By Enoch Mwesigwa
In a YouTube video of the NTV The Fourth Estate show published on the 8th August 2019, where General Elly Tumwine’s presumed “sense of self-entitlement” was discussed, Mr Charles Mwanguhya the moderator said, regarding the General Tumwine’s reference to the sacrifices of the bush war: ‘He [General Tumwine] is saying “Do you know who I am? I am a general of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces. I sacrificed to bring this peace and to allow... etc. And we have heard this before! We heard it before the Justice Ogoola inquiry, you remember? “Where were you when we were fighting?” They keep coming up!’, Mr. Mwanguhya said.
Well, the words “We fought”, “Where were you when we were fighting?” and their close variants do keep coming up as quotes, the implication being that those who utter them claim they are above the law because they fought.
Which takes me back to the Ogoola inquiry. What exactly did Jim Katugugu Muhwezi say on that day thirteen years ago? Fortunately, we have reports filed by those who were there on that day, the 21st March 2006.
According to The New Vision of the 22nd of March 2006 in a story titled, “Muhwezi, Ogoola Clash” we are informed that Justice Ogoola, who had come to the conclusion that the health minister Muhwezi was to blame for the Global Fund problems, told Minister Muwhezi:
“The body and essence of the Ministry of Health in general and the Global Fund, in particular, have been corrupted to the core under your political leadership.”
But then the judge punched the minister below the belt saying:
“My message to you Mr. Minister, and this is a personal message to you, is that it’s in times like this that men stand out from boys. It’s in crises like these that statesmen stand out from politicians”. (This author’s italics).
“And you Jim Katugugu Muhwezi, you have the opportunity, if you had planned to do it now, you have the opportunity to look into that camera for a second, and with a straight face tell the President who appointed you minister, tell the people of Uganda who elected you to lead them for all this time, that you are sorry.
And that is how the debate shifted from whether or not Muhwezi was politically responsible for the mismanagement of the Global Fund money, to whether or not Muhwezi was even a man or a mere boy, and to whether or not Muhwezi was a patriotic statesman or a mere opportunistic politician.
In other words, the judge dared Jim Katugugu Muhwezi to apologize right there on camera, or forever be known as “a boy” and an opportunistic “politician”. It was, as the judge himself said, a “personal” dare!
Muhwezi was stung; his “manhood/manliness” was in question, and his statesmanship had been sullied. But in his response, in surprisingly genteel courtroom language under the circumstances, he said:
“My lord, we look to this commission to find responsibility in whatever might have gone wrong. That’s the expectation of the people of Uganda. I would like also to say to the people of Uganda, when there has been a call for patriotism and statesmanship, I have been there.”
Muhwezi then proceeded to present evidence of his manliness, patriotism, and statesmanship by adding: -
“I don’t know, my lord, where you were at that time but the peace and tranquillity and rule of law which prevails today, I was part of.”
It is this last sentence by Muhwezi in defense of his manhood/manliness and statesmanship that has been taken in isolation, mangled beyond recognition and misrepresented to mean, “We fought, therefore, we are above the law; I can, therefore, do whatever I like with Global Fund money”. Variations of this theme have been repeated so often over the years that they now ring true in the ears of the ignorant and uninformed!
Our journalists need to be aware that they are officials in the “court” of public opinion, just as the judges are officials in the courts of law. It is the bounden duty of both these professions to be well informed and to ensure that the truth, which is the mother of justice, prevails and is presented as it is without fear or bias, otherwise a miscarriage is inevitable. Intellectual laziness leading to lack of fact-checking is no excuse.
In this case, Mr. Muhwezi has been denied justice in the court of public opinion by those who have endlessly repeated this falsehood over the years.
The writer is a social commentator