The Observer (Kampala)

Uganda: Toasting, Roasting the Men and Women of 2013

Raise your glasses and knives, as we toast and roast the men and women who made headlines in 2013, and those who might have not but influenced things one way or another.

It's our annual critique party.

We start off with toasting to James Mulwana, that larger-than-life character, who beat all odds - including Idi Amin's turbulent leadership in the seventies - to grow his companies to a level where they are the beacon of hope for local enterprises.

Mulwana, who died in mid January at the age of 76, started from the gutters; from a newspaper distributor, nightclub bouncer, and pretty much anything that put food on the table, to the top entrepreneur he was, chairing numerous boards like Standard Chartered bank's and Nile Breweries'.

To be fair, Mulwana got some government help, like many other businessmen anyway.

But for making good of that help, and building his companies to the admirable level that they are today, we can only toast to the man.

For much of his time as the Secretary to the Treasury, Chris Kassami preferred to work in the shadows. He served at least four Finance ministers, becoming the man who pulled the strings at the ministry.

Yet, rarely did he give public statements. And when he was called to Parliament to answer specific queries, he usually kept a quiet, but firm, persona. But there was something animated about Kassami when he offered his last public speech at a ministry of Finance workshop at the Serena hotel.

He criticised Parliament, saying it was not effective in its monitoring of the budget monetary. He called for a quick and swift debate on the Public Finance Management Bill to help ease the Finance ministry's work. Later that evening, to the surprise of many, Kassami retired after more than 30 years of public service.

It was an abrupt departure, almost brutal. For denying us a farewell cocktail, the knives are out for the ministry of Finance.

Richard Byarugaba has had quite a difficult time at the helm of the National Social Security Fund. He has spent a substantial amount of his time fighting off allegations of mismanagement, with all sorts of dossiers leaked to the press purporting to have smoking-gun evidence.

It is not clear how much time Byarugaba has at NSSF, with all sorts of investigations going on. But for keeping a firm hand on things at the poisoned chalice that is the NSSF, we simply have to toast to Byarugaba.

Here is a confession: I like Energy Minister Irene Muloni. She can be quite a lovable woman when you talk to her. She lacks the kind of arrogance that you see in many other government officials.

But perhaps that affable character is Muloni's weakness. At a time when the future of the 600MW Karuma power project hung in the balance, largely as a result of fights between brokers, lawyers, the two Chinese firms at the centre of the bid, and all sorts of vultures, Muloni failed to rein in all this greed.

It had to take the intervention of President Yoweri Museveni to settle the matter. Knives out for you, Ms Muloni. Japheth Katto was in many ways the face of Uganda's capital markets industry. Simply known as Chief, Katto, who was the chief executive officer of the Capital Markets Authority, helped to build the market from the ground up.

He retired at the end of the year. A round of applause for Chief. Jennifer Musisi, the executive director of the Kampala Capital City Authority, started her tenure quite well. Creating some semblance of order in the city's business community, Musisi quickly became a darling of the public.

And then the politics started, with KCCA shutting down. Suspicion appears to be crawling back into the city management, and for that, a couple of knives for you Jennifer for a tumultuous end to what had started as a great year.

And now we save the best for the last. The final toast goes to someone very special - Dr Sarah Namulondo, the former Associate Editor of The Observer, who passed away in March. Sarah was one of my biggest critics and at same time fervent cheerleaders.

Her criticism of my work, down to my dress code, just as her praise, came with the kind of brutal honesty that we rarely find today.

Sarah was very good at spotting and nurturing talent. That said, this column owes a great deal to Dr Namulondo. For the wonderful character that Sarah was, I saved the last, and the best, toast for her memory.

The author is the business editor at The Observer.

Twitter: @jeff_mbanga

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