Today, JOSEPH SSEMUTOOKE brings you the life and times of Prof. Edward Rugumayo, an academic, botanist, politician by calling, a member of the Gang of Four and a skilled diplomat.
To mark 50 years of Uganda’s independence, New Vision will, until October 9, 2012, be publishing highlights of events and profiling personalities who have shaped the history of this country. Today, JOSEPH SSEMUTOOKE brings you the life and times of Prof. Edward Rugumayo, an academic, botanist, politician by calling, a member of the Gang of Four and a skilled diplomat.
There are politicians who set out to join politics and make it a vocation. There are, on the other hand, politicians who fi nd themselves in politics without having planned to join it and whom you could say are chosen by politics itself. Professor Edward Rugumayo, by all accounts, belongs to the latter group. He has never sought the public vote for any elective offi ce and says he has always only been called in to help the community whenever there has been a crisis.
Dani Nabudere, a friend and colleague, said when Idi Amin Dada captured power in 1971, Prof. Edward Rugumayo was working at Makerere University, as a warden of Mitchell Hall. He had never served in any senior government position or even played actively in national politics. Then one day, Rugumayo heard over the radio that Amin had appointed him minister and he was supposed to report to the President’s office for a briefing the next day.
Rugumayo served as education minister from June 1971 to February 1973 when he became the first minister of the regime to resign. He tendered in his resignation letter by telex from Nairobi, telling Amin he could not serve the government anymore because it was killing people instead of protecting them. But Amin downplayed the event saying Rugumayo was disturbed by personal problems, particularly the death of his fi rst wife which had occurred only a few months earlier
The gang of four
When he moved into exile, fi rst in Nairobi in 1973 and then to Zambia (1973 to 1979), Rugumayo joined the network of Ugandan exiles, who were organising from without to oust Amin. He did this activism while also teaching at the University of Zambia. In 1978 he was part of the Moshi Conference, which laid a roadmap for Amin’s exit. He attended the Moshi Conference as representative of the group of exiles based in Zambia, along with Eriya Kategaya. He was elected the chairman of the National Consultative Council (NCC), which was the central governing body of the UNLF.
When Amin was ousted and the NCC moved to Parliamentary building in Kampala, Rugumayo in effect became the Speaker of Parliament, which in effect made him the fi rst native Speaker of Parliament, although he was referred to as Chairman of the NCC and not speaker.
To understand the extent of Rugumayo’s power in the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF) setup, veteran politician Henry Kyemba says one needs to understand that he was one of the Gang of Four — the group which was the prime mover of the country’s affairs. The gang consisted of Rugumayo, Omwony Ojwok, Wadada Nabudere, and Yash Tandon, and were dubbed The Gang of Four by former President Godfrey Binaisa on account of their being the real people running the country then. Rugumayo is proud of his time with the UNLF and says the freedom and prosperity that the country enjoys today is a result of the UNLF — first for its ridding the country of Amin, then for being the only government that has ever fulfi lled its entire mandate.
He adds that among the many things done by the UNLF was enlarging the NCC from 32 to 105 members, setting up a kind of LC1-based system called Mayumba Kumi, allowing freedom of speech and political affi liation, organising elections in two years and getting women represented in the NCC and in cabinet.
The UNLF came to an end when Binaisa was overthrown in 1980 and that pushed Rugumayo back into the shadows of Uganda’s political scene for a long time. The overthrow of Binaisa found Rugumayo in Tanzania from where he proceeded to Kenya where he was joined by his wife and their daughter. He thus was not in the country during the turbulent 1980 to 1986 period only returning to Uganda in 1995, when the NRM called on him to serve his country again.
Big achievements for the NRM
Rugumayo was recalled to national service in 1995 when President Yoweri Museveni appointed him Uganda’s fi rst High Commissioner to South Africa, where he served four years.
Museveni has said before that Rugumayo is the architect of luring the fi rst batch of South African investors into the country — a move that was to expand Uganda’s economy over the years as innumerable South African companies set-up base in Uganda. He also endeavoured to establish a favourable atmosphere for Ugandans living in South Africa.
In 1999 Rugumayo was re-called to take charge of the internal affairs ministry as minister. One year later he was moved to the tourism, trade and industry ministry, where he served for fi ve years until February 2005. His tenure at the tourism, trade and industry ministry saw the introduction of the Industrial Research Institute; the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre at Entebbe was also built and he is remembered for taking a fi rm stand to negotiate favourable conditions for Uganda at the World Trade Association. He retired in 2005, when President Museveni posted him to France. He declined the deployment saying he wanted to stay home after so many years away.
Politics sniffed out Edward Rugumayo