By Eriasa Mukiibi Sserunjogi
Presidents of the two parties may pay the ultimate price for the EALA fiasco
The full extent of the damage exacted by the controversial election of Uganda representatives to the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) will take some time to unfold. But the elections reopened old wounds in the Uganda Peoples’ Congress (UPC) and created the possibility of a further splintering in the Democratic Party (DP) faction led by Norbert Mao.
Less than a week after Uganda’s Parliament elected EALA representatives, UPC President Olara Otunnu sacked the party’s whip in Parliament, Betty Amongi, saying the party had been “shocked and scandalised” by her conduct.
“Her actions and statements in Parliament and in the media throughout this process have been in collusion with, on behalf of, and in the interests of NRM,” said a June 2 statement issued by Otunnu and UPC Chairman Prof. Edward Kakonge.
But Otunnu’s next choice is also problematic. Fr. Jacinto Ogwal, the party secretary general Otunnu has now named chief whip, signed (without Otunnu’s knowledge) the nomination papers for Chris Opoka to sail through to EALA as the UPC representative in the May 30 elections.
Otunnu did not want UPC to field a candidate, backing the boycott led by Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) to stay the election until a petition lodged by Shadow Attorney General Abdu Katuntu in the East African Court of Justice was decided. The court has yet to hear the petition that contests the representation of Uganda’s EALA delegation, though swearing in of the new assembly had been scheduled for Tuesday, June 5.
Otunnu’s attempts to withdraw Opoka’s candidature, first by personally writing the Clerk of Parliament, then appointing his Vice President Joseph Bossa as acting secretary general to do it, both failed. Ogwal was unavailable to revoke the nomination.
Could it be that Ogwal was hedging his bets, currying favour with the other UPC faction, in case Otunnu lost the ongoing war over UPC’s presidency?
A group led by former Chairman Edward Rurangaranga, who Otunnu sacked with former Secretary General John Odit, is pushing for a delegates’ conference to dethrone Otunnu. This group is backed by UPC MPs led by Amongi and Jimmy Akena, son of former UPC leader President Milton Obote and Otunnu’s rival for the UPC presidency.
Ogwal was Otunnu’s preferred choice of party whip from the start of the Ninth Parliament, but Amongi took the slot as a compromise due to her popularity among UPC MPs.
Otunnu never trusted Amongi for two reasons: Her close association with Akena had him afraid they would collude to undermine his leadership. Her popularity with NRM MPs in the House – leading to her election as chairperson of the Uganda Women Parliamentary Association – raised suspicion of close leanings to the ruling party.
To counter-balance her power, Otunnu appointed Ogwal chairperson of the UPC Parliamentary Caucus. The strategy seems to have backfired. The UPC parliamentary group has coalesced around Amongi, leaving a lone Ogwal torn between the two camps – serving his president’s interests without entirely alienating his colleagues in Parliament.
The fallout with Opoka is another of the ironies of Otunnu’s presidency. A former UPC secretary general under Miria Obote, Opoka was instrumental in persuading Otunnu to return from the US and vie for UPC leadership and had been Otunnu’s main advocate against accusations that he colluded with his uncles to topple Obote in 1985.
But disagreement involving use of funds from the Deepening Democracy Programme (DDP) last year caused a fall-out between Otunnu and party stalwarts including Opoka, Odit and Rurangaranga.
As Otunnu dismisses Opoka as the UPC candidate for EALA, efforts to throw him out of office have gained a new vigour and his party’s MPs say they will petition court to force him to convene a delegates’ conference.
Mao on the spot
DP President Norbert Mao’s position is not any rosier. The party’s Assistant Secretary General Vincent Mayanja and Publicist Kenneth Kakande want Mao to explain why he “disregarded” party procedures to endorse Mukasa Mbidde, the party’s legal advisor, as sole EALA candidate. Mbidde may have felt entitled because his court petition opened up EALA to smaller opposition parties like DP, but Mayanja and Kakande argue that the choice should still have been subjected to competition within the party.
Six candidates – Mayanja, Herman Kakooza, Francis Katabalwa, Mukasa Mbidde, Anselm Ssebuguzi and Kakande wanted to run for EALA. The first three withdrew and Mayanja backed Kakande. But knowing that Secretary General Mathias Nsubuga and Mao didn’t want internal competition, he wrote the Clerk of Parliament introducing three DP nominees – Mbidde, Kakande and Ssebuguzi. By then Mbidde had already declared himself the sole DP candidate, claiming backing of the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC).
But Mao has dismissed Kakande’ complaints, calling them a “circus”.
“I can only compare it to a player who is not fielded by their coach but insists on dashing into the field to play with the sole purpose of tackling his fellow team mates!”
Mao said sending a delegate to EALA, which for a decade had been monopolized by NRM and FDC, was a victory for DP.
But his celebrations will be short-lived as he must now turn to another emerging rift in the party.
Factions are not new to DP. Since he assumed the DP leadership in early 2010, Mao has had to live with a faction led by Samuel Lubega, who claims to be the legitimate DP head and is challenging Mao’s presidency in court. Other DP bigwigs like Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago and Mukono Municipality MP Betty Nambooze have also remained cold to Mao.
The EALA fiasco could further splinter his support in the party.
Were two seats in a fledgling regional assembly worth the damage? Observers would like to know.