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Martin Aliker spills cabinet secrets

His is not the typical rags-to-riches story but one of how a privileged birth opened doors leading to a successful life. From treating former tyrant Idi Amin’s mother to attending to President Milton Obote when he was shot in the mouth, Dr Martin Aliker has seen it all.

He has met almost every important person of his generation as he recounts in his recently released autobiography, The Bell is Ringing, writes Alon Mwesigwa.

Martin Aliker

His story starts in 1928 in the village of Awaranga, south-west of Gulu. He was born here to Lacito Oketch, a Rwot (chief), he describes as “the most important person in the locality [who] was responsible for the collection of taxes.”

Being the son of a chief, he was admitted into King’s College Budo –a school started mainly to educate sons and daughters of royals.

Aliker, 90, writes that although Obote was bright, “he did not have the family name that would qualify him to go to Budo.” Obote went to Busoga College, Mwiri.

Aliker went on to study at Makerere University and then North Western University in the USA, where he graduated as a dentist in the mid-1950s. He returned to Uganda to set up the first private practice in the country.

He married Camille, an American, with whom they have four children: Julie, a teacher; Martin, an athlete; Philip, an economist and lawyer; and Paul Okello, a dentist.

This book reveals a man who has fulfilled his purpose in life, and also how Ugandan society works. In the book, Aliker says you learn how President Museveni works informally, allowing his friends go scot-free after committing heinous crimes.

“In all the travels I made on behalf of the president, I carried a letter only once. It was addressed to the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir.” “When I met President Museveni, after [my] appointment as a minister [of state for foreign affairs], he told me that I would report directly to him and not through the substantive minister.”


The Bell is Ringing reveals how ministers and senior officials grovel before Museveni. Aliker was minister of state for foreign affairs in 1996, and later minister of parliamentary affairs and presidential advisor.

“[But] I did not enjoy cabinet,” Aliker writes. “When the president chaired the meeting, ministers behaved like primary school children wanting the class teacher to notice them.”

“I always sat next to John Nasasira, minister for works, who sat next to a very superstitious senior minister. This man always carried a good luck charm in his pocket. While the president was chairing the meeting, this man would have his hand in his pocket praying to his ancestors to let him keep his job as a minister although he was already old,” he writes.

Aliker talks of how Museveni once referred to a female state minister who had raised her hand to speak as the “lady with a beautiful smile”.

Aliker says “this angered the full minister, who was also a lady, who told her never to smile to the president again!” 

Aliker delves into Uganda’s chaotic political past, recalling how Museveni and himself visited President Binaisa in 1980 at State House Entebbe.

“Museveni was looking at the bullet holes in the ceiling. He was not interested at all and made no effort to hide his contempt for the president…”


Aliker reveals the drama that surrounded the privatisation of Apollo hotel (Sheraton Kampala hotel) which was his biggest disappointment. He writes about how a local group had made an offer in 1998 which was accepted. Then Ethiopian firm, Midroc offered more and threatened to sue government.

The officials who handled the sale demanded $5 million from Midroc as ‘key money’ but it paid $3m. The local group had also paid $2m in bribe.

Midroc officials came to Kampala and told the president what had happened.

“When they [investors] met government people to negotiate, one government official took out his pistol and laid it on the table and said ‘now let’s talk’,” Aliker writes.

When the president was told about the incident, he got upset, but he kept his composure, Aliker writes. These errant individuals were not dismissed.

Aliker was also a go-between government and LRA rebels. One day he received a letter purportedly written by rebel leader Joseph Kony asking for medicines for gonorrhoea, cholera, and diarrhoea. He forwarded the letter to Museveni who ordered then army commander, Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu, to put together the drugs for LRA. Aliker drove them there.

“When they took delivery of the medicines, they prayed for long life for President Museveni…,” he writes.


Aliker was very close to Sir Edward Mutesa, Kabaka of Buganda and the first post-independence ceremonial leader of Uganda. He writes that he was Mutesa’s dentist immediately after independence and how they were family friends.

“I liked him personally but thought that he was, despite his charm, a fundamentally weak man who was in the grip of elderly, conservative and narrow-minded advisers at Mengo,” Aliker writes.


Aliker has served on boards of many companies, including Coca-Cola, Uganda Breweries, Stanbic bank, and Standard Chartered bank, among others.

“What was my value to companies like Allied Breweries and Coca-Cola or Heritage? It was undoubtedly my ability to get access to governments at the highest level.”

Take the case of Coca-Cola, which wanted a reduction in excise duties on its imported inputs. Their CEO in Uganda – a white South African – would have had no chance of seeing Museveni.

“But when Carl Ware flew in, I could arrange a meeting with him,” Aliker writes.

The book says little about his interaction with his home community in Acholi. He admits he has not lived there ever since he left for school in the USA in the 1950s.



+1 #21 Betty Nalubega 2018-04-12 13:27
Naturally , Ssekabaka Mutesa made several errors of judgement . He also disagreed with those who disagreed with him . That does not make a leader weak or incompetent. Weak people do not hold a stand ! "Engabo enzira----"

We judge Mutesa not only by the errors he made , but by all that he did to protect Buganda and Uganda from being a fully fredged colony like Rhodesia.

He also left a strong foundation that has made it possible for the Kingdom of Buganda to stay alive where all Empires and powerful Kingdoms in Africa have vanished.

On armies , no amry commander since Uganda army was formulated can stand here and account for their success and how their tribal dominance helped to change Uganda for the better. All we see are skeletons of what used to be...
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0 #22 Bisoboza 2018-04-12 13:52
Muteesa II had his own weaknesses (so do I and you). But leaders who came after him registered more weaknesses, some of which virtually ruined this country.

It is however important to note that Muteesa never abandoned his people for pieces of silver.

He was foresighted in that he believed that Ugandans could unite and yet retain their diversity as well. It his belief in unity with diversity that led to the UPC/KY allegiance.

He never believed in concentration of power at the center and history seems to proving him right given the prevailing levels of mismanagement in governance.

His deep feelings for the marginalized population in Karamoja compelled him to part away with significant personal savings as contribution to developmental projects in this remote area.
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0 #23 Betty Nalubega 2018-04-12 15:55
Thank you a lot wamma Ms Bisoboza !!!!!

Ssekabaka Mutesa was not perfect, but he was certainly not weak. He did his very best under very difficult circumstancies.

He loved and trusted even strangers, unaware of their motives.
It is unfortunate for Dr.Aliker to refer to Ssekabaka´s advisers as " narrow-minded "

For God`s sake , it was those men who sat down and put together an an education policy that benefitted Dr. Aliker and his brother regardless of their tribe.

It can be said that Ssekabaka Mutesa was one of the very very leaders of his time who totally refused to betray his people in exchange for some kind of endorsement from the colonialists.

Dr. Aliker himself has worked with a number of rulers that come after Mutesa . Shall we say that Dr.Aliker is a fundamentally weak guy because he failed to detect that some of the rulers he served had hidden agendas unknown to him ?

And I am not talking about teeth .
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0 #24 Stewart 2018-04-12 16:02
[quote name="Mubiru"]Stewart:Dr.Aliker may have contributed nothing to South West Gulu as you put it but this man never contributed to tribalism.
Sorry for you Mr. Mubiru, unfortunately i don't come from Aliker's area and have no relations with his home area but as statement of fact, apart from academic and career excellence, he is also another Kabaka Muteesa highly qualified but very weak without any influence, impact or value addition, you can bleat as you like but that is a fact, you are entittled to your opinon but not to facts.

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0 #25 Stewart 2018-04-12 16:13
Nalubega Betty, i don't always like to dwell so much into this Buganda this and that, lets examine the in and outs of Buganda during Kabaka Muteesa in this book, an independent observer and may be we discuss it later, "Politics in Uganda:

The Buganda Question" By Terence K Hopkins, Department of Socilogy , Comunbia University.

Read it objectively, of interest are pages 251 to 290.Thanks
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0 #26 Miki 2018-04-12 17:34
Betty, my conclusion is not meant as a personal attack to you or anybody for that matter. I do not do that.

But it is a painful fact that the deference that many Baganda have for the instution of the Kabakaship most often make them fail to see, and admit the folly and incompetence of Baganda leaders in the run-up to independence. Mutesa was not only a titular head of the Buganda instution.

He was also its political leader. And has a politician, he was both lousy and incompetent. This is a painful fact. For disclosure I am a Muganda myself. I am as proud of my heritage, and love the Kabaka as much as you probably do, especially Kabaka Mutebi (who I believe has done a better job of trying to unite his people, given the circumstances under which we all exist).

I also love Uganda and always wish that it can be place a where all people and tribes can be free to control their local affairs thereby determining their own destiny, and also be proud of their heritage.
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0 #27 Miki 2018-04-12 17:49
Betty, what eventually happened is that Mutesa lost the kingdom, his people and eventually his life.

The Baganda not only lost their king, they lost their right to manage and control their local affairs and destiny.

Any king who loses his kingdom under whatever circumstance, should not be judged as having been strong or even competent. Whatever the sentiments one looking at the issue may have. I think this is a debate that we need to have.
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0 #28 Betty Nalubega 2018-04-12 18:08
Stewart Sir ,
thanks for the tips. I have read the book but do not remember anything from it that changes what I think.and said here so far.

As you may know , even independent observers can have their own opinions and interpretations after the fact.

Ssakabaka Mutesa himself wrote his book . It is a honest account of his life. He does not deny that he misjudged a few things.
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0 #29 Miki 2018-04-12 20:24
Betty, mine is not an effort to put up or put anybody down. And I never meant that romanticism and sentimentality are not bad per se.

Far from it. Many of us suffer from this especially when talking about things so dear to us such as our family, our tribe, our race, our traditions and heritage, and also when we mis-identify the obstacles to our aspirations.

The problem is if these get in the way of fact and objective self reflection. Even great thinkers sometimes suffer from this.

Many Baganda especially suffer from this when trying to tell our history. Many accounts of what happened have tended more towards nolstalgia, sentimentalism, romanticism and at worst portraying ourselves as victims.
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