Ugandans started the last weekend with a new Prime Minister. President Museveni had dropped John Patrick Amama Mbabazi as leader of government business and replaced him with Dr Ruhakana Rugunda.
There has been a lot of speculation about the reasons that brought about the change. Most of it is around Mbabazi’s potential challenge to Museveni for the presidential seat, in 2016.
When this reporter caught up with him earlier this year, Mbabazi remarked that whereas he was not interested in presidency, he would consider the position if NRM chose him as its flag bearer.
“I am party person, a member of the NRM party. I believe in it. I am a cadre. I do what my party tells me to do,” he said, with a smile.
This was at a time when the news surfaced that Richard Todwong had replaced Mbabazi as Secretary General (SG) of the ruling National Resistance Movement party. However, President Museveni maintained that Mbabazi was still the SG.
Over the years, political analysts have perceived Mbabazi as “untouchable” because of the seemingly close relationship with the President.
Incidentally, that relationship was initiated by Dr Rugunda.
Among the things that came up during our interview is Mbabazi’s friendship with his successor.
“I have worked with him [Rugunda] for more than 40 years,” he said.
He added that he had met President Museveni through Dr Rugunda.
“I knew him [the President] as a student when I was at Kigezi College. He was at Ntare School, where he was active and I was active. When we started the war against President Idi Amin, President Museveni joined in 1972 but of course he had started in 1971. I would also have started then but I did not have linkages,” Mbabazi recollects.
“I was very active. In 1972 our forces had a setback. Idi Amin almost wiped us out. We agreed among ourselves that you know Rugunda, Tumusiime Mutebile, Olara Otunu, Matsiko (who passed on) leave and I remained here because I knew that even if [the State Research Bureau] had a file on me, they did not have much,” he recalls about the struggle that eventually brought the NRM government into power in 1986.
From those days to this day, he says he has been friends with President Museveni. Mbabazi describes Museveni as a very committed person and a patriot dedicated to his country.
“He has all the qualities of leadership he is considerate, he thinks about what he says and does, he is a strategist. He has been a very able leader in war and now in peace leading the country. He has rare qualities,” he said, adding that he shares some of those traits with his friend.
Mbabazi has a legacy, one that has led many to refer to him as a “super minister”. Mbabazi, 65, earned this tag in 2004 after briefly holding three ministerial portfolios of Defence, Foreign Affairs and, Attorney General.
He is the Member of Parliament for Kinkiizi West constituency in Kanungu District, but it is not just politics that defines Mbabazi.
Getting to him for this interview was a bit hard, given his busy schedule. His daughter, Nina Mbabazi, manages most of his schedule and it is through her that the interview was made possible.
On the Saturday we had this interview, we met him at an event he was presiding over at the Chinese-funded Kampala-Entebbe Expressway.
That day, minutes after 10am, his convoy made its way to Kyengera, at the spot where the road begins. He got out of his car, greeted officials and continued to an assembling point for works inspection. There, he was briefed and handed a hard hat, red in colour. He put it on but a few minutes later, he asked for a yellow one.
”Who gave me this red one? Please give me a yellow one,” he requested, attracting laughter from the Chinese constructors, journalists and Works minister Abraham Byandala. Yellow is the official colour for the ruling NRM while red is the official colour for the opposition, Uganda People’s Congress party (UPC).
At Kakungulu Estate, off Entebbe Road, the contractors showed him artistic impressions of the project, and invited him to lunch.
“You know I have to have lunch at home also. I hope the journalists will not say the PM eats a lot,” he commented, lightheartedly. He took a few bites and after a few minutes begged to be excused so as to catch lunch with his family. He invited this writer and two colleagues along.
His home is in Kololo. It is a double storeyed house with a compound whose beauty is brought out with trees, flowers and guinea fowl which feed off insects in the well-tended grass. This is one of the quiet corners of the posh Kampala neighbourhood.
When he settled down, the questions started.
“I am like any ordinary Ugandan a family man and friendly person. I am also a lawyer and politician who has dedicated his life to serving people. That is what I have done all my life,” he said when he was asked to describe himself, leaning back to share a joke with one of his grandsons.
How do other people describe you? I asked him. “Arrogant, anti-social and lots of other things. I do not feel offended by them. One of the things I do is train myself to live a realistic life. I do not live on the sky or underground,” he said.
He added that one thing he has learnt in life, is that as a leader, it is important to develop talent and skills to contain anger.
In the midst of storms born out of scandals in which his name has come up, for example the Temangalo land saga, he appeared calm. “Of course I get angry but if I cannot tame myself as a leader then I will get into problems. You cannot be a leader and be angry. I must always be pleasant in order to make good and right decisions,” he added.
Mbabazi says he is irked by careless people. He argues that when someone is given responsibility and they do not do it then that is indiscipline.
“If we were disciplined in this country, Uganda would be different. If we paid serious attention to tasks before us a lot of things would change. I get concerned and wish this could change.”
The family man
The first segment of the interview was held under the shade of one of the trees and he was a little preoccupied with his smart phone. All this while his wife, Jacqueline, and the rest of the family were setting up for lunch at the terrace.
“Lunch is ready,” his wife called out. Lunch was served buffet style and after everyone had food on their plate, a prayer was said. As everyone dug in, the conversation rotated around how the week has been.
When around his family, the prime minister at the time switched to father and grandfather mode. He was jovial around his grandsons and granddaughters. He carried his grandchildren on his lap and let them pick food from his plate as he asked them about different things. He shared jokes and played with them. Things were casual and simple. He occasionally broke into hearty laughs.
With his wife, Jacqueline, the display of affection is exhibited through feeding one another and occasionally sharing jokes and updates on different issues.
When it comes to how demanding his job was, he said it is unenviable. He was hardly in one place for a few hours. His time was taken away by meetings, official and private.
His work day started by 7am. “I have a lot of work so I take work home because I have been in meetings during the day and I try to do it before going to bed so I end up going to bed at about 1am. I actually rest for four hours. Doctors think I should sleep a little more but I do not have the time,” he revealed.
This brought up the topic of whether he has any serious medical conditions, to which he said, “There are some medical conditions but they are managed. I get up at 5am, exercise for an hour and half. I used to jog in town but I abandoned it because of security reasons. I used to be an athlete in the 1960s. I would run all-round and I was particularly involved in hurdles, high and low.”
Today the question is what his next step will be.
SPORTS AND ACTING
Mbabazi vs John Akii-Bua. In 1967 when Uganda was selecting its Olympics team to go to Mexico, Amama Mbabazi competed with John Akii-Bua. “He beat me but only slightly,” he claims.
Rugby player. He says the other reason he could not go to Mexico was because he was also a good rugby player at that time and the English rugby team was coming to East Africa to play in Nairobi and he was in the seven-a-side East African team. “They were doing selections and I was being considered but I got injured on the ankle. It was a very bad injury. I was in a plaster for six months so I missed. Akii-Bua went and four years later he took gold and broke the world record. I think if I had not gotten injured I would most probably have competed,” Mbabazi says.
Acting. And as his sports prospects died, his artistry began to beam. In fact at this point all he cared about was acting. The thought to be a lawyer was there but he knew he would balance it with acting. “I was a big actor. I believe I would have been a lawyer but who is active in acting. You see, in sports, age is a factor. Once you reach a certain stage you cannot do some activities. I was taking part in 100m race, 110 hurdles. Those days it was 120 yards. How can you be a hurdler beyond 20 years?” he muses.
He was a passionate actor and doubled as an artistic director. This was both at Kigezi College and at Ntare School. As a student at Ntare he was named the best director and actor.
The making of a politician
Early days. At a young age, peers trusted Amama Mbabazi with leadership which in a simple way started his political career.
“I was also a political activist as a young man. In Senior One,I was elected to be the head of students. You know those days we had a body called National Union of Students in Uganda (NUSU) and I became one of its young leaders. I was at Kigezi College in O- Level at the time,” he explains.
His offices. And thus started the making of the politician. He has served different offices :
• Secretary of the Uganda Law Council.
• Director General of the External Security Organisation (ESO),
• Delegate to the Constituent Assembly .
• Minister of State in the President’s office, in-charge of Political Affairs.
• Minister of State for Defence.
• Minister of State for Foreign Affairs in charge of Regional Cooperation.
• Attorney General and Minister of Justice
• Security Minister
• Prime Minister till last week
Birth. Born on January 16, 1949 in Mparo, Kabale District.
Education. Went to Kigezi College and Ntare School. Has a Bachelor of Laws (LLB), from Makerere University and a postgraduate Diploma in Legal Practice from the Law Development Centre.
Family. Married to Jacqueline Mbabazi and together, they have six children.
SOURCE: Daily Monitor