By The Independent Team
‘If Museveni reconstitutes the Protestant base through UPC,’ one analyst said, ‘he can easily become formidable again. He knows that the Catholics do not have a political party or a leader ‘” so they cannot be politically threatening.
Sometime in October 1994, President Museveni held a secret meeting with leaders of Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC). The UPC delegation was led by its then Assistant Secretary General, Mrs Cecilia Ogwal. It was during the days of the Constituent Assembly (CA). A major point of difference had developed between Museveni and the Mengo monarchical administration over Buganda Kingdom’s demands for a federal status within Uganda.
At the time, the president did not want to grant a federal status to Mengo lest he alienates other regions of Uganda. However, he was afraid that if he went on a war path with Mengo, it could mobilise Buganda to vote against him in the 1996 presidential elections. Therefore, if he was to reject Mengo’s demands, he needed an ally ‘” hence his invitation of the UPC delegation for talks on a possible alliance.
By that time, Museveni’s alliance with the Democratic Party (DP) had collapsed although Paul Ssemogerere was still in cabinet as Second Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Internal Affairs. The president understood that DP’s strength was in Buganda. Therefore, if his relations with Mengo collapsed, DP would not salvage his electoral position. He therefore needed the north, east and parts of western Uganda like Bushenyi where UPC still enjoyed a fair amount of support.
Museveni told the UPC delegation of his increasing differences with Mengo over federalism. He said that since UPC had had differences with Mengo before on this issue, it was the only party with which he could enter a ‘principled’ alliance against Mengo. He then proposed to UPC that he was willing to form a national unity government where UPC and NRM would be the major partners.
According to sources, Museveni also proposed that in the new government, he would appoint Mrs Ogwal the vice president and give UPC seven full cabinet posts and 13 ministers of state. The proposal was enticing to UPC. However, UPC needed to clear it with party president, Milton Obote (RIP) then exiled in Lusaka, Zambia. Obote was briefed about the negotiations and to Museveni’s surprise, he gave consent.
Then a sticking issue emerged. Mrs Ogwal told Museveni she was not willing to take on a job as his vice president. So the president was asked to find an alternative UPC person he wished to be VP. However, Museveni insisted that the VP job was ‘person-to-holder’ i.e. he was offering it on one and only one condition ‘” that it was taken by Mrs Ogwal. Ogwal refused and the talks about an alliance collapsed.
It is thereafter that Museveni announced one of the most dramatic cabinet reshuffles of his presidency in November 1994. He dropped Samson Kisekka in favour of Specioza Kazibwe as VP. The reshuffle saw many NRM historicals and bush war fighters take strategic positions in cabinet. Kahinda Otafiire bounced back in cabinet after years in the political wilderness for drawing a gun on the wife of Sam Kutesa. The reshuffle reflected such strategic foresight that Columnist Charles Onyango-Obbo in his Ear to the Ground column said ‘Museveni has called out his Republican Guard.’
Museveni’s attempted alliance with UPC was a bold move that reflected the president’s political brinkmanship. It showed that the president was willing to betray allies and embrace former adversaries in order to win his objective of staying in power. Apparently, none of the major players inside NRM had been informed of these negotiations including Eriya Kategaya, considered effective No. 2 at the time. It was vintage Museveni.
That was in November 1994. How about the cabinet reshuffle of 2009? What does it reflect? Some observers say that if Museveni failed at an alliance with UPC in 1994, he has achieved it in the 2009 cabinet. Since 2001 when Kizza Besigye challenged Museveni for the presidency, there has been a marked decline in the number of NRA bush war fighters in cabinet; Kahinda Otafiire, a hobbled Eriya Kategaya and Bright Rwamirama.
The president, sources say, has always been wary of those soldiers-cum politicians who fought with him in the bushes of Luwero hence their increasing exclusion from power. However of the historical NRM leaders, only Otafiire, Kategaya, Amama Mbabazi, Crispus Kiyonga and Kirunda Kivejinja have remained in cabinet ‘” only five of them. Yet there has been an increase in the number of UPC members in cabinet ‘” Aggrey Awori, Gabriel Opio, Omara Atubo, Steven Mallinga, Hillary Onek and Ephraim Kamuntu.
Many analysts point out that this trend has also been marked by Museveni’s increasing shift away from a deliberate courtship of the Catholic Church and with it, the DP. In 1986, Museveni’s government was largely dominated by DP politicians. Over the years, he progressively purged them out of government leaving only those who had clearly crossed over to NRM. After a failed alliance with UPC in 1994, Museveni seems to have embarked on a similar process of co-opting individual UPC leaders. Observers say this shows that Museveni is building a Protestant base for 2011.
‘If Museveni reconstitutes the Protestant base through UPC,’ one analyst said, ‘he can easily become formidable again. He knows that the Catholics do not have a political party or a leader ‘” so they cannot be politically threatening. Apart from Mengo, only UPC still has some grassroots support largely because during its two administrations, it implemented progressive policies in education, health and agriculture that have left it with huge political capital across the country.’
One clear indication of this trend towards UPC is seen in Bushenyi, the east and partly the north where the party has historically been strong. In Bushenyi, for example, Museveni has just released UPC icon, Chris Rwakasisi. In the cabinet reshuffle, he has shifted NRM historical, Otafiire, from the politically influential Ministry of Local Government to the obscure and under-funded Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Industry.
Meanwhile, Museveni promoted former UPC politician, Kamuntu, to the powerful Ministry of Finance and put him in charge of planning. Observers say that the Bushenyi UPC group is gaining ground again. In the east, Awori, Mallinga and Opio will help deliver the traditional Protestant base.
The reshuffle came on the heels of a very successful delegates’ conference by the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC). ‘It is very likely that the re-election of Besigye as FDC president precipitated the reshuffle,’ one observer said, ‘Museveni knows that while his base has been shrinking, Besigye’s has been growing his. The president also knows that these dynamics of the race have not changed. That is why he has rewarded loyalists and ignored internal critics because in the next battle he needs those who are willing to dig-in and fight for him. Critics can easily cross over to FDC.’
People who have worked with Museveni for long say that during this reshuffle his search for total loyalty seems to have overshadowed his strategic foresight. For example, he rewarded those who stood by him during the NSSF-Temangalo crisis and almost gave nothing to those who were against Security Minister Mbabazi who was implicated in the saga. ‘Whereas previously Museveni would have sought to win over both sides by appointing their leaders to cabinet,’ one NRM historical said, ‘Now he seems to have taken sides, thus accentuating internal tensions and rivalries in the party.’
One major sticking point was Kabale district. All the MPs from the Kigezi sub-region who opposed Mbabazi have not been given ministerial jobs. Meanwhile, Rubanda West MP, Pereza Ahabwe who supported Mbabazi has been given a cabinet slot while Mrs Hope Mwesigye who was a junior minister has been promoted to a senior minister.
The Protestant-Catholic divide was also manifest. All the ministers from Kigezi today are Protestant, the only Catholic being Serapio Rukundo. Many people who have worked with Museveni say that previously, he would have promoted Rukundo, not Mwesigye, to ensure the Catholics in Kigezi have a share of senior cabinet appointments. Secondly, since there are many Protestants from Kigezi in cabinet, the new junior minister would have come from the Catholic MPs like Henry Banyenzaki, Chris Baryomunsi and so on. Ahabwe too is Protestant.
Busoga is divided between the faction led by Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, and another by Kirunda Kivejinja. During the bye-election in Bugweri County last year between FDC’s Abdul Katuntu and Kivejinja, it is alleged that the Kadaga faction supported Katuntu. Now, in the recent reshuffle, Museveni promoted Kivejinja from the obscure Ministry of Information to the more powerful of Internal Affairs. The president also appointed the pro-Kivejinja activist Margaret Mbeiza from Kamuli to cabinet.
Thus, as the battle lines are drawn within the NRM, Museveni has become a partisan, siding with one faction of his own party against another. The Busoga trend is also reflected in Bushenyi where Museveni has favoured the Kamuntu faction which wants a split of the district against the Otafiire faction which is opposed to it. In Kabale he has sided with the Mbabazi faction against the critics. The same approach was employed in Sembabule during last month’s bye-elections as Museveni sided with the Sam Kutesa-Anifa Kawooya faction against Joy Kabatsi.
Will this strategy work? Many NRM insiders say it is likely to backfire as many party leaders are increasingly disillusioned. The NSSF-Temangalo crisis and how it was resolved left many party members bitter and angered Ugandans across the board. ‘The president has rewarded the authors of the NSSF fraud,’ one irate NRM MP told The Independent, ‘and literally ignored, sidelined or demoted those who fought it. The best way to solve this division would have been to create a win-win situation. But the president has sided with one side against another.’
Many people believe that Mbabazi is not popular within the NRM itself. His position is only possible because of Museveni’s support. It is said that he once fronted names to become commissioners in Parliament and all of them lost. It is the same names that have now eaten big in the reshuffle. ‘Given that Mbabazi is not popular among NRM MPs,’ one NRM insider said, ‘It means that the president is siding with a faction that is particularly weak against the forces that are strong. The outcome of this may be open rebellion, which is unlikely for now, or apathy. Both are not good for the president or the party.’
Previously, Museveni sought to win hostile factions within the party through co-optation. By appointing their leaders to cabinet, he was able to neutralise growing internal dissent. It is through co-optation that Museveni weakened and finally killed the vibrant Young Parliamentary Association in the 1990s and the Parliamentary Advocacy Forum (PAFO). Today, the hotheads like Sanjay Tana, Frank Tumwebaze, Benyenzaki, Baryomunsi, Theodore Sekikubo and others have been sidelined, not co-opted.
The removal of a technocrat like Ham Mulira from the ICT ministry in favour of Awori also shows that Museveni has thrown technical competence to the wind and his sole driving motive in this reshuffle was political positioning. Yet some observers wonder whether this strategy is politically profitable. ‘Look,’ one NRM strategist told The Independent, ‘how many votes does the president win by appointing a particular person to cabinet: 100, 1,000 or 10,000? Whatever the numbers, they are very few. So disregard for technical competence in favour of political expedience only shows that Museveni is desperate.’