To mark 50 years of Uganda’s independence, New Vision will, until October 9, 2012, be publishing highlights of events and pro ling personalities who have shaped the history of this country. Today, JOSEPH SSEMUTOOKE brings you the life Balaki Kirya, Obote’s mineral resources minister, who questioned his President’s involvement in the plunder of the Congo, for which he was arrested without trial
When, in the mid to late 1960s, Apollo Milton Obote was engaged in a power struggle with the President of Uganda, Kabaka Edward Mutesa II following the collapse of the Uganda People’s Congress — Kabaka Yekka (UPC-KY) alliance, five members of his cabinet and ruling UPC party fell out with him. History indicates that Obote perceived Kirya as siding with Mutesa and ultimately detained him indefinitely without trial. Among those fi ve cabinet ministers was Balaki Kirya, then mineral and water resources minister.
Kirya’s burning bridges with Obote set him on a path of sustained opposition of whatever he deemed as “bad leadership” in Uganda for the rest of his life, punctuated with several sacrifices. One would say that upon his death in 1994, he left behind a legacy of a dedicated nationalist. He had also come to see his country back on a path to relative stability under the NRM government.
One of the architects of Ugandan nationalism, Kirya, was born in 1924 in Petete in Bukedi (current-day Pallisa district) and rose through the ranks fi rst as a soldier in the King’s African Rifl es force, which he joined at 18 years of age. As a non-commissioned offi cer he experienced World War II under the 121st Brigade.
After the war he served as a welfare offi cer of the Toro colonial administration between 1947 and 1953. It is in his service as administrator in the colonial establishment that he came face-toface with the oppression of Africans and he chose to change that. Beginning on the economic side, he founded the North Bukedi Co-operative Union (the fi rst cooperative society in Bukedi) with the goal of promoting the natives’ livelihood. In this role he criticised the colonial establishment, which created for him a social base and turned him into a politician.
He became one of the fi rst leaders of Uganda’s fi rst political party, Uganda National Congress (UNC) in charge of the Mbale branch. However, in the mid-1950s UNC, under Ignatius Musaazi split, Kirya together with other UNC members from outside Buganda broke away to form the UPC, which agitating for a united Uganda.
The other break-aways included Obote, William Nadiope, Adoko Nekyon and Grace Ibingira. Subsequently Kirya became Bukedi North’s representative to the LEGICO when the fi rst batch of Ugandans was elected in 1961.
He was among the Ugandan leaders, who went to London for the constitutional conference, which Uganda inherited at independence. In Kirunda Kivejinja’s book Uganda: The Crisis of Confi dence, Kirya features as one of the politicians, who ran the show on the eve of independence and in the early post-independence years.
In 1962, Kirya was appointed minister without portfolio but after two years, Obote moved him to head the mineral and water resources ministry. But before independence Kirya and Ibingira had been among the architects of the famous UPC/KY alliance that had handed UPC leadership.
Kirya’s contemporaries have often stated that even as minister, Kirya did not become a blind follower of the leader, who was increasingly becoming fi ckle and erroneous because he was a veteran at local politics.
As much as he and Obote were age-mates, he had reportedly introduced Obote onto the political scene and they were very close Bidandi Ssali, People’s Progressive Party chairman; He was a conservative politician, an astute peace and reconciliation broker. After a stalemate, he and Grace Ibingira played a key role in creating a working relationship between UPC and Kabaka Yeka Yoweri K. Museveni, President of Uganda at Kirya’s eulogy (1994); He was a man of great experience and invaluable dedication to this country.
He dedicated his life to the fi ght for freedom, a cause for which he was persecuted but he persevered Matia Kasaija, planning state minister; I was with Kirya in exile in Nairobi. I know him as an astute and courageous politician, who disagreed with Obote II to the extent that he had to flee for safety into exile. friends, he was not given to political ideologism and dogma, criticising the UPC government when it developed leftist-leanings.
So in 1966, when the Prime Minister was being pinned by Parliament for involvement in an ivory and gold scandal, among those asking Obote to clear his position, was Kirya. Obote reacted by imprisoning Kirya, together with fi ve other ministers, who wanted the leader to come to book — Ibingira, Dr.Lumu, M.Ngobi, Cuthbert Obwangor and G.Magezi. Many believe had the six not been imprisoned, the reforms that saw traditional kingdoms abolished and two undemocratic constitutions forced unto Uganda would not have been successful.
The dark 1970s and 1980s
Amin released Kirya among the political prisoners whom he set free upon his coup in 1971. But shortly, the former minister had to run for his life, as Amin embarked on killed former Obote ministers.
He went into exile in Kenya, where he became part of the liberation struggles to oust Amin on condition that Obote was not involved. After the liberation war in 1979, Kirya was appointed director for the eastern region under Yusuf Lule’s government. However, the political situation remained unstable, and a couple of years later Kirya was back at his Kenya residence as a political exile for the second time.
It is at his home in Kenya in 1982 that Obote’s operatives picked him up, bundled-up him into their car and drove him back to Uganda’s Luzira prison on grounds of involvement in rebel activities. Kirya was charged together with Prof. Yoweri Kyesimira, with treason for their involvement in Dr. Andrew Kayiira’s rebel outfit. He remained locked up until the NRM captured power in January 1986.
Service under Museveni
When the NRM took over power in 1986, Kirya was released and appointed as security state minister which was a position under the Office of the President. President Yoweri Museveni said, in his eulogy at Kirya’s funeral, that the minister had been the most important player in winning for the new government the approval of Western countries, which were initially hostile. He is also said to have been especially happy with the way the NRM government was running the country’s affairs.
However, even as minister, he is said to have withdrawn much into the background of state administration under the NRM. Kirya was also a champion of traditional institutions and particularly was good friends with Kabaka Mutesa II. He remains one of the favourites of Mengo among the country’s fi rst crop of leaders, and two years ago the Kabaka of Buganda said a monument was to be erected at Bulange in commemoration of his dedicated friendship and service to the kingdom.