Wednesday, September 14, 2011


When history is written it will be said that former vice-president Professor Gilbert Bukenya broke all the forty-eight laws of power and then some.

"An intelligent man, a personable mobiliser, an effective communicator all this counted for nothing when he came up against the rough and tumble of politics, where nothing is as it seems, principles are dynamic and the impermanence of alliances can live your head spinning...

His academic history suggests he was no ordinary mind, coming through St Mary’s Kisubi, doing Medicine at Makerere University before doing his post graduate studies in Public Health.

His vaunted academic career – he eventually served as the Dean at Makerere’s Medical School and international exposure, allowed him to operate with ease among the high and mighty, while his humble upbringing – his tuition was largely met by the earnings from his mother’s waragi business, gave him an earthiness that allowed him to connect with the lowliest of society.

In hindsight therefore it should not have come as a surprise when he found his way into politics, rising to the second highest office in the land. The May reshuffle brought to a close his eight year tenure as Vice President.

His lost bid to become the NRM secretary general earlier this year and his current battle in court where he is charged with fraud in relation to CHOGM procurements, are seen by many as the final act in a political career where the barrel chested professor dropped the ball at a most crucial turn.

At the beginning of his tenure he embarked on an ambitious program of rural transformation. The plan seems to have been to introduce a highly in-demand crop that was easy to grow and which the rural farmers could find ready market for. Enter upland rice.

The crop, which unlike paddy rice needed less water, could grow anywhere in Uganda and after piloting it in his Kakiri home area was soon out in the country spreading the gospel. The natural progression of the plan was that once farmers had a steady income from the rice and other suggested agricultural ventures, they would own bank account which would allow them into the formal financial sector and one step away from better housing and mechanized agriculture.

At the height of the program’s success the professor gave an interview in which he alleged that a powerful clique of cabinet colleagues wanted him out of cabinet. Apparently the attention the good doctor was garnering countrywide for his upland rice was making more ambitious men jittery.

He might have survived that round but the less than transparent procurement processes – which he was in charge of as head of the cabinet sub-committee to ready Uganda for CHOGM, always meant he was going to be an open target for his political enemies – imagined or otherwise.

It is no secret that his stellar mobilisation skills aside, the decision to appoint him Vice President was informed by his being Muganda Catholic and it was always going to be that he would be the man to watch in case he decided to leverage these two historically powerful constituencies.

"If he had taken the bullseye on his back for granted, it was made very clear to him by the time he cried “mafia”...

He narrowed his options by defying the NRM earlier in the year to stand for the position Secretary General left a bad taste in the party’s leadership. And for better or worse the NRM for the forseeable future will always be a credible force to reckon that you would rather have for you than against you.

Whereas there maybe some sympathy for the man his court case is not likely to have him coming out smelling of roses.

And if you have not torn all your hair out by now his announcement this week that he is going to retire entirely from politics one thinks was ill advised and not well thought out. His remaining an MP was probably his last card. While out of the inner circle – either in government or the party, he could still keep in touch with the heartbeat of the party and wait for another day.

"It maybe too early to write sixty two year old Bukenya’s political obituary but the signs are not good for him looking to the future...

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