Museveni can’t cast the first stone in the fight against corruption
By Asumani Ssempijja
On Wednesday December 4, 2019 President Museveni, in his capacity as the Chief Walker, called out the ministers and other high-ranking officials present, “I know many of you who are corrupt,” he started. “The deputy speaker challenged you, he quoted Jesus. He said if you have not stolen you throw the first stone; I will throw the first stone; you bring somebody I will stone him here; I have not stolen anything from anybody and I am also not a poor man.” Let’s take Museveni up on his word and talk about the circumstances of his purchase of the Kisozi farm in Gomba, Mpigi district.
In 1989, Museveni caught wind that a man by the name of Kassim Kiwanuka was selling his farm in Kisozi. Mr. Kiwanuka was financially distressed and buried in loans from UCB, a government lender then struggling with huge non-performing loans. Museveni purchased 3 square miles of the land at Ushs 800 million, which was roughly $2 million at the time. Mr. Kiwanuka had been distressed by a loan he had secured to build Kisozi House in downtown Kampala.
His transaction with Museveni was a fair deal under normal circumstances. However, What Ugandans want to know is where Museveni, in 1989 with the NRM barely in power and itself financially struggling, got the equivalent of two million dollars. Another issue of contention is how he has over time expanded this ranch from the original 3 square miles to what is approximately 20 square miles today, a vast swath of land spanning the districts of Gomba, Sembabule, and the outer fringes of Masaka.
Where’s the corruption? Well, as the saying goes, if you want to see the trail of corruption, all you have to do is follow the money. Where did Museveni get two million dollars in 1989 when his government was financially struggling, unable to restore basic services after the war? Similarly, how has Museveni managed to expand his ranch from the original three square-miles to the current 20 square miles?
On January 9, 1999 the now defunct The Crusader newspaper published an article regarding the first question. It carried the title, “Is Odomel a fall guy,” referring to the then Police boss whom it was accusing of reluctance to investigate and establish the true ownership of the Kisozi ranch, and how “a farm belonging to the NRA’s production unit ended up being bought by the first family.”
Enter Bright Rwamirama
By the time Museveni is said to have bought the Kisozi ranch, one of his officers by the names of Bright Rwamirama was finance director of the NRA, as the UPDF, created by the 1995 Constitution, was then known.
Rwamirama, now a minister, was a relatively junior officer having joined the NRA in 1983. This rendered him easily susceptible to Museveni’s manipulations. However, the fact that he had previously worked in Uganda Commercial Bank made his appointment in the army’s finance department rational.
Among Rwamirama’s tasks was to manage NRA finances, literally carrying the title “Officer in Charge of Pay” prior to the title of Director of Finance being adopted. Most importantly, by this time there was minimum accountability for financial resources and senior commanders could exploit that and take their share, following their commander-in-chief’s example. One of the ways they did so, was to create ghost soldiers, including claiming salaries for deserters and the dead. Moreover, salaries of soldiers were carried around in trucks or helicopters, “big chunks of that money ended up with commanders,” says a source who was close to NRA finances.
Museveni got Rwamirama to set aside the money that he used to buy the Kisozi ranch land, ostensibly as a purchase for the NRA production unit. Once the money was secured, Museveni then made sure that the agreement listed his family as the owners. Rwamirama was aware that the money had been diverted from purchasing NRA assets to a private asset of the president and his family, “there was nothing he could do,” a source inside the NRA finance department at the time reveals.
“I warned the president in 1998 and before that in 1995 and in 1996 I wrote a big document because I led the committee on ghost soldiers when we reduced the force from 100,000 to 60,000. After going around all units of the army around the country we found we had about 24,000 soldiers. Can you imagine the magnitude of the criminality where money for 57,000 soldiers is being paid out but only 24,000 are actually present?” Gen David Sejusa once revealed in an interview the extent of the corruption that began as early as 1986 when Museveni came in power, the kind that made it possible that such large amounts of money could be diverted for private gain by commanders and their commander in chief.
Displacement without compensation
Regarding the expansion of the ranch from the original three square-miles to 20 square miles, on February 24, 2018, The Observer published a story “Kisozi family accuses Museveni of land grabbing.”
The story gave snippets of the manner Museveni has been able to expand his Kisozi ranch. His cousin and farm manager, Flora Kamateneti, has been forcefully expanding the ranch with the help of soldiers. Ms. Kamateneti was accused of “highhandedly displacing them [residents] without compensation” and “using soldiers to torture” the residents whenever they tried to resist.
Moreover, they felt helpless because they have “failed to get assistance from the local authorities,” according to the Observer. They have “also been blocked from meeting the president.” A district resident coordinator by the name of Henry Baguma calls the residents “trespassers” who must be forcefully prevented from “trespassing” on the land that they have been dispossessed of.
Most importantly, The Observer could only reveal so much regarding the ranch, “There is a gag order with orders to sue anybody who accuses Museveni of grabbing the ranch,” says a source with knowledge of the Kisozi land saga dating back to the late 1980s. “That is why even opposition politicians no longer talk about it.”
Given this history of land-grabbing and parricide, it is rich indeed for Museveni to pose as being uncorrupt and qualified to throw the first stone against the corrupt in his kleptocratic government. Having been at it long before 1986, he is corruption’s Jaaja (grandpa) and corruption a fitting Muzukulu (grand child).