Herbert Kabafunzaki has already been found guilty in the court of public opinion. People do not need concrete evidence to pass judgment on this Ugandan Minister of State for Labour, Employment and Industrial Relations who was arrested on Saturday on allegations of soliciting and receiving a bribe . Few are impressed by his vehement denial of the allegations.
One reason for this is that corruption by public servants is so pervasive that all high-ranking officials are assumed to be on the take.
However, notwithstanding the entrenched corruption in President Yoweri Museveni’s government, Kabafunzaki must be presumed to be innocent until proved otherwise. This is a cardinal principle of the law, clearly stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In a just society, the burden of proof is always on the one who alleges a crime, not on one who denies it. As he was being helped into a police car, Kabafunzaki, who is also the NRM MP for Rukiga County in Kigyezi, shouted to a journalist: “I didn’t do anything. It is a concoction.” We should therefore leave it to the police and the public prosecutor to prove their allegations in a court of law.
The catch, of course, is that this assumes the presence of justice and rule of law in Uganda. Citizens would easily accept the verdict of a court where there was a track record of due process of law.
In Uganda, there is such deep distrust of the judiciary that on matters of alleged corruption by high profile citizens, the assumption is that the system will be manipulated to either kill the case or find reason to declare the guilty person innocent.
So the citizens have understandably turned the principle upside down to state that the accused is guilty until proven guilty.
The other character in the Kabafunzaki episode is Mohammed Hamid, Chairman and Managing Director of Aya Group of Companies. He is alleged to have sexually assaulted a female employee.
Though the details are very murky, it appears that the woman, who had lodged a case with the police, sought help from Kabafunzaki. The minister went to the Aya-owned Hotel in Kampala to intervene, a decision that set him on a course towards a fate that is still unfolding.
The allegations against Kabafunzaki and Hamid are not my concern today. My interest is in the questions that arise from Kabafunzaki and Hamid’s conduct.
What was a cabinet minister doing interfering with a sexual harassment case that was under police investigation? If it was a labour matter, why would a minister, not a labour officer, deal with it?
In an audio recording of a telephone call by a person that identifies himself as Kabafunzaki and sounds like him, we hear him telling a frightened-sounding man that he wants to subvert justice in the man’s favour. To do so, he will introduce the man to the president.
It turned out that Hamid did not need to be introduced to the president. Hamid called Museveni to report the alleged request for a bribe and the president personally directed that Hamid should play along “so that we can arrest him.”
Clearly Kabafunzaki had not done his homework otherwise he would not have attempted to meddle with a foreign investor. That the Special Forces Command was reportedly involved in Kabafunzaki’s arrest says more about Hamid’s status than it does about the rookie MP and junior minister.
All this suggests a very dysfunctional state where a junior minister finds it easy to invoke the name of the president in an attempt to subvert justice on behalf of a foreign investor, and the latter finds it very easy to call upon the president to assist him in what is allegedly a case of petty graft involving a small amount of money.
So what is the role of the local police, the IGP, CID, IGG or even the line minister or prime minister, who are the immediate bosses of Kabafunzaki?
Why does a man like Hamid have so much access to power, when ambassadors, ministers and senior presidential advisors tell me that it is easier for them to pass through the Camel’s eye than to reach the president by phone or in person?
The Kabafunzaki-Hamid saga is an indictment of the Museveni regime.
Whether or not this state of affairs is reversible is a matter of divided opinion. Museveni supporters hang on to a very faint hope that change will come. However, 31 years after the “fundamental change,” the slogan Kisanja Hakuna Mchezo sounds very hollow. The president himself is on record saying, for example, that his ministry of finance is full of thieves and that criminals have infiltrated the Uganda Police. It is a very sobering description of one’s own government.
Opponents of the regime and many independent observers believe that Uganda’s is a hopeless case. They have plenty of examples to buttress their argument.
Our country seems condemned to a darkness that will only be lifted when truth puts on its pants and all citizens, regardless of political allegiance, say enough is enough.
Until then, only divine political intervention can reverse the rot that has taken deep hold of the land, its leaders and a large percentage of its people. May God bless Uganda.