golden handshake

The Golden Handshake, The Botched Bail and The Royal Drama

The Golden Handshake

“I want to direct the AG to immediately vacate this ‘stupid’ order,” Speaker Rebecca Kadaga lamented on 10th January, 2017 during a heated session in Uganda’s Parliament.

The reason:  An Interim Court Order from the Deputy Chief Justice, Steven Kavuma was served on the Attorney General and Parliament, restraining the House and anybody from discussing, investigating, inquiring into and questioning the shs.6billion oil case bonus payments paid out to several government officials in the due course of their work as public officials.

Sometime in April 2013, Uganda was involved in a legal battle against Heritage Oil and Gas Limited. Given the nature of the agreement between the parties, any dispute had to be settled by arbitration. In rules of procedure, there is the court of first instance and the appeals court. This case was first handled by Uganda Tax Appeals Tribunal. The appeal took place in the United Kingdom. Many companies prefer seeking Arbitration in their home countries. This is pretty much the standard agreement for foreign based/incorporated/owned companies consent to while setting up shop in other countries, especially developing countries.

After losing the first time in Uganda, Heritage appealed in the UK for further deliberations. The three -member constituted arbitration panel ruled against Heritage’s claims for tax matter. It is from the costs paid to the government that the beneficiaries of the golden handshake received a share.  News of the famous handshake reached the public and parliament stirring both in array.

One Sabiiti contested the procedure of ‘dishing out’ shs.6bn to certain individuals. He lodged his matter in the Constitutional court for redress. In the meantime, he asked court to issue an order banning anyone including parliament from discussing the matter until a final decision by the court is reached. This, too, threw the public and mostly parliament into another fit.

In law, at least Uganda’s, the Constitutional Court is constituted by a three bench panel. A general principle has exceptions. In this matter, one judge could handle the golden handshake petition.

The legislature’s decision to set up an investigative committee means someone will have to fund the committee’s work. Perhaps it will cost less than shs.6billion or none at all since the honourable members will be exercising their obligations under their mandate.

NB: A court order before a matter is heard does not mean the case will not be heard. It means that certain factors will or will not be done, said or considered until the case is heard. The aggrieved party (like how the Speaker and parliament suggested) can appeal against the order. Then court will fully constitute and either uphold or dismiss/vacate the order. This is where the Attorney General will exercise his role of appealing on behalf of the government.

So, let’s give the learned justice Kavuma the benefit of doubt. The law and moral are intertwined but the law in a democracy takes precedence.

While one parliamentarian stated clearly and rightly that; ‘No one arm of government can tell the other what to do”, he expressed limited prophetic skill at what parliament would face in the future. Checking the executive matters means that executive will check the legislature. No doubt this matter exhibits vivid lapses of the independence of the three arms of government.

But because the furthest this article can go is limited by the said interim court order, I rest my case.

The Botched Bail

In what turns out to be a heavy blow to bail application procedure in Uganda, I am yet to grasp the effects of the legal principle, ‘innocent until proven guilty’.

On 10th January, the High Court denied bail to the three murder suspects in the Kenneth Watmon Akena case.

The reason: The first accused, Matthew Kanyamunyu had substantial sureties but was under 50years. His co-accused Joseph Kanyamunyu and Cynthia Munwangari did not have a fixed place of abode. The latter being a Burundian national holding Burundian and Rwandan pasports. They did not prove to court any circumstances like severe illness that prison authority would not handle.

Among the sureties included Edith Byanyima, Martha Byanyima and Winnie Byanyima (Executive Director of Oxfam International but most importantly for argument’s sake wife to renowned political opposition veteran Rtd. Dr. Kiiza Besigye). Mrs. Byanyima is the biological aunt to the male accused and I would like to think that she did this for her nephew, like any other dotting aunt. Unfortunately, in the eyes of the public, this was a blunder.

What is more surprising is what appeared to be a theatrical (but understandable) display of fellow learned counsel Odonga Otto over the process. The veteran politician put up a spirited resonance to relation when he threatened to disturb the deceased’s peace, exhume his body (illegal, by the way) and transport it to Rtd. Dr. Besigye’s residence because of the latter’s wife’s involvement in the bail application for the accused nephews.

Figuratively, the threat created graphic images safe to say may not happen soon because the bail was denied. But it is my argument that the public understands that the law and blood relations are tricky. While the emotional parliamentarian condemned Mrs. Byanyima’s presence and motives, he forgot his own actions when in 2010 he stood surety for parliamentarian Godi Akbar where he was on trial and subsequently convicted for murdering his girlfriend.

In the common law criminal system, presumption of innocence until guilt is proven supersedes other notions. However, even when the law can deter a relative from aiding and abetting a wrong, it does not stop relations from existing.

I look forward to hearing a ‘just’ ruling in this case even when I’m certain that legal systems are not necessarily a reflection of moral attitudes in society. Blame it on the legal curriculum.

The Royal Drama

Conflicts of inter-cultural descent usually concern issues like restoration or creation of cultural institutions, apportionment of natural resources, multi-ethnicity within related ethnic groups and very more profoundly political influence. Such is the case in Kasese district of Uganda and the recent reports covered by journalists and the international community. I’m sure many heard about journalist Joy Doreen Biira’s woes.

That aside, it’s been reported that some tribal leaders and self-confessed aggressors from the region met the president, expressed their remorse and regret for stirring violence leading to loss of lives and destruction of property, legal battles the king faces, etc.

The climax was “the apology”.

While a section of leaders were pleading with the International Criminal Court to indict the president, blaming him for the conflict, the queen, queen mother, royals and royal leaders were busy creating mutual understanding with the state to restore cooperation between the two and perhaps, release the king from prison. The king Wesley Mumbere, in jail and on trial after the conflicts occurred is on the other hand calling for peace, forgiveness and reconciliation of his subjects.

After the emotional presentation of events, blame game from some politicians and their call for an inquiry into the matter, it is surprising but comforting to hear and write about a possible pacification among the groups affected.

Now that Judge Eva Luswata ruled against the state’s application to transfer the king’s bail application to the International Crimes Division of the High Court, what is yet to happen is a series of twists in the matter. Hopefully, the parties fully acknowledge that legal process at present is a precaution for justice; further bicker is not an option.


Rest well, Ikran Ahmed (Somalia). Reading your story from Opiyo Oloya’s column in the New Vision of 11th January, 2017 at page 16 shows me how many women of your background root for peace in their homes and are unafraid to face danger and social discrimination for a greater cause.

Opiyo Oloya, thank you for the Letter from Toronto. Received. Condolences to her family. I’m sure Uganda would have benefitted from her unity and peace mission.


This article appears in our weekly digital law magazine, The Deuteronomy Vol 1, Issue 2 of 13th January 2017

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