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Politics of a Langi wedding

By Joan Akello

Why UPC members are bitter over Museveni’s invite to UPC MPs Amongi – Akena’s wedding

On April 6, President Yoweri Museveni adjusted his busy schedule in Kampala and traveled to Minakulu Sub-county, Oyam District in Lango to attend a traditional wedding. For starters, President Museveni has not attended any traditional weddings in Lango before, leave alone being the chief guest.

But even more remarkable was the fact that though Museveni has historically fought and lambasted the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC), both the bride and groom are active UPC legislators. Jimmy James Akena, the groom, is a son to the UPC founder and former President Milton Obote, while the bride was none other than Betty Amongi Ongom, who is also the chairperson of Uganda Women Parliamentarians Association (UWOPA).

Naturally, therefore, Museveni’s presence in Oyam District in Lango, a traditional UPC strong-hold, has left a bad taste in the mouth of the UPC faithful and other opposition politicians.

Conspicuously absent at the function was UPC Chief Olara Otunnu and his close allies in UPC whose relationship with Akena and the Obote family is currently strained. Apparently, Museveni took full advantage to score important political points and not just from the Shs 50 million he donated to the couple.  More than a month later, tongues are still wagging.

Former UPC stalwart Cecilia Ogwal says Museveni’s attendance can be looked at in two ways. For those who are apolitical, it was a personal decision and a right of the couple to invite whom they wished. Yet, those who are politically sensitive were offended.

She says Museveni has supported the Obote family in recent years, renovated their Kololo and Akokoro (in Apac) residences, granted gratuity to former presidents, has attended functions such as Obote’s memorial service, all of which according to Ogwal might explain the strong relationship between him and Mama Miria Obote.

“Since it is Miria who benefits from all this support,” Ogwal argues, “She must have played a big role with the Oyima Clan in the Akena –Amongi traditional marriage,” she says.

Frank Tumwebaze, the Minister for the Presidency, however defends his boss, saying the gesture was not a surprise because it is “Museveni’s style of work” to reconcile with past leaders, which he says is “healthy for Uganda.” Indeed, last year, Museveni surprised Miria Obote with a visit at her Kololo residence and had private discussions with her.

This was a far cry from his relationship with her late husband. Historically, Museveni and Obote never saw eye to eye. Their relationship came to a tipping point following the 1980 elections, which Obote won but was hotly disputed by Museveni. Shortly after, Museveni launched a guerilla war that eventually his nemesis in 1986. Obote lived in exile with his family until his death in 2005.

Semujju Nganda, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) MP for Kyadondo East, says he wishes the couple well but was uncomfortable that Museveni was their chief guest. “When you invite all political party leaders and then make Museveni the chief guest, are you saying you are closer to him than Otunnu or Besigye?” he asks.

Semujju says Akena and Amongi have certainly created more doubts than they will need to explain. Winfred Kiiza, the Opposition Chief Whip, agrees. She says that Museveni never does anything without a reason. “He wants to woo them [to NRM], which could have prompted him to attend their wedding,” she says.

Political tradeoffs?

Indeed, some say Amongi and Museveni have become “too close” for the comfort of  many UPC supporters.

“Why should the President be eager to attend the marriage ceremony of two opposition politicians?” Semujju asks. “It is because he is a political trader.”

Indeed, Amongi is an influential MP who is definitely attractive to the ruling party. She sits on the Parliamentary Appointments Committee and is also the chairperson of UWOPA, a grouping of more than 100 female MPs from various political parties.

In recent years, Museveni has been keen on winning over the supporters of the former leaders, for instance by awarding them medals. On October 9, Akena received the Golden Jubilee medal on behalf of his late father.

Akena admits that his father would probably have rejected the medal if he were alive but adds that he accepted it on his behalf because he (Obote) was the most deserving person of the award. But opposition politicians are worried over such gestures saying they are like bait on Museveni’s political hook.

Indeed, the UPC faithful have always been wary of Museveni’s wooing key men from the UPC fold. Since Badru Wegulo, Henry Mayega and Chris Rwakasisi – all former UPC bosses – joined NRM in 2010; UPC top leaders have accused them of “de-stablising” the party. And with Akena and Wegulo being close; the former has been branded as one of the “moles” in the party, according to Joseph Bbosa, the UPC vice president.

UPC Spokesman Okello Lucima says whatever takes place at a social level is treated as such though it may be subject to individual interpretations.

“This however, shows that some of our members are getting compromised politically. We are waiting to see if it will mature,” Okello says. “But I do not think there will be any major changes in the support for the different parties involved.”

Ogwal is worried that the couple could eventually join the NRM in future, but a decision, which she says is entirely up to them. “It is really up to Amongi and Akena to define their political future – to join NRM or remain and build a stronger UPC,” Ogwal says.

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