By Ronald Musoke
Beti Olive Kamya, the leader of the Uganda Federal Alliance spoke to The Independent’s Ronald Musoke.
Are you also in the camp that believes the opposition should shun the 2016 general elections because the polls have already been rigged in favour of the ruling NRM party?
What we have been saying for a long time is that under the current constitutional framework, no one can beat an incumbent. Under this constitution, even if it is Beti Kamya at State House, you cannot defeat me because the constitution gives the president of Uganda; whether it is Museveni, Besigye or Kamya, incredible powers. So for me it is about the constitution and the person in power at any one time under this constitution. Looking at 2016 is focusing on the wrong issue.
So, what exactly are you doing about it?
We want to cause a national referendum to amend the constitution to trim the powers and therefore the influence of the president. Once you have dealt with that, then you can wrestle with the president in an election on a fairly leveled ground. But the level ground is not about the Electoral Commission. The unleveled ground we are crying about is about the constitution allowing the president to appoint the EC. The president appoints the Inspector General of Police, he appoints the Chief Justice, all the judges, and he appoints the Governor of the Bank of Uganda, the Minister of Finance, the Secretary to the Treasury and the Commissioner General of the Uganda Revenue Authority. So who will stop him taking liberties with the Treasury? The constitution allows the president to appoint the IGP so the president appointed Gen. Kayihura who is also a general in UPDF where the president is the Commander in Chief. According to army ethics, the general must obey the Commander in Chief, so Kale Kayihura finds himself in a double role of respecting the Police Act or obeying the Commander in Chief. It’s up to him to choose which one but it’s convenient for him to obey the Commander in Chief because Kayihura is a cadre of the ruling party and the president did not violate any laws by appointing him.
In other words, you are telling Ugandans that it is wrong for them to focus on elections?
I wouldn’t say it is wrong, I would say they are concentrating on a quick fix. But I think a quick fix doesn’t provide a lasting solution. For a lasting solution, there is no other way except to go back all the way to where it started— a bad constitution which fuses the state, the government and the ruling party, all under one leadership.
But some analysts say the opposition just likes to wallow in self-pity instead of coming together to devise a winning strategy against the incumbent. What is your response to that?
There is nothing special about the incumbent or NRM. Like I said, it is the design of the constitution which gives the president privileges that have allowed him to build his NRM party into a formidable party. For instance, according to the NRM structure, at each village [Uganda has about 57,000 villages], parish [15,000], sub-County [1,000], each constituency  and each district , NRM has got a committee of 30. Now if you multiply 30 by each level and add, you will find that NRM has over 2.2 million party officials, not just supporters but officials. Those are votes for NRM. So if you go in an election, NRM has got a 2.2 million votes head start. Now we are in 2014, but those 2 million who form the structure of NRM are there ready for 2016. But that is not because NRM is very wise or knows what to do. It is because they are taking advantage of the unique privileges that the president of NRM has.
If I get you right, you want us to emulate our neighbours, Kenya, who recently reformed their constitution?
Precisely; their leadership concluded that their governance system was a problem—the over-centralised governance system which over empowered the presidency. So they did what we have to do. They held a referendum in April 2010 and basically overhauled the constitution and significantly trimmed the powers of the president. Under the new constitution, the president does not appoint the Chief Justice and judges; he doesn’t appoint the Inspector General of Police, the Commissioner General of the Kenya Revenue Authority. He doesn’t appoint the Governor of Bank of Kenya, and the chairperson of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission. So Kenya has started on a very good course and that is what Uganda needs to do.
So with regard to 2016, where would you rather see Ugandans concentrate their energies?
I would like to see Ugandans focus on the forthcoming referendum which, if things go the way we are planning them, we shall have it in 2015. Let us sort out the playground first before we focus on the match. These people who are talking about electoral reforms are focusing on the goal area; but for us we are saying, let us focus on the entire field; not just the goal area.
How many signatures have you gathered so far and how many do you require to call the referendum?
The signatures should not be less than 10% of registered voters. So far we have 850,000 petitioners. So we are looking for 500,000 signatures and our roadmap is that we should have this by April 2014, so that we submit to the Electoral Commission so that the Electoral Commission can submit the referendum budget to Parliament within the 2014/15 budget year. That is the roadmap. So once the EC has presented the budget of the referendum to Parliament then we should have the referendum in 2015.
In your heart of hearts, do you see the referendum taking place in 2015?
It will happen because we will submit the signatures and then we will have a constitutional battle between the government and us. The government is most likely to say there is no money for a referendum and if they say so, then there can’t be money for the general elections. I have every reason to think that there will be a referendum in 2015.
Assuming you don’t achieve the referendum, will you stand or will your party front a presidential candidate for the 2016 elections under the current constitutional framework?
I don’t know because we have not yet discussed this in our party. I think, whether the referendum is on or not, I think it will be time for alliances and coalitions. The other time we didn’t go in for an alliance or coalition because we needed to build our independence and identity. We feared being swallowed up without any identity. I think that we are now strong enough to claim a place at the table.
So is Hon. Beti Kamya running for presidency in 2016?
2016 is a bit far because as they say, one week is a long time in politics. I wouldn’t want to give an answer right now; but for me being president is not important, what is important is a good governance system where anybody can be president.
How about talk that you intend to go back to your former constituency of Rubaga North to stand for MP?
For me it is about an objective. When I stood for the 2011 elections, it was not about being president; it was about launching my new party country-wide riding on the wave of the elections. We had launched a party, the UFA, with a clear ideology of federalism and to be able to launch the party countrywide, we used the wave of the presidential elections. We recognise that after five years, the party needs to move on from being a registered party to a party in Parliament. There are 38 registered parties but there are six parties in Parliament and the six parties are the parties which are entitled to state funding and donors. So for purposes of moving my party from being a registered party to being a party in Parliament, we desperately need MPs. So if my going to Parliament can add to that, it might be a good proposition because as I said it’s about objectives. What I am saying is that my decision to stand for 2016 will depend on a lot of things.
But some people would look at this as a step down?
I don’t care about what people think; it is about my objectives. If people think that is a step-down but I have taken my party to Parliament; that is no problem. My party will have got may be, half-a-billion shillings funding a year, from the state or from donors. But again, it’s Ugandans who think of petty things like that. In the US, John McCain lost the presidency and went back to the Senate, Hillary Clinton lost the bid to be the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, she went to the Senate; Gordon Brown lost the UK Premiership, he went back to the House of Commons. Same thing happened with [Vladimir] Putin.
So where would you like to see UFA in the next five years?
I would like to see UFA as a party in Parliament. I would also like UFA position itself as an alternative party for Ugandans between two extremes. There is extremism in Uganda’s politics but we have designed and positioned UFA to be an alternative to anybody. I would also like UFA to be singled out as a party with a clear ideology. Reports have come out from monitors who monitor political activities in different countries saying that parties including the ruling party don’t have ideological clarity. We have designed UFA to have some ideological clarity on the system of governance. All the others are talking about operational matters; I will build hospitals, and schools. Everybody is supposed to do that but what makes you different? We believe in devolved governance which takes power closer to the people.