By The Independent Team
Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi was in Boston, USA recently on a private visit and spoke to Ugandan Diaspora News Online Editor, Ronnie Mayanja. Excerpts follow:
How would you describe your relationship with the First Family in Uganda in light of the recent allegations and reports that came out in the Uganda Media?
I don’t know what you have been reading. You mean in Ugandan newspapers? Oh please, don’t go by them. They either exaggerate things where there is any truth or most of the time they distort facts. Or one of them in particular specialises in giving falsehoods.
But my relationship with the President is excellent if that is what you mean by the First Family… is excellent if that is what you mean. Because my relationship with the President as my President is excellent and the First Lady, who is also a minister in the cabinet where I serve as Prime Minister is excellent. Of-course at a family level we have known each other for a very long time and our children have grown up together so there is no problem.
The Diaspora, especially those with investments back home, are getting scared that we are sliding back to those days of insecurity and speculation due to the tension caused by the succession between you and the President. Some members in the Diaspora are wondering what is going to happen to the stability of the country especially since some are getting ready to retire back home.
You see, what has been going on in the media is the issue that I feel the media has not handled very well. Essentially many of the issues revolve around the question of succession. Many people think President Museveni may not offer himself to stand for 2016 or they think that it’s time to begin to think about transition because 2021 is only seven years away or less and that is not a long time in the history of a country…or in terms of preparations. So yes, there has been quite a bit of talk, but that is democratic. And nobody should be worried. Why should anybody worry that even in the NRM that there is debate about that?
Let me ask you a more direct question — are you offering yourself as a candidate to run for office in 2016?
Running as what? Because there are many positions to run for….but I suspect you mean running for President. I have given a standard answer. My answer is I am a disciplined cadre of the NRM party and I have been for the past 40 years. And in this time the party assigns me responsibilities and I have never turned down any assignment the party has given me and it’s not really up to me to choose or think… that is not how we have behaved in the past…at a leadership level. That’s point number one. Point number two: I have said that if President Museveni is a candidate in 2016 then of course, I will not stand against him. As a disciplined cadre I will not stand against him if the NRM party chooses him or anybody else I will not stand against him.
One of the things that caused so many people to wonder what was going on in the NRM was what happened at the party retreat in Kyankwanzi, especially since this proposal was brought up outside the proper channel of a delegates conference. Some say, to use the media reports…that you were caught off guard by attempts to make President Museveni a sole candidate outside party structures. What do you have to say transpired in Kyankwanzi?
Well….incidentally I have again spoken quite vividly on this point. One — the resolution is requesting President Museveni to offer himself and this line that President Museveni has become a candidate by that resolution is obviously off the mark. Because the President has not responded….he did respond at Kyankwanzi in the context of a point he had made himself about cliques or formation of sections within the party, presumably on the question of candidature for President in 2016 that was not good for the cohesion of NRM and he said if that resolution would settle internal matters within the party on cohesion he would welcome it. But I don’t think that because somebody passed a resolution to request him to offer himself that he had done so…. So that is point number one.
Point number two: yes, I signed–actually I was the last one to sign. And I will give you two reasons. The first reason, I am the Secretary General of the party, I am a member of the higher organs of the party, I am member of the organs that have the mandate to determine the candidate of NRM and therefore I hesitated because I needed to understand the implications of my decision. That was one question in my mind.
The second reason — essentially the caucus was expressing an opinion and any member of the party is free to express an opinion including myself. And therefore looking at what happened in that context, it was not harmful to express my opinion. And my opinion was that I support President Museveni and if that resolution was to support President Museveni I wanted to be clear that I do support President Museveni of course.
How about at a delegates level; some people felt that such decisions must be done at a delegates level…?
It should be done at that level and true the caucus is not mandated to make such a decision but rather makes recommendations.
Let’s move to another issue of media reports attributed to your relationship with some of your other party colleagues, especially the former Vice President. Can you comment on such statements?
You mean..we have had many former Vice Presidents…you mean Dr. Gilbert Bukenya. Yes, I have read things attributed to him in the media. In the past, when I was in England… I can give you an example — I was in England, we were debating the issue of the term limits and I read these headlines in Ugandan papers purporting to be quoting his words that he had called us mafias. When I returned we held a meeting with the President and others. He denied those allegations saying he had not made such statements and so I gave him a benefit of a doubt. So when the media quotes Dr. Gilbert Bukenya I will not take what the media says but rather what he says.
How would you describe your relationship with the Inspector General of Police, Gen. Kale Kayihura, and the leaked tapes that went public on social media that accuse you and your family of harboring presidential ambitions originating from the office of the IGP?
First of all I have a problem with that accusation. Because that accusation presupposes that it’s criminal to harbor presidential ambitions. I wanted to inform you it is actually noble if people feel that they have potential and commitment to serve our country in the position of leader is a good thing. The more we have such people the better for our country. So this thing that harboring Presidential ambitions is criminal or an offence is absolutely ridiculous because there is no crime in harboring such ambitions in Uganda. There is nothing legally or morally wrong with anyone harboring such positions. I have held meetings with the Inspector General of Police and really what he told me was that he had received people who were giving him reports and that was all. He seemed to suggest that there was nothing wrong and I took him at his word. But you have to remember we are moving toward the election season and a lot of politics and campaigns are coming up.
The other issue has been a Public Order Management Bill that is now law and it seems to create a lack of a level playing field. Some feel this law was enacted in part to prevent public gatherings. Why are opposition candidates prevented from holding public consultative meetings?
Again that is incorrect…It’s now a law — Public Management Order ACT. It’s now an essential law to regulate police. Without it, the police would be free to do things unregulated. That law was passed under our constitution. The police has a duty maintain the peace. The question was how to they do it, especially in areas of political sensitivity. Why, you know the temperatures that politics raises in our country. And so the idea was, if police would regulate these meetings. Police has no authority for meetings to happen. Sometimes we get problems within the party or if we had scuffles, how can we not expect the police to come in? Under our constitution, police has a duty to keep law and order and regulate public meetings. The question was how do they do it while maintaining law and order? The idea was if police was to maintain law and order then we needed to know how police would regulate these meetings in order to perform their role of law and order.
The new law seems to be to prevent the opposition candidates from going to sell their agenda upcountry. Forgive me for referring to the media reports that have shown opposition candidates being prevented from organising public gatherings by the police. There has been an overreach of sort–sometimes on the side of police that has gagged opposition meetings. Wouldn’t you agree?
You could say we have had an incident or two where police has overreached itself. I have spoken in Parliament about this issue myself. But I think we have to look at both sides of the coin. Because I think the opposition sometimes makes political capital out of such incidents of that kind because it brings them into the limelight. They don’t seem to have issues that they can put across to the public to attract the attention of the public. So am not saying this is the case all time but sometimes a police officer may act beyond his powers. Sometimes an opposition leader may attract that kind of reaction from police because it gives him or her publicity. But otherwise generally that law was enacted strictly in accordance with the ruling of the Constitutional Court when the Constitutional Court struck out a section of the police act that gave police power to give ordinary permission to political parties or any political actor to hold public meetings. This Public Management Order Act actually does not restore the powers of the police to grant or not grant permission. It only requires those organising public meetings to notify the police so that the police has enough time to prepare to keep law and order.
The Diaspora community, especially in Boston with its numbers, is very interested in acquiring ‘voting rights’ by proxy the way our neighbors, say Rwanda/Kenya, are able to do today. So that they can participate in the democratic process in the country given their remittances.
Again government, as part of our manifesto, we said that we would work toward enabling the Diaspora to exercise their constitutional right to choose their leaders in Uganda. But of course that is the aim, but the management of the process of achieving that aim is quite a difficult one. We are in the exercise of citizen registration for the National Identity Card Program for our people. And we hope that once we finish what we are doing in Uganda we shall be able to extend the exercise to Ugandans abroad. Essentially in 2016 many of the rights like the right to vote would depend on your identity.
Can you clarify on this point….that this process will be extended to the Diaspora is that what you are saying?
I don’t know if we will manage for this exercise to be completed. The electoral commission must have a voter register within a certain specified time. They are issued a timetable. The national registration process must be completed within four months, the census needs to be completed and so it may not be possible to register all of you people in time for the elections. Those who come to Uganda have a right to be registered and may have a time to get registered in Uganda. But you can be registered after that cut-off time. It will not stop, this will be a continuous process. The national census must be completed. So it might not be possible to register all of you in time for the elections. So it might not be possible to register you within the timeline of the electoral commission, but this exercise will continue afterwards and those who come to Uganda have a right to be registered.