MIRIA MATEMBE, 52, is the Women MP for Mbarara
district. Between 1998 and 2003, she was Ethics and Integrity minister
until President Museveni sacked her for opposing the lifting of
presidential term limits. She explains to EDRIS KIGGUNDU
the kind of person she thinks Museveni is:-
I did not know President Museveni personally until 1989. It was
February soon after the National Resistance Council (NRC) elections.
He had called those who had won elections in the cattle corridor
(Masaka and Ankole). We went to Rwakitura [Museveni’s country
home]. When I put up my hand to say something, he said: “Yes
I said: “Matembe.”
He said: “No you are not Matembe, you are doctor…”
I said: “I am Matembe.”
Then he said, never mind you make your point.
So he must have heard about Matembe because I was very effective
in Kampala in mobilisation but he did not put the name to the person...
[Matembe was once vice chairperson LCIII Nakawa division and councillor
at Kampala district as secretary for mass mobilisation and Education.
She was also chairperson ACFODE].
… So this is when he put the name to the person. When we finished
the meeting, we went for lunch.
I went to him, then he said: “You are Matembe? I have been
confusing you with a lady at the Secretariat called Ruth Ruhanganingwa.”
It was a weekend.
Born: August 28, 1953
Home area: Rutooma, Mbarara district.
Education: Bweranyangi Girls School, Namasagali College, Makerere
University (LLB), Warwick University (LLM).
Minister of Ethics and Integrity (1998-2003), MP
Mbarara district (1996-to date), MP Pan African Parliament
(2003-todate), CA delegate (1994-1995) NRC member Mbarara
State attorney - Ministry of Justice (1979), lecturer
in Law at Uganda College of Commerce (1979-1983), senior lecturer
in Law and English at Chartered Institute of Bankers (1983-1989).
On Monday, the then minister for constitutional affairs [Sam Njuba]
called me and said bring your CV. He said: “I have been directed
to put you on the Constitutional Commission [Odoki Commission].”
Two weeks after, a social secretary to Mrs. [Janet] Museveni came
looking for me and found me at my home in Port Bell [Luzira].
He said: “The First Lady wants you.”
I said: “The First Lady?” Anyway, he took me to State
House in Entebbe. The First Lady told me, “I would like you
to represent me in Minnesota (U.S.A.)” because they had invited
her to go there for a conference but she was unable.
I said: “Eh! But why don’t you send one of the ministers…”
She said: “No, it is you I want to send.”
I said fine.
So she said: “Go and write a speech and bring it.”
When I had taken the speech and my driver had parked outside State
House; that is when President Museveni came and saw my driver and
said: “Who are you and whom have you brought here?”
My driver said Matembe. Then he told the people [guards] at the
gate that: “When Matembe comes from seeing mum [Janet] tell
her I want to see her. She should not go.”
I found him outside and he said: “You are Matembe?”
I said yes.
Then he said: “Sit there and tell me all about yourself.”
I got scared because I knew this man was a great man. I was not
prepared to meet him. I knew he was articulate. I knew he was brilliant.
So I said where do I begin. I told him I was born in this village…he
said: “You are daughter of so and so?”
I told him my father.
He said: “Oh! So you are the daughter of that man.”
I said but I thought you knew me all along because I was a popular
person in Kampala. I had been on LCs. He said, “I knew the
name but not the person”.
He said: “Now I have put you on the Constitutional Commission.”
I said: “Thank you Sir.”
He said: “My wife had been invited to Minnesota and I advised
her to send somebody to represent her because she is busy. I advised
her to send a brilliant woman to represent her.”
I said, so I am considered brilliant?
From that time, because I was on the Commission, we started meeting
often. We used to have personal exchanges on the phone about twice
a year to talk about politics and general matters. I used to go
and talk to him [at State House] and he would listen, and by the
time I would leave, I would be defeated in my argument.
So I found him as a person who would listen. He was open. But somewhere
down the road around 1997, he started to be less tolerant. Because
I remember telling him many times privately that this Movement is
no longer the Movement it was.
You could see that he was no longer listening; no longer interested
I become minister
I became minister [of Ethics and Integrity] in 1998. By the time
I was appointed, everybody knew it was long overdue. Before this
whenever I would meet Museveni, I used to assure him I was comfortable
where I was. He was trying to see whether I was disappointed or
something like that.
After appointing the new VP [Speciosa Kazibwe], he called me. I
told him I am very happy where I am. And, secondly, I used to think
that I would never be a minister because the appointment of ministers
was usually to appease them. And there were many Banyankole [in
Cabinet] so I said: I do not think they will appoint me a minister.
I intended to leave politics by 2001. I was thinking that when
it comes to 2000 before the president appoints me minister, I would
go to him and say: “Sir I have served long enough, you appoint
me because I wanted it for my CV.”
God must have heard my prayers.
I just heard this announcement on the radio and people calling to
tell me. To be honest, if he had appointed me minister of state
like a junior minister under another minister, I would have had
problems accepting the appointment because me I know my character.
I am very hard. I want work done. I do not want anyone in my way
when I am doing my work. And I was thinking, they give me a boss
up here, we might quarrel. We might not work well together if he
is not moving at my speed.
I was very very happy. I was pleased with the portfolio that I was
given because it was not there and I had to establish it and do
it in my way. This was a good challenge. In that ministry, I worked
closely with him.
Museveni was somehow interested [in the fight against corruption]
but there were certain people whom he never wanted to... There was
unequal treatment of people. When some people were brought to him,
he would take action. But others, especially those close to him,
My time in Cabinet
Most of the time I stayed on Cabinet, it was very difficult to be
open. The political space had been narrowing down. Whenever there
were some crucial matters to discuss, that is when he would attend
Cabinet briefings. Did I oppose him in Cabinet?
On two occasions [in Cabinet], it was so bad that I almost had a
heart attack. But these Cabinet things you do not reveal. One thing
I want you to know is that even during my days in Cabinet I used
to stand up even if I was to be alone.
On one occasion it had to do with the dam saga, I almost collapsed.
It was so bad.
I met him and told him I wanted to resign. That was before 2001.
But he said no.
It was so bad that I said no, I need my life. When I went to talk
to him I told him; ‘Sir, I used to be honest to you. If my
being minister is stopping you from having that cordial relationship
with me, then I would rather resign.’
We talked and talked and continued.
When I was appointed the second time , I did not want to take
up the job. Because I did not see him with a political will to fight
corruption and I thought I was being masqueraded as shield. We had
a chat for about four hours; I was turning down the job. But he
said “please take this job because I don’t have anybody
to do it for me and you have been doing it very well”.
Now I said this is the head of state; he is not accepting my proposal
not to take up the job. It would be no good. And they had already
announced [my appointment over the radio] when I went to see him.
If he had talked to me before they announced, I would have said
But I was told I was going to do it on my own terms. And for those
two years from 2001 to the time he removed me , I was talking
as freely as I could and he was not happy about it.
He even told me: “I have been hearing you all over the place,”
and I told him: “I have been doing the job you gave me.”
Why we fell out
I have not fallen out with President Museveni as an individual.
I have fallen out with his beliefs. One time I had a discussion
with him in 1994. I told him, “you see me sir, I don’t
have money abroad and I fear the bush. So if things don’t
go well, my children, and me, what will happen?”
I remember him telling me: “Matembe, I thought you were brave
kumbe you are a coward.”
I told him no, we have a proverb in Runyankole that: ‘At
the coward’s place they are celebrating while at the brave’s
place they are mourning’ [i.e. there are no dead heroes].
So I said I want things to be all right.
Then I think in 1998, we used to meet him as the Ankole Caucus [in
Parliament] and I used to talk about these tribalism things, the
things of ethnicity, corruption. I told him that people fear him
now. But one time he told me, ‘But people do not fear me,
don’t you see people like Moses Ali and Bidandi Ssali’.
I told him among people there are those bihandas (rogues), the
impossible ones. But other people are scared. For me I kept telling
him and I never thought he would be the one to want to remove term
limits because I believed in his genuineness.
I had always been pleading for Museveni. People were saying President
Museveni would change his mind and stand again.
I would tell them: “You people, you are always suspicious.”
I was there pleading for him.
But one time, I went to address the Women Conference on Peace and
Conflict Resolution at Hotel Equatorial. I told [participants] that
one of the causes of conflicts in Africa is overstaying in power
by our presidents. I told them we, African women, should stand and
tell our leaders not to overstay in power because when this happens
it is women who suffer most. And I said, “we in Uganda are
very lucky because our president participated in the making of the
 constitution and I do not expect he would change it. But
should he want to change it, we should tell him not to change it.
And I told them if you are scared, for me I would tell him”.
The next day, a cartoon came out in the New Vision where I was holding
a bell and ringing for President Museveni to go. I was saying time
up [in the cartoon].
He saw the cartoon and he called me. He said: “You Matembe,
I saw you ringing a bell for me.”
I said which bell? I had not seen the paper.
He said: “Why do you think for me I want to stay [in power].”
I said: “Sir, for me I was speaking…and said that should
you want to stay, I will tell you.”
He said: “Why are imputing bad motives on me?”
I said: “Sir, I am sorry. I am not imputing any bad motive.
I know you are the one who made us make the constitution. I was
saying I trust you will not change it. But should you want to change
it, I will tell you. That is what I said.”
He told me if that is what you said, why don’t you write
an article and publish it in the press so that you clear the air.
I went and wrote that article in New Vision a few days before his
It was titled: “Cartoon Causes Bad Impression”.
I wrote saying that the cartoon caused a bad impression. That I
trust the president would not change his mind; that he has trust
in the constitution.
Come Kyankwanzi , that is when I got my shock because I saw
him stand up and say, “this issue of third term, I want to
advise you to deliberate it in a way of lifting term limits such
that we have a free term”.
I expected him to say, “this issue of third term, forget it;
we made our constitution, we must be bound by the constitution”.
We had met in Gulu before Kyankwanzi and there was talk about the
third term thing. We asked [and] he said that is a non-issue.
We had wanted to discuss the views of the Ssempebwa Commission
before Kyankwanzi, but he said we must discuss it after Kyankwanzi;
because he knew in Kyankwanzi we would have concluded the third
It was terrible what people were discussing; telling him “you
came from heaven” and this kind of thing. It was nonsense.
By 2001 when Besigye contested, we had already told him about these
wrong things. But why didn’t [former deputy prime minister]
Kategeya or I go with Besigye?
We said no. We couldn’t abandon the president. He has done
good things for this country [although] like any other human being
he has made mistakes. And the constitution gives him another term.
Since he wants this term, let us continue with him.
We called Besigye as the Ankole Caucus to convince him to go with
us. Besigye told us: “Ladies and gentlemen, I have known this
man. I have worked with him and I want to assure you that come 2006,
he will not go.” And Besigye told us he was not intending
to contest for the presidency. What he did not want was President
Museveni to contest. But he said that if there were no one who is
going to contest with him, “I [Besigye] will contest because
I know he has no intention of leaving”.
Museveni uses people as instruments of achieving his aim.
The moment he thinks you have served that purpose and you come to
disagree with him, you must be discarded. You can continue working
with him as long as you toe the same line. When you are discarded,
he picks people who do not know him. By the time they get to know
who he is, then he will discard them and get new ones. When he used
to campaign for me, he would say “this is a brilliant woman.
This is my bullet. This is my gun”. Now that I said I disagree
with him on something, I become chuff. In the end, you are used
Museveni now is like when you meet a man and he tells you he is
not married and you are a single woman who wants to get married.
On reaching his home, you find a woman and children.
In other words, I have come to find out that President Museveni
is not the person that I thought he was. Of course, he acted the
person that I thought he was but along the road, I have found out
that he is like any other politician.
President Museveni fears strong personalities, people who can measure
to his capacity. Therefore, he must make sure that whowever measures
to his capacity is sidelined.
I have found him as a person who is not interested in building institutions
although by rhetoric he wants institutions.
He is a man of contradictions. What he says is not what he wants.
You find at State House, there are shadow ministers.
And they might be more authoritative. They are used to undermine
the institutions that are in place. For instance, you are IGG investigating
a case; you find there is a certain Fox Odoi or a [Hussein] Kashillingi
and what they give him is what he believes in more than what you
He is a man I failed to understand. No wonder they were calling
him a spirit. And I know these young parliamentarians who call us
rubbish will find out and will be discarded too. Because to him
people are instruments to be used to promote his personal interest.
Can you imagine this nonsense…just because people eat rats?
How can you love power so much? Actually, I am so worried about
the president’s crave for power. This insatiable crave for
power which is reflected through some of these unreasonable actions;
like this business of wearing of banana leaves when in Ankole it
is a demonic and evil sign. Then the creation of districts…you
know the whole behaviour aimed at remaining in power…I am
Agenda for Uganda
I do not see him leading us to any better heights. He has been here
singing industrialisation for the last 20 years. He is tolerating
corruption, he has promoted it, [and] he is interested in it. He
is no longer interested in good governance. In other words, he is
a real dictator. The legacy he has made is going to be destroyed
unless God does miracles; we are on the road downwards.
Versus past leaders
I do not want to compare President Museveni with past leaders because
past leaders…you know Obote’s leadership, you know Amin’s
leadership and what it led us to. I want to compare Museveni with
good leaders. He came here to remove bad leadership and lead us
well. When you compare him with bad leaders, he wins the case. I
want to compare him with the [Nelson] Mandelas and [Julius] Nyereres
(RIP) not the Obotes. He should be ashamed that he builds his political
capital by comparing himself with Obote and Amin. He is dwindling
into Obote and Amin if he does not take the advice of those who
love him, of whom I am one.
I want to be remembered as somebody who has made an impact in women’s
lives. Somebody who has made a difference in women’s lives