By Mwesigwa Rukutana
KAMPALA. Sleep eluded me the whole night last night. I had experienced a funny feeling the whole of yesterday, thinking of our planned trip to Milan to see Keith and Janet. Efforts to reach him or Janet on phone, as I always did almost every morning, had failed for nearly three weeks. I had received news from Bob and Ben that he was in ICU, but steadily improving. We together booked a flight to Milan for the 17th April, hoping that by the time we arrive, he will be in position to talk to us.
Last evening, I failed to stay for long at Millennium as I always do. I felt uneasy, stressed, and all of a sudden, an urge to go home and sleep. My wife and I watched the 8:00pm news. She noticed that I was absent minded and asked me what was going on in my mind. Surprisingly, there was nothing I was thinking about or something I could place a finger on. My mind was just blank. I went to bed and soon caught a lousy, uneasy sleep.
_Then an unusual bang on the door;_ angrily, I asked the house help why she was disturbing our sleep. In a shrill and timid voice, she told me that Rehema had called to ask me to call Ben Kavuya urgently “someone has died” she ended.
I dropped ‘dead’. I didn’t need any other explanation. It was Keith!!
Keith is not any other brother or friend to me. He is part of me. His demise goes away with a big portion of what Iam. Having known each other at Makerere in the early 80’s where he was a year ahead of me, we had discovered each other, through a mutual friend, late Yason Mpungye.
In the Ntungamo political turmoil of the Ruzindana Vrs. Kamwesiga, Karazaarwe Vrs. Kacooboye, Karazaarwe Vrs. Buriiku, Rukutana Vrs. Kazoora divides, when myself and my brothers Bob Kabonero, Jim and Susan Muhwezi, the First Family and the NRM as a party, were strenuous protagonists, it was Keith and my friend Sudhir who, one evening that went to the wee hours of the morning, sat me down, at Speke Hotel, over bottles of Red Label mixed with hot water, to convince me to reconcile with my said brothers and fully join the NRM.
As fate would have it, when the reconciliation catapulted me into mainstream politics, I was to find myself in the Ministry of Finance as a Minister of State, where Keith was a senior official as Director Budget. Nothing cemented our brotherhood more than his intellectualism, outspokenness, firmnesses in thought and deed, and a crude sense of humor. Most people, including me at first, thought Keith was an arrogant, defiant man because of these qualities. Once he thought he was right, he could dare anyone.
In my thirty years of political life, Keith is the only Government official I ever saw, so many times, telling the President to his face; “Your Excellency, we cannot do that”! Or even interrupting him mid-speech!!
Yet, in Keith laid a humble, obedient, listening and advisable civil servant. As a Minister, I thought I was his boss. I always joked with him that I could dismiss him, to which he always retorted that he will live to see who would leave the Ministry before the other! When, after five years I was transferred to the Ministry of Labor, he was so sad. But the following morning, he called me so early in the morning and, with his characteristic laughter, asked me; _“you fool, who of the two of us has left the Ministry of Finance first”?_ to which I retorted that I had voluntarily left them because I was tired of working with ‘stupid’ people.
Such were our daily witty and humorous greetings. One time in 2001, when I had just been appointed a Minister, he found me shivering on my desk with malaria. He asked what the problem was. I told him I had malaria. Surprisingly, the ‘fool’ burst out laughing at me. _“Malaria, a Minister suffering from Malaria? That’s backwardness; malaria is like jiggers, a modern person should never contract malaria”!!_ Then he went on to educate me on how to sleep under a mosquito net and to make houses mosquitoe proof. To his credit, following his advice, I have not suffered from malaria since 2001!!
It’s unfortunate that the country has lost the three architects of the revival of our economy; Lates Chris Kassami, Emmanuel Mutebile, and now Keith Muhakanizi.
When I joined MOFPED in 2001, Uganda was classified as HIPC (Highly Indebted Poor Country). We could not generate resources to run our recurrent, leave alone Development budgets. We majorly relied on foreign aid, loans and grants. All these accessed under strict, unfair, unconscionable, even dehumanizing conditionalities from the IMF, World Bank and Donor Countries. These three departed comrades, under the supervision of President Musseveni worked very hard on the reforms that have shaped and transformed this economy. I remember the sleeplessness and endless meetings at State House, in the Ministry Boardroom, in Washington and other capitals, putting our heads together defend our country’s actions so that we could convince the donors not to cut aid or to grant us further advances.
I remember the debates while formulating and presenting to Parliament the various laws that encompass the legal regime that facilitated and supported the transformation of the economy. Kassami, Keith, Mutebile were always at the forefront.
For me personally, coming from a background alien to financial and economic management, I found the trio big assets in preparing me to handle my mandate. They all became my teachers, mentors and personal friends. Now, they are all gone, and God be praised!!
I will not conclude without narrating our last crude humor with Keith; when he was transferred from the office of PS/ST, to PS, OPM, of course I was no longer a Minister and he was always reminding me that I lost power. I took my revenge by calling him to tell him that he too had lost power. One time, he wrote a letter rebuking and warning a driver who had knocked a student’s case, or something of the sort. With Ben Kavuya, we called him and asked him how, a person who always wrote to the President of the World Bank and IMF, could stoop so low to write a long letter condemning a driver who had spilled mandaazi.
We laughed so heartily about it. But his revenge never took long. I had written a letter to the Attorney General over a case Iam handling. The AG referred the letter to PS/ OPM for a response. Keith called me the following morning and said; _“you fool, you said I had lost power; come and sign the letter yourself”
We laughed to tears
God makes His decisions. They are not appealable. He has his reasons. All we have to do is to obey and respect Him.
Keith, Rest in Peace my Brother, Friend, Mentor and Inspiration.
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