Uganda's iconic economy guru Keith Muhakanizi dies of cancer

Friday April 14 2023
Keith Muhakanizi

Ugandan economist Keith Muhakanizi who on April 13, 2023 succumbed to cancer while receiving treatment in Milan, Italy. PHOTO | NMG


Keith Muhakanizi was either arrogant or a true patriot of Uganda. It really depended on whom you asked. When he appeared before Ugandan legislators to explain some policy, the MPs said he had denigrated them. Yet his longevity in public service indicates he was a loyal servant.

The Ugandan economist on Thursday breathed his last, worn out by a long battle with cancer.

“I am shocked to hear the death of Uganda’s Permanent Secretary Keith Muhakanizi. I was aware of his illness, but it was being managed. He came to see me before his next round of treatment and it is sad that he didn't make it,” Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said, referring to his post as permanent secretary in the office of the prime minister.

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni. PHOTO | BADRU KATUMBA | AFP

During his time, Muhakanizi is said to have been one of the few officials who could tell the president to his face: ‘Your excellency, we cannot do that’ or even interrupt him while he talked. Only a few Ugandan elites have that privilege against the country’s long-term ruler.

He is credited as the driving force that worked hard in the early 2000s to get Uganda out of HIPC (Highly Indebted Poor Country), where the country relied on foreign aid, loans and grants accessed under strict, unfair and with bad conditions from the IMF, World Bank and other donors.


Read: Uganda in new wave of re-nationalisation

Muhakanizi’s life journey

Born in 1959, he went to good schools studying at the prestigious Ntare School in Western Uganda, afterwards he joined Makerere University and later Williams College in Massachusetts, USA. Muhakanizi studied commerce and got a master’s degree in development economics.

He succumbed to cancer on Thursday while receiving treatment in Milan, Italy.  He had been flown to the Italian city on Sunday.

But Keith Muhakanizi is more known in Uganda’s Finance Ministry than in the country’s office of the prime minister. He was one of the longest-serving officials at the helm of Uganda’s economic decisions through the ministry of finance. As director of budget, later deputy secretary and secretary to the Treasury, most of the decisions taken from loan requisitions, budget cuts and accountability lay in his hands.

Muhakanizi was the last man standing in the trio that drove Uganda’s economy.

The others, former Ugandan permanent secretary in the finance ministry Chris Kassami and former Bank of Uganda governor Tumusime Mutebile (who held the post of secretary to the Treasury in succession from Mutebile to Muhakanizi), passed on earlier after spending decades in the ministry.

Muhakanizi is credited for his instrumental role in the formation of the macroeconomic policy and planning, financial and private sector growth in the country. However, some economists say the fallen official, together with Kassami and Mutebile (referred to as the architects of Uganda’s revival economics), had too much power and enough time to build and ruin Uganda's economy.

His biggest expertise was in public finance management, budgeting and economic policy, playing a key role in the formulation and implementation of Uganda’s National Development Plans, the Public Finance and Management Act and The Bank of Uganda Act. He was instrumental in the country’s successful completion of the HIPC initiative.

Arrogant man

To many Ugandans, Muhakanizi was a very arrogant man. He was one time accused of denigrating the country’s MPs who summoned him over issues in the finance ministry, describing some of them as mere high school leavers who could not understand complex financial issues. But friends describe him to have been a humble, obedient, listening and advisable civil servant with a rich sense of humour.

Read: Uganda court quashes law used against critics

A few years back, when he faced Uganda’s parliament over allegations of misappropriation of pensioners’ money in which billions of Uganda shillings were lost, Muhakanizi said he would quit his job if he was named in the scam.

Muhakanizi has gone at the time his docket is on fire over the misappropriation of iron sheets meant for Karamoja.

As the permanent secretary in the country’s office of the prime minister, he was supposed to bring his subordinates to order and his last communication to them was to follow procedures as stipulated in Uganda Public Service Standing Orders 2021 and management of public resources.

In a February 15 circular, he directed that requisitions from user departments shall be originated and or endorsed by the head of the department before submission to the accounting officer. In addition, where requests have been originated by ministers/political leaders, local government or other stakeholders, technical assessments of the requests shall be carried out by the responsible department before approval by the accounting officer.