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Museveni not scared of Janet’s influence in NRM

By Mary Karooro Okurut

I would like to react to the article in The Independent magazine of February 27-March 5, 2009, “Reshuffle: Museveni’s troubles over Janet – The Inside Story of Janet Museveni’s Appointment” in which Andrew Mwenda makes some really ridiculous claims over the First Lady’s appointment as Minister for Karamoja Affairs.

Mwenda raises several issues which merit some clarification.

He states that Ms Janet Museveni was deployed in a Ministry with a “shoestring budget” which was rejected by Mr Tom Butiime in 2006 for being a demotion of sorts.

It is no secret that Karamoja is an area with complex issues in the socio-cultural domain which make it a daunting task for even the most formidable. It is a place whose culture seems at odds with modernity and where many people are so entrenched in the past ‘ the raid-rape-and-rustle tradition, and so affected by the geo-political situation of the Great Lakes Region and the Horn of Africa (gun trafficking, inter-tribal warfare and cattle rustling) that establishing normalcy therein is an uphill task.

Karamoja needs a serious overhaul in terms of changing cultural perceptions and practices, overthrowing dangerous social dynamics and re-thinking the local economy to transform it into an integrated, multi-dimensional affair instead of the current give-me-cows-or-I-die philosophy.

But Janet Museveni is the right person for this place which is not only difficult but downright vulnerable to all kinds of external shock.

She is on record for having worked with vulnerable groups since the advent of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) to power, 23 years ago. She founded the Uganda Women’s Efforts to Save Orphans (UWESO), has always been a key figure in the fight for women emancipation and is well-known as a crusader for the youth, helping to protect them from HIV/Aids. Every time you talk of the abstinence from sex and virginity till marriage campaigns, the First Lady is the name that comes to mind immediately.

She has been a Mother Theresa of sorts, never afraid or ashamed to get dirty for the cause of humanity. She embraces every cause with passion and compassion; and her tender motherly touch and her soft but firm way of doing things will surely do Karamoja good.

Knowing the vagaries of Karamoja that her appointment will expose her to, I agree with the Karamoja MP Abura Piriri who said “the President so loved Uganda that he gave his only wife” – comparing the President’s gesture to that of God in John 3:16: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son¦

Now Mwenda, if Karamoja has been rejected as a demotion and some appointees see it as a slap in the face and that the appointing authority is just getting rid of them diplomatically, why would it be a reward for Janet?

Aren’t you defeating your own argument of Museveni building a dynasty by putting family members in critical centres of  power?

If in your axis of analysis, one wants to glorify his wife, would he ‘dump’ her in Karamoja? And if she is in Karamoja, would her feet be tied, thereby inhibiting her political ambition? Surely Karamoja is in Uganda ” not on Mars or Venus ” and Janet could still pursue her political ambition as you call it.

Making Janet Minister for Karamoja can only mean one thing in the President’s mind. He is thinking, if some people think that being Minister for Karamoja is some kind of demotion, let my own wife “an MP in her own right“ go there and serve.

And work we know Janet will.

Mwenda further claims that Janet has been a dissenting voice especially within the NRM Parliamentary Caucus and so the President appointed her “to silence her because as a Cabinet Minister she will be bound by collective responsibility”.

It is common knowledge that there is plenty of internal democracy and free speech within the NRM Caucus. People are free to say whatever they want and as matter of fact, Janet attends the Caucus as an MP, not in her capacity as First Lady. She has the right like anybody else therein, to make comment in any direction. What is critical is that Caucus members, regardless of how hot the debate, are able to build consensus and come up with a unified party position. In the Temangalo saga (over the National Social Security Fund, NSSF), when the Caucus took a position that overruled the one fronted by Janet, she went along without any further ado, in true party spirit.

Had there been no internal democracy within the NRM Caucus, the press would have been the very first to complain!

So when Mwenda says that Janet has been put in Cabinet to silence her because she is dissenting, where is the dissent?

If there were to be no debate and discussion in the Caucus then why would we caucus at all?

All it would take would be for the Chairman of the party to rule by decree within the party and that would be that.

If people can raise different positions and perspectives within the party that is mere debate, nothing to do with dissent. Dissent would arise if the party agreed on a unified position then somebody went against it.

That is why it is wrong for some people to allege that MPs who supported NRM Secretary General Amama Mbabazi were rewarded with ministerial positions. In effect there is no such thing as “the Mbabazi group” because as a party, the NRM came to a consensus that, inter alia, the price of the Temangalo land had not been inflated and therefore there was value for money. Both the majority and minority reports agreed that the project was a worthwhile venture and therefore should go ahead.

The party took a position at that and exonerated Mbabazi.

And Mwenda’s polemic is contradictory. At the beginning he claims the President feels threatened by Janet’ “growing political appeal” and therefore he is dumping her in Karamoja. Then in the same breath he claims that the President is trying to keep power within his family and “by this single action, Museveni may have surpassed the excesses of the worst of Africa’s despots of old”. This is a very strong and extreme statement. And confusing too, at a closer look. First you say the President wants to trim his wife’s wings so he dumps her in Karamoja. Then in the same breath you say Museveni has sunk so low, he’s appointed his wife as Minister. So which is which?

Either he is promoting her or trashing her; not both! So he has surpassed African despotic excesses by putting his wife in the worst ministry possible?

Surely Mwenda “” make up your mind. Clearly there is nothing ‘inside story’ about this whole thing that is packed with figments of your imagination and plenty of contradiction.

And if the President was trying to check Janet’s political ambition as you call it, why would he put her in Cabinet in the first place?

The other really wild allegation is that the President was uneasy about Janet contesting for the Ruhama County seat, and therefore secretly supported her rival Augustine Ruzindana to clobber her. Cry the beloved country! The President in his always open style work came out clearly to say that he never wanted his wife to run for Parliament but failed to dissuade her. Never at any one moment did he hide the fact that he had never wanted her to contest in the first place. However when she insisted, he came all out to support her “ again, openly. It is on record that the President, during every parliamentary by-election, has thrown himself into the deep end, to support the NRM flag bearer. Why would a President who takes time off to fight for every available Parliamentary seat, try to fight for Ruzindana who belongs to Forum for Democratic Change? Verdict: ridiculous.

Mwenda goes on another crazy trajectory when he claims that former health minister Jim Muhwezi was one of the prime movers behind Janet, in a bid to undermine the President, evidenced by children of the First Family paying Muhwezi visits when he was on remand in Luzira Prison.

Mr Muhwezi is known to members of the First Family and there should be no eyebrows raised just because the President’s children visit him in his time of trouble.

It is the same thing with Janet’s interaction with Born Again pastors who Mwenda claims, are promising to support her presidential bid against her husband. Janet is a Born Again Christian“ no secret there. Is there anything against her appearing at this or that church function among those of like conviction? Come on!

So she should not go there for fear of being misunderstood to be carving out a political empire for herself? True, Born Again Christians are a very strong constituency, with conservative estimates putting them at seven million. So if we have them on board the NRM bus, what’s wrong with that? They don’t bury or burn their votes, do they?

And it cannot be true that the President was on tension just because Janet has been visiting districts outside her own constituency. Being an MP did not remove from her the image, office and duties of First Lady. She therefore has every reason and right to perform her duties as First Lady in every corner of Uganda.  The President is very much aware of it and has no problem I am sure.

When Mwenda claims that “she has even contemplated running for President even if it means running against her husband” you really want to pity him. Credit Janet with some sense please! Nobody in their right mind would envisage Janet, whose reputation for and vision of building strong stable families as the foundation for a strong nation is legendary, would ever entertain such a hypothesis.

Possibly the only thing that Mwenda got right was his submission that “Mrs Museveni has become an important political figure inside NRM…she has won the admiration and loyalty of MPs who have complained to her”.  No argument there.

As she has always done, Janet will use her growing influence in a responsible manner to do what she has always done: be a string pillar of support to her husband in his every endeavour of building a Uganda that is peaceful, prosperous and a joy to live in, and a family that has become a model First Family not only in Uganda, but all over the world.

I mean, the three daughters are all engaged in successful private enterprise. As for First Son Muhoozi Keinerugaba being in the army is not a crime “ that is the path he has chosen, and a noble one too.

Once President Museveni was asked, did it not bother him that former President of Uganda Milton Obote (RIP) was living in Zambia?

He answered by asking why such a mundane matter was supposed to bother him.

Obote had to be somewhere anyway, he said“ did they expect the man to be floating in the air?

That’s the case of Muhoozi “ he’s got to be somewhere!

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Mary Karooro Okurut is the Bushenyi District woman MP and a former spokesperson of President Yoweri Museveni.

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