Keith Muhakanizi was an icon, Andrew Mwenda pens moving eulogy
By Andrew Mwenda
Tragedies tend to come in a flood. And so it has been that yesterday I lost yet another friend, Keith Muhakanizi. Keith was an icon. One of the architects of Uganda’s liberal economic reforms, a technocrat of incredible political skill, and a vigorous intellectual, now gone!
Keith and I were bosom buddies. There is no public official in Uganda whose office I frequented than Keith; or whom I had so many lunches with, so many debates, so many disagreements (and agreements) and from whom I learnt as much I did with Keith.
I met Keith as a young journalist in 1996 when he was advisor to the minister of finance, Mayanja Nkangi. Immediately we struck what became a decades long personal and intellectual friendship. Now looking back in retrospect, it is incredible how much he influenced me.
With Keith I did have to make an appointment to see him. I only did to avoid bouncing at his office. When I got to his office, I didn’t have to knock on the door, I just greeted his secretaries Layton and Sauda, and then walked in. And then our debate would begin.
If he was busy in a meeting, he would yell at him: “you stupid journalist get out of my office” with faked anger and I would say I am the new PS ST, having been appointed ten minutes earlier. So it’s u to get out of my office. And then all of us would laugh! What a man!
Keith was a free talker. He expressed his opinions without fear or favor. If he said no, he meant no! And so was his yes. With him you knew where he stood. He could never lie to give u a false sense of happiness. Yet he was also socially skillful he was hard to hate.
Keith was a genius. He was a technocrat who understood that he served a political authority. So he knew the limits of his power but also how to use his position to protect the institutional integrity of the bureaucracy from political interference and buccaneering.
It was a difficult and delicate job but he did it with skill and patience. He was able strike a balance between bureaucratic needs and political necessity. The terrain he traversed was treacherous, but he knew how to tread it with skill and patience.
He knew when to hold firm and when to compromise. He understood that half a loaf is better than nothing. He did not see the world in black and white but saw many gray areas. It is in there that he sought he quarry and thus always found away to get a large slice of what he sought.
When he became PS ST, Keith led the battle to reform the finance management system of the country in order to block all the leakage nodes that had led to the OPM/Kazinda scandals and the Obeyi/pension saga. He did it with the ruthlessness it a surgeon, his knife cutting deep.
There is not a single govt official I spent so much time debating than Keith. I hope I find time to write more about our disagreements on economic strategy although I was his student and disciple on bureaucratic management.
We had a such a long intellectual history that the death of Keith has left me without an equal replacement. I feel a part of me has gone with him. Keith u gave me so much time, so much time that I will forever be thankful and grateful of your generosity. Why me? I don’t know.
All those you worked with will miss you. You inspired an entire country with the integrity of your character, the genius of your intellect, the consistence of your principles, the honesty of your nature, the earnestness of your personality and the warmth of your heart.
To his wife and kids, I don’t know what to say! This must be deeply painful. I hope you find meaning and fulfillment in the knowledge that Keith was a titan and an icon. He has only left us physically. But his works have left a magnificent monument in the hearts of us all.
The Old Man of the Clan against common nonsense.