KAMPALA – When Robert Kabushenga on Friday, January 29, 2021, announced that he will step down as Vision Group Chief Executive Officer, this did not come as a surprise to many, especially in the media circles and to staff at the state-owned media company.
Kabushenga, who took over from William Pike in 2007, announced that he was resigning from his role to concentrate on farming and other personal projects.
“This is to let you know that for personal reasons I have asked the Board for an early retirement and this has been accepted,” he wrote. Kabushenga explained that he will oversee a 90-day transition, as requested by the Board, before moving on. “I am proud of the success we achieved and the impact we have had in society. This was possible because we worked together as a team. For me, it was an absolute honor and pleasure to done so,” he explained.
However, sources have intimated to PML Daily that Kabushenga was pushed and did not resign as stated.
“This was a prudent way of sacking him. He was sent away gracefully; otherwise he was sacked long time ago,” a source within Vision Group senior management said.
The “news” of the purported sacking of Kabushenga had already started rounds on social media last year, with some sources saying he was to be replaced by David Mafabi, an official attached to State House.
And now sources within Vision Group and State House have revealed that Kabushenga’s fate had been sealed due to a fractured relationship with the Board and State House as well as some senior members of management at Vision Group.
It should be remembered that Kabushenga has won admiration among many both within and outside government as a shrewd business manager, who also plays politics well. He had endeared himself to many corporate companies such as telecoms, won the admiration of Buganda Kingdom through promoting the Kabaka Run, organisation farmers’ clinics through he drew the attention of the different foreign embassies. He was also a popular power broker in government and won the admiration of President Museveni. Through such public programmes that also promoted education and agriculture, Museveni grudgingly began to trust Kabushenga, a man he had hitherto then associated with former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, whom he had sacked for harbouring presidential ambitions.
With all this influence of being friends with many CEOs of top corporate companies and of the Kabaka, Museveni and First Lady Janet began to trust Kabushenga and often consulted him on many projects.
However, sources say the man of Kanungu began to develop an indispensability image at Vision Group so much so that he often took decisions without consulting the board and his other managerial colleagues.
Many Vision Group board members, frustrated by his management style, had already reported to President Museveni. According to sources, the company was no longer making profits due to its expansion policy of taking on different media houses in every region, something that left New Vision and Bukedde (newspaper and TV) as the cash cows. The new media companies and their operational costs put a strain on the company so much so that Vision Group shareholders were no longer seeing a rise in dividends at the end of the year. According to sources, while some shareholders often raised this during their meeting, the senior management under Kabushenga often never took action. In one financial year, the company made a profit of a mere Shs1m, which angered the shareholders who saw that it was no longer financial viable to invest in the company.
Within the company, it was felt by some senior managers such as Gervase Ndyanabo – Deputy Managing Director/Company Secretary – that Kabushenga’s management style was alienating them, especially in terms of decision making. This further alienated him from staff.
Enter State House
With some of these negative reports about the Vision Group CEO reaching State House, Museveni started to take keen interest. For instance, he began summoning Vision Group management, including Editor-in-Chief Barbara Kaija, complaining about how stories depicting the successes of the ruling government were not being properly covered in the New Vision. This, according to sources, became very frequent last year and 2019.
During the Covid-19 lockdown, Mr Kabushenga issued a staff memo, announcing a restructuring exercise, indicating that some of those who had been sent on leave in April were to be laid off starting June 30. In the letter, he indicated that the company was struggling financially due to the impact brought by the COVID-19 pandemic and could no longer pay their salaries.
However, sources say this was the last straw that broke Kabushenga’s back. PML Daily reported that some aggrieved staff, unsatisfied with Mr Kabushenga’s management style, petitioned the President through some influential ministers and the situation at Vision Group was the subject of a Cabinet meeting.
During the then Cabinet meeting, it was presented to the President that whereas the impact of Covid-19 had greatly affected the media industry, including Vision Group, it did not necessitate the management to take stringent measures such as laying off staff. Vision Group has already cut staff salaries by as much as 40% depending on the salary scale, a situation that left many staff disgruntled.
Sources added that it was some of these disgruntled staff, some of whom are wives and children of senior government officials, petitioned Cabinet. It was further presented in Cabinet that the Vision Group management is generating revenue such as through printing government’s study materials as well a few adverts from government ministries, departments and agencies, and therefore, should be able to remain afloat in this tough situation.
It is at this moment that the President ordered that the staff layoffs be suspended and directed Information minister Judith Nabakooba and Finance minister Matia Kasaija to investigate the happenings at Vision Group. Government has 51% shareholding in Vision Group and hence has more influence.
With several of these issues emerging, it was decided that Kabushenga be relieved of his duties. While the decision had not been formally announced, sources say Kabushenge realised that his contract wasn’t going to be renewed given that the new board wasn’t happy with the group performance. He then offered to resign.