NAIROBI – Some Ugandans seem convinced that Joseph Kabuleta is a creation of the NRM Government to divide opposition votes. It comes as no surprise, really; this is the same supposition they have thrown around all these elections, whenever a fresh candidate for the presidential race shows face. Well, they may be right, perhaps he’s been or is being bankrolled by somebody or some government but I am certain, beyond a shadow of doubt, that it is not by the NRM government. I have my theory who it could be. Stick with me a little while and see where the trail of breadcrumbs that has led me to my supposition goes.
I became acquainted with Joseph’s father, Jackson Kabuleta (may his soul rest in peace) when he was still working with the East African Community in Nairobi in the 1960s. I was, at the time, pursuing my bachelor’s degree and somehow, our paths crossed. Being both Ugandans and Banyoro in a strange country, it was natural for us to form a bond. It was in Nairobi that he met his wife Margaret, who was also working with the EAC and, once or twice, I was hosted at their beautiful home in Kileshwa in Westlands. Around 1971, shortly before Joseph was born, Jackson moved back to Uganda with his family. Not long after, I also left Kenya for London to pursue my master’s studies. I eventually relocated to Japan and after a while we lost touch as, slowly but surely, the flow of letters between us waned and eventually died out altogether.
In the few years I spent around the Kabuletas, I was privy to information, some of it corridor-talk, that linked them with the ruling establishment of Kenya. You see, Joseph’s mother, Margaret, is a Kikuyu from Kikanjo in Nyeri, which is very close to a village called Thunguri in Othaya, also in Nyeri where former Kenyan president, Mwai Kibaki, hails from. Thanks to the proximity of their villages and friends or relatives-to-friends in common, their meeting was inevitable.
Although Margaret followed her husband to Uganda and has become Ugandanised, so to speak, her ancestral roots are in Kenya and, politically, seem to run deeper than the surface suggests. I had heard the rumours, even when I was still in Nairobi, that Mwai Kibaki and Jackson could have been acquaintances or even more than acquaintances, their first encounter having occurred in Kampala in the late ’50s when Mwai was studying at Makerere University. The one time I brought it up with Jackson, he laughed it off and I never raised the subject again. Later on, their relationship would continue in Nairobi as not only were they within the same professional circle – Jackson was an Accountant and Kibaki was Minister of Finance – but Margaret was known to both.
It seems the two countries, Kenya and Uganda, have been dipping their straws in each other’s political drinking pots for a while. From as far back as 1992, when Mwai Kibaki contested for president against Moi, there was talk and accusations that the ruling establishment in Kampala was the financial muscle behind him. Years later, tables have turned and the talk in some not-easily-accessible corridors is that “Kenya” could be the springboard for Joseph Kabuleta’s presidential ambitions with some people linking him not just to Kibaki alone but to the Kenyattas as well plus a good number of moneyed businessmen who believe their interests can be furthered by having a “son of the soil” take the top seat in Uganda. It is said that Kibaki who was already friends with Jackson introduced him to the Kenyattas. Although they’ve run against each other as political rivals, the Kenyattas and Kibakis are close friends. It is no secret that Mwai Kibaki is Uhuru’s godfather and his son Jimmy Kibaki is one of Uhuru Kenyatta’s best friends.
What’s in it for Kenya, you may ask. Well the answer is found in Joseph Kabuleta’s opening statement of his presidential announcement, “Uganda is blessed in the air with a friendly climate and incredible weather; blessed on the ground with half of East Africa’s arable land and blessed beneath the ground with rich extractives which include 27 different minerals spawned across the country in commercially viable quantities, as well as billions of barrels of explored oil with a lot more to be explored. In the next few years, Uganda will become a proper oil-producing nation, churning out in excess of 260,000 barrels of crude per day and the mining industry will take off in earnest. With proper investment, according to a recent World Bank report, the same period could see Uganda’s Tourism sector pull in an annual revenue of $10bn, about three times its current input. So in many ways we are heading into a golden era of Uganda’s wealth exploration.”
I am sure you remember the 2009 row between Kenya and Uganda over the half-an-acre piece of real Estate in Lake Victoria called Migingo Island. Another row in January 2020 threatened diplomatic relations between the two countries when Kenya seized Ugandan milk products amounting to over 55,000 kilos of powdered milk and over 260,000 litres of liquid milk over fears that they were contraband, counterfeit and substandard. However, the “unofficial” story was that cheap Ugandan milk was flooding the Kenyan market to the detriment of Kenyan milk. This very negatively affected the Kenyan dairy industry and the Kenyattas felt the pinch personally since they own one of Kenya’s biggest producers of dairy products, Brookside Dairy. As with most governments, in Uganda, the truth is usually the unofficial version, and the talk for years has been that our Yoweri Museveni has shares in Pearl Dairies.
So do you see how a political and economic “marriage” between families that have known each other for decades would eradicate most of those conflicts? Kenya gains access to an agreed amount of Uganda’s wealth while Uganda gains easier access to Kenya’s ports. And we all live in neighbourly happiness and wealth forever after.