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Nandala Mafabi’s next fight

By Haggai Matsiko

And how Museveni is plotting to kick him out of parliament

Nandala Mafabi, the FDC stalwart and erstwhile Leader of Opposition in parliament, likes to portray himself as a man who turns around things.  And until Jan.31, he could quickly spin off examples of things he has turned around—a defunct cooperative union in his Bugisu backyard, the Public Accounts Committee of parliament, and his political career.

However, going forward, Mafabi’s biggest test of this capability might be just how he turns around his latest political misfortunes and charts a new positive course for his political career.

At 48 years of age, the Budadiri West MP is still quite young and energetic. Yet the decision by his party president, Gen. Mugisha Muntu, to remove him from the LoP post seems to be a highlight in the down spiral of his political career.

Hardly two years ago, Mafabi, saw himself as the president of Uganda’s most powerful opposition party. One can even add, President of Uganda, considering that many of his supporters—impressed by his radicalism—saw in him a successor of Col. Kizza Besigye who has had the best shot at ousting President Yoweri Museveni.

But far from the grandeur of such offices, Mafabi’s chances now look quite slim.

Unlike most politicians who snatch up political capital from opposing their opponents’ moves, Mafabi finds himself in no position to galvanise anything from Muntu’s move to replace him.

The results would have been different all together if Mafabi had been replaced with, for example, Alice Alaso, the FDC party Secretary General, who campaigned against him in the 2012 polls or any of Muntu’s other supporters.

Mafabi could have easily turned his eyes to his supporters, decried a witch-hunt and amassed political capital. That is what he did after the FDC presidential race that he lost to Mugisha Muntu. His supporters threatened to quit the party over his loss and later over rumours he would lose his LoP seat.But Muntu has been quite tactical. He replaced Mafabi with Wafula Oguttu, who is not only the Budadiri West’s closest ally but also comes from Eastern Uganda, which happens to be Mafabi’s stronghold.

Important to note is that Mafabi’s demotion is the last straw that has broken the back of his camp at the party headquarters. It is the sign that Muntu is fully in charge now and no longer fears consequences of dealing with Mafabi.

As it is, Mafabi cannot even publicly express his unhappiness. He must cut his losses and congratulate Wafula.

“Wafula is my friend,” Mafabi told The Independent, “he has my maximum support.”

The Budadiri West MP added that he would for the meantime remain just an MP and focus on mobilising his supporters in Eastern Uganda.This might be the former LoP’s only option because his number one political foe, President Yoweri Museveni, has been paying a lot of attention to Mafabi and his constituency.

In the past, Museveni has thrown many axes at Mafabi in vain. The difference now is that Mafabi is at his weakest.

Just last year, President Museveni lured away Mafabi’s former campaign manager Rubaramira Ruranga, who these days hardly misses NRM functions.

Previously, it was Mafabi’s Personal Assistant, Moses Kisolo, who also crossed to NRM.

Just this year, a woman close to Mafabi’s camp shifted to President Museveni’s side and, at a rally in Mafabi’s district of Sironko made allegation of a sexual nature against the legislator. Museveni, who was in was in Sironko to launch the offices of the NRM, called the woman and comforted her.

It was not lost on many that the President was trying to look caring where Mafabi was made to appear unreliable. With 2016 around the corner, President Museveni could not have been playing games. Besides, this was the second time he was coming to Mafabi’s ground zero.

It is not clear what else Museveni and his army of cadres have up their sleeves in store for Mafabi but he pledged to the locals that he would soon be delivering goodies for them.

To understand Museveni’s moves, one needs to draw from precedents. Some years back after Mafabi’s predecessor, Ogenga Latigo had lost the LoP post and his parliamentary seat, the President met him at a function.

As he was greeting him, the President said: “Latigo, it’s not me who sent this money that made you lose elections; I only sent money to Agago once.”

But Ogenga knew that the opposite was true.

With 2016 coming up, Museveni must be planning something against Mafabi.

Mafabi has for long been aware of Museveni’s unease over his popularity. In 2012, he said that following the declaration of his intention to contest for the FDC presidency, “President Museveni and his cronies have lost sleep”.

When The Independent asked him about the President’s recent missions in his backyard, Mafabi was noncommittal.

“The president has a right to visit any part of the country,” Mafabi said, “what matters is what he says and what he achieves, as far as I know, the President has always come out (of Sironko) empty-handed.

Mafabi is right—he has in the last six years been unstoppable.

The legislator made his name mainly from what many saw as stellar performance when he headed the Parliamentary Accounts Committee (PAC).

Having caused enough headaches by, among others, making the president and several NRM stalwarts appear before PAC, Mafabi found himself in the line of fire.

During the 2011 polls, President Museveni dispatched ex-minister Beatrice Wabudeya to unseat the legislator but failed. Mafabi did not only beat Wabudeya, he trounced Museveni whose party had deployed both security operatives and huge stashes of money.  Mafabi was also seen as the man behind huge support for the opposition in the Bugisu sub-region.

Mafabi also claimed that a report commissioned by Trade, Industry and Cooperatives ministry that claimed to implicate him in the alleged mismanagement of BCU, was Museveni’s handwork.

Indeed President Museveni told the paramount chief of Bamasaba in 2010 that Mafabi was suspended following a complaint from some Bugisu NRM MPs that he had a lot of money suspected to be stolen from the union.

But even this did not stop Mafabi, who ruled all this out as political witch-hunt. Spinning off figures, Mafabi said that it was him who had in just two years, turned the cooperative’s Shs 1.7bn deficit into Shs 2.5bn working capital and also dug from the lows of Shs 800 the price of kilogramme of coffee paid to the cooperatives’ farmers to the highs of Shs 10,000.

It is not surprising that Nandala was able to perform superbly as chair of PAC and BCU. His several years as a tax assessor at Uganda Revenue Authority (URA),  a degree in Statistics and Economics and a Master’s in Economic Policy and Planning all from Makerere University would give you the requisite skills.

But it seems political leadership needs more than a penchant for numbers. Indeed, it is accurate to note that Muntu’s move to replace Mafabi with Wafula had to do with the tension that arose following their hotly contested 2012 elections.

What is even more accurate is the fact that Mafabi’s demotion had more to do with what he got coming his way because of his management style in parliament.

Once he became LoP in 2012, Mafabi antagonised key opposition figures by being too strict.

Hardly a year in office, he had accused Kitgum Woman MP Beatrice Anywar of being too cosy to Museveni. As a result, she stepped aside from her post as Minister for Energy in the Shadow Cabinet, to allow the party to investigate the Mafabi accusations.

Mafabi had also fired off warnings to legislators Abdu Katuntu, Judith Akello Franca and Geoffrey Ekanya and his successor Kassiano Wadri, whom he accused for letting Museveni off the hook in a report about the controversial compensation to Hassan Basajjabalaba, in which the committee absolved the President of wrongdoing.

At the party headquarters, he also had problems with the party Secretary General Alice Alaso. So, by the time he contested against Muntu, Mafabi’s list of foes within FDC alone included; Wadri, Anywar, Akello, Ekanya, Katuntu, Alaso and Aruu county MP Odonga Otto.

Yet Mafabi had also alienated colleagues from the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) and Democratic Party’s (DP), whom he had dismissed from the shadow cabinet after their parties chose to defy the planned boycott of the East African Legislative Assembly polls.

In his reaction to the suspension, Katuntu said it had turned the entire opposition into a laughing stock.

His predecessor, Morris Ogenga Latigo, said Mafabi should have consulted. Before quitting office, Latigo had written Mafabi a letter, a copy of which The Independent has seen, detailing the rigours of the LoP office. In a recent interview with The Independent, Latigo said that Mafabi had ignored the letter and had made mistakes that he would have avoided if he had picked a lesson or two.

One such lesson was about listening and consulting all the players in the opposition. Indeed had Mafabi been as consulting and listening, he would have possibly approached the legislators he alienated more cautiously. If he had done this, a source told The Independent that the pressure to have Mafabi replaced as LoP would not been as much as it was.

As it is, Muntu faced a real tough choice replacing Mafabi. Mafabi’s supporters threatened to quit FDC if he was replaced. But his foes would also not budge—Mafabi had to quit the LoP office.

After a lot of reflection, Muntu found a middle ground in Wafula, who shares the same support base—eastern Uganda—with Mafabi.

For the Budadiri West’s political future now, what is lost is lost but going forward. At his age he still stands a chance to resurrect himself——or else he will provide content for his foes, like Museveni, to write his political Epitaph.

Additional reporting by Joan Akello

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