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Behind the scenes at IPU conference

By Eriasa Mukiibi Sserunjogi

Why did Mbabazi, Nandala skip Kadaga’s big moment?

On April 4, The Independent’s parliament reporter Agather Atuhaire was stopped as she rushed to cover the proceedings of a committee of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) assembly at the Kampala Serena Hotel. A plain-cloth security official interrogated her about a document she was carrying. She was accused of attempting to supply copies of the “propaganda” to the delegates.

The “propaganda” was a copy of the memorandum about the state of democracy, not just in Uganda but Africa, that FDC President Kizza Besigye had circulated to IPU delegates he had held a meeting with at Grand Imperial Hotel a day earlier.

It is not clear whether the security operative was under instructions to stop the “propaganda”. What is clear though is that not even Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga took kindly to opposition leader Kizza Besigye’s attempt to reach out to the delegates.

At the closing press conference at Serena Hotel on March 5, Kadaga said “It was an act of indiscipline for the opposition to try to meet delegates”. “They are not members of parliament so they are not entitled to attend our meetings,” she added.

Kadaga said the opposition leaders who are not in parliament should have communicated to the delegates through the Leader of Opposition. In fact, the question about attempts at blocking the opposition’s access to the delegates had been addressed to outgoing IPU President Abdelwahad Radi but Kadaga took it up. “I don’t know whether the President would like to take the question,” she said, “It is really an internal matter”.

But the Leader of Opposition Nandala Mafabi did not attend any of the IPU meetings. As Kadaga spoke at the closing press conference, he was at Kololo Airstrip with Besigye attending A4C activities Kadaga had asked them to suspend until the conference was over.

Mafabi also skipped the official opening at Speke Resort Hotel Munyonyo and all the other functions, including a cultural gala at Namboole Stadium on March 4.

Mafabi told The Independent he did not feel “compelled” to attend the IPU, after all “I wasn’t part of the delegation”. The parliament of Uganda was officially represented by a 12-member delegation, with the most high ranking opposition member being the Opposition Chief Whip Winfred Kiiza. But MPs who wanted would attend, and indeed many did attend many of the functions, especially the opening function and the gala.

Divided NRM

But if Mafabi’s snubbing the IPU was significant, Prime Minister and Leader of Government Business in Parliament Amama Mbabazi’s absence was even more significant. A journalist asked Kadaga whether the Leader of Government Business’s or his representative’s absence from the assembly would not make it harder for parliament to feed the resolutions into proposed Bills to parliament, which are mainly supervised by the Leader of Government Business. Kadaga said it wouldn’t, after all “It is my role as the Speaker to communicate to the executive what has been decided.”

But suspicions lingered.  Since the 9th Parliament under Kadaga turned the heat on Mbabazi over alleged corruption, their relationship has thawed. A parliamentary resolution on October 11, 2011 for Mbabazi to step aside as corruption allegations were investigated was ignored, leading to a standoff between the executive and parliament. Court has since ruled that the resolution was not binding on the executive but the discomfort lingers.

The IPU organising committee, conscious of this, was on the lookout for acts of interference. A scandal related to IPU would puncture Kadaga’s rising star.

To avoid a repeat of CHOGM 2007, procurement procedures were strict and lists scrutinised. There were fears that Kadaga’s opponents wanted to smuggle “dubious” items onto the list of items to be purchased.  Kadaga was not letting her opponents tarnish her name with a scandal.

Emmanuel Dombo, who deputised for Kadaga on the conference organising committee, said, “Don’t read too much into what is being said.” Dombo added, “Speaker Kadaga is No. 3 in the country not for nothing; If you have been told she is being fought it is to be expected”.

Kadaga had set up an organising committee comprised of both opposition and NRM members but put some “sensitive” responsibilities in the hands of opposition legislators.

Among the key members of the conference organising committee were FDC’s Elijah Okupa, in charge of the committee on protocol, and DP’s Lulume Bayigga, in charge of publicity. Jack Wamanga, given his wide experience in diplomacy, was in charge of training officials and security personnel who handled guests at the airport.

But at some point during the conference, some NRM politicians brought in their own ushers and attempted to block those recruited by opposition MPs, who they referred to as “bipingamizi” (saboteurs).

Sections within NRM complained that Kadaga gave away too many of the positions.

Singing Kadaga’s praises

The IPU conference was Kadaga’s big moment and if her opponents feared the Kamuli Woman MP would try to raise her profile using the IPU assembly, they were probably not wholly wrong.

Kadaga had declared the assembly the 9th Parliament’s contribution to Uganda’s Golden Jubilee celebrations and set out to market the country. She urged the delegates at the opening ceremony, and repeated the call whenever she had a chance, to stay around longer after the conference and enjoy the country’s “rich diversity of cultures and foods and environment”.

At the cultural gala in Namboole, the standout performer, artiste Gen. Mega Dee, did a song dedicated to Kadaga twice. The song, Alitwala, which is Kadaga’s middle name, is in Lusoga and is usually played at Kadaga’s campaign rallies. An MP remarked that Kadaga had “abused her office to use public funds to sing her praises”

Had President Yoweri Museveni foreseen a possibility that Kadaga would attempt to take all the credit for hosting the assembly? At the opening ceremony in Munyonyo, Museveni moved to put the record straight and pointed out that it was Vice President Edward Sekandi, while he was still Speaker and Kadaga his deputy, who made the application for Uganda to host the IPU assembly. Sekandi was in attendance.

Museveni also used the occasion to indirectly refer to the standoff between the executive and parliament, which reached its height when Mbabazi and Energy Minister Hillary Onek refused to step aside as directed by a parliamentary resolution.

“In Uganda the executive and parliament are independent of each other and both must carry out their duties according to the law,” Museveni told delegates. He added, “The Word Parliament comes from the French word parler, which means to talk; so when you are in parliament talk, don’t shout.”

Museveni further advised parliamentarians to pay attention to economic development as they pursue democracy, saying that without development, democracy would be at risk. He spelt out what he said are the strategic issues that societies need to address, with economic transformation ranking number one and democracy number seven.

But IPU President Radi, who had spoken earlier, had urged parliaments and governments to take cue from the “movement of the outraged that started in North Africa last year and is spreading to different areas”. Radi further urged MPs to “support all women and men who aspire to freedom and dignity”.

Radi’s words had been supported by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, who in a message read for him by the UN Special Representative to the African Union Zachary Mburi-Muita, urged MPs to be “strong and assertive” and  hold state institutions “accountable and responsive” to people’s needs.

As the assembly opened towards 8pm on March 31 in Munyonyo, Besigye had just been released from Kasangati police station where he had been held for eight hours. His car, in which he had locked himself and packed on a road in Kampala, had been towed to Kasangati.

Radi would probably say he is part of the “outraged” that need to be listened to. And Mafabi agrees. “The theme of the conference was about parliaments and people and it was important for us to show the world that in Uganda someone has to support the ruling government to be a person,” Mafabi told The Independent in defence of his decision to participate in defiance activities during the week of the conference.

As parliament resumes after the IPU, it remains to be seen whether the bi-partisanship that had been struck will continue given the new realities. The same uncertainty abounds over whether Kadaga and Mbabazi’s relations will thaw.

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