Former law don exits cabinet disgracefully
Khiddu Makubuya was probably not cut out for politics. As he read out his resignation statement in Parliament yesterday, deep down the former minister in charge of General Duties might have regretted why he abandoned a promising academic career in law to plunge into the murky waters of politics.
Makubuya and Syda Bbumba, the minister for Gender, Labour and Social Development, yesterday yielded to pressure from MPs and threw in the towel.
Their resignations followed debate on a report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that found the duo culpable in the botched Shs 142bn compensation of Hassan Basajjabalaba for lost business in city markets. Makubuya’s political experience offers a perfect case on how politics can taint the reputation of even the most accomplished of individuals.
In 1995, he was a highflying law professor who not only imparted legal skills and knowledge on to a crop of eager students but also published articles on human rights in reputable law journals. Yesterday, he exited cabinet with his reputation in tatters as some of his former students at Makerere University Law School – like Abdu Katuntu (Bugweri) – helped nail him down.
To those who have interacted with him, Makubuya’s general behaviour is difficult to discern. He hardly entertains questions from journalists, at times coming off as an arrogant and aloof public official.
“I do not conduct my business through the media,” he once told a journalist in his usual low-and-high pitched tone.
But to his friends, colleagues in cabinet and in Parliament, the Katikamu South legislator is amiable. For instance to this day, Makubuya still bows while greeting FDC national chairman, Sam Njuba. See, Njuba not only taught Makubuya at Makerere University but also played the role of academic mentor. The epitome of simplicity, Makubuya has on a number of occasions been cited using boda boda (motorcycle taxi) while chasing various errands. Sometimes he even opts to walk from Parliament to his office at Postel Building, which is less than a kilometre away.
As a student of law at Makerere University from 1971 to 1974, Makubuya stood out for his academic brilliance and legal arguments that were steeped in thorough research. Little wonder, he became the first Ugandan at the time to get a first-class degree in law. He proceeded to Yale University in the United States for his master’s and doctorate. When we interviewed Njuba for our series, My Story, in 2009, he said Makubuya was active in class and usually challenged lecturers about various legal notions.
“Makubuya used to ask a lot of questions and was very engaging in class,” Njuba said. “Today, I blame him for allowing himself to be used, yet as an Attorney General, his word is not taken lightly”.
This image contrasts sharply with that of the quiet and reserved Makubuya we have gotten used to in politics. Nevertheless, he still possesses the mannerisms of a law professor. One of the items he cannot do without is his leather bag which is always loaded with all kinds of books and documents. Secondly, even when one disagrees with his arguments or positions, you cannot fail to notice that he does his homework because he normally refers to books.
One of the embarrassing moments of his political career occurred in December 2005 when he wrote a letter to the Electoral Commission, advising that FDC leader Dr Kizza Besigye, who was incarcerated at Luzira prison, could not be nominated because he was still facing serious criminal charges.
“What signals would the commission be sending to the people of Uganda if it accepts the nomination of a person who has strong links with a terrorist organisation?” he rhetorically asked in his letter dated December 7, 2005.
Regrettably for Makubuya, his deputy, Adolf Mwesige, had in another letter, contradicted his legal interpretation.
“A person can stand for election even if he or she has been charged provided that he or she has not been convicted and sentenced. A person can also be nominated in absentia,” stated Mwesige’s letter addressed to President Museveni.
Whichever way you look at it, Makubuya’s statement dented his credentials and lowered his standing within the legal fraternity. He seemed to suggest that Besigye was guilty until proven innocent contrary to the general legal dictum that someone is innocent until proven guilty. Some people have suggested that Makubuya’s statement was aimed at conveying an important political message –– on behalf of President Museveni –– only that it was dressed in legal language.
Makubuya faced a lot of criticism for his interpretation and at some point, Uganda Law Society, the umbrella association that brings lawyers together, contemplated suspending him.
Makubuya was bitten by the political bug in 1996 when he contested and won the Katikamu South seat. A year later, President Museveni appointed him minister of state in charge of Luwero before making him substantive minister of Education and Sports in 1999. In 2005, Makubuya was appointed Attorney General, a position that set him on a collision path with a number of actors, including the Buganda Kingdom.
On Wednesday, as Parliament debated the PAC report, Makubuya looked disinterested in the proceedings. Having come in late, he occasionally scribbled notes on a piece of paper and adjusted his spectacles as MPs tore at him. At 8pm, the Speaker, Rebecca Kadaga adjourned the House. A minute after the chambers had emptied, Makubuya was still glued to his front bench. Later, he stood up and quietly made for the exit. Yesterday, under the glare of MPs, he chose to resign from cabinet, bringing to an end one of the most tumultuous period in his political life. Can he stage a comeback? Only time will tell.