Shaban Kirunda Nkutu was killed at the violent hands of Idi Amin in 1973 with one of the most outstanding personal records of public service and national development in the history of Ugandan Cabinet Ministers.
As Minister of Health in Uganda (1966-67), late Nkutu oversaw the construction of 21 regional referral hospitals and the establishment of a free, quality, national healthcare system. Before he met his death, Uganda’a referral hospitals were limited to Mulago and the Grade B hospital at Entebbe.
As a Minister of Uganda for Works, Housing, Transport and Communications, Nkutu laid the foundation for Uganda’s post-independence infrastructural foundation.
Nkutu, who inherited a murram national road system, was the father of Uganda’s national tarmac road network, the national landline telephone and postal services system, the [then] new Entebbe International Airport, regional airfields, quality bus and rail transport services and the National Housing and Construction Corporation, which built Crested Towers, Serena Hotel and the International Conference Centre as well as housing estates across the country, including the Bugolobi and Bukoto Housing estates in Kampala.
Shaban Nkutu also oversaw the establishment of East African Airlines and the ports and ferries on Uganda’s Lake Victoria shore, at Port Bell and Jinja.
Shaban Nkutu was born in Nakibembe village, Bugweri County, Iganga District on November 15, 1930. His parents were the late Haji Ausi Kirunda and the late Zafalan Namuwaya from Buganda kingdom.
The Nkutu family belongs to one of the 11 royal clans of the Basoga known as the Baisemenha who are direct descendants of the Bunyoro royal family. The clan traces its roots to the migrant Munyoro Prince Kakaire, son of Omukama Agutamba Nyamutukura, then King of Bunyoro. The clan’s name “Menha,”means “to break,” and it is derived from the clan’s break-away from Bunyoro, following a violent royal succession battle.
The young Nkutu became the beneficiary of a clan tradition handed down by Baisemenha clan leaders of earlier generations to focus the very limited financial resources available – not on their biological heirs – but on the education and career development of whichever young man best embodied Bugweri’s best hopes in its future generations to provide national leadership in Uganda.
Following this tradition, Prince Muwaabe (grandfather of former Deputy Premier Ali Muwaabe Kirunda Kivejinja) – who had assumed leadership of Bugweri after its last pre-colonial Chief Menha Munhuulo had been deposed and exiled to Kenya by the British – decided to groom not his own son Salim Kivejinja but instead another young Prince, Zirabamuzaale (father of Iganga Woman MP Beatrice Zirabamuzaale Magoola) who became Secretary General of Busoga.
Zirabamuzaale was one of the first 3 Africans in the Legco (the Legislative Council), along with Sir Apollo Kaggwa of Buganda and Nyangabyaki of Bunyoro. Zirabamuzaale in turn groomed and placed the clan’s hopes for representation and a role in post-independence Uganda on his nephew Shaban Kirunda Nkutu, whose mother had managed to get him to complete primary school. Under Zirabamuzaale, Nkutu was mentored for national leadership.
Late Shaban Nkutu studied at Mwiri College and was trained at Kibuli SS and Makerere College as a teacher. He was one of the first Muslims in Uganda to get a secular education. Nkutu his twenties served as a teacher and later as a headmaster at Bwala, in Masaka.
Across Africa in the 1950s, it was common for educated African teachers, then a rarity, such as Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, to emerge as nationalist leaders. It was during this period that Nkutu became involved with the nationalist movement for Uganda’s independence, first through the Uganda National Congress (UNC) and later the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC). He had earlier met Uganda’s future Prime Minister, Milton Obote, during secondary school at Mwiri and the two were close friends.
On the eve of independence, in April 1962, Nkutu, with the backing of Prince Zirabamuzaale and Baisemenha clan stood for and was elected to Parliament on the ticket of UPC to represent Busoga South East constituency, which comprised of the present day Bugweri and Kigulu counties (Iganga District), Bunya County (Mayuge District) and the whole of Bugiri and Namayingo Districts. He represented Busoga South East in Parliament until the military overthrow of the Obote I government by Idi Amin on January 25, 1971.
Shaban Nkutu served as Parliamentary Secretary for Economic Affairs in the Office of The Prime Minister (1962-63), Deputy Minister of Education (1963-64), Deputy Minister of Works (1964-66), UPC Government Chief Whip/ Minister in Parliament (1964-66), Minister of Health (1966-67) and Minister of Works, Housing, Transport and Communications (1967-71). He was also the National Chairman of the Uganda Peoples Congress (1968-73).
Due to his clean leadership, most Presidents of Uganda have appointed a Cabinet Minister from his family. Nkutu’s nephew Wanume Kibedi (now Chairman of the Immigration Control Board) served the Amin government as Foreign Minister from 1971-73 and served Museveni as an Ambassador. Another nephew, Dr John Luwuliza-Kirunda, served the second Obote government as Minister of Internal Affairs and Secretary General of UPC from 1981-85 while a third nephew, Kirunda Kivenjinja, has served the Museveni government as a Minister in several portfolios since 1986 and was until recently the 3rd Deputy Prime Minister.
As a political leader, Shaban Nkutu is remembered for his service as Minister of Health in 1966 and as Minister of Works, Housing, Transport and Communications from 1967-71. During his time in the Works Ministry, Nkutu served as Permanent Secretary and Engineer in Chief by Uganda’s pioneer African engineer, James Zikusooka, who died on January 30, 2012.