By Bob Roberts Katende
How Mao’s winning DP ticket has top politicians worried
Norbert Mao, the new leader of one of the factions of the Democratic Party, is a stocky man with steady stare. When walking, his deliberate pace gives the impression of one who knows where he is going. He smiles easily, mostly at his own jokes ‘ which are many.
‘I will deliver because I am standing on shoulders of giants,’ he said in his victory speech in Mbale last weekend, ‘I remind other parties that have since taken over DP constituencies that we’re going to serve them with eviction notices. Tell them that the landlords are back.’
That is tough talking from the leader of a faction of a party that has only eight MPs in a 320-strong parliament of directly elected MPs. As campaign manager for the man he is succeeding as DP president general, Mzee Ssebaana Kizito, they got only 1.6% of the national vote in 2006 general elections. Yet anybody who has dared dismiss Chairman Mao, as he is fondly called, has paid dearly.
Mao’s victory in Mbale was another step in his plans to contest in the 2011 presidential elections against President Yoweri Museveni.
When campaigning at the DP Delegates Conference at Mbale’s Mt Elgon Hotel amid chants of DP’ Obama, DP’ Mao, DP egumiire, Mao clearly set his eyes on the national stage.
‘Today we are here not to elect a DP president but a national president. So the standards have to be high. I am in the league of Ambassador Olara Otunnu and those are the people I am going to debate with policy alternatives. We need a person of integrity- a unifier and not a divider. Here we are using rubber bullets but after the election we are going to remove the rubber magazine and put live ones and confront Museveni. This is a struggle and there’s no progress without a struggle. Those who want it without a struggle are like those who want rain without thunder.’
‘I commit myself to fulfill Ben Kiwanuka’s dream of fighting one-man rule.’ Mao pledged to be a team leader and reconcile among the warring members in the party and to also improve on the party’s dented national image. ‘I am a leader with clean hands,’ he assured his supporters.
‘My character will drive my leadership.’ He compared himself to the Biblical Joshua who will deliver DP to the Promised Land. He lambasted the politics of patronage. ‘I don’t believe in politics of ‘pay as you go.’ In Gulu we have a saying that you can play with my stomach but not my brain.’ His only opponent was Nasser Ntege Sebaggala.
Mbale, in eastern Uganda, is not really a DP area. What is now being called the ‘Mbale faction’ of Uganda’s oldest party led by Party President Ssebaana Kizito and Secretary General Mathias Nsubuga was forced to seek refuge there in order to avoid a clash with the ‘Kampala faction’ led by party chairman Joseph Mukiibi.
But even as the wild chants and ululations rocked Mt Elgon Hotel, few were fooled by the excitement. Although the election of new party office holders was the main item on the agenda, insiders knew that the deals had already been made in Kampala.
|The new DP executive
Only one position was to be decided in Mbale- DP president general. Initially, three candidates had shown interest. But during the wheeling-and-dealing another contender Sam Lubega appears to have switched sides and joined the Kampala faction. That left Nasser Sebaggala and Norbert Mao.
Sebaggala, a big guy in a dapper suit and carefully trimmed moustache who is Kampala city mayor, arrived at the tent erected behind the hotel on Friday morning, Feb. 19, amid wild applause.
When his turn to speak came, Sebaggala in characteristic style had few words ‘ he prefers the secretive campaign style called kakuyege and his biggest weapon is not his mouth but his wallet. In Mbale he pitched up a separate camp at Sadina Inn, a few metres from the main venue and reports are that he spent the night churning out promises. His campaign managers promised all delegates who slept at Sadina that they would take the mattresses with them on one condition- Sebaggala must win. To another group of 20 from Kisoro he promised a transport refund.
The elections started late at around 6 p.m and extended to 6 a.m. amidst tension as the so-called Youth Brigade loyal to Sebaggala insisted the votes be counted in the open rather than an enclosed place. ‘You want to steal our votes,’ they shouted at the police. They were overruled and the ballot boxes were taken inside amidst tight security as they threatened to take way the presidential ballot box. As soon as the counting and tallying started, however, it became clear that Sebaggala would lose.
Most candidates in his camp had started losing. Noticeable were those from his executive like the Deputy Mayor Florence Namayanja who lost the women leader’s post to Nakibuka Maxenxia; Kampala City Council Speaker Shifra Lukwago lost the Deputy National Legal Advisor’s post to Kibilango Elasto, a lawyer in Kampala.
At around 5a.m. tensions began to rise as the presidential ballot votes were counted. Sebaggala’s supporters were peeping through the glass windows. Mao led from the start with almost seven in ten ballots going in his favour. His final tally was 708 votes to Sebaggala’s 321.
Mao won on the back of a block of Northern and Eastern votes and sharing the western votes. The failure by Lubega to participate in the elections provided Sebaggala an opportunity to tap into the undecided central region voters.
But the well-choreographed tipping point appears to have been Ssebaana’s endorsement of Mao. In his trademark husky voice and mischievous twinkle in one eye, Ssebaana first reminded the gathering to choose leaders cautiously because most of the people who formed his executive were non-performers. ‘Most of them were untested and they only surfaced in times of confusion,’ he said. He spoke about teamwork and the need to resolve party issues without resorting to courts of law. Then he anointed Mao.
‘Norbert Mao was my campaign manager,’ he said, ‘and he did a good job despite our miserable performance in the last presidential elections.’
It did not surprise many. There is no love lost between him and Sebaggala although all three; Ssebaana, Sebaggala and Mao, are accused of striking secret deals with President Yoweri Museveni. Ssebaana appears to have addressed such claims when he deliberately thanked the Konrad Adeneur Foundation and Deepening Democracy Programme for funding the Delegates Conference. Konrad and DDP contributed Shs25 million and Shs50 million respectively. In a bid to frustrate the function, the Kampala faction had blocked access to the party accounts. When Ssebaana and co. went ahead with preparations of the conference, the Mukiibi faction said the money was coming from ‘somewhere’ (government).
Mao and IPC
Winning the DP endorsement in Mbale was definitely the easy part on Mao’s path to State House. The next step, which is winning endorsement as the flag-bearer of the opposition party grouping, the Inter-Party Cooperation (IPC), will be much tougher. That race pits him against opposition stalwarts Dr Kizza Besigye of Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) and former UN Undersecretary Olara Otunnu, who is seeking to contest on the Uganda Peoples’ Congress ticket.
At the Delegates Conference, the IPC was a highly emotive issue. Debating it consumed the entire time meant for the audience to react to the speeches by both the secretary general and the president. The result was ambivalent. A delegate from Luwero said that joining the IPC was akin to joining another Movement System. Isa Kikungwe said: ‘The people of Uganda are interested in changing power – whoever does it doesn’t matter- and we must not be seen to fail that process.’ Barnabas, a delegate from Kisoro, said joining the IPC would be suicidal for the party.
But it’s the view of Mohammad Baswari Kezala, the new DP chairman, that Mao needs to analyse. Kezala reminded the delegates that all the alliances in Uganda€˜s history have not been mutually beneficial to the party. ‘We have lost supporters. People like Kisamba Mugerwa, Wandira Kazibwe have never come back.’ He however, stressed: ‘We cannot afford to operate in isolation but let them (other parties) prove to us that they are coming with clean hands.’
The verdict on the issue was referred to the new National Executive Committee which will deliberate on it and tender their resolutions to the National Council.
Olara Otunnu, the only non-DP leader invited to the conference, campaigned for IPC. Putting his oratory skills to work, Otunnu told the attentive audience that a strong and vibrant DP is good for democracy in Uganda.
‘Ugandans must embark on a national project to reunite our country to a sense of common belonging and destiny and DP has a particular role to play in that national project. The cooperation doesn’t mean that parties will lose their identities. UPC and DP, save for the newer parties, have a legitimate claim to retain their roots,’ he said.
Initially, Mao will try to woo back every DP supporter into the party. The Kampala faction headed by Prof. Joseph Mukiibi has notable Buganda politicians like MPs Dr Lulume Bayiga and Erias Lukwago, Buganda kingdom firebrand Betty Namboze, and Sam Lubega and Deo Njohi. This group is in full gear organising its own Delegates Conference slated for April. Mao needs to act quickly to compromise with them. It will not be easy. This camp appears to cling to the tradition of DP as a Ganda-Catholic party. Their likely presidential candidate is Lubega.
However, the intra-DP wrangles notwithstanding, Mao is likely to lead his DP into the IPC arrangement.
The race to become the official opposition flag bearer between Mao, Besigye and Otunnu within the IPC has many observers perching on the edges of their seats already. All are gifted with charisma and oratory. Besigye’s veneer of invincibility as the only formidable opponent to Museveni (because of his military history and boldness) has been punctured in two previous elections. Otunnu is waving the wand of international connection but these could carry little weight on the local political scene.
Mao, Otunnu, Besigye, Museveni
Mao comes back to the national stage after a five-year sojourn in his Gulu homeland. Over this period, Mao has proved a strong leader and manager of public resources. He can claim to have restored peace in Gulu which endured 20 years of war by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army rebels. The war did not die down until Mao, and others, tracked down Kony in the bushes of Sudan and DR Congo, embraced him and negotiated peace. Mao inherited a district whose residents lived either in Internally Displaced People’s camps or on the verandahs of shops in Gulu town due to the raging insecurity at the time. Today, the camps are no more and Gulu is a booming business hub for traders heading to Southern Sudan.
In previous elections, Besigye, who is from western Uganda like Museveni, has won in northern Uganda in the previous presidential elections. That is now Mao’s territory in any presidential contest besides the likely candidature of Otunnu, another northerner. If Mao and Otunnu move to the central, Mao takes the day as he enjoys a cordial relationship with the Buganda kingdom. It was not a surprise that he was a guest speaker at the last Buganda Conference. The central region believes that Mao, who has been associated with the ‘Nile Province’ project for northern Uganda, understands Buganda’s quest for federalism. Otunnu’s chances appear dismal in the central. Buganda has never forgiven UPC for the 1966 attack on the Kabaka’s palace. Many think Besigye is at the end of his tether not to warrant their support.
Otunnu’s strongest point is his international network. In Mbale, Otunnu reminded the audience of the United States Congressional directive to the Foreign Affairs Secretary, Hillary Clinton, to periodically report to Congress about Uganda’s elections. Otunnu has said he was involved in crafting it. His network may not be as formidable but Mao has international connections too’ he went to Yale University in the USA and is well respected by the donor community who are pushing for a so-called ‘soft-landing’ for Museveni to leave power.
Unlike Otunnu and Besigye, who are perceived to want to punish Museveni, observers say Mao would find little trouble in cutting a deal with Museveni in the Moi-Kibaki style. Mao has shown himself to be a peace maker and not vindictive. He embraced Kony who had issued a death sentence on him. When he won the LCV chairmanship of Gulu, many thought President Museveni’s decision to appoint his opponent Walter Ochora the Resident District Commissioner would cause conflict in Gulu. It did not. Instead the two enjoy a relatively cordial relationship. Mao, once again, appears to be the candidate of the moment.