after he was accused of vowing never to retire Kasumba to shield Ms Kabakumba from defeat in the constituency.

The refusal to discharge Kasumba of his army duties, caused disagreements among army top leadership with some Generals unhappy that the young man was not allowed freedom to retire. The elders led by Mzee Philip Katabarwa reportedly vowed to resist actions by the princess.

Despite all the opposing forces against her, Ms Kabakumba in 1996, contested for the Masindi Woman parliamentary seat and won. She has since then risen to portfolios of Parliamentary Affairs, Chief Whip, Information and National Guidance and currently in-charge of Presidency. Her political growth is believed to be a result of both hard work and some shrewdness. But will Ms Kabakumba beg for protection, especially from the President? What will police do with the evidence they have so far gathered?

State House spokesperson Tamale Mirundi yesterday said: "I know she will call a press conference and tell the country her decision and the reasons for her resignation."

Resignation call

The civil society, who are keenly watching the saga, have urged the minster to resign. "Kabakumba missed an opportunity to be different from the current political crop of Uganda. She should have resigned before all this went this far," ACODE Executive Director Godber Tumushabe said yesterday.

The public have also joined the call for her to resign. But will the princess, who grew up in the calm of royalty and later chose an active daily life in the murky waters of politics, withdraw at the urging of people?

At the NRM Caucus meeting, a source said: "She actually broke down." Will disagreement with Bunyoro elders cause a crack in her political foundation? Will the princess then fall? "We will cross that bridge when we get there," she told KFM's HardTalk show on Saturday.

jnjoroge@ug.nationmedia.com

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