interviewBy Sadab Kitatta Kaaya
After three years out of government, former Vice-President Gilbert Bukenya has told of his difficult relationship with Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, and how he fought the 'mafia' in government that was out to crush him.
Bukenya, the Busiro North MP, told The Observer at his parliamentary office that his troubles began from the first cabinet meeting he attended as vice president in 2003.
He said during the meeting, President Museveni praised him as a practical and fast-moving person. He remembers Mr Museveni's praises drew murmurs from his cabinet colleagues although he did not read much into this.
However, Museveni was soon invited to flag-off the upland rice scheme at Bukenya's Kakiri home, where he, again, praised Bukenya as the kind of person the country needed to move forward.
"I think this is when [Prime Minister Amama] Mbabazi got scared of me and started looking at me as if I'm trying to push him away from the line of favour," Bukenya said.
He said thereafter, he was severally summoned by the president to "answer charges" of plotting to topple him. Bukenya was appointed vice president in 2003, a position he held for eight years until 2011, when he was dropped and later briefly jailed at Luzira prison on charges related to the financial impropriety of the 2007 Commonwealth summit in Kampala.
He has since authored a book titled; In The Corridors Of Power, memoirs of his time as vice president, which he hopes to use as a launch pad for his 2016 presidential bid.
What to do you make of the falling out between President Museveni and his Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi?
You are talking of a falling out but for me I think you should ask me what I feel now that President Museveni's blue-eyed boy has turned against him. Many people, many of us, most of the parliamentarians here, even people out there, chairmen LC-V, have had a lot of problems with Mr Mbabazi and the president... they could tell him [Museveni], we could tell him, he could not listen.
He has listened a little too late to understand that his blue-eyed man is actually trying to [clandestinely] infiltrate him and subsequently take over government.
You recently authored a letter sharply criticising Mbabazi, and we have recently heard talk that after you wrote that letter criticizing Mbabazi, you are considering a return to the NRM fold.
[Laughter... ] No that is not true; my letter was purposely to bring out the truth about the whole affair. For me I am a politician who doesn't want to go around telling lies, I want someone to tell the truth, and the truth only.
So, this is the thing I was trying to point out. My letter has nothing to do with me [going back] to the mainstream NRM...
I was pointing out the truth, and the truth was that there must have been a clique trying to distance me from the president of the country.
Do you feel happy about this falling out?
I am relieved that the man who was [stabbing] us with swords, the swords are now turning against him, and I have no regret about that statement. Now visibly, the president is seeing what his man was doing, and I'm very happy.
Sooner or later, Museveni is discovering that we, who were regarded as ebyaana [bad kids] in the NRM against abaana [good children] who were the Mbabazis, should actually have been categorized as the abaana because we were doing our work efficiently and honestly.
Was Mbabazi your single most enemy in government or were there others, because I remember in your 2005 interview with the Daily Monitor you talked of a clique of mafias...
Well, for me I don't think I have an enemy, but a clique trying to fight me. Yes, he was [my worst enemy], because he is the one who told President Museveni in my presence that I went to Kanungu and stayed at a Catholic bishop's residence and that at night they [Church leaders] were mobilizing for me all Catholics to come and talk to me.
That was an absolute naked lie. Now the question I ask myself is, what was the purpose of telling the president such a naked painful lie? For me I think he was trying to finish me, off. Subsequently, his sister-in-law [Hope Mwesigye] in Kabale... she was also in that meeting [at State House].
She said that in Kabale, I was in Rushoroza [the headquarters of Kabale diocese] and they were bringing to me many DP catholic people to talk to. I have never stayed at Rushoroza at the bishop's house. I stayed at White Horse Inn hotel. What was her intention in telling such a terrible naked lie to the president of Uganda?
It was certainly to knock me off. That is why I repeat, and I will repeat and you Ugandans can abuse me: I say thank you to President Museveni because if it was Idi Amin, maybe that night, I wouldn't have remained with my head but this man [Museveni] was patient, until he has found the truth. I'm still breathing and I'm Bukenya.
When did your troubles with Mbabazi start?
The ones with evidence started [when I decided to contest for [the job of] NRM Secretary General. The ones without evidence were much earlier. I'm now wondering who was telling President Museveni that at night I would go to the cardinal [Emmanuel Wamala]. That was in 2003.
Who was telling the president that I was meeting Baganda generals in the army? I didn't meet any of those generals. Who was telling the president that I was visiting the Kabaka and was also gunning [for Buganda] support?
So, there are many other instances earlier on for which I regret I never asked the president to tell me who was telling him those lies, because for [the case of meeting Catholics in] Kanungu, I asked him [Museveni] and he said, "Come tomorrow you'll see these people."
Was that the reason you dropped your countrywide upland rice growing campaign?
No, I never dropped the upland rice growing scheme, and I'm still promoting it. In fact I have just distributed some seeds to one part of Uganda which I bought using my own money. Upland rice is a very important factor for Uganda because Uganda can grow and export its own rice...
Professor, I remember you were still moving on with your countrywide tours, and suddenly, you dropped the campaign. What were the underlying factors that forced you to suspend it?
One of the factors was the continuous reporting about me to the president that I [wasn't] campaigning for the rice but mobilizing [for support] to take over President Museveni's chair; and that was not my intention...
But you have already declared your intention to run against him in 2016. Doesn't this put you in trouble?
Which trouble? I am a free man; the NRM party does not bar any of its members from vying for any position starting from the Chairman, presidential flag bearer, etc. If it is in the constitution, let them show it to me. So therefore, it is very healthy for any member of the party to vie for any position in that party, and I'm doing just that openly; others are doing it under cover, but me I'm doing it openly.
But you are a member of the NRM parliamentary caucus which last month resolved that the president should be the party's sole candidate going into the 2016 elections. Aren't you acting against this resolution?
First of all, let me tell you: there isn't anywhere in our [NRM] constitution where it's written that members of Parliament in a caucus can, will ever, propose who is going to be the presidential flag bearer. That's not there.
It starts with CEC [Central Executive Committee] when it comes out of CEC, it goes to NEC [National Executive Committee] and NEC proposes to the annual [delegates'] conference. That is the procedure in the NRM constitution. So, I cannot be bound by even a little grain of that resolution.
What is your take on media reports that the president met Catholic church leaders and anointed you his successor?
[Silence... laughter... ] I will not comment on that.
Last year, you told us about a book you wrote which was due to be launched last December. What happened to it?
The new book is out, it was printed in Colombia and I have been invited to Bogota on May 1, to inaugurate this book.
Why are you choosing to launch it from Bogota?
It is because the printing was done from there and we are launching it through Amazon, a big global publishing company. So, we are launching it there because all the South American states on that day will be doing a book fair, and my book will be the main book at the exhibition.