1st September 2005
He works too hard

ENG. JOHN NASASIRA, 53, one of the longest serving ministers under President Museveni, first served on the National Resistance Army/Movement (NRA/M) external wing in Nairobi (1982-1986). Now the minister for Works, Housing and Communications, Nasasira told SSEMUJJU IBRAHIM NGANDA and EDRIS KIGGUNDU his perception of the man who has ruled Uganda for 20 years.

Initially I was not active in politics. Nairobi University [where I studied] was not as political as Dar es Salaam. I wanted to be a professional person, an engineer… and to run a consultancy. I was not active in politics before the 1980 elections. However, after the elections were rigged, all of us, young people, were interested.
I was working in Kenya. When the National Resistance Movement (NRM) formed its external committee, I joined it. This was about 1982. We were working as a clandestine organisation, especially in western Kenya. Then I was elected chairman of NRM’s external wing, Nairobi region. That is when I got in contact with President Museveni. I had met him earlier in the 1970s but we were not that close.

Nasasira: Fact File

Born: January 5, 1952
Home area: Kazo, Mbarara
Education Career: Kazo, Ntare School and University of Nairobi (Bsc. Civil Engineering).

Political career

MP Kazo, Mbarara district (1989-to date), deputy minister of Works, Transport and Communications (1989-1991); presidential advisor on public works (1991-1992), deputy minister of Works (1992-1994); minister of state for Agriculture (1994-1995); minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (1995-1996), Minister of Works, Transport and Communications (1996 to date).

External wing at work

We were working with [Mathew] Rukikaire and Amama Mbabazi who were in Europe; and Ruhakana Rugunda, Eriya Kategeya and later [Lt. Gen. Elly] Tumwine who had to come from the bush because of his injuries. Others were Sam Njuba and Kirunda Kivenjinja, Andrew Lutaaya, Mzee Samson Kisekka (RIP), James Tumusiime, Kweronda Ruhemba and Henry Muganwa Kajura.
[John] Nagenda only came to Nairobi around 1985. We were a big group. We had different committees but the overall chairman of the group was Rukikaire.

After 1986 …

When I came back [in 1986], I did free work in this ministry [Works]. This was part of our campaign in Nairobi. I worked in this ministry for six months and I supervised some projects. Then I went into politics in earnest in 1989 when I stood for NRC elections and since then I have been active in NRM.
Initially, I was a deputy minister [of Works]. Therefore, I was not attending Cabinet meetings from 1989 to July 1991. From 1996, I became minister of Works up to now. So I have really worked, talked, discussed with the President many… many times.
My own judgment is that when the President appoints you, he leaves you to do your work. Even when he goes out and he finds out that there is a problem, he will ring you and ask, what are you doing on this?

Museveni strong

Then from the Cabinet side, he is a very strong man on what he wants. But he will not come and say I want this. He will say: “I want this, what do you think?”
He is strong in that he will continue arguing with you in Cabinet… he will even have another meeting another day until he convinces you.
Museveni is very strong on his ideas but he does not push them [down] your throat. He is also fairly patient, because there are many areas where he would have thought differently like the economy. But he has left different brains and feelings for the economic policy to shape slowly. Because there are few areas he does not agree. For example, he is so strong on value addition and so on but the way it is budgeted for… There are many things he would not agree with, like World Bank and IMF policies. But he is very patient. He is very strong on an idea and he is ready to sit for hours and hours to convince you to see his way.
Then I think he works too much. He works 20 hours a day. He works at midnight. He can ring you any time at night, in the morning. He is overworked. He is a hands-on person, checking on this, checking on that.

Cabinet meetings

The Cabinet meetings he attends are less than those he [misses]. So he leaves the Cabinet to the Vice President or the Prime Minister.

If you check Cabinet records, you will see that the Vice President or Prime Minister has chaired more meetings than him. Museveni will attend when it is necessary or when it is a strategic issue but he will leave the Vice President or Prime Minister to chair the Cabinet meetings.

Very knowledgeable

He has concentrated on the politics and affairs of Uganda right from [his] youth. He has this long-term vision of what he would want Uganda to be, the region to be, Africa to be. He is more than Ugandan in his thinking.
My sympathy is that he is working with very weak systems. Museveni is a victim of Uganda’s weak systems and some of the work he does should be done by other people.
Because of the weak systems, he is still a hands-on person. I do not know how many people realise that our systems are still extremely weak.

Secondly, Museveni is a person… if rebels attack from D.R. Congo; he will put on a uniform and go to the frontline. Most presidents will not do that.

I do not think the President interferes in any work. What you want to see as interference in ministries, he only comes to find out why something is not being done but ministers are free to work.

He is active. That is his style of work. That is why sometimes he is overworked. He is not satisfied with the institutions in place.

The way Museveni developed his thinking and vision sometimes conflicts with existing systems. Now even me, as a minister, I sometimes find this civil service extremely frustrating. At one time, I was accusing them (civil servants) for they were trained to tell you why things don’t work rather than finding a way to work. The private sector thinks differently.
Museveni does not belong to the formal… giving reasons why things don’t work. He wants things to work.

If ,for example, he had not put his foot down on [the sale of] UCB, it would have collapsed completely. And why? Because even the people who were working there did not want it to be sold. He really put his foot down on this issue having seen the disaster that happened earlier, having seen Uganda Airlines just disappearing.

So in areas where as a president he has an obligation to ensure the country does not lose this, those who might oppose him will say he is too forceful.
But there are certain strategic issues where he has his own vision. For instance, there were people opposed to liberalisation. There are people who are communists within the Movement. There are people who want a command economy.

Gets angry sometimes

Sometimes he can get angry or disappointed on a certain issue. But in disagreements, especially if they are of a strategic nature, he will call another meeting.
He is somebody who is ready to talk now, talk tomorrow to convince you.

Of course, he is highly respected because of his history and his intellect. I think he has put a lot of his time on issues like history, politics…I don’t think there is anybody who knows this country more than him in terms of even villages. Whether you are talking about the north, west or south.
He knows issues about China …the revolutions. So he is a fairly knowledgeable person and every time you will find that what he knows humbles other people.

But sometimes he can abandon an issue in Cabinet if he sees there is no support for it. Sometimes he says: “I brought this issue in Cabinet two years ago, you rejected me. Now you have seen it…”
There are issues if you can convince him, he can abandon his stand. For example, a South African company came here. This company was saying they would bring block trains. It was going to run from here to Mwanza, to Tabora; then to a place called Kilato [in Tanzania] up to Durban [in South Africa].

They tried to convince him that they would repair the Kasese line but I could see… first of all he [Museveni] is so attached to anyone who wants to invest here… This company came and for him he thought they were working together with the South African railway company [the national railway corporation of South Africa].

They had started a company in Tanzania that was partly owned by Tanzanians … and [Museveni] wanted to open this route to Durban, which was good. But the people who were trying to do it did not have what it takes. They wanted to have rights using this railway. You know these rights… we are going to give them to a concessionaire very soon…

We had learnt from the company that came here and started an airline called Alliance Air. We gave them rights because Uganda Airlines was weak. Then they also did not work well and eventually we did not have any airline.

I decided to do my intelligence and I got the facts, which even the South Africans employing these people did not know. I presented these facts in writing to Museveni. The moment he saw these facts … I know internally he was not happy with me … So there are those moments even as minister you should give the President good advice.

Even the oath states that I should give good counsel to the President. You should not say he has ordered, so you just act even when you know it is wrong.

The cattle keeper

If he succeeds, especially like winning elections or the Movement is winning in Parliament [he becomes happy]. Also when he is with elderly people, you see him very happy.
If he had time, he would be a very personal fellow. For example, if you had a meeting with him and he is sitting at his home in Rwakitura and say he calls you… I remember the first time [I visited him at Rwakitura], he stood up to greet me. You would expect the President not to stand up and greet.
I remember another experience. I am not very religious and many times when I get my food I eat it without praying. When we were there [at his home], they served our food. I was starting to eat and he said: “Let us pray.”
I did not expect it.

I did not think he was really that religious because even he admits it.
The other happy moment is when he is with his cows… because he can be chairing a meeting and then he jumps into a vehicle, drives himself and goes to see his cows…
This is not Museveni the president but Museveni the cattle keeper… the other human side of him.

D.R. Congo invasion

But the D.R. Congo situation was such that you had to move in fast [no time for consultations]. The President is allowed constitutionally to take a decision, then he can come back and inform. The Congo issue was so complex. ADF had attacked… you can imagine some people coming to attack… It is true he briefed Cabinet later but at one time you have to [act]…

I do not want to be at the same level with [former deputy prime minister Eriya] Kategaya because Kategaya had lived with the President for some time. So there might be some things he had discussed with the President that I do not know.

Bush war leader

That time we always met in a group and it was a short period. He would come for meetings. Of course, he was not yet a president. He was a leader of a guerilla organisation but he was very strong. He would come and address us. I think he appeared more on the left side [socialist].


I want to be remembered as one of those who contributed towards making Uganda better.