By Eric Kabeera & Independent Team
How suspended EALA Speaker might escape total censure
Run to the courts or get the heads of the East African Community (EAC) member states to order MPs off your case. That is the legal advice of Uganda’s Attorney General’s Office to President Yoweri Museveni on whether Margaret Nantongo Zziwa, the suspended Speaker of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) can survive total censure.
In the 14-page dossier dated Nov.29, the Deputy Attorney General, Fred Ruhindi, tells Museveni that Zziwa’s troubles have led to a functional breakdown of one of the organs of the community and could paralyse the East African regional body.
Ruhindi wrote: “For purposes of averting embarrassment that will be caused to the community, the Heads of State should prevail over their country representatives at EALA and have this motion withdrawn to save the historical impeachment of a Speaker in the East African Community”.
Speaker Zziwa was on Nov.26 suspended by the EALA Assembly over alleged poor governance and leadership skills, disrespect and intimidation of members and staff, and loss of confidence and trust by members. A Uganda MP, Chris Opoka Okumu, was elected as interim speaker and an investigation committee, which should be reporting to the assembly towards the end of January 2015, was set up. Despite the on-going investigations, insiders at EALA investigations committee have told The Independent in Kigali that Zziwa’s chances of bouncing back are minor.
“It’s over,” one of them said, “she can never become EALA speaker anymore and she will never chair any committee. We are still investigating but according to the members and what I see, Zziwa can’t lead EALA anymore.” “At least we can now continue with our responsibilities,” added the MP, “We have cheated East African citizens for the last two and a half years because of poor leadership.”
The EALA member, for obvious reasons asked not to be named.
But Zziwa is fighting back and has already retained the services of Kampala’s top law chamber, the Kampala Associated Advocates (KAA), to attempt to quash the Nairobi suspension.
On November 28, KAA wrote to the Clerk of EALA, Kenneth Madete, warning that they will hold him and some EALA MPs personally liable in courts for the consequences of what they call their “illegal actions”.
Zziwa’s lawyers say the assembly which purported to suspend her “was just but a casual conversation by some members expressing their wishes and its outcome is of no legal consequence to EALA and the wider EAC.”
“We have advised our client to continue to carry out her duties as Speaker,” the KAA letters says.
Their position reinforces AG Ruhindi’s view that for the suspension to be legal, the assembly needed to have been presided over by the embattled Speaker.
Excepting the bravado of lawyers, the substance of the KAA team’s claim and Ruhindi’s counsel to Museveni might sound plausible but the reality of EALA politics might require a different approach.
As Uganda’s Minister for East African Affairs, Shem Bageine, who handles the EALA docket has already warned, the affairs of EALA can only be resolved by either the assembly or the East African Court of Justice.
AG Ruhindi makes the same point.
“Questions as to the validity or non-validity of this motion should be left for the court’s interpretation,” Ruhindi writes in the letter to Museveni.
The courts are an option but it could prove tedious and cost money.
The KAA team that Zziwa has retained usually charges in billions, not millions, of shillings. Since Zziwa is not known to have that kind of money, it could turn ugly when eventually Museveni as the Uganda taxpayer to carry that financial burden.
But even if all goes according to plan and the courts re-assert Zziwa in her position, the Rwanda and Tanzania MPs in 2013 already set a precedent of walking out of proceeding presided over by her. In October, a Rwanda EALA MP Abdul Karim Harelimana told the New Times newspaper that they planned a boycott of the Oct. 19 meeting in Kigali. It could happen again.
These are tough times for Zziwa who has been fighting to keep her job from the time she was elected in June 2012 in an ugly race that went to the wire.
In April she had to abruptly adjourn the assembly in order to wiggle out of a motion to censure her that was moved by a member from Kenya. She got a breather when some EALA MPS from Tanzania who had earlier signed the motion to censure her withdrew their signatures.
But since the motion was resurrected again in Kigali and pushed through in Nairobi, it is unclear how viable Zziwa staying on as speaker is. The Nairobi motion to suspend her was signed by 32 of the 45 members of the assembly. The motion which required a two-thirds majority barely scrapped through and it is clear that Zziwa’s corner is out-numbered. But Zziwa has possibly not been outmanoeuvred yet.
President Yoweri Museveni has said he is to meet the EALA MPS from Uganda and get them to back away from censuring Zziwa. In April, before the censure motion was table, Museveni held frantic meeting with Uganda EALA MPs and EALA Commissioners from member states in a bid to save Zziwa. He failed.
Soon after the censure motion started, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya in June 2014 also wrote a terse memo to his country’s EALA MPs not to be involved in the censure. He wrote that he had consulted fellow Heads of State of the EAC member countries and concluded that kicking Zziwa out is not “in the interest of promoting the principal mission of the EAC”.
“I would not wish Kenya to be seen by other member states to have a hidden agenda,” he went on. Kenyan MPs too defied him.
One person who is possibly unlikely to be swayed again this time is Ugandan EALA MP Dora Byamukama whom Zziwa defeated to win the post.
Byamukama has remained quiet since the speaker’s troubles surfaced but that has not stopped all speculation from pointing in her direction as the chief architect of Zziwa’s jinx at EALA. Zziwa has lumped Byamukama together the Ugandan contingent to EALA as the crafters of her troubles. If one considers that Zziwa has also thrown in the Ugandan Minister for East African Affairs, Shem Bageine, and the EAC Secretary General, Richard Sezibera, it becomes clear that Zziwa thinks everyone at EALA is out to get her.
She might have a point.
Although Zziwa appears to have most EAC heads of state; Museveni, Kenyatta, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, and the Burundi president, Pierre Nkurunziza, in her corner, she needs to win over the EALA assembly members. It is unclear how Tanzania’s Jakaya Kikwete, who is the next holder of the rotating EAC chairmanship, will handle the Zziwa saga. Already tongues are wagging after a function at which Kenyatta would have swung the baton to him was abruptly brought to a halt when the Heads of State Summit failed to meet on Nov. 30 in Nairobi. The summit was postponed indefinitely.
The official reason for aborting the Summit was that Kikwete, who underwent prostate surgery in the U.S. in early November and only arrived back in Tanzania on Nov. 29, was unable to attend.
It is unclear why, under such circumstances, the venue of the summit had been set, pavilions built, sitting areas arranged, and decorations put up in Nairobi.
According to Sezibera, the EAC Secretary General, consultations are now underway with Kenyatta and other heads of state to reschedule the summit. The break provides much needed reprieve for the embattled Zziwa but will what comes after be a storm or fair weather for her?
EALA is the second biggest organ of the EAC and consumes about 20% of its budget continues to under-perform. There is growing frustration that since Zziwa was elected in 2012, it has passed only three Bills; on the One Stop Border Posts, Axle load, and Holidays Bill. Zziwa’s term ends in June 2017 but a decision might be made to cut the losses. Zziwa hopes it will not.
Who is Zziwa
Margaret Zziwa holds the degree of Bachelor of Arts in Economics and a Postgraduate Diploma in Education, both from Makerere University, Uganda’s oldest institution of higher education. One of her Masters degrees, obtained from Makerere as well, is the Master of Arts in Gender and Women Studies. She also holds another Master’s degree, the Master of Arts in Social Policy Studies, from the University of Stirling in the United Kingdom.
She has served in various capacities in Uganda and she was elected to lead the EALA in June 2012 for five years though she has failed to complete her term.