By Ivan Rugambwa
In light of former Prime Minister and former NRM Secretary General Amama Mbabazi’s announcement that he would be seeking the party’s flag to run for President, the Current NRM Secretray General, Justine Kasule Lumumba spoke to The Independent’s Ivan Rugambwa.
Today Mbabazi, the man who you replaced as Secretary General of the party, announced that he is to contest against President Yoweri Museveni, your party Chairman. What did you make of this announcement?
What I want to say to him is that he should be clear. Just the other day, Hope Mwesigye, was in talks with the Opposition’s Democratic Alliance, on his behalf. So, which is which? Is he working with the Democratic Alliance or with the NRM? There’s no news in that, coincidentally, Gen.Mugisha Muntu has also announced that he’s also going to contest. So, it’s good, and a sign of trust, in the NRM government, that people are free to contest.What bothered me though is why he chose to make his announcement on YouTube, and not announce publically, so people could ask him questions and he responds.
In February 2014, the NRM Caucus passed the now famous Kyankwanzi resolution that adopted President Museveni as its sole Candidate at the next polls. Now a member of the same caucus seems to have defied that resolution. Are we about to see any disciplinary action taken against him?
You know, it’s funny that it was Hon.Mbabazi as Secretary General that handed to me the rules of procedure of the caucus to me, who was the Government Chief Whip then. And the practice in the caucus was that when we sit as a caucus and agree on an issue, we are all bound by it. That was the practice when Mbabazi was both Secretary General and Prime Minister. I wonder why he has changed now. As a caucus, we made our preference clear to the public, but the final decision on who becomes the party’s flag bearer is a decision of the National Conference.The NRM Electoral Commission receives expressions of interest from the various interested parties, which it combines, and forward to the Central Executive Committee (CEC) of the party. The CEC then recommends them to NEC, which then vets the names and forwards them to the National Conference, which then elects the flag bearer from the forwarded candidates.
Nevertheless, Mbabazi’s announcement has elicited a lot of excitement, particularly on Social Media, and amongst the youth, who demographically constitute the majority of Uganda’s voting population. Are you not scared?
It would be a lie to say that Mbabazi has elicited only excitement on Social Media. I have been following the debate, and in fact, he has equally received a lot of attacks, drawn in insulting cartoons, with many pointing out that he has been part and parcel of everything wrong in government that he is now purporting to condemn. The attacks are of course unfortunate, and we condemn them, but I think it would be better for him to come out and articulate clear policy alternatives on how he plans to make things work differently, other than trying to exonerate himself.
So why has the Police been pulling down his posters, and blocking the movement of some of his agents who had planned a number of activities to popularize his candidature upcountry?
There’s no game without rules. As per the NRM road map which we released sometime back, primaries are scheduled for September, while the National Conference that will elect the flag bearer has been planned for October. I expect Mbabazi to know that.
Does the NRM still consider Mbabazi a loyal party member?
Yes, we still consider him an NRM member because, no one has officially petitioned the NRM disciplinary committee against him, and no decision has ever been taken in any meeting to suspend or expel him.
Do you talk to him?
Yes, on party issues. Mbabazi is a member of the NRM Caucus, and as the secretariat we take advantage of the caucus whenever we have something to communicate, and inform the government Chief Whip to call the members, to address them.
Since February last year, when it became clear that Mbabazi was seriously considering a bid for the Presidency, the party has been in a spending frenzy traversing the country, inviting delegations to State House, all in what has been interpreted as attempts to counter the Mbabazi influence. Has that been necessary?
That’s not true. When we came in, our sole responsibility was to man the secretariat, grow our membership across the country, and get our upcountry offices to start to function. So, the reason we have been undertaking these upcountry mobilisation drives is because, this time, we want it to be different. We are not panicking. We are up for the challenge, with new blood, and fresh energy.
But there have been media reports that Mbabazi and former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya are to face the NRM Disciplinary Committee. What crimes have they committed?
No, what happened was that when Prof. Bukenya and Hon.Mbabazi, represented by Hope Mwesigye, appeared in talks with the Opposition’s Democratic Alliance, without the permission of the party, they acted in breach of the Party’s code of conduct. So, as Secretary General, I instructed our Legal team to look into whether their actions go against our party’s constitution, and should it be found to be so, then they will have to face the disciplinary action.
Let’s assume that Mbabazi indeed goes on to attempt to contest against Museveni for the Chairmanship of the party, will the Party allow the challenge, in light of the fact that that position has never seen any other contender other than President Museveni?
If he follows the guidelines I explained above, why not? Contenders of the positions of Chairman, first Vice Chairperson, second Vice Chairperson, and regional Vice Chairpersons all have to go through the same process.
But the NRM has never allowed anybody else to contest particularly for the Chairmanship of the party, except President Museveni. Some time back, when Hon. Felix Okot Ogong expressed interest to contest for the party’s flag, he was never allowed to face Museveni at the ballot. One would say the position has been ring-fenced for President Museveni. Why should the public believe that this time, it will be different?
The party does not and will not bar Mbabazi or anybody else from contesting as long as they follow the rules. Particularly for Mbabazi, the advice I would give him is that he should first register and get a membership card. Without a membership card of the party, he will not be nominated. And being a lawyer, I know he knows the importance of following the law.
But Mbabazi has already challenged the on-going registration exercise, as a sham, noting that NRM had already compiled a register.
The register Mbabazi is talking about, I think, is known to only him. We don’t have it at the secretariat. But again, he has been playing double standards. Recently, he was quoted in the press as saying that all Ugandans are NRM by birth, until they willingly give up their membership, and he was encouraging Independent MPs to go ahead and contest in the NRM Primaries, which is legally wrong, and unfortunate coming from him, because he is aware that such a move could make those MPs lose their seats in Parliament, if they contest in the party primaries without first resigning their seats. Yet, while attending Hon.Tinkasiimire’s wedding in Kibaale, he was encouraging the locals to go and register. So it shows you that he knows the right thing to do.
So what happened to the register that NRM used in the last elections?
First, I have never seen an NRM register both before and after becoming Secretary General. Previously, it was the responsibility of the party branches to maintain the local registers. But now in the amended constitution, it is the responsibility of the Secretary General, to harmonise all local registers and keep a clear record of all NRM members.
So, when Mbabazi was handing over to you as Secretary General, what did he handover to you?
When did you see him handing over?I am still waiting for him to handover to me. We have invited him several times to no avail. And I am wondering whether he will come for nomination before the same members of the secretariat that he refused to handover to.
There is a case in court, in which his daughter, Nina Mbabazi, claims that the Party Chairman, President Museveni, authorized her to borrow money, on the party’s behalf to make the party register, and that now, the party had refused to pay. Have you been briefed about this debt?
I have read about it in the press, and when I was still Government Chief Whip, someone raised it with the Party Chairman, in one of the CEC meetings, and the Chairman said he wasn’t aware of the said debt. But nevertheless, if that debt does exist, let them bring evidence. NRM is a big party, and we can mobilize that money and have them paid. When we entered the secretariat, we found a lot of debts, but we have been paying them step by step.
But doesn’t that speak of a level of disorganisation that a ruling party of NRM’s size does not have clear transitional procedures from one leadership to another, and that one can defiantly refuse to handover office at will? Are such uncertainties healthy?
You see, in a democracy, there are some things you will be expected to do, by virtue of your position in that community, even when such things are not written down. So I don’t think that as a new team, we should be compelled to throw ropes in people’s necks, to come and hand over office. That has never been the NRM style. These are mature people, who are expected to do mature things. Even when we came in, we didn’t find any cheque book for the party.
So, how was the Secretariat functioning, without a cheque book, without a register, without paying staff salaries? Or was the Secretariat in name only?
For the cheque book, he could have gone with it, I don’t know. But when we came in, Dr.Galiwango, the technical person we found at the secretariat brought a bank statement and we started from there. But on the whole, there seems to have been an ad hoc way of doing things.
Gen. Otafiire has previously complained that NRM was fast becoming a Mbabazi business, with him as Secretary General, the wife was in-charge of the Women’s League, that the daughter was in-charge of the NRM kitchen. Has that now changed, or it’s now your husband, daughter and son manning the Secretariat?
(Laughs). You know me I came in in a different way, with a complete team. Hon.Todwong as Deputy Secretary General, Hon. Rose Namayanja as Treasurer, Dr. Kenneth Omona as Deputy Treasurer, and Tanga Odoi as chairperson of the NRM Electoral Commission. So for me, I have a team am working with. And whether Hon. Mbabazi was running the secretariat as you are suggesting, I don’t know, because I was not part of it then.
In his audio message, Mbabazi described the current system as weak, tired, and inefficient. What does the party have to say about that?
(Laughs heartily). If Mbabazi says that, then he is indicting himself, because, he has been at the centre of it all, as Prime Minister, and as Secretary General, which positions are the engines of government. So if he says that the system is weak and tired, then it’s an admission on his part that he too is weak and tired, because you can’t separate the two. He may not have been the President, but he certainly cannot isolate himself from the system. He has been part of the successes and failures, the weaknesses and strengths.