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My reflections after the passing of a special friend (Muhakanizi)

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The passing of Keith Muhakanizi on April 13, 2023 took from us yet another very experienced and very honest policy economist of our time; a very hard-working man who loved his country so much. When I told Keith that I was going to work for UN in South Sudan, he told me he would not take a job outside of Uganda under any circumstances. He was also a very kind man.

His Professional life:

He was an unflagging and exciting debater especially on economic policy choices. He was forthright and did not shy away from stating his views. As a consequence, he sometimes made enemies because of his straight-from-the-shoulder sincerity. At one point in his service to the nation, he was persona-non-grata to Uganda’s Parliament. He had, it is alleged, been rude to our legislators. He endured.

Keith joined the then Ministry of Planning in 1982 when I first met him. He and Mr. Damoni Kitabire joined the Planning Department which was responsible for Macroeconomic matters (Gross Domestic Product, Balance of Payments, inflation, unemployment, and the like) where they were initially supervised by Mr. Kayuza and Mr. Tebigwayo respectively in the department that was headed by the late Professor Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile as the Chief Government Planning Economist. With the help of their boss and mentor, both Keith and Damoni were sent to Warsaw Poland to undertake further training in National Economic Planning at post graduate diploma level.  Three years later in 1986, Keith and Damoni were again sent to undertake further training at Masters level in Macroeconomics at Manchester and Strathyclde University respectively. Their initial training in approach to economic policy formulation was, I believe, influenced by the late Professor Mutebile. Keith and Damoni worked and related closely; and in fact, Damoni was his best man when he wedded Janet.

Keith was the first of these two policy economists that began their professional life together to be elevated to prominence when he was appointed Secretary to the Presidential Economic Council (PEC) in the early days of the NRM Government. PEC meetings were often long and indeed often ended late at night. I recall that the Ministry was forced to buy him an official vehicle to facilitate his movements at night. I also recall that his work as PEC Secretary often put him in trouble, most probably because he proffered unwelcome advice to PEC members. And at one time, it put him and I together in one of such frequent troubles, when the then Prime Minister directed the Minister of Finance and Economic Planning to have us sacked from the civil service. It didn’t happen.

But PEC meetings served a very useful purpose in those very early days of the MRM Government. PEC meetings provided a forum where the President got to hear and sieve the views of all our policy makers of the time. It is my personal view that PEC meetings provided a forum out of which the decision to merge the then two Ministries of Finance on one hand and Planning and Economic Development on the other was conceived. Keith, the late Professor Mutebile and the late Mayanja Nkangi were some of the key persons in providing raw material from which the decision was made.

Indeed, after the decision was made in early 1992, Hon. Nkangi was appointed Minister and Professor Mutebile was appointed PS/ST. Keith was appointed Economic Advisor. To be very honest, up until then, Uganda’s economy was in a very bad shape. These gentlemen turned the economy round in record time. In seven years after 1992, Uganda’s GDP more than trebled.

Keith served as Economic Advisor to the Minister and later as Commissioner for Economic Development Policy, Director / Budget, Director / Economic Affairs, Deputy Permanent Secretary / Secretary to the Treasury (PS / DST) and Permanent Secretary / Secretary to the Treasury (PS /ST).   

Keith played a major role in achieving and maintaining macroeconomic stability, liberalizing the exchange rate and trade policy. As Secretary to the Treasury, and in partnership with Bank of Uganda, which he also served as a Director, he has been involved in reforming the financial system, liberalizing the financial markets and strengthening prudential regulation. These are, of course, only some of the concrete achievements to which Keith made a vital contribution.

His social life:

Keith is a Ntare School alumnus. He lived in Bugolobi flats during the early 1980s and liked to socialize with Justice Wilson Kwesiga, a teetotaller like Keith; and the late Stephen Zindonda and late Ben Zindonda who were all from Ntare School.

During our interactions socially, he exhibited a penchant for daring and fearless characteristics at a time when our political divisions dictated a lot of carefulness. He didn’t drink alcohol but enjoyed the company of these above-mentioned gentlemen even in the Middle-East where we used to spend late evenings. He never consumed alcohol until the l990s when the late Charles Twinomusinguzi and I literally forced him in Kampala Club.

Keith was daring, often fearless, but a positive personality who lit up any group in which he participated be it political discussions in Middle East, in the boardroom at work, in Parliament or indeed in Kampala club. On the night of his elevation to the office of PS / ST, I had already returned to Uganda after my service to the UN in South Sudan. He picked me from the Golf Club that night to serve as his choice for best man during the party that was provided to him by the Goat Club of Kampala Club.

I am very grateful I met Keith. He warmed up to many and was very generous. He did for me anything I requested him to; but I also know that his NO was final.

We will deeply miss the brilliance of his insights, and his challenges to conventional political and economic thinking———but most of all, his friendship and the pleasure of his company.

He did his last lap with his devotion to public duty undimmed. For those of us who were close, he made us very proud. Our caps are doffed as we cherish his memory.

Fare-thee-well my friend and rest in peace Keith.

Francis Tumuheirwe

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