By Eriasa Mukiibi Sserunjogi & Dicta Asiimwe
Why party losers are defying Museveni
On Sept. 20 President Yoweri Museveni met about 3,000 supporters of his party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM), from Mawokota North constituency in Mpigi district.
The meeting was organised by the newly elected queen of the area, Amelia Kyambadde, who is the immediate past principal private secretary to the President. The meeting was intended to get the area MP, Peter Claver Mutuluuza, not to contest against Amelia in next year’s general elections.
The calm and soft-spoken Mutuluuza is no stranger to battles with big shots in his party and, he says, defeating Kyambadde in the 2011 parliamentary elections will be easy – even if she has Museveni’s backing.
According to a statement from State House, Mutuluuza told the President that he deliberately chose to contest as an independent candidate ‘because of the democracy and right guaranteed under the constitution’.
‘The President talked about ideology and I want to request him to let me stand as an independent. I will have a picture of Mutuluuza and that of the President because I am his supporter. I have no problem with Museveni. I want to thank Amelia for the development she has done in Mawokota North. If I had also been given money I would have done the same,’ he said in a veiled swipe at State House sponsorship of Museveni’s blue-eyed girl, Amelia.
Museveni’s reply was equally blunt. He criticised people who claim to love the party but act contrarily. ‘Abantu abamu mu muvumenti basiwuka,’ he said in Luganda, meaning: ‘some people lack manners’.
‘They are Movement only in words but not in their actions,’ Museveni said in a veiled reference to Mutuluuza.
Museveni reportedly dangled a ministerial appointment for him if he dropped his 2011 bid. Mutuluuza rejected it. That was unusual and appears to have shocked Museveni.
The Amelia, Mutuluuza rift is not the only fallout from the recently concluded countrywide NRM primaries and NRM party leadership elections. Up to 600 election petitions have been filed with the NRM Electoral Commission and losers have been spewing threats to catch President Museveni’s eye. Museveni knows that very few of them would reject a ministerial job or any other in the government. Resident District Commissioner (RDC) is a favourite dumping ground for NRM election losers.
Take Agaba Abbas, the former leader of the NRM youth league, who was beaten to the party’s flag-bearer status in Kitagwenda constituency, Kamwenge district. He petitioned against the results claiming the incumbent MP and NRM flag-bearer, Nulu Byamukama, used massive intimidation and violence in which some of his supporters were even cut with machetes. He says, however, that he will not stand as an independent because he is sure Museveni will give him a job.
‘I can serve anywhere for now, I am still young,’ he told The Independent. He says Museveni persuaded him to drop out of the race for NRM vice chairperson for Western Uganda in favour of Brig. Matayo Kyaligonza on assurances that he was to be ‘deployed elsewhere within the state’.
Museveni, whose urgent concern is to hold his supporters together after the acrimonious primaries and hardly five months to the general election, looks increasingly determined to use his prerogative to promise NRM losers to public office jobs.
In Sept. 28 comment in the government-owned newspaper, The New Vision, Museveni wrote: ‘NRM cadres that have already been identified do not have to think that the electoral offices are the only possible assignments’¦ cadres can be useful to the NRM and the country even when they are not in elective office.’
Jobs campaign criticised
Such promises from Museveni have raised concern.
Dr Yasin Olum of Makerere University Political Science department says Uganda’s politics has become transactional, is no longer a service and Museveni will use it to maximum advantage.
‘President Museveni will definitely achieve his immediate objective, which is keeping himself in power. Very few people can turn down his jobs,’ he says and adds: ‘Short-termism has taken centre stage in Uganda’s politics.’
Olum, who is an expert on the democratisation process in Uganda, says the negative effects of the commercialisation of our politics will be borne by future generations. He says it is those who lost in the primaries, whether fairly or unfairly, that are pushing the president to give them jobs.
‘But if one stood and lost an election, why should they turn around and threaten that if they don’t get jobs they will jump ship and join other parties?’ he asks.
The Uganda constitution limits the number of ministers and their deputies to 42 but, in a bid to appease numerous political interests, Museveni has appointed 69 ministers and their deputies, hundreds of RDCs, Presidential Advisors, and other state agents. Each of these is entitled to a fat monthly cheque from the national coffers.
The president has at least 111 vacancies for assistant resident district commissioners for patriotism. These places were approved last year but Museveni never filled them, possibly with an eye to times like this.
For now, because it could jolt the gravy train ahead of the impending elections, Museveni cannot announce many new appointments but the job promises spewing out of State House suggest the legions of state-sponsored leaches will increase in 2011.
Critics say this places a huge burden on the national purse but Museveni maintains that it is the price of peace and proponents of the jobs-for-peace in the NRM are equally adamant.
NRM Vice Chairman for Eastern Region, Mike Mukula says the strategy will work. ‘We are dedicated to carrying out internal laundry within the party so that we can prepare for the election as a united force,’ he told The Independent, ‘In political strategy, anything that can work is applied to solve a problem. There are no written rules which must be strictly stuck to in solving a political problem.’
But there are those who doubt Museveni’s sincerity. A party supporter who spoke out on condition of remaining anonymous says he was rigged out in the NRM elections in 2005 for MP in Mayuge district.
He says Museveni and Hajji Moses Kigongo, at a meeting at the party headquarters on Kyaddondo Road in Kampala, convinced him and others not to stand as independents on the understanding that they would work on the regional Elect-Museveni Task Force and later get jobs. For the last five years, he has taken his appointment letter to every NRM office but the job never came. He says they held several meetings chaired by Sembabule District Chairperson Herman Sentongo as they toed with the idea of going independent. With the benefit of hindsight, he thinks Sentongo took the right decision to go independent.
He says his votes were stolen even this time but he is determined to stand as an independent – unless he is ‘deployed’ instantly.
Rujumbura County MP and Chairman of NRM Veterans, Jim Muhwezi, says Museveni will deploy some of the losers within the party or the state and ‘facilitate others to carry out private business’.
‘But many shall still have to be patient and realise that the party is bigger than all of us individuals. It is almost impossible to absorb all of us within the state and the party structures,’ he said, ‘I think there is an opportunity for those who didn’t participate in the bush war to sacrifice their interests for the good of the party and the country.’
Others, like Mutuluuza, are unlikely to pay attention to Muhwezi’s counsel.
Until his party, the NRM, endorsed Amelia, Mutuluuza’s seat was secure.
The resident of Kammengo Township along Kampala-Masaka highway remains very popular among his ethnic Banyarwanda who are a sizeable voting block in the constituency and has courted the other big voting blocks in his constituency, the Catholics and the Baganda establishment at Mengo.
When in 2008-2009 Museveni’s government fought with the Mengo establishment over the acrimonious Land Amendment Bill 2007, Mutuluuza voted with Buganda and ganged up with Buganda legislators to force an emergency recall of parliament from recess to discuss the arrest of three Buganda Kingdom officials who had spoken out against the proposed land amendments.
Kyambadde tried to court ethnic Baganda by promising to engineer the return to air of the closed Buganda Kingdom radio station, CBS. She used to move with some of the former workers of CBS, assuring supporters that she is working hard to switch the radio back on air and she is taking care of the interests of the former workers. However, her efforts hit snag and she seems to have abandoned the subject.
Despite that, President Museveni appears to have anointed Amelia. Sensing this, Mutuluuza opted to step outside the NRM, not participate in its primaries but run as an independent in 2011.
Museveni and Amelia know Mutuluuza could defeat them.
The Mawokota North MP is no stranger to battles with party big shots. He wrestled the constituency from an NRM strongman, the late former minister Zimula Mugwanya. In the heat of the acrimonious 2001 campaigns in which Mutuluuza accused Mugwanya of violently attacking his supporters, Mutuluuza is thought to have sponsored a court case in which Mugwanya was eventually thrown out of parliament for lack of academic qualifications. Mugwanya was one of the financiers of the NRM bush war and his entourage on the campaign trail always had military escorts.
Museveni’s hands tied
As he weighs his next move, Museveni has been meeting with delegations from different areas where primary elections were chaotic and threatened his support.
In most of these meetings, nothing conclusive is ever reached. Museveni appears to merely seek opportunities to cajole, caution, and threaten.
One such delegation came from Nakaseke district. In Nakaseke, an NRM stronghold, anti-riot police are still on patrol, and Finance Minister Syda Bbumba’s home is one of the highly guarded spots.
The district was gripped in tension when one Nsamba Bukenya was declared winner of the NRM flag-bearer contest for the district chair. Incumbent chairperson, Ignatius Koomu, is believed to have won the election but the results were allegedly interchanged with those of Bukenya.
At the centre of the controversy is Bbumba. Opponents accuse her of orchestrating a vote-rigging scheme that turned the results of the primary elections upside down. The moment Bukenya was declared winner, spontaneous demonstrations broke out in the district.
Some 1,500 party cards were returned to the party offices in Semuto sub-county by angry supporters who felt their candidate had been robbed of victory. The demonstrators took to digging up the new tarmac road that is being built from Matugga to Butalangwa, the seat of the district administration.
With the situation out of hand, Museveni invited a team from Nakaseke to explain to him what had happened. A source that attended the meeting says that Bbumba tilted the composition of the team to include many of her supporters who would misinform the president about the situation on the ground in Nakaseke.
‘I felt uncomfortable throughout the meeting with the president because what was being fed to him was false but I was afraid to say the truth until Mubeezi, a resident of Ngoma sub-county, spoke out and informed the president that whatever he was being told was wrong,’ the source told The Independent.
After Mubeezi spoke out, the source added, he got support from a few members of the delegation and the president was put in a dilemma. ‘He (Museveni) promised to send a fact-finding team to establish the truth of what was going on in Nakaseke,’ continued the source.
The fact-finding team established that most people in Nakaseke favour Koomu and on the basis of this information, radio announcements were made to the effect that Koomu is the NRM flag-bearer for Nakaseke district.
Bbumba sailed through the primaries for the Nakaseke North constituency unopposed. But things are more complicated than they appear. Two of the people who had declared intentions to challenge her were given government jobs. One is a diplomat in Germany while another holds a big National Social Security Fund post in Northern Uganda.
In another meeting at State House on Sept.18, three disenchanted party members ‘ Muhammad Nsereko, Steven Masinde and Rose Namayanja ‘ went with their supporters and appealed to Museveni about what they say was rigging at the party’s Delegates Conference at Namboole.
Nsereko, who lost to former Kampala MP Francis Babu in the race for the newly formed Kampala Regional NRM vice chairperson post, told the President that his agents were forced to sign unfilled declaration forms. The results that were entered in the forms and eventually declared at Namboole, Nsereko reportedly informed Museveni, were false. Namayanja lost the deputy secretary general post to incumbent Dorothy Hyuha while Masinde lost to Katongole Singh in the race for deputy treasurer.
The three petitioners and their supporters, our source revealed, told Museveni that the ushers, who were pro-Secretary General Amama Mbabazi who retained his post, are the ones who voted instead of the real delegates.
‘We went hoping to give testimonies to the president,’ one of the candidates’ agents who was at the meeting told The Independent, adding, ‘he, however, came and served a big dinner after which he told us the Hajji (Moses) Kigongo commission will handle the complaints.’
Nsereko had fought Babu on three different fronts in just a couple of months. Having beaten him to the Kampala district NRM chair and flag bearer for Kampala Central division, he fell on the third hurdle, the Kampala regional NRM vice chairperson.
Namayanja confirmed that the meeting took place but declined to divulge what was discussed. She said the morning before heading to State House to meet Museveni, she had been to the party’s electoral commission offices to ask for official results for the post of deputy secretary general to enable her compare with what she had on her declaration forms. She still could not get them, she said.
She says that for as long as the team at the secretariat remains intact, it would be ridiculous to expect changes in the running of the party.
‘How can you expect someone who was found with pre-ticked ballot papers to solve disputes between others at the secretariat?’ she said. She was referring to the chaos and rigging that marred the Butaleja district primary elections in which Hyuha lost the flag for district woman MP despite being accused of participating in rigging.
Her only hope, she said, was in the new entrants on the executive team, especially Amelia Kyambadde (party treasurer), Abdul Nadduli (Vice Chairperson for Buganda region) and Sam Engola (vice chairperson for Northern region), to bring a new dimension.
Some of the other delegations he met recently came from Kalungu East where the incumbent MP, Umar Mawiya, is accused by Masaka district chairperson Vincent Ssempijja of rigging the MP primary election; and the recently elected members of the party’s youth league.
If jobs are Museveni’s only carrot, he may not manage to motivate the party’s top brass who appears to have fallen out with the party.
Both Vice President Prof. Gilbert Bukenya and Trade Minister Maj. Gen. Kahinda Otafiire, who lost the secretary general post to Security Minister Mbabazi, have shown limited interest in party activities since the acrimonious showdown at Namboole.
Bukenya has since withdrawn from the public and the only time he has spoken, he said he was busy working on a science paper.
Otafiire, on his part, was reluctant to comment on NRM issues. He told The Independent: ‘What do you want from me? If you want to ask about NRM, ask Gen. Museveni, Moses Kigongo, Amama Mbabazi, Rebecca Kadaga or Amelia Kyambadde. Those are the leaders of the party; I have nothing to do with it.’
On Sept. 26, the Moses Kigongo reconciliation team met in Mbarara with all candidates who participated in the primaries in the 14 districts of western Uganda.
If Otafiire and other disgruntled party members choose to keep off party activities and leave it to Mbabazi’s group, as Otafiire’s comment suggests, Museveni would find himself in a complicated position on the campaign trail next year.