A new book due to be launched today offers another critical assessment of President Museveni, 28 years since he took charge of Uganda.
But the book, co-authored by three friends who have all worked with the president, perhaps sums up the divided opinion on Mr Museveni; one friend is overly critical, another is full of praises, while a third chooses to say nothing about the president.
Former ministers Jaberi Bidandi Ssali, Kirunda Kivejinja and Kintu Musoke are set to launch their 334-page book on the achievements—and failings—of the ruling NRM and their long time friendship, among other things.
In The Sapoba Legacy, Bidandi Ssali, who was secretary general of Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM), President Museveni’s political party in 1980, says Museveni’s individualistic approach to power and politics has killed the spirit of the NRM revolution.
Bidandi, who has since quit NRM and formed People’s Progressive Party, says Museveni’s individualistic approach to national matters spells doom for the country.
“As long as political leadership in Uganda and in Africa is premised on the ‘I,’ premised on the conviction that it is some ‘I’ who owns ideas and that therefore I can mobilise and give orders – as long as we still have that conception of leadership, Uganda will continue to have problems. It will never settle, never stabilize, and democracy will continue to be a mirage,” he writes.
The Sapoba Legacy is also a story about ideals and idealism in Ugandan politics and family life centered on the personalities of the three politicians, who have been at the vanguard of Uganda’s post-independence politics. Published by Menha Publishers, the book narrates how the three men met to become lifelong friends and eventually one family, The Sapoba Family, and how this union shaped their political and business lives.
The book is named after a printing company based in Katwe that the trio owned. Whereas his co-authors conspicuously avoid being critical of NRM while discussing their political lives, Bidandi doesn’t hold back. In his blunt assessment, he calls for leadership as a service above self.
“What Museveni thinks is good is taken to be good for the country; and what he thinks is bad is assumed to be what is bad. There is no institutional development in Uganda, no debate, no seeking of a consensus. This attitude has taken over the role of Parliament, the role of the judiciary, the role of the party, the role of every institution of governance one can think of,” he writes.
Bidandi was dropped from government along with Miria Matembe, Eriya Kategaya and Sarah Kiyingi after the three openly opposed the planned amendment of the Constitution to remove presidential term limits in the run-up to the 2006 elections. He says this selfish move by Museveni nudged him to part ways politically with his old friends, Kirunda (KK) and Kintu Musoke (KM).
“This is one of the basic reasons why I parted ways politically with KK and KM. I took the view that it is wrong to alter the Constitution in order to accommodate the continuation of one particular person in office. Their [KK and KM] reasoning is that Museveni has made such a great contribution to the development of Uganda and still has a great contribution to make; that we cannot afford to let him step down. I disagree. It is time for leadership in Ugandan politics to move on. That is how a split arose amongst us,” he writes.
In part one, the book introduces “The Troika” or “The Trio” as they are commonly known in political circles.
Kivejinja, the eldest of the group, sums up his story as “From Aristocracy to Democracy.” He writes about being born in an aristocratic family but living to embrace a classless world. KK says he was born in 1935 to Muwabe Kivejinja, son of Kirunda – the son of Nkuutu. Nkuutu was the son of Kibbeedi, who himself was a son of Kakaire, who came from Bunyoro kingdom.
Magoola, the father of Kakaire, was himself the son of Nyamutukura Agutamba, the Omukama of Bunyoro. Kirunda, a prince from the royal family of Bugweri in Busoga chiefdom, says that his mother, Aisa Naigaga, had descendants hailing from Bunyoro.
Born and bred a Muslim, KK says his religion partly denied him an early opportunity to have an education because Muslims were discriminated against by the colonial government at the time. Though he did not convert from his religion, Kivejinja did acquire formal education, exploiting his privileged royal status.
Kivejinja was the second indigenous Muslim to graduate from university, after the late Abu Kakyama Mayanja, the former Justice minister and attorney general. KK met Bidandi at Kibuli Junior School in 1952. He then went to Busoga College Mwiri before joining Delhi University, India, in 1957, where he met Kintu Musoke.
KK summarizes his character as a fighter and a radical. He says he made his first foray into politics in 1961 as a UPC youth winger and later became the party’s secretary for research. Like his colleagues, he was to be chased from the party in 1965.
“The fight for peace is not like a profession. Joining politics was not a job that I applied for; it was my own resolution and I chose to dedicate myself to fight for the betterment of my people,” Kivejinja writes.
He describes himself as the pacifist of the three. Bidandi also says his character of tolerance and secular belief was influenced by his background of having parents who subscribed to different religions. Born in 1937, Bidandi is the son of Bumaali Kakonge Matembe, who hails from Butambala, and Eriosi Bulyaba Naalongo. He went to Lugala, Budde and Kibuli primary schools, before joining Kibuli Junior and later Nyakasura School.
Bidandi first met Kintu Musoke during a job interview in his vacation, but they became friends when he went to Pakistan to study for a bachelor of science in agriculture. In almost 30 pages of the book, Bidandi talks about his life and his hey days in football and politics, though he admits not remembering some facts due to loss of some reference documents.
Like KK, he entered politics through the UPC youth wing and was expelled in 1965. He served in the post-Amin UNLF government, before forming UPM and then NRM.
Bidandi decries the low calibre of politicians today.
“If you looked at the Parliament of today, you would find that it is driven by the need for employment. Over 95 per cent of the people who vie for a parliamentary seat do so to seek employment. That is why most of them cannot stand their ground in a controversy,” he writes.
Bidandi also recounts how he acquired the vast land that now hosts his Kiwatule Recreational Centre in Kampala, underlining that he has managed to consolidate his wealth without stealing from government, unlike many in high office today.
Born to Yafeesi Kintu and Eseza Nassiwa 75 years ago in Rakai district, Kintu Musoke is referred to as the philosopher of the group. But he also describes himself as a humanist, who believes in equality and the idea of Pan-Africanism. He went to Kabungo Anglican Church School and Buwere primary school before joining King’s College Budo. At Delhi University, where he met Kivejinja, KM studied political science, philosophy and journalism.
KK and KM were both leaders of the African Students Association (ASA) in India and Pakistan. A talented writer, Musoke says he was the first journalism graduate Uganda produced. He was instrumental in the development of journalism in the country, founding a newspaper and founding Uganda Journalists Association.
KM worked for several newspapers, including African Pilot and Weekly Topic. Like his two colleagues, Musoke says being a leader of African students in India and Pakistan helped him interact with prominent world political figures such as Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya), Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), Sekou Toure (Guinea) and Fidel Castro (Cuba), who shaped his political beliefs.
“We had a common outlook; we also saw Africa’s problems in the same way…in my view, it is that common world outlook that has kept us together up to now,” he writes.
Musoke, who retired after serving as prime minister, says he joined active politics in 1963 as a UPC youth winger.
He talks of the challenges he confronted, including at one time witnessing the killing of the late Dr Frank Kalimuzo during the Idi Amin era. Conspicuously, he does not discuss his post-1986 political life.
In parts two and three of the book, the authors reminisce how they set up the Sapoba enterprise and raised their children in the Sapoba family. The Sapoba story dates back to 1965 when the trio started a newspaper called The African Pilot and acquired the Sapoba bookshop and building in Katwe.
The enterprise, which survived until 1999, gave birth to other newspapers such as The Weekly Topic. The latter groomed journalists, many of whom have become the vanguard of Ugandan media. These include the late John Ogen Kevin Aliro, (founding managing director of The Observer) and his colleagues Charles Onyango Obbo and Richard Tebere who founded Daily Monitor.
“I do not think that it can be said that Sapoba failed,” Kivejinja writes. “No, as far as we are concerned, it was a success. In the first place, it preserved us. The first task of a revolutionary is self-preservation…Through Sapoba we brought our children up in a broader community…What should be clear is that we never intended to found a business enterprise. We sought to build up a publishing [firm] primarily because we aimed at publishing revolutionary ideas.”