By Joan Akello
City residents continue to bear the brunt as Lord Mayor Lukwago, President Museveni battles enter new phase
Shortly after the recent Supreme Court ruling that ordered Kampala City Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago to return to the Court of Appeal to file his appeal before three Justices, the embattled Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago looked straight in the cameras and told the whole world that President Yoweri Museveni would “never break his back.” To the few people who are not conversant with the Lukwago vs Museveni war, this statement was a little puzzling; how could a unanimous decision of the Supreme Court be linked to President Museveni?
But to those who have been following the war of words between the two politicians for some time, it confirmed what everyone already knows – that while Lukwago has made the courts the arena of his legal battles over the last two years, he knows that he is fighting a grueling political war that could as well stretch to the end of his term of office.
A few examples could explain this situation. While passing out party cadres at Nakivubo Blue Primary School on Aug 28, President Museveni said the embattled Lord Mayor was not a threat and people should stop voting for leaders like him who sabotage development projects in the city. Earlier at the opening of the new Wandegeya market in October 2013, Museveni told the vendors that Lukwago “would be accepted home if he apologized.” The apology Museveni appears to be interested in is for the chaos that erupted in Kampala City following the general elections when Lukwago teamed up with former Forum for Democratic Change President Kizza Besigye to stage ‘Walk to Work’ protests that brought the city to a standstill.
But Lukwago also got his opportunity to shoot back. When Lubaga North MP Moses Kasibante held a consultative rally on November 6, stated that he would never apologise to Museveni.
Later at celebrations to mark three years of KCCA, Museveni took a sneer at the office of the Lord Mayor, saying it was made mere “ceremonial robes” as all the power in the office had been “diluted” and all the authority vested in the executive director Jenifer Musisi.
Lukwago accuses Museveni of desiring to ‘kill’ the institution of Kampala City Authority (KCCA). “Why did he not give in to Obote (Apollo)?” Lukwago asks, referring to the regime Museveni toppled after a five-year guerilla war. “He said he was fighting for a cause. I am also fighting for the respect of rule of law and basic principles of accountability. It is time for a protracted legal and political battle.” But those battles could stretch till the 2016 general elections, analysts fear.
Observers say Lukwago can opt for legal action, which has proven very lengthy and unpredictable or give in to the whims of the government. That however could come with a cost to the confidence of his electorate, in case he seeks a new mandate in 2016. Prof. William Muhumuza and Prof. Sabiti Makara, both lecturers of Political Science at Makerere University, agree that Lukwago’s case is very political. Makara likens it to that of Brigadier Henry Tumukunde, the embattled former director general of Internal Security Organization (ISO). The case went on for eight years before the Court Martial delivered its judgment in his favour. In those eight years, he spent 18 months in prison.
“Let him also try going to the court of public opinion even though going to court regularly keeps him visible,” Makara said.
Political scientists say that as long as Lukwago knows that his portrayal as the oppressed by the government, he is sure that his ongoing legal battles will earn him more political points among the voters. Also, the ongoing evictions and strikes in the city play in his favour as they show that public outrage against the unchecked actions of KCCA’s technical wing.
Medard Ssegoona, one of Lukwago’s lawyers, says that while the Attorney General, Musisi and the government want Lukwago out, the political wing is not working, the KCCA executive director has assumed the duties of the lord mayor, and decisions are made at State House. “State House has become a centre of cronyism and bribery so councilors go to get money for cars, school fees and is the President a lord mayor to chair meetings at his home?” he asks. Interestingly, some of the councilors who at first wanted Lukwago out are turning around to stand by him. For example, Bernard Luyiga, the councilor for Makerere University, who was very active in Lukwago’s censure motion, blames Kampala Minister Frank Tumwebaze as the source of KCCA’s problems.
“Tumwebaze has made the public think that the KCCA can perform without a lord mayor but am more disappointed with councilors for keeping quiet about his weaknesses yet in the past, they have criticized the President, Musisi and the Lord Mayor,” Luyiga says. Ssegoona however says Tumwebaze is powerless because he is only instructed on what to do and if he refuses, Musisi reports to the appointing authority.
According to the KCCA Act, the council, which is headed by the Lord Mayor, is the policy-making body of the Authority. However, some of the councilors who spoke to The Independent said they meet in working groups and send their recommendations to Tumwebaze since the council is not sitting following a tribunal report that kicked him out. However, Lukwago is challenging the report in court and an application to that effect was filed in November last year before Judge Yasin Nyanzi. The case has also had its own hurdles. Attorney General Peter Nyombi asked Nyanzi to excuse himself from the case citing bias following an “irregular” court injunction that sought to bar Kampala Minister Tumwebaze from holding the November 25, 2013 meeting that kicked Lukwago out. Nyanzi refused to excuse himself instead describing Nyombi as a man who was “groping in legal darkness.” In its own right, the legal battle over the validity of the Tribunal Report could go the full distance as well.
Lukwago’s lawyers are ready to fight on but time is not their best ally. With the 2016 general elections around the corner, they have to move fast and hope that the courts would also move even faster. For example, the Supreme Court took almost five months to rule that it did not have the jurisdiction to determine Lukwago’s appeal against Justice Stephen Kavuma’s ruling. He can only hope that the appeal before three justices will not take that long. But should the three justices rule in the government’s favour, Lukwago will definitely return to the Supreme Court, which could take even longer to make a decision. That means it could be another year before a decision is made on whether or not he has the right to return to his office as the legality of the Tribunal report is determined. But Lukwago’s lawyers also know that some of the issues are out of their hands. “The simpler option now is for us to fix the main application (AG’s), which will easily vacate Kavuma’s stay,” says Caleb Alaka, one of Lukwago’s lawyers. “We cannot sit down and wait because the AG has achieved what he wants – by buying time so we want to fix both applications before three justices in the court of appeal at a go any time after September 1 when the court returns from vacation.”
Lukwago says he is not tired of going to court and even if he loses at the Court of Appeal where he has been ordered to return, he would not hesitate to proceed with an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Lukwago says that despite the lengthy litigation process, he is convinced that he is “on the right side of history” and his legal stance has enriched jurisprudence in Uganda.
“I have stood firm on matters of rule of law, justice and accountability. Have any projects stalled because I did not sign minutes? That is why I stand with my head high. No matter how long it takes, I have no regrets for the course of action I took,” Lukwago said. However, observers say that as a politician, Lukwago’s eye is definitely on the ultimate prize, and President Museveni knows it. That means any chances that a peace deal will be brokered between the two politicians are likely to remain a pipe dream. But even if a miracle happens and Lukwago wins all the court battles and he returns to office, it is not a guarantee that all will be well for at City Hall henceforth, according to some councilors. “If he is to come back, and does not do what he is supposed to, there will be another tribunal, impeachment and court cases,” one councilor said.
While the government and Lukwago do tussle it out, observers predict that until the next elections in 2016, neither party will easily concede defeat in both the legal and political arenas. In fact what Museveni wants to do is to amend the KCCA Act in order to ‘dilute’ the Lord Mayor’s position even further. But as the two elephants fight their legal and political battles, the public is the proverbial grass that is suffering. Indeed, Luyiga says the mandate of the authority has been compromised and service delivery is suffering because the technical wing is making arbitrary decisions without the necessary checks and balances from the political wing. “We have to go back to our original stance to fight the weaknesses of the authority and demand accountability because we did not have input in the ministerial policy statement for KCCA 2014/2015,” Luyiga says.