By Flavia Nassaka
Samuel Walter Lubega, one time firebrand of the opposition Democratic Party youth wing; the Uganda Young Democrats (UYD) has declared his intention to contest the DP presidency. In the 2011 national elections he contested as an independent presidential candidate after falling out with the DP leadership of Norbert Mao. He spoke to The Independent’s Flavia Nassaka about his turns and twists.
In the run up to the 2011 general elections, you boycotted the Delegates’ Conference and also went ahead to compete with the flag bearer Norbert Mao. What exactly was behind this defiance?
Having been the chairman of DP Diaspora chapter, I came back to Uganda in 2009 with intentions to stand for presidency in 2011 but what I found in DP was very bad. There was a lot of scuffle and bickering. I had been in the UK and Ireland mobilising funds for the Delegates’ Conference in Namboole but back here, the then President Sebbana Kizito had decided to work as an individual. He ignored National Executive Committee (NEC) guidance and the executives were not sitting regularly something that was against the party constitution.
Even when Sempebwa and Semwogerere tried to correct what was astray before the Delegates’ Conference, no one bothered to change. This was the gist of internal bickering between Matia Nsubuga, Betty Nambooze, Rainer Kafiire, and Dr. Lulume Bayigga among others. Even when the time for the Delegates’ Conference came, only 5 of the 42 members of NEC went to Mbale. Among those who did not go were the national Vice President and organising secretaries. Instead Matia Nsubuga who was disputed as Secretary General sat in for them. That was unconstitutional. With that unconstitutional and fraudulent way of handling issues, I decided not to go, as much as I wanted to be president. I did not break any law and nothing was barring me from standing as an Independent. In fact the faction that did not go to Mbale headed by Rainer kafiire wanted to endorse me but they were stopped by the Electoral Commission. Norbert Mao was a flag bearer for those who went to Mbale and I was for those who didn’t go.
But then you never ran the entire election campaign race and you eventually pulled out even as an independent candidate?
This is not true. This news was spread to de-campaign me. It’s just because I had to go abroad amidst the campaigns to look for funds in the UK and Germany because as you know as an independent candidate, I had to mobilise and fund myself. For that reason and others out of my own making, I missed visiting districts like Buvuma, Nakapiriprit, Kabong and Kisoro.
Besides, the Electoral Commission was also frustrating me, they announced that I had failed to raise signature, yet they were the ones failing me to hand in by always postponing the appointment. I had to wait for two weeks and I wondered why me?
But also I was in the race with a whole plethora of NRM brotherhoods. I was the only one and may be Olara Otunnu who has never dinned with the movement. Kiiza Besigye was once a national Political commissar, and Betty Kamya and Bidandi Ssali have all worked in this government. So far, among the seven candidates who stood, it’s only me and Museveni who have shown interest. Why is that?
Recently, you reconciled with fellow members of DP after about four years. Why now?
We haven’t yet had serious reconciliation with the different faction leaders. I might have gone to the headquarters but this doesn’t mean anything if our demands are not catered for. We put our demands clearly, including unity, having a clear progressive agenda, having party elections that are free and fair among other issues that will unite the party that has been allusive for the last five years. We also asked for a clear register and independent electoral commission. Short of that, we shall not reconcile to bring a sparkle in leadership. We need to make decisions as a whole not as DP Buganda or Suubi.
We are only remaining with a few months, must we remain sleeping, must we wait for Mao to wake up and realise we need to reconcile? We have to unite now or else our party will not be relevant in the coming elections. We have to agree on salient issues. For instance, what is our stand about the electoral reforms? You know we have not had a Delegates’ Conference since Mbale. This is the time.
But you have been relatively quiet over the last four years. Why should party supporters take you seriously now?
As a civilized democrat, I thought it was not good to shout a lot. Some of these reconciliation efforts we have been trying silently. I wasn’t very happy with the way we the opposition have been conducting these issues. I was initially part of the Walk to Work campaigns but I realised we were not going the right direction. I thought concentrating all our efforts in just Kisekka market would not help so I came up with an idea of extending to Jinja, Mbale, and other parts of the country to fight a regime that had not only attained power fraudulently but put the country in a crisis. Unfortunately my colleagues were not interested in this. They wanted the struggle to rotate around Kisekka market. We also had responsibility to mobilise the opposition in parliament but what happened? When Mbidde was being elected, he got the support from NRM. The opposition MPs themselves are not united in parliament.
Why have I been silent? I have been preparing for the next race because the struggle is still on. But also, tactfully, there are things we do quietly even in politics.
What is your comment about the endless leadership wrangles and intrigue that have characterized DP over the last four years?
What we are lacking in DP is leadership that has vision and hope. The moment we do what is right; problems of the broken party will be fixed. Intrigues come because people are not following the constitution.
You have been very vocal regarding the party constitutional amendments that you want addressed if meaningful dialogue is to happen within the party. What are the proposals you want addressed?
Before the constitutional amendments, I am focusing myself on the minimum agenda for now rather than real policies. On the agenda is reconciling and building cohesion to give the party new momentum to produce a single candidate who will take on Museveni in the next elections now that we are talking of fronting a single candidate for the opposition.
About the general electoral reforms, the government doesn’t need them. Museveni is waiting for the last moment so that the artificial majorities he created in parliament will decide for the rest of the Ugandans by picking out what they want. It won’t be a comprehensive process where every stakeholder will have participated. For instance among the issues, civil society and the opposition have proposed is an independent electoral commission. Is there time for this to happen?
Would you agree with some observers who think DP has lost the Benedicto Kiwanuka’s political principles and ideas and has instead turned into a tribalistic party in the recent past?
Buganda contributes the same number of delegates to the conference. Five from each district, I don’t understand those who say DP is for Baganda. We have had limited support in the west since the 1980s but we also receive the same number of delegates. If it was for Baganda, Mao wouldn’t have been the party president and vice president.
If Mao said it, he was misadvised. DP refused Lubega, a Muganda in 2010 and fronted an Acholi. We’ve been having a president who comes from Acholi but tell me how many DP workshops have been organised in Gulu, how many DP councilors do we have there? He has himself decided to concentrate in Buganda. Who should we blame? Is it a problem of the party or modus operandi of the leader?
What happens to you and your plans in the event that you don’t get picked to run as DP’s flag bearer for the 2016 general elections?
The problem will only come if they insist on doing things outside the party constitution but as long as the process is democratic, whoever will go through I will support but am sure we will go through.