On Monday, Evelyn Anite, the minister of state minister for Privatisation and Investment, took sharp aim at the government “mafia, the cabal, the cartel” and suggested they want to kill her.
Anite used Monday’s press conference to escalate a public high-stakes confrontation between her and other government officials opposed to what she calls her elaborate efforts to shield Uganda Telecom, UTL, from liquidation. The very public confrontation is quite unprecedented in the ruling NRM history.
For weeks and months, Anite has quarrelled with the Attorney General William Byaruhanga, his deputy Mwesigwa Rukutana and Gabriel Ajedra, the state minister of finance for general duties, over the management and control of the financially distressed UTL, which is under the administration of Twebaze Bemanya, the executive director of the Uganda Registration Services Bureau.
Her reference to the mafia on Monday introduced a new layer of criminal intent to the confrontation.
Interviewed for a comment to Anite’s outburst on Monday, Rukutana, the most outspoken of the youthful minister’s foes in the UTL saga, said; “If by advising her on legal matters you become murderers, mafia, cabal, cartel, crooks, so be it. I don’t have any hostility towards her; if I am among the murderers she is referring to, then…if it occurred to her that I could be a murderer, then we should take her to Butabika to get her head checked. Why would I murder a girl anyway? I know how to put girls to some other good use,” Rukutana said.
“She wants to go like a wounded buffalo just knocking on walls as if she was blind. Whoever you are, you must comply with the law. That is why even when the president said and wrote that “oh Anite, ensure that you constitute an audit,” we wrote and said that we shall implement the president’s directive but within the framework of the law because we are employed to advise the president on legal matters,” he said.
“We advised her that being a minister in government which is a shareholder, she had no mandate to order directly for an audit, we advised her that since we have parastatals, which are creditors to the company, ask them or go through them if they have grievances to get a court order to appoint an auditor or even remove the administrator. She did not want to hear that,” he said.
“Cabinet doesn’t see it [mafia claim] as an issue, you see it as an issue because she shouts, there is no crisis, the crisis is in her head, I don’t have any hostility toward her,” he added.
Interviewed yesterday, Mario Obiga Kania, the minister of state for Internal Affairs, said government is aware of Minister Anite’s death claims and is prepared to provide the necessary security.
“It is our duty to provide security to any citizen whose life is threatened and we shall do the same for Minister Evelyn Anite. However, I cannot publicly expose what kind of security we are giving her and our plans to protect her…” he said.
He roundly declined to comment on the mafia claims.
“I can only advise you to inquire from those alleging to tell you who the mafia are and how they operate. I cannot comment on something I have no idea about,” Obiga added.
Who are the mafia?
Since 2005, the word mafia has steadily gained currency and recognition in the country’s political realm. The influence, reach and power of the so-called mafia in government has climbed steadily.
The first mention of mafia in government was made 14 years ago by then troubled Vice President Prof Gilbert Baalibaseka Bukenya. In a May 2005 interview with Daily Monitor, Bukenya pointed to a clique of mafia in government that was baying for his blood.
Bukenya said the mafias were photographing his earthly possessions including pawpaw and orange plantations plus a host of other properties in a bid to compile evidence against him so the Inspectorate of Government (IGG) could open an investigation.
Then, he was two years into the number two job, the same number of years Anite has spent in the Investment and Privatisation docket. So, who are the mafia? The term mafia is given different definitions according to context and country.
But what is common among all definitions is their method of work and purpose for their existence - criminal enterprise. Wikipedia defines the mafia as: a type of organized crime syndicate whose primary activities are protection racketeering, arbitrating disputes between criminals, and brokering and enforcing illegal agreements and transactions. The mafia often seeks to infiltrate politics and extract public resources for private benefits.
This definition is consistent with some of the complaints made by ministers and those haunted by the mafia. Interviews with people rattled by the mafia paint a sizeable portrait of who the mafias are in government without naming names.
Interviewed yesterday, former vice president Prof Gilbert Bukenya tried to describe how the mafias operate. He said mafias are a group of people who use all the available means to maintain their status quo by targeting those being favoured by the sitting president.
“When the regime wants to groom new people to take over, the old who may not want to be sidelined develop some sort of mafia cartels to make sure they bring the ones being favoured down. I was once a victim and I know it is what Anite is going through because the old guard think she is being favoured by President Museveni,” he said.
Bukenya said some people in government don’t like the favours Anite enjoys from the president and will use all means including blackmail and even death to diminish her influence. During his vice presidency, Prof Bukenya once said the mafia in government wanted to finish him off by falsely accusing him of meeting Emmanuel Cardinal Wamala and mobilising Catholics across the country to build a power-base and overthrow President Museveni.
“When Anite comes out to say she is being targeted, it shouldn’t be taken lightly because I personally experienced it as that group of the few who think they should always be favoured worked to ensure that they undercut me,” he said.
In May 2019, the Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga told the 9th Commonwealth Conference of Heads of Anti-Corruption Agencies in Africa at the Lake Victoria Serena Golf Resort and Spa in Kigo, Wakiso district that mafia in government work in cahoots with dodgy officials with glaring impunity. She said such a cabal hinders anti-graft fight and criticised anti-corruption bodies in the country for procrastination.
Explaining how mafia works, Kadaga reportedly said that some government officials had turned government services into a hunting ground for personal enrichment and that one of parliament’s oversight committees had investigated the abuse of public funds and discovered that a colossal amount of money earmarked for compensation of people along roads had not reached the intended recipients.
“The mafia, in cahoots with dodgy officials or like minds in the finance ministry and road construction chain, instead got this compensation money and put it on their bank deposit accounts for a whole two years,” Kadaga said.
In December, 2016, the then Inspector General of Police Gen Kale Kayihura told journalists that the mafia had infiltrated Uganda’s security and intelligence agencies and used their elaborative network to commit sophisticated crimes including fraud in financial institutions with the help of bank employees and security personnel.
“They have informers at banks that provide them with up-to-date information on clients with beefy cash on their accounts and the security circles shield them,” Kayihura said.
He added that the mafia have their people everywhere and they had even infiltrated the police and the military and they had even started targeting foreign investors who they lure into the country. Opposition Chief Whip Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda said the ruling government has a history of associating with the mafia and it’s not surprising that a minister is claiming she is under threat.
According to Ssemujju, the government should take Anite’s claims seriously and launch an investigation to establish the truth.
“There’s no way you will take a statement from a person in government saying there are mafias working to eliminate her lightly. It should be investigated until the truth is revealed,” he said.
On Monday, Anite said; “The mafias, the cabal, the cartel that is used to intimidating; robbing this country are yet again plotting a move to kill me.”
She didn’t name names but mentioned the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) offices and Kampala Club as meeting points for the alleged mafias. URSB is headed by Bemanya Twebaze who is also the administrator of UTL in receivership.
Anite has spent a good deal of time this year trying to push Bemanya out of UTL. Asked whether Bemanya is one of the mafias, Anite declined to give a straight answer to The Observer on August 19.
In a June 28 letter to the Attorney General, William Byaruhanga, Anite referred to Bemanya as a ‘crooked lawyer.’
Bemanya did not respond to our repeated calls and text messages on Monday and Tuesday.
At the press conference, Anite told journalists that the mafia have been trailing her and tapping her phone. Her claims seem to point to contents of a whistleblower’s petition to the Inspector General of Government (IGG) Irene Mulyagonja, accusing the youthful minister of influence peddling, abuse of office and fraud in relation to the management of UTL.
The contents of the petition show that the whistleblower took time to monitor Anite’s dealings including travels within and outside the country.
For instance, the petitioner alleges that after Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda cleared her to take a month’s leave from office and travel to the USA to attend her graduation at Tufts University, she continued transacting official duties specifically on matters related to UTL.
“After her graduation and commencement of her short study at Harvard, a secret booking was made for her from the USA via France to Mauritius, suspiciously leaving her husband in the USA. The said trip was not booked in Uganda before her departure for USA,” the whistleblower wrote.
She allegedly left the USA on August 4 went to France for a connecting flight to Mauritius where she stayed for four days. After her meetings in Mauritius, the whistleblower alleges, she flew back to the USA and later to Uganda to “disguise the trip to Mauritius.”
SADAB KITATA KAAYA, JOSEPHINE NAMULOKI, JOSEPH BAHINGWIRE & ERNEST JINGO contributed to this report