By Flavia Nassaka
But more conflicts feared as party fails to resolve feuds
Katomi Kingdom Resort hotel, near Entebbe town, on the shores of Lake Victoria was on July 24 bathed in a sea of green and white, the colours of Uganda’s oldest party, the Democratic Party, which was holding its Delegates Conference there. Excited supporters draped in fancy costumes in party colours chanted, screamed, and waved placards of their leader Norbert Mao. Some even had face paints of his name.
It was frenzied as the incumbent National Vice President John Baptist Kawanga who doubled as the presiding officer, invited Mao to the podium and Mao’s first statement revealed how emotionally moved he was.
“Thank you for saving me the embarrassment,” he told the crowd, “Thank you for coming even after they told you to boycott!”
That was a veiled reference to efforts by a disgruntled group led by party stalwart, Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago which, even as DP was electing its new leaders, was in the countryside calling for a boycott of Mao.
Mao, who has been ailing lately, appeared frail but calm and wore his signature smile like it was plastered across his face. He even danced to the songs praising him that brought several delegates to the podium. This was a different side of him from the one portrayed earlier in the week.
On July 21, many who have always enjoyed the savory imagery of Mao’s speeches were taken aback when he spoke with anger against Lukwago and used terms like the ‘noisy minority’, ‘idiots’, ‘dikula (comedians)’ to refer to the DP splinter group led by Lord Mayor Elias Lukwago and 2011 presidential aspirant Samuel Walter Lubega.
Mao then went on to listing his achievements for the party for the last five years and asking the delegates to offer him another term in office. Again in reference to the factions, he promised them that if he could talk to the dreaded warlord Joseph Kony of the Lord’s Resistance Army, he could talk to anyone in DP. He said he would seek reconciliation with Lukwago’s group.
Mao’s challenger was DP MP (Buikwe South) Dr. Lulume Bayigga who he trounced neatly to be re-elected DP President General. He garnered 898 votes whereas Bayigga polled 360 votes and conceded defeat gracefully. Since Mao’s re-election, however, party members and observers have been warning that his victory could turn out hollow as the party remains torn between him and his real challenger Erias Lukwago.
Implications to the party
Speaking to The Independent on July 25, Dr. Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere said it was not yet the right time for him to comment on what was going on in the party. He said, however, he was concerned that the unsolved issues may reduce or scare away some parliamentary aspirants from standing on DP ticket.
“If these problems had been solved, the party could have sent more members to parliament come 2016,” he said.
His view is shared by Political Scientist Emmanuel Oluka who says some members may choose to run as Independents for fear of associating with party conflicts. He adds that such issues affect the whole opposition in terms of voters’ perceptions because if the party cannot organize itself internally, there’s no way people can expect such a party to win the existing regime.
Observers say, for the last ten years, DP leaders have failed to unite the party and this is likely to continue especially now that there has not been change in the top most leaders. Oloka says we are likely to see more factions in the party.
But at Katomi, Mao appears to have won the first round against Lukwago. Despite the call for a boycott, over 1,723 delegates attended. Among them were nine out of the 14 DP members of parliament.
On his new team, Mao retained Jinja Municipality Mayor Muhammad Kezaala who maintained his position as National Chairman. Fred Mukasa Mbidde, who is the DP representative to the EAC parliament, is the National Vice President. His former slot of party Legal Advisor was taken by Samuel Mulindwa Muyizzi. Betty Nambooze is Vice President Central Region replacing Sebuliba Mutumba who is in the Lukwago group.
Others notable are Mathias Nsubuga who maintained the post of Secretary General being deputized by Luweero’s Brenda Nabukenya. The Publicity Secretary Position was maintained by Samuel Kakande after defeating Kalungu West MP Joseph Gonzaga Sewungu. Masaka’s Florence Namayanja is new National Women’s Leader whereas Issa Kikungwe maintained the treasurer post.
Having these big names on Mao’s team, was a big blow to Lukwago who, even as DP was electing its new leaders, was leading his splinter group at rallies in Wobulenzi, Luwero District to denounce the outcomes of the Garuga conference.
Lukwago who was on July 20 elected to lead the group told the Independent that they were embarking on consultative meetings with elders and other party stakeholders’ countrywide alleging that Mao’s approach of handling affairs of the party had antagonized many members.
He said with the consultations, they will restore democracy in DP and oust President Yoweri Museveni’s dictatorship.
When asked why he did not attend the Delegates’ Conference and vie against Mao, Lukwago said the activities that led to it were fraudulent as some leaders had hijacked the powers of the party Electoral Commission for their own selfish gains. He said the grassroots elections were marred by irregularities and the delegates had been handpicked in breach of the party constitution.
“Even when we proposed that the DC be stopped until we correct these mistakes, our efforts were undermined. Our mediators had asked each of us to bring 40 people in the meeting attended by former and current DP members of parliament to solve our differences and then later hold a meaningful conference, they refused to accept,” Lukwago told The Independent.
Lukwago was joined by MPs Sebuliba Mutumba who has been DP’s Vice President for the central region, Masaka’s Mathias Mpuuga, Medard Sseggona of Busiro East, Rubaga North’s Moses Kasibante and Kawempe’s Latif Ssebagala.
Repeat of Mbale 2010
This is the second time Lukwago is attempting to scuttle DP elections. In 2010 Lukwago did not attend the DC despite being a member of the National Executive Council (NEC). He raised the same objections he is raising today; that the party leadership had violated the party constitution and that the convener; Matthias Nsubuga, was holding the Secretary General position illegally. During that controversial conference, Mao was voted President after polling 708 votes to trounce Nasser Ntege Ssebagala who got only 321 votes after spending heavily on the election.
With his campaign promise of giving the party a national outlook, Mao became the first non-Muganda to head the Baganda dominated party. Immediately, a faction of the party formed the DP suubi which Lukwago joined.
Since then, there has been conflict after conflict at the party whereby members have been returning and leaving the party and accusing Mao of failing to give the party direction. On some occasions, party members have physically fought with Mao’s leadership at the City House based headquarters.
On several occasions, especially during the weekly press conferences at the party headquarters, Mao has come out to openly talk about the intrigue and factionalism within the party hierarchy, especially within Buganda region which he has had to deal with all through the five years.
In order to get to the bottom of the intrigue within the party, an independent committee of four headed by Zachary Olum, the former DP vice president, was set up to probe into various allegations raised especially by members who had split from the party both before and after the 2010 Mbale conference. Zachary Olum’s efforts were fruitless as the last meeting which would forge a way forward for the party before the DC never happened since the NEC meeting that sat in the afternoon of July 21 resolved that the DC had to take place or else they would lose the Shs400 million spent in the preparations.
DP’s unending conflicts
According to Sebuliba Mutumba, that made it clear that DP would see a repeat of 2010 since the same issues of transparency and respect of the party constitution had not been resolved within the five years.
Anthony Kalanda, a delegate from Bukoto mid-west constituency agrees.
“For more than ten years the party has had to deal with conflict after conflict,” he told the Independent explaining that first it was Paul Kawanga Ssemwogerere, Michael Kaggwa, and Francis Bwengye, then Ssebaana Kizito and Nasser Ntege Ssebaggala and now it is Nobert Mao and Lukwago.
Kalanda who has been a member of DP for the last twenty years said it was not a surprise that some members had decided to stay away from the conference. Many, like Kalanda, expected this considering the events in the lead up to the conference.
When the US-based International Republican Institute (IRI) gave the party an unspecified amount of funds towards organising grassroots elections, party members hoped this would be the first step towards getting rid of the factions that have characterized Uganda’s oldest party over the last five years.
The top party leadership then agreed to start with sorting the leadership issues within the party right from the grassroots across the country. People like Lubega were accepted back at the headquarters even after he had defied the party principals and stood against Norbert Mao, the DP flag bearer in the 2011 polls.
The grassroots elections would cover villages, parishes and sub-counties. The exercise was meant to re-unite as well as facilitate the emergence of new and strong party grassroots; sub-branch, branch and national leadership that could take on Museveni come next year. The exercise never went as planned but caused more divisions instead.
In Kawempe Division, for instance, the elections were stopped by an order from City House just a few minutes after being given the go-ahead by local leadership. The same happened in Bukomansimbi and Masaka districts leading to the extension of the conference which had been earlier scheduled to take place between June 12 and 14. “We thought a harmonised and all inclusive and participatory election process and roadmap could have healed the Party, made it stronger with greater unity of purpose – turning around the unfortunate phenomena that ensued during the 2010 Mbale Delegates Conference,” Mathias Nsubuga, the party’s Secretary General had told the Independent earlier in June.That this did not happen means Mao has a tough job ahead.