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Otunnu versus the rest

By Eriasa Mukiibi Sserunjogi

UPC boss’s strictness on money issues, leaves him isolated as Pulkol, Rurangaranga, Odit  launch a battle for control

Few Ugandans have CVs as illustrious as UPC President Olara Otunnu’s. He was granted the special O1 immigration status by the United States, which is reserved for “few individuals who have risen to the very top of their field of endeavour”. The former UN undersecretary has received several international awards, including the German Africa Prize, the Sydney Peace Prize, the Global Award for Contribution to Human Rights, the Harvard Law School Association Award and the Distinguished Service Award, awarded by the United Nations Association of USA.

But David Pulkol, former secretary for policy and mobilisation in UPC, sees no link between Otunnu’s profile and his contribution at Uganda House, the seat of UPC. “Let the Otunnu in the CV stand up and the one at Uganda House sit down,” challenged Pulkol.


Major fallout

Pulkol was addressing a joint press conference with sacked UPC Chairman Maj. Edward Rurangaranga and former Secretary General John Odit. The conference, in which Rurangaranga apologised to UPC members for recommending ‘a failure’ for election as party president, dwelt so much on Otunnu’s person.

“When you look at Otunnu, the way he dresses, the way he walks, the way he talks, is he serious?” said Pulkol. Commenting on talk that Otunnu wanted to reconcile, Rurangaranga said, “I can’t reconcile with someone who I don’t know where he lives”.

Eight members left Otunnu’s team in the biggest meltdown Otunnu has faced thus far. Within a space of one month, Otunnu sacked Rurangaranga, Odit, Pulkol and Moses Nuwagaba (deputy spokesperson). Others are Robert Kanusu (press secretary), Emmanuel Rukundo (national vice chairperson), Ndiwa Ndikora (vice chairperson for South West region) and Cecilia Anyakoit, who resigned her post as the national youth leader.

Otunnu appointed Pulkol and Odit just last April, to help ‘re-invigorate UPC’. But relations between Otunnu and his high profile appointees broke down fast and within less than six months of assuming office, Secretary General Odit preferred to work without the knowledge of his boss. Otunnu blames Pulkol for this twist.

Man on a mission

Otunnu moved to make changes immediately he assumed office. He wanted to hire a professional civil service, regardless of party affiliation, to create a ‘model party’. He also wanted to establish a system of managing party finances and assert his authority and approach. He says he wanted UPC to be different from President Yoweri Museveni government.

Some of the changes seem to have affected key people in Otunnu’s camp. Many members felt party jobs should be for UPC members and detested Otunnu’s attempt at firmly controlling the finances ‘yet he wasn’t fundraising’. Otunnu would later find out that Rurangaranga, Odit and Pulkol, were also reading from a different script to his.

Enter money

Cracks widened with the use of monies from the Milton Obote Foundation (MOF), which funds a substantial part of the party’s budget. Otunnu was unhappy with how Odit, the head of the UPC secretariat, had budgeted for the first quarter (July, August and September) funds from MOF. Whereas all the money had been budgeted for use at the party headquarters – to cater for routine expenses like stationery and transport, facilitate interns, salaries and allowances, Otunnu suggested that the budget be amended to provide for activities like mobilisation.

“Uganda House exists for a purpose,” Otunnu argued, “and that purpose is to mobilise the party and the country.” Otunnu therefore wanted the budget to provide for activities away from the party headquarters.

Odit admitted to this reporter that the budget wasn’t revised as Otunnu had suggested, but disbursements from the party account continued “as planned”. Towards the end of the quarter, Otunnu discovered that the monies had almost been wiped out.

In reaction, Otunnu issued a circular directing that for the interim period of about two weeks until the new financial management regulations were finalised, any expenditure amounting to Shs 100,000 or more had to be approved by Vice President Joseph Bbosa or himself. He had touched off a storm.

Otunnu’s insistence especially on accountability and building a professional bureaucracy cast him as a change manager who had to work against stiff resistance from even his core team. Did he have what it takes?

So Otunnu’s circular had to come up for discussion in the party Cabinet meeting of November 1, 2011. On that day, Otunnu relates, “Even members who are not part of the Cabinet physically occupied the space where the Cabinet was to sit”. According to the UPC constitution, the Cabinet is chaired by the president or vice president and consists of 14 people. Otunnu insisted on only these people attending. This would however leave out people like Pulkol (secretary for mobilisation and research), who even if appointed by the party president, their positions were not in the constitution.

Intense haggling ensued in Otunnu’s office, with former party chairman Rurangaranga urging Otunnu to let even the other members participate in the meeting lest “there would be chaos”. Otunnu reluctantly agreed, and the meeting started at 11.00 am. By the time it ended twelve and a half hours later, Otunnu had rescinded the notice requiring him or his vice president to approve expenditures of Shs 100,000 or above.

Otunnu says the atmosphere during the meeting made it difficult to discuss serious matters. But Odit says the other members had to participate because they are “important for the party”. Odit singles out Pulkol: “That man is resourceful, even the other parties would want to have him. Even NRM regrets having lost him; he gets impatient when things are not moving.”

But looking back to the meeting of November 1, 2011, Otunnu says he now clearly sees why it was important for the “Pulkol group” to have his circular rescinded.

Deepening democracy money

A day after the meeting, on November 2, 2011, close to Shs 98m was deposited in the UPC account in Orient Bank from Deepening Democracy Programme (DDP). The money was for convening a national youth convention, carrying out 13 sub-regional mobilisation workshops and training UPC leaders in ten districts of Buganda where grassroots elections were due to take place. Otunnu was unaware of all this.

Otunnu learnt of the DDP money on November 23, 2011, when all of it had almost been withdrawn from the UPC account. Otunnu summoned “senior management”, a group comprised of himself, Vice President Bbosa, National Chairman Rurangaranga, Secretary General odit and Party Treasurer Peter Walubiri. During the “difficult” meeting in Otunnu’s office, Secretary General Odit told his colleagues that DDP had given them “some money” but they intended to meet that afternoon to discuss how to use it.

Odit didn’t tell them at that stage that much of the money had actually been withdrawn or used for anything. Otunnu and others were upset that the party’s Cabinet wasn’t aware of whatever Odit, Rurangaranga and Pulkol were planning, but they allowed them to carry out their “afternoon meeting” and later report on how they would have resolved to proceed.

The “afternoon meeting” didn’t have to discuss any programmes because everything had already been finalised. The following day, on November 24, 2011, Rurangaranga wrote a note to Otunnu, “it was resolved that the meetings (workshops in regions) should go ahead as planned”.

Otunnu’s woes

Otunnu was learning for the first time the full extent of Rurangaranga’s involvement in the “Pulkol project”. Rurangaranga’s involvement presented problems for Otunnu because Otunnu appears to have considerable respect for his former chairman. It is Rurangaranga who nominated Otunnu to run for the presidency and Otunnu seemed to have relied on him as his front man in western Uganda. Even when he decided to fire, he first moved against Pulkol, who he says is the orchestrator of the mayhem, and Odit, who he says courtesy of being secretary general and therefore the guardian of the party’s administration, provided “bureaucratic cover” for Pulkol’s schemes.

A combination of Otunnu’s respect for Rurangaranga and a seeming sense of indecision on the part of the former diplomat seem to have played in his opponents’ favour for some time. They seem too have been confident that even if Otunnu was upset, he was unlikely to take decisive action against them.

A third factor that could have fuelled this seems to be Otunnu’s position in UPC. Rurangaranga knew he could swing much of western Uganda against Otunnu while Pulkol would influence Karamoja and some other parts of the east.

On the other hand, Odit comes from Lango, which is perceived to be hostile to Otunnu given his alleged role in the 1985 coup that overthrew former UPC President Milton Obote. Obote’s son, Lira Municipality MP Jimmy Akena, has already violently quarrelled with Otunnu and is bent on throwing him out of Uganda House. Odit therefore seems to have been drafted in to counter Akena’s influence and help Otunnu court Lango. Odit might have felt indispensable for Otunnu.

Otunnu’s position is further shaken by a UPC Diaspora that seems to have largely failed to warm up to his leadership of UPC. A group, largely led the US-based Yoga Adhola, launched an internet war against Otunnu immediately it became clear he would return to Uganda and contest the UPC leadership. Sources say it has been difficult for Otunnu to source financing from the Diaspora group, which is understood to finance Otunnu’s opponents. The Adhola group mainly blames Otunnu for the 1985 coup despite Otunnu’s insistence that he had nothing to do with it.

Otunnu says even Obote knew Otunnu wasn’t part of the coup, the reason he sent him a UPC membership card while the duo were in exile. Obote sent Otunnu a UPC membership card, which he had signed himself, through UPC strongman Chris Opoka. Otunnu argues that Opoka, who was in charge of military intelligence when Obote was overthrown, was in position to know whether Otunnu played any role and would have told Obote as much. Opoka is also now with the anti-Otunnu group but he doesn’t deny delivering Otunnu’s membership card.

Otunnu’s alleged participation in the coup, however, remains a powerful weapon against him. Odit told this reporter that he was personally told by Obote’s personal doctor that Obote died believing Otunnu had a role in his overthrow. UPC supporters countrywide have been told as much, and the presence of historical members like Rurangaranga in Otunnu’s administration had served to dispel such talk.

Otunnu ignored

Some historical members could have exploited the situation to their advantage. So the trio proceeded with their programmes financed by the DDP funds, oblivious of Otunnu’s views.

Cabinet was called to discuss the issue of DDP funds and the fact that a section of the officials of the executive had received the money and started using it without the matter being discussed by the cabinet.

The first cabinet engagement was on Tuesday, November 29, 2011 but neither Rurangaranga nor Odit turned up. Otunnu called up the duo, only to find out they were in a regional workshop in Kapchorwa, together with Pulkol and other members, using DDP funds.

To give them time to turn up, an “extraordinary” Cabinet meeting was set for the following Friday, December 2, 2011. They still didn’t show up, necessitating the members present to set another “extraordinary” Cabinet meeting for the following Sunday, December 4, 2011.

The Sunday “extraordinary” meeting didn’t take place, because when Otunnu called Rurangaranga to find out whether he would attend, Rurangaranga reportedly replied, “We’ll see about it”. Otunnu assigned Bbosa, his vice president, to follow-up the matter and contact Odit. Odit’s reply, “We will not come for the meeting, we will continue with our programme until we finish”.

The DDP programme was closing by the end of the year and Odit’s group had no time. They had two months to use the close to Shs 100 million, ending on December 31, 2011. Otunnu’s interference would pose problems for the implementation of their programme.

The funds had been franticly withdrawn from the UPC account and by December 1, 2011, only Shs 363,169 was left, according to a copy of the bank statement this reporter has seen, out of the Shs 98,885,569 that was on the account on November 2, 2011.

“I had to act fast (and remove the money) because I know that man,” said Odit. Odit said the money had to be sent to the regions in advance to organise the activities. But Otunnu says the objective could only have been “fraud”. “We know that some institutions like hotels accept cheques, why did they have to take all the money in cash?” he asks. Otunnu says his opponents had to withdraw all the money by Dec. 1, 2011, because on that day, a new party accountant was to take office and start managing the party’s account.

Otunnu charges that Pulkol started calling participants for the Youth in the afternoon of December 28, 2011, one-and-a-half days before the conference on December 30. “Is this what UPC should be doing?” asks Otunnu.

Applying for DDP funds without Otunnu’s knowledge was against an internal memo Otunnu had issued on September 22, 2011. The memo, titled “Follow-up on low-hanging fruits,” Otunnu advised his officers to pursue funding that may be available in Kampala from international partners. “To avoid any possible miscommunication,” Otunnu recommended certain procedures to be followed in applying for such grants. The proposal had to first be internally presented to him and he had to “sign-off” the final proposal before being sent to the donor. He didn’t know of the DDP proposal.

The DDP grant, which was the second of its kind with the first having been issued in early 2010 when Miria Obote was still UPC president, amounted to Shs 199 million. Shs 105m wasn’t paid to the party in cash, but was paid to Crown Agents to furnish UPC offices.

“Otunnu not fundraising”

Part of the problem seems to be that some party members are impatient that Otunnu isn’t fundraising. They had expected him to use his international exposure to raise funds for the party.

But Otunnu says his colleagues’ view of fundraising isn’t consistent with modern times. Otunnu says whereas UPC had many friends in the past, the times have changed. He says the time UPC has been out of power, coupled with “(President Yoweri) Museveni’s propaganda”, means that the party’s leadership has to cultivate new sources of funding and work hard to renew old ones.

UPC, argues Otunnu, has “to show seriousness, cohesion, programmes, transparency and hard work”. Moreover, adds Otunnu, Ugandan businessmen are “afraid of antagonising Museveni” and therefore cannot finance the political opposition.

Otunnu’s colleagues seem to have left him out of the DDP programme because they didn’t expect him to agree with their priorities. He says there are pending issues to take care of, like convening a National Council meeting, holding grassroots elections in Buganda, for which the money could have been used.

On September 27, 2011, Otunnu wrote a confidential memo to top party officials, titled “Very disturbing developments in the Party Secretariat.” MOF first quarter and DDP money was among the ‘disturbing developments’,  along with other things, a number of them related to how funds were used. Otunnu concluded thus, “These very disturbing developments are new. We didn’t have them before. Their beginnings are traceable to April/May 2011, with the coming on board of certain new team members.” He certainly referred to Pulkol and Odit.

Otunnu’s opponents seem to have decided to call a National Council meeting hoping to suspend Otunnu. They seem to have calculated that the mood in UPC at the moment was too anti-Otunnu for him to survive. But Otunnu closed off all legal avenues for his opponents, so much so that by the time they met in Lugogo on Jan. 13, there was a court injunction restraining them from acting in the name of UPC.

That gives Otunnu some time to deal with the “lies and disinformation” by his opponents, a process he started on Jan. 9 by calling an “elders” consultative workshop. Otunnu seems to acknowledge he faces a big political problem.

But as far as the running of the party is concerned, Otunnu has a word for Pulkol; “When I demand that we do things the right way, the Otunnu in the CV is standing up.”

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