I was sacked on radio, told by my maid.
PROF. EDWARD RUGUMAYO, 74, former minister under Idi Amin and Yoweri Museveni, went into quiet retirement in Fort Portal after he declined a posting as Uganda’s ambassador to France in 2005.In an interview with SSEMUJJU IBRAHIM NGANDA at his residence in Fort Portal on March 26, he urges Ugandans to work for orderly succession, saying the removal of presidential term limits was not good for the country.
Rugumayo also says that President Museveni was being disrespectful when he sacked him over radio and he first learnt about it through his house help.
At Njara Road in the up market part of Fort Portal town is a five-year old bungalow. The road to this well-designed house is halfway paved. Metallic inscriptions near the main entrance indicate that the house was commissioned on December 27, 2003 by the Bishop of Rwenzori Diocese, Rt. Rev. Benezeri Kisembo.
The names of the couple that owns and resides in here, Prof. Edward Rugumayo, 74, and his wife Foibe, are also inscribed.
The house must have cost them a fortune because the bricks used to build it were made by Uganda Clays Ltd in Kajjansi, over 320 kilometres away.
When I entered their home at about 10a.m. last week, Rugumayo’s “darling”, as he refers to his wife [and vice versa], was not home.
He is standing in the compound in his trademark Kaunda suit speaking to a friend. As we begin a tour of his multi-million residence, Rugumayo asks whether I have taken a photograph of the main door—a unique import from South Africa.
He immediately guides me in and around his house.
To the left of the sitting room are three self-contained rooms for guests. From the records in the visitors’ book, the Prime minister, Prof. Apolo Nsibambi, is one of the guests who have slept in the rooms.
Rugumayo opens the door to the master bedroom for me to peep. Then we walk through the corridors where family pictures are hanging, before we sit down at the veranda overlooking the Fort Portal Golf Course for an interview about his illustrious political life that has seen him, twice, turn down presidential job offers.
So, what is Rugumayo’s life like?
We wake up at leisure because we have no children to take to school and have late breakfast—at about 9.00a.m. Sometimes I wake up early, about 6:30a.m., when I have ideas to write—for my memoirs. If I have an idea, I go to my computer. We don’t have breakfast before 9a.m. unless we are going to church on Sunday for the early service. We sometimes go for the 10:00a.m. service, but [the] 11:00a.m. one is our service.
We have a late lunch at about 3:00p.m. and in the evening we have just a cup of tea. We don’t have heavy dinners. We have many activities here; weddings, receptions, meetings, seminars, we are busy.
I am extremely busy doing what I like doing. I am one of the founders of the Mountain of the Moon University. Actually I am the one who mooted the idea to [retired] Justice Seth Manyindo, the chairperson of the Judicial Service Commission.
In March 2005, we got our licence to start. We had our first graduates last year in September—101 students. I am also Chancellor of the university.
It is a community university, not for profit. There are no shareholders. We share-hold by guarantee. We are just holding it in trust for the community.
The government has been very generous to us, by the way. They have given us Shs500 million on two occasions.
At the same time, I am the Chancellor of Kampala University where Prof. Badru Kateregga is Vice Chancellor. Badru was my former student at Kibuli S.S.
I started a Botanical garden. It is the only one [in the country] after the Entebbe one. We are going to be involved in dissemination of ideas of good agriculture, medicinal plants, dye plants, perfumes.
It is known as Tooro Botanical Gardens.
I also have a small farm of 50 acres where I grow maize and keep bees. We have electricity and may be we want to take on 100 beehives and also to help out-growers, so we do serious business.
I am beginning dairy farming, just beginning. That is what keeps me busy. I am also writing my memoirs; you found me writing.
33 years outside Uganda
I spent 33 years outside the country; seven years in the UK studying and working, one year in Ghana doing research with UNESCO, six years in exile in Zambia (73-79) where I was head of education and later the Dean School of Education at Zambia University before I returned home in 1979.
I went to exile again in Kenya 1980-1995. While in Kenya, I was consultant with UNEP, UNESCO, UNDP, World Bank and many other NGOs.
I also helped start the School of Environment Studies at Moi University under the auspices of UNDP. I helped start an environment NGO called Earth Care Africa which is still there in Nairobi.
Then in 1995 I was appointed Chief Technical Advisor on the Environment by the UNDP in Lesotho. While there I was appointed by the President as Uganda’s first High Commissioner to South Africa. South Africa was very exciting because it reunited me with so many people I had known in exile while in Zambia; people like Thabo Mbeki.
Then in 1999, I was recalled and appointed to the Cabinet as Minister of Internal Affairs for one year. In September 2000 - February 2005, I was minister of Tourism, Trade and Industry.
Rejecting Museveni’s job offer
I had agreed with the President that I would retire in 2006. Then he carried out a reshuffle in 2005 and sent me to France. Of course I declined because I didn’t want to go out again and I had prepared myself to retire. He accepted my resignation and I came here.
I told the President that I cannot go back outside the country because I had lived there for so long. I had also started a number of activities, you remember, and I wanted to rest. Even my wife said no, we cannot go outside again, never.
Q: We heard that you told Museveni that you couldn’t be exiled again?
A: Literally that, but in a more refined language (laughter). You guys interpreted it that way, [but] I used a more refined language.
Q: Did you discuss it with him?
A: Yes, I met him and we had a chat for about 45 minutes. And I told him why I couldn’t go. I even gave him a resignation letter; you have to do things properly. We met just the two of us. And really what also annoyed me was that it is my maid who heard it on radio. Why wasn’t I informed? I wasn’t amused by that.
Q: I am told you, Batooro, are stubborn. It is not only you who has declined Museveni’s jobs!
A: Butime? Yeah! I don’t know [about] a streak of stubbornness. But let me ask you, if I told you like I did, that come here at 10:00a.m. and you didn’t find me, [how would you feel]? You must have some level of dignity. Here I am—we agree that we are going to meet at 10:00a.m. and you don’t find me!
But leaders, including the President, have a habit of keeping people waiting, people sit for long hours.
It is a sign of lack of respect for other people and lack of respect for oneself. If you cannot respect others, it means you cannot respect yourself.
Serving President Amin
I was at Makerere University when the coup took place in 1971. I was Warden of Mitchell Hall. That was my old hall.
Wanume Kibedi and I are great friends. We were together in London. He was doing law and I was doing my sciences.
He is a solicitor. He happened to have been made a foreign affairs minister by Amin.
Prior to the coup, there was a lot of grumbling in Buganda because of the imposition of the state of emergency.
Secondly, there was the creation of the one-party state by the UPC’s last convention in December 1969. This was when Obote was shot at at Lugogo. When Obote was shot at, Amin ran for dear life. He thought he was going to be killed. He walked all the way to Bombo, got machine guns.
And the person who can tell you that story very well is my friend [Aggrey] Awori, but he has now gone back into government, he cannot talk much. He really surprised me but we know each other very well.
Obote really didn’t expect a coup; you know it happened when he was in Singapore. But when he left the country, many of us did expect it. Journalists asked him: Mr. President, what would happen if a coup happened?
He said: I would come back and face the music.
It was likely that the coup would take place but Obote didn’t seem to know or if he knew, he thought it wouldn’t happen or he underestimated Amin.
It took place, me I was at Makerere.
Paulo Muwanga was an amazing man, a real survivor. He was the brain mover. You know he was a strong UPC, but when Amin took power, he was very close to him.
Muwanga is the one who started putting together Amin’s government. But Amin had a brother-in-law named Wanume Kibedi.
Amin married Kibedi’s sister—his senior wife. Kibedi is brilliant; there is no doubt about that.
So he brought him in as minister of Foreign Affairs.
We were close and we used to meet. That cabinet had technocrats, permanent secretaries and academics.
You had Abu Mayanja as Minister of education, Prof. Banage as Minister of Animal Industry. Wanume said Ministry of Education was having problems. You know Abu Mayanja had just been released from prison by Amin. And the first act he did was to clamp down on NUSU; remember NUSU was an arm of UPC, but Kibedi had sympathies for NUSU.
He said, could you come in? In the end I was persuaded to come in. But I heard it on radio. That tomorrow you better report to the Office of the President. A car will be waiting for you, and it was there.
Resigning from Amin’s cabinet
I stayed there from June 1971 to February 1973 and I was the first minister to resign, you know that. I was Minister of Education.
When I resigned, Amin sent the rest of my colleagues on forced leave, and made PSs to man the government.
You will see that in my memoirs. You will read and really understand the intricacies of that period. This country will find them very interesting because I have the advantage of keeping dairies. I am properly trained, I am a scientist, and we keep records.
I sent the resignation letter by telex from Nairobi. I went to the post office, they punched it in and pushed it to State House Entebbe, and the President said “oh dear, yes, I know Rugumayo has had problems!”
I had just lost my first wife to breast cancer.
Amin said, you know he has been in trouble; he lost his wife, blah blah! They read my letter, full letter on radio. And the most important thing I said [in the letter] was that you cannot create life, so don’t destroy it. That was the message really. Our job is to protect life as a government because there was a lot of killing. In my memoirs I have all stories of things I know about the death of some people.
The Gang of Four
That is a huge section of our lives. That is the period of Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF). That is very complicated; you cannot put that in an interview.
We came from Tanzania after the overthrow of Amin in 1979. Then Yusuf Lule was sworn in as President.
But while in Moshi, it was agreed that all appointments to cabinet must be ratified by the National Consultative Council which was the interim Parliament. That was the agreement.
When we reached Kampala, the old man, Lule, said I will go by the 1969 Constitution. We said no, you have to bring your appointees to the Council. He refused. Can you imagine—he stubbornly refused?
Following that refusal, Paul Wangola moved a vote of no confidence. We debated that motion from 3:00p.m. to 3:00a.m. the following morning. We threw him out. Godfrey Binaisa was appointed. He had to present his cabinet the same morning, because we didn’t want a vacuum, which we ratified.
As time moved on, we mobilised people, everything. We were the most active people.
I was chairman of the Consultative Council (interim Parliament), the late Omwony Ojwok was Secretary to the National Consultative Council, Wadada Nabudere was UNLF Secretary for Political and Diplomatic Missions, and Yash Tandon was the UNLF Secretary for Information. We were the prime movers of things.
At that material time, there was a crisis in China after the death of Mao. You had four very complex and tough Communists led by Mao’s wife. And before they were overthrown, they were dubbed the Gang of Four. (The members consisted of Jiang Qing, Mao’s last wife and the leading figure of the group, and her close associates Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyan and Wang Hongwen).
Binaisa being who he is – a very interesting man - when he saw us;Yash Tandon, Rugumayo, Nabudere and Omwony Ojwok, the movers of things, he dubbed us the Gang of Four. That really was the origin. Although we didn’t disturb him, he thought we were very powerful, (laughter).
When I resigned from the government of Amin, I didn’t know where I was going. It was destination unknown.
The second one (1980), I was with Omwony Ojwok in Arusha when the coup against Binaisa took place. We never came back. Me I didn’t come back until 1992.
The coup was staged by Paulo Muwanga, Museveni and Tito Okello. We had gone to tell Mwalimu Julius Nyerere that a coup was brewing. While there, the coup took place.
We refused to come back. We would have been shot any way. We happened to have been outside, all of us, by sheer luck. I and Omwony were in Tanzania, Nabudere had gone to attend the funeral of Tito of Yugoslavia, representing the government with Otema Alimadi, and Yash had taken his daughter to London.
Q: So Museveni didn’t like you?
A: There was a lot at stake (May 1980)
Imagine my family was still in Nile Mansion, we had not unpacked a lot of our things and then a coup takes place. I never came back. I went to Nairobi. My wife and the little girl Mbabazi joined us later. They had joined school. We had to re-establish ourselves from zero. We were rescued by Nimeri, former President of Sudan, of all people (laughter). We even went on his plane from Tanzania to Nairobi.
Q: You who didn’t fight [against Amin], how come you became Speaker?
A: What happened is that actually Ugandans didn’t fight. They were just behind Tanzania Peoples Defence Forces. It is Tanzanians who fought the war and Ugandans joined.
There were about four groups; Kikoosi Maalum, Fronasa and Fedemu. All those groups were put together to form Uganda Liberation Army (ULA). While there, Mwalimu Nyerere said you must have a civilian leader, a civilian cabinet and a civilian legislature. That is how we come to be. We were a civilian government with our army known as the Uganda Liberation Army trained by the TPDF.
Now the guys who had the fighting groups; Tito Okello, Oyite Ojok - Kikoosi Maalum; Museveni’s Fronasa, Sum for Akena P’ojok, and Fedemu for Dr. Kayira; they met and said, ‘How can these briefcase politicians, meaning us, manage government when we are the ones who fought?’
So they carried out a coup to install themselves as rulers. And our President, you know, he emphasises the army which is important, but then that is where the problem comes from. You militarise everything.
Q: You as Rugumayo, how did you qualify to attend Moshi Conference that formed the government after Amin?
A: That one you will have to read [in my memoir]; it is very involving. We were busy throughout that period of exile. We were connecting with people in Nairobi, people in London, all over the place, hoping that one day we would return and we did.
The country should have programmes; what is called safety net in the World Bank language, for citizens. So that when you retire, you have a pension, you have a gratuity, you have something to expect by way of gratuity or pension. What is happening with civil servants, their pension is many years in arrears and you wonder why.
Secondly, every government worth its soul must do the following; one, provide public education, two provide public health, three provide good transport system - infrastructure.
And then a country must have strong civil society organisations by way of co-operatives; those empower ordinary people.
Free primary and secondary education gives people power and trade unions empower people to negotiate with their employers. And that brings peace to the country; in the absence of these institutions, the country is very weak.
You know the task that faces us as a generation is challenges of intergeneration succession. I am a professional teacher and my mission is to train, teach, educate, mentor - whatever term you use - people who come under my charge and to make sure they perform better than me. That is very important.
When I was in Zambia, within four years I had handed over to Zambians. It is important to train people who will succeed you. If you don’t do that, you have failed and it must be systematic, not ad hoc so that there are no big surprises and shocks.
Academia is usually good because you see succession properly organised. And the church too, the other day when we were having our bishop consecrated, the retiring bishop abdicates formally and the lawyers are there, we call them chancellors, to see whether this guy abdicates formally and hands over to his successor. We call it abdication like kings, they are lords.
You saw the Americans, from November to February the guy is still in charge, ready to hand over to the other one. And this one leaves immediately in his helicopter to Texas. Issues of succession are very important and I think our leaders should look at it very critically and train systematically. There must be a programme of orderly succession in every institution whether church, school or company.
Q: Did you ever discuss orderly succession while serving in Museveni’s government?
A: Discuss it under what? You see it is a constitutional issue; it only comes in if you you follow the Constitution. But otherwise we never discussed it. And once they opened and removed the term limits, that was it. And that really was a thing that disturbed people.
Q: Are there signs things could get better or worse?
A: I never indulge in prophesies. One important thing is that we are still an agrarian society and that has its challenges. There is not much science. The impact of globalisation and privatisation has made it urgent for people to become rich quickly without having to work first. You can’t get rich quick, unless you steal. Those are challenges we face, challenges of integrity. Really, that is something that could make or break a nation.
All my life in public service, I never mixed personal life with public life. My secretaries didn’t handle my private affairs, except really semi-private ones. My bodyguards used to go and get me money from the bank because I didn’t want to stay there long, but not once did I interfere with funds of the PS. The PS is the accounting officer, I never saw even a cheque book. What was mine was mine. And that is why there is nothing to follow me up on. I hear some of my colleagues are involved in signing cheques. You must separate the personal from the public. At the moment you fail to do that, temptation to dip your finger in the public kitty is very, very strong, and you need to do it only once and it becomes a habit.
And the budget line is there, so how can I as a minister, without the approval of cabinet, change the budget line? Totally wrong, you know. When you come to an office, you find established rules and regulations. And once you start undermining those, then you have a crisis. As I am seeing now, institutions are being undermined. My young people keep asking me, ‘Prof. how did you manage to get out (clean)?’ I tell them I was properly brought up. Secondly, I know the rule of the game. Thirdly, public service is real service. Of course you get paid for what you do but you don’t go there to make money. You can only make money when you are in private business. You earn a decent living, you have a car and all this paraphernalia. You live decently. But if you live beyond, that is really one of the biggest concerns.
Still in politics?
No. I am still an NRM man but I am not active. NRM can call on me but I definitely interact with all the political parties. I am an elder—an elder is neutral. I am an elder of Tooro, I can move to any political party, they come here and we discuss issues, whether it is NRM, FDC or DP. They all know I will give them unbiased advice. I am above politics. You know we say doctrine divides and service unites.
I studied Biology and Ecology. And then later on did Environment and Education. But I have been educating myself.
In politics I was always brought in. I have never been involved in elective politics. The environment has been my strongest point from the 1980s up to 1995.
I went to Mukole in Mwenge for P.1 to P.4, Galihuma from P.5 to P6, then Kabarole Junior Secondary School for S.1 to S.3, then Nyakasura School from S.4 to S.6.
I went to Makerere University. You know I was stubborn; I wanted to do medicine but they put me in agriculture and I left. I came back here and started working with the Tooro Kingdom government and got married.
I later got a scholarship to go to America but the British (colonial administrators) refused to issue me a passport. Instead, they gave me a scholarship to go to Britain. I worked in the Rukurato and went to study in 1958. I went to Chester College for two years and did a Diploma in Education (sciences). I later went to London University for Botany and Ecology.
I came back in 1966. I taught at Kyambogo before joining Makerere as a hall warden. While in London, we started a newspaper called Ntu for Ugandans and African students. I was the editor. At that time Nabudere was the President of Ugandan students in London. There was Chango Macho who introduced many of us to student politics. It is at Zambia University where I was made a visiting professor of environment and at Moi University in Nairobi.