By The Independent Team
What is your response to President Museveni’s claim that you and the opposition use Mengo to fight him?
In the last 20 years of his administration, Museveni has never taken responsibility for anything that goes wrong. Therefore I was not surprised that he pushed the responsibility of what happened to the opposition and me as the architects of the riots. However, I think the riots are premised to two problems.
The first problem is that the government has marginalised the majority of its citizens especially the youth. We have a big section without skills, jobs, family support. At the same time, they see a small group of the political elite which is fleecing the country.
At least Shs 500 billion is stolen from government every year; assets of Uganda were stolen by this small group under the guise of privatisation; minerals are exploited and taken away by this clique; agriculture has a raw deal because the prices at their farms are very low, roads are impassable to the markets and policemen lining along every corner, stop the truck to collect money because the police are not paid by the government so they look for their pay on the road. I have been looking at a comparison where the President in a year buys a jet of Shs 84 billion on top of another he has that cost Shs 60 billion both of them now insured at Shs 8 billion all in a year when there is hunger devastating half of the country. This situation is in itself explosive. Even without any other thing, you have a potentially explosive situation.That is what I have been referring to as a tsunami in the waiting. A tsunami lying there, waiting for any ignition and it will explode.
The second problem is that the government seeks to arrogantly take away people’s rights. The other day Kayihura passed a decree that when you assemble 20 you must have permission of the police. In the instant case of Kayunga, that was the igniter. People could not see why the Kabaka could be stopped from travelling to Kayunga. Everybody should have a right to travel to any part of Uganda. He was not going to engage in anything controversial just to attend to a ceremony of his subjects. The government should have dealt with those who are violating the constitution by obstructing other peoples’ rights. The Banyala were not being forced to welcome the Kabaka; they could have stayed in their homes.
He is the Kabaka revered in his kingdom; which is why none other than President Museveni opportunistically reinstated his kingdom before any other kingdom without even waiting for the constitutional process that was underway. The Kabaka was reinstated in 1993; political parties were recognised to function in 2004. The dialogue and breakdown of dialogue between Mengo and government all took place before. There was no FDC at the time when there were negotiations for the regional tier. There was no FDC when they were quarreling over the return of ebyaffe. So the demands of Mengo and the lies of government which led to Mengo disengaging all took place before the political parties were allowed to function.
Were there similar disagreements between Mengo and the government when you were still in the NRM?
I parted ways with NRM in 2000 when I was more or less ejected. When I was told that I could not contest against President Museveni as an NRM. Therefore it is true these disagreements were there before I left NRM but I was not in any formal organ of the NRM during all that time. I was a member of NRC, NEC of NRM up to 1995.
What about in the bush? There is this claim that Museveni promised Buganda Federal status while in the bush.
I do not know what Museveni promised Buganda because I did not sit in any meetings where Museveni discussed with Buganda leaders the issues of Buganda. I understand there were discussions about this matter in London with Lule. I know there was a discussion about this matter at a place called Kikunyu in Bulemezi in 1982. I know there were discussions with then Prince Mutebi in Masaka and Fort Portal in 1985. I never attended any of these meetings. From 1983, I was sitting in what was called the policy organ of the NRM in the bush which was called the joint meeting of NRC and the High Command and I am not aware at all, based on the meetings I participated in, that this matter was discussed. What I know we discussed that had relevance to this matter was the broader question of correcting the mistakes of the past governments. We said that the crisis in Uganda had been caused by unresolved political questions which needed to be resolved politically not by fighting. And those we considered included the question of the structure of state institutions that would engender democracy, the question of the 1966/7 constitutional crisis which among other things included the abolition of the kingdoms. Our discussion was to include that as one of the Ten-Point Programme that the interim government after the war would address all those issues through a major constitutional review. These were just positions of principle.
At no point did you say `this is how we would resolve Buganda’s issues’?
Not in the meetings I attended. But as I have told you, there were other meetings I did not attend outside Uganda with Lule and inside Uganda with the late Dr Andrew Kayiira and the ones with Prince Mutebi. What was discussed there I have no idea.
What is your relationship with Kabaka?
I have not seen the Kabaka in a very long time. I think I last related to him at a personal level when he was still a Ssabatakka, before he was crowned. I have however, paid courtesy calls on the prime minister of Buganda. I paid courtesy calls on Mulwanyamuli Ssemwogerere, Muliika which is the time which people were killed outside Bulange. During that occasion I also bought a certificate of Buganda.Now I heard President Museveni say I held a rally at Bulange. There was absolutely no rally but when the people around Bulange heard that I had gone to Bulange they just gathered as they do even in other places and it was those people that were gunned down.
But you were to escort Kabaka to Kayunga
Yes. I was very prepared to go to Kayunga; not as a leader of a political party but as a subject of the Kabaka. I have land in Buganda and live within a Buganda village in Buyinza zone in Nangabo. It is in that context that I considered it necessary to participate in the youth celebrations that were going to take place.
Don’t you see that your presence there would have shifted the visit from cultural to a political visit?
When I go to church do I shift the church service to a political rally? This is the same thing. We associate not only politically. We associate when there are social activities, we associate in cultural activities. The participation in these activities does not make those activities political.
Your association with the Kabaka is thought to give you political capital at the expense of Museveni.
If that was the case, then one should examine why my association with the Kabaka should give me political capital while the association of Museveni with the Kabaka doesn’t. Museveni has had longer association with the Kabaka. As he claims, he did a lot personally to reinstitute the kingdom. He has returned some properties though not all, he gives the Kabaka money. Except the little money I bought the certificate I have never given money to the kingdom. Why would Museveni or anybody consider my association with the Kabaka will give me political capital and his own association does not? There must be something wrong with his own association with the Kabaka which he should examine.
The Museveni-Kabaka fallout is likely to lead to a new legal and political dispensation including demands that opposition parties declare funds got from abroad?
What is happening is again the mirror image of what happened in the Obote regime. The dynamics are the same. That Obote wanted to become the only centre of authority in the country and to appropriate all power unto himself and his office. May be the only difference between now and then is the government was not stealing from the population. But the attempt then of becoming authoritarian was exactly the same. He banned political parties, kingdoms, restricted church activities, NGOs. This is the same trend we are experiencing now. He banned newspapers. At that time there were no private radio stations, he would have banned them. The more any authoritarian regime represses its people, the more resistance against it mounts. I have no doubt that Museveni will close down all the free media except those who will be willing to sing the NRM song. He may also ban parties at some stage. He will oppress and may be ban again the kingdoms.
What does being blocked from Kayunga mean to the authority of the Kabaka?
Nothing. Obviously it does not undermine the authority of the Kabaka and this is where Museveni has it all wrong. Political power does not only derive from political office. You can have immense political power without an office and you can have the highest political office without political power. So because political power is based on popular legitimacy, the Kabaka may absolutely have no office but by opening his mouth, his word may mean a lot of a difference. Recently Mengo said do not read Bukedde and New Vision again, they had to apologise and beg not because Mengo had threatened to close down their office. But if Museveni on the other hand said do not read New Vision everybody will laugh at him and nobody will follow what he is saying. So I think the actions of government do more to consolidate the centrality of the Kabaka in the kingdom.
What will likely result if all avenues of public dissent are blocked through oppression?
Again we have seen it all. Amin closed all formal media; informal media thrived; pamphleteering, rumour-mongering. People will not stay without communication. Everybody has a telephone. The government’s action actually does more to anger people, it mobilises more people against the regime. The people who were listening to CBS are very many. The people who were putting their death, marriage announcements, people who were not even political now must know that there is a terrible thing in Kampala called Museveni. They would never have minded about him at all.By closing down CBS, he is the one who mobilises them to act against him. Museveni says we are now reactionaries who have learnt nothing from the tragic history of Uganda. That is a contradiction in terms if it comes from a person who went to the bush because of rigged elections – not his votes in an election where he was a peripheral participant but which he considered rigged. Nobody went to the courts as a result of those elections of 1980. There was a process of appealing, nobody went to the courts. He went to the bush in violation of the constitution. He fought the established government in a war that left at least 300,000 people dead. He comes to government and under his watch there is undisputed presence of rigged elections. Not just talked about but proven in court. So, who has not learnt? If some people rigged elections, others could use unconstitutional means to change the political order that was there and now he is doing the same, why wouldn’t he think that people would do exactly what he did? So he has learnt absolutely nothing. Not from the tragic history of Uganda but from his own tragic history, from the people he led to death, he learnt nothing out of it.
The government also intends to shoot demonstrators.
That position of government is unconstitutional without doubt. Demonstrations are protected by the constitution. President Museveni is literally abrogating the constitution. In fact riots are a way of releasing steam by discontented people. When they walk on the street they feel they have expressed their discontent. But if you don’t give them an avenue to express their discontent, then it becomes suppressed and it will explode in different ways.
What are your views on the Land Bill coming soon before parliament?
I understand that the original provisions that were tabled before parliament were largely unconstitutional and we indicated that we shall challenge it in the Constitutional Court. There have been some amendments. I don’t know what has transpired but there were issues of rights on land. Our view was that there was no need for that law because the existing law provides protection for bibanja [owners] they call bona fide occupants. What has been lacking is the enforcement of the current law because the people who have been evicting bibanja holders are actually senior military and government officers. If they cannot implement the current law, the problem cannot be the law.
Do you agree with Buganda’s quest for federo?
One of the political questions that need to be talked about is a type of decentralised government that we would have and I think that question was adequately answered through the constitutional report commonly known as the Odoki Report. The report which had an immense contribution said that 65% of all Ugandans want the federal system of government. In Buganda it was 97% who wanted the federal system. There is absolutely no problem in having some areas being federal and others not.
Do we have examples of those in the world?
Yes, there are many. A federal state is not anything seriously detached from devolved power. The only difference is that the devolution is entrenched in that the state is then governed by its own constitution. So it is not that the power which devolved is by the centre that can recall it. The current problem is that we decentralised but we are now back to centralisation. The CAO of the district is now appointed by the central government; his salary is paid by the central government. That is what the people who advocate federo would like to avoid. That it is the centre giving and when it likes it takes away. I think the question of whether we have federo or not is not one of debate. The debate should now hinge on the content of that federal system.
Is that your position or FDC’s?
That has always been the FDC position. It was also my position in 2001 when I stood as an individual.
If FDC took power tomorrow would it grant Buganda a federal status?
It is not a situation of granting, it would implement the people’s decision. Article Number One of the constitution Clause III says the people of Uganda shall have the right to choose who shall govern them or how they should be governed through free and fair elections. The people of Uganda have already decided that.
What do you think about the visit of Dr Otunnu?
Dr Otunnu was approached by the UPC leaders and asked to come and participate in the leadership of UPC. From his own account up to now he has not made up his mind whether to honour the request that was put to him. And his coming was for two reasons: one to be back home to see his friends, relatives and his country. But two, to have an on-the- spot assessment of what was happening in Uganda.
You have demanded electoral reforms but President Museveni has said they are not necessary.
I don’t think anybody is surprised about what the President is saying. Indeed he hurriedly went on to reappoint an Electoral Commission which is one of the central aspects of the reforms in a show of defiant arrogance that what people say does not matter. Our views are known to government and we shall do all within our means to see that those reforms are achieved and that the Electoral Commission reappointed is abolished. We are going to use various avenues including legal ones. We intend to file a petition seeking that commission to be declared unconstitutional.
Anything that you feel is pertinent that we have not discussed?
I think all Ugandans irrespective of political leanings need to focus on the survival of our country. And there is no way that will happen unless there is some form of political consensus arrived at on basic issues. Since 2001 we have been demanding a properly structured genuine national dialogue. The issues that need to discussed, with a process, and with their outcomes clear. I think it is such a process that will avert the looming disaster in this country.