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Aronda saga

By Haggai Matsiko

What next after Museveni militarises cabinet?

Even as the Appointments Committee sat on July 15 to deliberate, for the third time, on whether or not to approve the former army boss, Gen. Aronda Nyakairima, as new minister of Internal Affairs, the decks were staked in his favour but the decision remained dicey.

As the Appointments Committee entered its chambers, the numbers appeared to favour those in favour. Of the 25 members that sit on the committee, 18 are members of President Yoweri Museveni’s ruling NRM, the other Gen. Elly Tumwine is a UPDF and a founder of the NRM. Of the remaining six, three are independent members and DP, FDC and UPC have one member each.

Still, it was not clear how Aronda’s case which has taxed legal minds, divided public opinion, and pitted Museveni and his Attorney General, Peter Nyombi, against some MPs would end. Under the constitution, the President appoints ministers but they must be approved by parliament’s appointments committee.

On the face of it, the question in Aronda’s case is whether the constitution allows an individual to be appointed minister and continue serving in the army. Museveni and his camp say it does, while the other side disagrees.

In debates reminiscent of 2001, when Museveni appointed then-Maj. Gen. Katumba Wamala to head the civilian police force,   MPs and critics are saying appointing Aronda is a ploy to “militarise” cabinet.

And, as has become almost fashionable these days, the word is that Museveni is using Aronda as a trial-run in clearing the way for his son, Brig. Muhoozi Kainerugaba to become minister of Defense en-route to succeeding his father sometime in the future.

The appointment is further complicated because it came just days after Museveni’s erstwhile adviser on security and coordinator of intelligence service, the renegade Gen. David Sejusa, alleged that Aronda was on a hit-list of anti-Muhoozi officers.

Gen. Sejusa, who has since fled into exile in Britain, alleged in a leaked dossier that Museveni has plans to assassinate top army officers opposed to Muhoozi.

From Britain, Gen. Sejusa has also criticised Museveni for “fearing” to retire top army generals as a way of keeping them on a military law leash.

“The appointment of Aronda is a continued abuse of the military tool for his (Museveni’s) own survival,” Semuju Ibrahim Nganda, the Kyadondo East MP told The Independent, “What Museveni wants is to control Aronda but also to use him, unfortunately, as an experiment such that once he appoints his son Minister of Defence tomorrow, there is a precedent.”

Nganda argues that Museveni believes that for one to have a successful political career they must maintain control in the army but at the same time be politicians.

Semuju argues: “Museveni wants Kayihura (Kale Kayihura, the Inspector General of Police) and Muhoozi (Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the Commander Special Forces) to control the UPDF but in the grand succession plan appoint Muhoozi a minister while he is still an army officer and prepare him for presidency.”

Nganda is not the only one who shares this view. Human rights lawyer, Laudislaus Rwakafuzi, MPs Winfred Niwagaba and Theodere Sekikubo have also publicly expressed the same view.

While Sekikubo threatened a show down with committee members if they approved the appointment, Niwagaba warned of the grave implications of such a move noting that it could propel Muhoozi into cabinet.

“Museveni wants to bring his son into politics and he wants Nyakairima to set a precedent,” Rwakafuuzi told local media.

It is not hard to see where Semuju and Rwakafuzi are coming from because Museveni in 2009 let another army commander, Lt Gen. Jeje Odongo to retire before parliament approved him as deputy Defence minister after a similarly drawn out debate. That Museveni is once again insisting on the Aronda and seeking all sorts of legal maneuvers is informative.

Westerners and miracles

The July 15 session followed two key meetings between President Museveni and the appointments committee at State House Entebbe. Basing on leaked information from those meeting, sources told The Independent that “only a miracle” could stand in the way of Aronda’s approval.

The Aronda saga had begun on June 26 when the committee had deferred approving his appointment and that of Dr. Elioda Tumwesigye, the Sheema North MP who Museveni had named minister of State for Health. Members of the committee, basing unusually on narrow tribal grounds, reportedly argued against Tumwesigye because he would skew an already tilted cabinet in favour of `westerners’ who already hold 51% of ministerial positions. Tumwesigye was finally passed on July 15.  Aronda is also a westerner but he was blocked on a legal technicality.

The legal gymnastics are for or against, depending on who is opining. But the most quoted is a constitutional provision that bars serving army personnel from engaging in “partisan politics”. The other is Section 99 of the UPDF Act that appears to bar serving army personnel from holding civilian political office unless they quit the army.

It reads: “A serving officer or militant who desires to seek political office shall first resign or retire from the Defence Forces according to regulations made by the minister”.

As soon as Aronda was named minister of Internal Affairs in a mini-cabinet reshuffle on May 24 and Attorney General Peter Nyombi’s opinion was sought, he said there is no law barring army personnel from serving in cabinet.

Nyombi is gaining notoriety for challengeable opinions and the Uganda Law Society says his advice on Aronda attempts to bypass the spirit of the constitution.

Additional information indicates, however, that Museveni had anticipated the opposition to Aronda and instructed legal minds in the UPDF to prepare a defence. The defense, tabled before the Appointments Committee, reportedly invoked the President’s executive powers to appoint any citizen. It included a provision under the UPDF Act where serving army officers can be attached to any government department by secondment.

Section 38(2) of the UPDF Act reads:  “Officers or militants of the Defence Forces may be attached or seconded to any department or agency of government…”

Sources The Independent spoke to also cited several one-on-one meetings between the President, his top cadres, and some members of the Appointments Committee, whose composition is largely dominated by the president’s party, the National Resistance Movesment (NRM).

Following one of these meetings, the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga who chairs the committee opted to stay out of the legal duels. In a previous case of Mister of State for Lands, Aida Nantaba, she was accused of attempted to frustrate Museveni’s appointments.

Sources say, this time round she has opted to withhold opinion on Aronda, and left her deputy, Jacob Oulanya, who also doubles as the committee’s vice chairman, to insist that there was no clause in the Constitution that stops President Museveni from appointing a military officer a minister.

This position was well articulated by Attorney General Peter Nyombi, who earlier on invoked Article 113 of the constitution noting that the president appoints ministers from amongst MPs or any person who can be elected as an MP. Aronda represents the UPDF in parliament.

Sources told The Independent that some of the MPs who before meeting the President were against Aronda’s appointment, emerged saying the President convinced them.

“It is not that the president is insisting,” Simon Aleper, the Moroto Municipality MP, who sits on the committee, told The Independent, “he is exercising his powers because as the appointing authority, he can appoint any citizen.”

Succession schemes

But approval of Aronda, threatens to flare tensions between the executive and the legislature again because of what it means to President Museveni.

For President Museveni, political observers say, seeing the committee approve Aronda as minister sets a critical precedent in his grand succession plans as he caps three decades in power in 2016.

With plans to contest again in 2016, President Museveni, who will continue to face more opposition, observers say needs to surround himself with trusted old hands to execute his programmes and missions.

Under Aronda, UPDF soldiers were part of the security operatives that crushed the 2011 protests inspired by defacto leader of opposition to Museveni rule, retired Col. Kizza Besigye. As Internal Affairs minister, Aronda would be in charge of the police whose mandate it is to quell opposition political unrest.

Officially, the president told MPs on the committee that he wants Aronda, who is already familiar with the controversial National Identity Card project having worked on it when it was still under the UPDF, to see it through. The project is currently under the ministry of internal affairs.

But, critics say, what Museveni cannot say is what is his main intention is to keep Aronda on a leash and using his appointment to set a precedent.

By maintaining Aronda in the army, the argument goes, the President is able to bar him from joining opposition politics like his previous army commander and current Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) president, Gen. Mugisha Muntu.  Col. Kizza Besigye was the first to go against Museveni.

When he recently travelled to the UK, another bush war hero, Brig. Jim Muhwezi had to issue a public statement regarding his activities there. Media reports had claimed, apparently wrongly, that he was close to renegade Gen. Sejusa.

Another obvious army officer who has been blocked from quitting the army is the controversial Brig. Henry Tumukunde who was recently acquitted after a nine year trial under the military court martial.

The hulky Aronda meanwhile is a gentle general; reticent and guarded general with very little known about what goes on inside his obviously smart brain.

While removing from the position of CDF, Museveni publicly criticised him for failing on maintaining the welfare of the forces, and making some technical errors on the war fronts in the DR Congo and Somalia. Overall, however, a lot about Aronda’s skill is read in his having kept the job for a decade, the longest ever under Museveni.

Sources close to Aronda say he harbours an independent mind about Uganda’s politics, which is another reason Museveni is perhaps unsure about his allegiances.

Most importantly, observers say, by appointing Aronda minister when he is still in the army, Museveni opens a gate where top serving army officers can legitimately serve in his government.

While President Yoweri Museveni’s government has been described by many including Kizza Besigye as “a military regime” citing especially President Museveni’s saber-rattling and the threats and interventions by military operatives in politics for instance when a military outfit Black Mamba attacked the High Court, the latest development would end the speculation about the army’s role in politics.

In a country where bullets rather than ballots have dominated politics since independence, where two governments have been removed by coups, one by a foreign invasion, and another by an armed rebellion as noted in E.A.Brett’s paper Neutralising the Use of Force in Uganda: the Rôle of the Military in Politics, such a trajectory only threatens to repeat a history where the military directly dominated politics.

At a press conference, UPC vice president, Joseph Bbosa put it bluntly: “It (approving Aronda as a minister) could mark the beginning of the militarisation of government.”

Already, many have cited Museveni’s donning of military outfits, the UPDF representation in parliament, and constant saber-rattling to describe Uganda’s complex political nexus with the military as a quasi-military regime.

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