Who wins when Mao attacks Bobi Wine over money?
Kampala, Uganda | MUBATSI ASINJA HABATI | Norbert Mao is where he likes to be. In the news headlines. The 55-year old leader of the opposition Democratic Party (DP) has been in the news for tweets he has made about the leaders of another opposition party; the National Unity Platform (NUP) of Robert Ssentamu Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine.
According to pundits, the fight is about money but it is really a political fight that has taken on an ethnic twist. That is why it is possibly getting bigger and allowing Mao to hog the headlines, dominate talk shows, and be praised by some and vilified by others.
“Norbert Mao has had more tweets in the last two weeks than votes he had in the last general election,” said the Spokesperson of NUP, Joel Ssenyonyi (MP Nakawa West).
According to many political pundits, the fight Mao has unleashed on NUP is a political gambit he has used before on other leaders of the opposition; including its erstwhile leader; Rtd. Col. Dr Kizza Besigye.
“It’s his way of ensuring that he remains relevant on the political scene,” a pundit said.
Mao has been open about his ambition to be president of Uganda but after running twice with dismal results, he has probably settled for ensuring he remains in the news.
He is currently the longest serving leader of an opposition party having been first elected President-General of DP in 2010. He was a presidential candidate in2011, sat out 2016, and ran again in 2021. But the highest tally of the vote he has ever got was 1.86% in 2011. In the 2021 election he got 0.56% of the vote.
In the same election of 2021, NUP leader Bobi Wine who only entered the arena of political elections in five years ago garnered 36% of the vote. In the same election, Mao’s party won only nine parliamentary seats while Bobi Wine’s NUP got 57 seats. Mao’s party representation in parliament was down 6% while NUP rose to become the biggest opposition in parliament.
Despite that Norbert Mao appears determined to remain a major player on Uganda’s political stage. And he appears determined to do it without accepting Bobi Wine as the de facto leader of opposition in Uganda. Instead, he huffs and puffs at the opposition, schmoozes with the leaders of the ruling party; including President Yoweri Museveni, and uses his sharp wit and swift tongue to distress and dazzle.
Fight over money
Part of Mao’s schmoozing has meant sitting in discussion with President Museveni under the aegis of the Interparty Organisation for Dialogue (IPOD); a donor backed platform.
Bobi Wine and his party have refused to join IPOD.
“Norbert Mao and others want us to join IPOD but we have refused,” Ssenyonyi says, “Museveni uses IPOD to sanitize himself.”
But Mao, as President of Uganda’s oldest political party, has stoked the embers by accusing leaders of the country’s youngest and now leading opposition party, NUP, of dishonesty.
“For the nth time let me say those corrupt hypocrites who denounce dialogue under IPOD know that you can’t eat your cake and have it,” Mao says.
Mao accused NUP of receiving Shs3 billion from IPOD efforts yet it is not a member.
But NUP leaders insist the money they get as the biggest opposition block in parliament is not tied to participation in IPOD. They say it is spelt out in the law regarding political parties funding; and is drawn from the Consolidated Fund and therefore is not from IPOD.
The said money for political parties is shared among parties that have representation in parliament basing on numerical strength. The NUP received Shs3 billion, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) Shs1.7 billion, the Democratic Party received Shs400 million, Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) Shs200 million, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and the Justice Forum (JEEMA) took Shs50 million each, while the ruling NRM took the lion’s share of Shs13 billion while.
Under section 14A of the Political Parties and Organizations (Amendment), Act, 2010, the government is required to contribute funds or other public resources towards the activities of political parties or organizations represented in Parliament.
“In respect of no normal day to day activities, funding shall be based on the numerical strength of each political party or organisation in Parliament,” the law says. There is no mention of IPOD.
Below the bickering over IPOD money, lingers the bigger question of why Mao, a leader of a prominent party insists on sitting with Museveni under IPOD when other leaders have boycotted it? Many commenters have branded Mao as an opposition sell-out.
In reaction, Mao likes to throw in bouts of whataboutism; attempting to discredit his accusers claims without directly refuting them. Instead he accuses them of similar shenanigans.
“Your current Leader of Opposition was on Kayihura’s fuel list. I’ll fearlessly speak the truth about those who tell lies about me. Be warned. I’m loading a nuclear warhead,” he tweeted in December last year.
Mao alleges that NUP is being funded by some people within the ruling NRM party whom he refers to as the “shadow state”.
Appearing before a number of media houses and using his social media accounts, Mao says NUP was fraudulently acquired by its current leadership since there was no delegates conference.
“Seven members cannot make a political party’s delegates conference. NUP should not have been allowed to present candidates in the previous general election because it was not properly acquired,” Mao said.
He waved an alleged NUP certificate of registration made on August 28, 2019 by the Electoral Commission.
“This is a true copy of the registration certificate of NUP that the Shadow State had prepared. They then sold the idea to a celebrity. The celebrity mobilised political simpletons to participate in the project to create a scarecrow for deal making. The 2020 deal was for show,” tweeted on Feb.21.
Mao says his fight against NUP was prompted by the protests by some NUP supporters in the United States of America who demonstrated against the hospitalisation of Speaker of Parliament Jacob Oulanyah there.
“The demonstrators are cowards and intolerant. How can you demonstrate against someone receiving treatment whose bills have been authorized by the President of the Republic of Uganda? Nobody has ever demonstrated against anybody who is hospitalized and who probably cannot hear them. There are decent ways that one can use to promote their cause,” Mao said.
But some commentators say that away from the moral grand-standing, Mao should have confessed that he has been a very close friend of Jacob Oulanyah. During their university days in the 1980s when Mao was president of the Makerere University Students Guild, Oulanyah was the speaker.
Equally, in 2014 when Mao was very ill and had to be flown to a top Kenyan hospital for treatment, it was Oulanya (who was deputy speaker of Parliament) who brought in a military helicopter which evacuated him to Entebbe International Airport from where he flew to Nairobi aboard Kenyan Airways.
Without disclosing his relationship with Oulanyah, Mao says he is giving his fight against what he calls dishonesty within the opposition two years.
“I am fighting stigmatisation and collective guilt. If a person from tribe X has committed a crime, that is an individual crime not for the whole tribem,” he says.
Mao’s attacks on NUP come a few days after Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the commander of UPDF Land Forces and first son, praised him as the opposition politician who has presidential qualities.
But Mao denies that his attacks against the opposition are connected to this. He says the opposition has many corrupt, dishonest and bullying individuals.
“I am fighting cyber bullies on social media. Many people now fear to express their true opinions. We cannot have a country where people are pretending to fight for democracy but are averse to alternative opinions,” he says. He says his self-appointed role is to sanitise the political field in Uganda.
Ever since NUP became the leading opposition the reception it received from older opposition parties has been mixed. At first there jabs between NUP and the Forum the Democratic Change (FDC) which it replaced as biggest opposition party. Now it is DP on the attack.
Political observers say instead of attacking each other, Uganda’s opposition parties should tolerate the different positions each party takes.
They point at how NUP reacted aggressively when Masaka City MP Abed Bwanika on the NUP ticket suggested that his party should consider negotiating with the ruling NRM government so as to have many NUP supporters who are languishing in jail released. Members of NUP quickly disassociated themselves with Bwanika’s proposal and some accused him of being an NRM spy.
The NUP supporters also routinely verbally attack politicians in the opposition; especially Dr Kizza Besigye. They sometimes accuse him of being an NRM mole. Even when Besigye came up with the red card campaign, the NUP leadership refused to participate.
The division within the opposition was also reflected in the recent attempt to censure Security Minister Jim Muhwezi. The censure motion, was not supported by all opposition parties. Out of over 100 opposition MPs in the 11th parliament, only 88 signed on the motion to censure yet the leader of Opposition in Parliament, Mathias Mpuuga had led the opposition legislators walk out parliament in a two-week protest against torture suspects arrested by security forces. Mpuga had stated that the protest would end in a censure motion of Minister Jim Muhwezi. But the opposition MPs returned to parliament empty handed.
Jimmy Akena, the leader of the opposition Uganda Peoples Congress dismissed the motion to censure Muhwezi as unnecessary. Akena’s has also been accused of being President Museveni’s lap dog. Akena’s wife Betty Amongi is the Minister of Gender and Labour in the ruling NRM government.
In another attack within the opposition, former Kawempe South MP, Mubarak Munyagwa accused the LoP of not doing enough to ensure incarcerated NUP legislators Muhammad Segirinya and Allan Ssewanyana are free.
“NUP doesn’t seem to know what to do and always acts in haste and panic just to assure the public that they have the situation at hand yet in actuality, nothing is being done. Leading opposition MPs walk out of parliament in protest against torture was a panicky move since the party had seen MP Abed Bwanika making controversial statements asking them to dialogue with the NRM led government so that political detainees are released,” Munyagwa said.
Munyagwa further said “NUP started to move around the country after seeing Dr Besigye launch the red card front which they thought would overshadow their popularity among the masses and soon as Besigye relaxed a bit to give them way, they also decided to take the foot off the pedal.”
In a twist of events, the NRM legislators and some opposition MPs led a campaign to have MP and parliamentary commissioner Francis Zaake removed from Parliamentary Commission for using unsavory language against the Deputy Speaker, Anita Among. Over 200 MPs including some from the political opposition side had signed a petition to have Zaake punished. In contrast, none of the ruling NRM legislators signed the motion to censure Muhwezi.
“Political parties have a role to play in this country like it is stated in the political parties Act but IPOD should do more than making political parties run like NGOs,” says veteran opposition politician Ken Lukyamuzi of the Conservative Party (CP).
“A strong opposition is good for the ruling party. It is therefore vital that the political parties are properly funded and remain united instead of cat fights. There must be compromise that allows dialogue,” says NRM vice chairperson for Buganda, Godfrey Kiwanda. It is a message Mao and Bobi Wine should heed.