To seven-year-old Walter Sseruwule, State Minister for Water Ronald Kibuule is a killer who should be in prison.
To Magidu Ssenyonjo, he is a ruthless rich man who could not care less about the suffering of the wretched of the earth. To Kira municipality MP Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda, he was catapulted to the limelight by the politics of expedience.
To Mukono municipality MP Betty Nambooze, he is a son with a knack of dining with elders. To Mukono South MP Muyanja Ssenyonga, Kibuule is a “hardworking boy” whose sweat has seen him climb to greater heights.
To the rest of the country, until 2011, little, if anything, was known about the flamboyant cabinet member.
A Google search about him pops up results such as: ‘Kadaga suspends Minister Kibuule, 24 opposition MPs’, ‘Minister flies chopper to visit in-laws’, ‘Youth minister who took oath with his pregnant women’, ‘Meet Minister Kibuule, a special man who smuggled a gun to parliament’, ‘Minister Kibuule axed, cries like a baby’, ‘Minister Kibuule fathers twins, mega party on’, ‘State Minister for Water Kibuule beats up bank teller’, ‘Minister Kibuule uses army, police to evict people’, ‘Minister Kibuule calls for raping of women who put on miniskirts’.
These are just a few of the controversial stories that pepper the life of the man who is also the Mukono North MP. When I visit Kigaya and Golomola villages of Buikwe district, hundreds of residents are on tenterhooks, not knowing what tomorrow holds.
The flamboyant minister bought their land, measuring 85 acres, and with army and police help, the minister had started effecting evictions from the land that stretches to the shores of Lake Victoria. The eviction was only interrupted by the death of a resident, Dick Wasswa, the leader of those resisting Kibuule’s evictions.
When one gets to Kigaya, the only subject of discussion is Kibuule, Kibuule and Kibuule.
“Leero tonnyuke? (Won’t you leave the garden today?)”, a passerby tells a man weeding his maize garden near the narrow road.
It is past 1pm.
“Munnange, ate tunaakola ki? Tukeesa lukya; tetumanyi oba Kibuule taaleete tulakita n’emusenda, (What to do? We live day to day; we don’t know whether Kibuule will not bring his tractors and demolish the maize)” he replies.
At Wasswa’s home in central Kigaya, his death about a month ago is still fresh to his widow Nassali Ssanyu and her 13 children. Wasswa’s death now symbolizes resistance against the eviction.
Nassali, a woman with a booming voice contradicting her slender frame, still has a piece of bark cloth tied around her waist to signify her state of mourning. Tears freely roll down her sunken cheeks as she talks about Wasswa.
In a trembling voice, she says the minister killed her husband. In a conversation that lasts close to four hours, she recounts the encounters her husband had with Kibuule and his guards.
Kibuule bought 85 acres from Musa Kateregga. It has since emerged that the land belongs to the Namasole [Buganda queen mother] and Buganda Land Board says neither Kateregga nor the Namasole has any right to sell it.
After Kibuule bought the land, he reportedly deployed more than 150 security personnel to evict the residents. He used a carrot and stick approach, where those willing to cede their claim on the land were compensated, while those who refused were hunted, hounded and locked up at Buikwe and Lugazi police stations on charges such as ‘stoning the minister’s car’ and ‘inciting violence’.
Many are still battling these charges in court.
“Kibuule atubonyabonyezza nnyo bannange (Kibuule has really tortured us),” Farouk Ssenabulya, one of those beaten and imprisoned for mobilizing residents against the eviction, says with deep emotion.
At least Ssenabulya lived to tell his story. Wasswa did not. His beating by the security forces deployed by Kibuule caused damage to his pancreas and other internal organs, which led to his death eight days later.
Kibuule denies that those who beat Wasswa acted on his behalf. But residents rubbish his denial as the highest level of dishonesty by the minister.
“Before he bought land here we had no police or army presence. He told us the land had been bought by [First Lady] Janet Museveni, that’s why they had to deploy,” Ssenabulya says.
Other residents corroborate this information.
“If they were not his people, why did they immediately withdraw when they heard that Wasswa’s health had deteriorated?” Bewaayo Isa chips in.
The widow says for days her husband was not sleeping in his house for fear of arrest. She wonders why, if the minister had nothing to do with Wasswa’s death, he is seeking to meet the family.
“I’m not working; it is my husband who has been the breadwinner. I call upon President Museveni to rein in his minister,” Nassali says amidst sobs.
Her son Walter Sseruwule, 7, on seeing his mother cry chips in: “Kibuule, you killed my father, your soldiers beat him up and I want you to be arrested.”
“Bambi ka ssebo! (Poor boy!)” Some residents mutter.
“Our father loved us very much; he would fish for us but ever since he died, I have not eaten fish again,” Sseruwule, a pupil at Kalokore nursery and primary school, says.
The residents have vowed to do everything under the sun to stop the minister from evicting them.
“The president is going around the country talking about the land amendment act which people have rejected. If there is no law that forcefully takes away people’s land before they are compensated and his ministers are using security to evict villagers, how will it be when they have a law?” Ssenyonjo, whose garden together with that of Marceline Kawongolo, Robinah Nabirayo and James Ssenkubuge were destroyed, says.
In a brief telephone interview shortly before we went to press, Kibuule, who sounded to be in a good mood refused to be drawn into the Golomola land brouhaha.
Citing the law on sub judice that bars discussing matters before the court, the minister said he is waiting for the final verdict.
But who is Kibuule?
MP Nambooze, who represented Mukono North before the municipality was carved out of it, says Kibuule is like a son to her. She has known Kibuule for years – long before he became the powerful Museveni man he is today. Nambooze says Kibuule’s father was one Lusebeya, an ethnic Rwandese.
According to the MP, Lusebeya was a eucalyptus timber trader in Mukono town. Nambooze says Lusebeya, a polygamous man, made a lot of money from the trade and bought two buildings in Mukono town.
About Kibuule’s late mother, Nambooze knows very little save for the fact that recently Kibuule felt she was not given a decent burial and hence exhumed her remains for a proper send-off.
“Museveni was the guest of honour at that reburial and baptism of Kibuule’s twins.”
Nambooze says while in P6 in 1997, Kibuule dropped out of school and it was after she beat him thoroughly that he went back to St John’s Education Center to finish his primary education.
“When Kibuule refused to go to school, I, Betty Nambooze, went and picked him from his home and I beat him seriously. His father had also given up paying his school fees because Kibuule was very stubborn. I paid Kibuule’s school fees up to P7, then handed him over to Muyanja Ssenyonga,” Nambooze says.
She adds that Kibuule used to like politicians so much that every time there was a rally in Mukono, he would not miss.
Nambooze, who says Kibuule calls her mother, says while she worked as a journalist with Bukedde newspaper, she helped to have Kibuule’s letter written to President Museveni published.
“In P6 he wrote a letter to Museveni thanking him for the good things he was doing for the country. He came to me to help him have it published. So, when Museveni came to Mukono, he said he wanted to see the boy who had written a letter to him,” Nambooze says.
Since that meeting with Museveni, Kibuule’s love for politics and politicians multiplied so much that throughout his secondary school life at Mukono Parents High School and at Uganda Christian University Mukono where he pursued a degree in Social Work and Social Administration, it was hard to tame the politician in him.
“After finishing A-level he became more powerful; even more powerful than us his parents – me, Kisitu and Ssenyonga – because he had started working with intelligence,” Nambooze says.
Not allowing politics to make him forget his roots, in the 2009 by-election in Mukono North between NRM’s Bakaluba Mukasa and Nambooze, Kibuule despite being NRM, supported Nambooze.
But in yesterday’s interview, the minister rubbished Nambooze’s claims to knowing him that well. The minister said their only link is that both hail from Mukono district and represent neighbouring constituencies.
“Was she the helper of my mother? Does she know what I feed on? All she knows is that I represent a constituency neighbouring hers; that’s all.”
On how he met president Museveni, Kibuule said: “Let nobody lie to you that the letter opened any window for me to see the president. It was my perseverance and focus that made me to meet him in primary four,” Kibuule said, offering The Observer an appointment for an extended interview.
“If you also want to talk to my father I can arrange that but not relying on street talk. I have seen things on Facebook; he studied with me… he is a Munyarwanda …ooooh….you. I don’t want to be misrepresented.”
Well, the other person who claims to have seen Kibuule in his ‘nobody’ days is opposition chief whip Ssemujju Nganda. Mukono North borders Kira Municipality, but the two legislators often get under each other’s skins in not-neighbourly fashion.
It is Ssemujju who on September 26 accused Kibuule of smuggling a gun into the parliamentary chambers.
This caused chairs to fly along with honourable MPs’ tempers, boiling down to the infamous September 27 attack on Parliament by the Special Forces Command soldiers, which left some opposition MPs, including Nambooze, seriously injured and in need of specialized treatment. Ssemujju claims that as a journalist, he often visited Captain Mike Mukula who was a powerful NRM broker.
It is during these visits to watch football when his team Arsenal was playing, that he would find Kibuule hanging outside the gate of the wealthy former minister.
“When you go to visit a person like Mukula you will find many people waiting outside to beg for money for transport and for other problems; admission into the house and swimming pool area where we would watch football from depended on your status,” Ssemujju says.
“The times I went there, I never spent a minute outside because my status was not of someone who would wait outside the gate, but that’s where I used to find Kibuule with the drivers and Mukula’s police guards, waiting to grab an opportunity to explain his problems; that is the life Kibuule has lived,” Ssemujju says.
Challenged on whether someone’s unfortunate history should be a hindrance to his bright future, the outspoken legislator admits that everyone has history littered with ups and downs, but rehabilitation is key.
“I don’t want to condemn people who have lived the kind of life Kibuule has lived, but there must be stages; you don’t jump them because you are going to become chaotic. If Kibuule had been properly counseled, properly trained, maybe in 20 years he would become an RDC,” Ssemujju says, adding that appointing Kibuule a minister overwhelmed him.
Ssemujju is not surprised that every story about Kibuule is controversial. When some legislators were outraged and wanted Kibuule condemned for comments he made to the effect that skimpily dressed women provoke rape, Ssemujju said it was wrong for parliament to ever vet him in the first place.
“His conduct is consistent with the kind of life he has lived before he became an MP.”
But Muyanja Ssenyonga, who has seen Kibuule since his P7 at his St John Education Center, refused to be drawn into talking about the minister, only describing him as courageous and hardworking.
“When you’ve been a director of somebody, he becomes part of you; so, I cannot begin to negatively comment about him,” Ssenyonga says. “Those are the people who come for our old boys and girls meetings.”
For now, the 33-year-old proudly polygamous minister with a palatial home at Mbalala, Mukono, continues to revel in the typical rags-to-riches story.