Settling kitchen battles
Museveni also lost trusted comrades to death, aging, or political wear and tear. Names such as the late Kirunda Kivejinja, Henry Kajura, Edward Ssekandi, Ephraim Kamuntu, Adolph Mwesige, Elly Tumwine and even Amama Mbabazi who were always easy and expected picks for top positions are no longer available. Only Moses Ali remains.
Then there are the fights within Museveni’s party and family kitchen council that have been simmering but blew up during the 2020 NRM party primaries. The fall-out meant that many must have names in cabinet are this time locked out. These include Sam Kutesa, Mwesigwa Rukutana, William Byaruhanga, Amelia Kyambadde, Molly Kamukama, Adolph Mwesige, Ronald Kibule, Karooro Okurut, Elioda Tumwesigye, and others. Only Matia Kasaija, David Bahati remained in this cohort.
Only former Speaker Rebecca Kadaga appears to have shaken off the dust of battle with Museveni but, observers say, she is nursing deep wounds. Will she survive in an arena dominated by her foes; including in a parliament led by her nemesis, Speaker Jacob Oulanyah and cabinet with names like VP Robinah Nabbanja, chief whip Thomas Tayebwa, bulldozer Ruth Nankabirwa and cheerleader Margaret Muhanga?
Faced with these intra-party and family intrigues, Museveni appears to have chosen to clean the deck and bring in totally new faces without and position in the fighting camps. The result is only five of the 79-strong previous cabinet retained their position. Up to 22 were axed.
The opposition National Unity Platform (NUP) aka People Power group of Robert Kyagulanyi’s team also decimated Museveni’s team in the central region from which Museveni usually makes a sizable number of cabinet picks. Former Chief Whip Ruth Nankabirwa, Tourism Minister Godfrey Kiwanda, VP Edward Ssekandi, education ministers Chrysostom Miyingo and Rosemary Seninde, Water Minister Ronald Kibule and others were all defeated by NUP candidates.
Museveni has named some to cabinet positions but their weakened opposition as politically damaged goods meant that they got crumbs instead of the top layer of postings they hoped for.
The NUP wave also enamored the usual anti- incumbency tendency in parliamentary elections in other places and inadvertently impacted Museveni’s choices. Only about 40% of former legislators were returned.
Real choice was blocked for Museveni who always has an eye on the next election when making cabinet appointments. Instead, he for the first time appointed the highest number of election losers. Betty Anywar, Ruth Nankabirwa, Evelyn Anite, Joyce Ssebugwawo (FDC), Kyeyune Kasolo, Bamulangaki Ssempijja, Judith Nabakooba and others. Many others, such as Muruli Mukasa and Raphael Magyezi did not seek re-election.
Avoiding succession threat
It is also telling that the two immediate positions after Museveni in government hierarchy are women. In the current succession politics around Museveni, it is important to note that in the militarised politics of Uganda, women are considered less of a threat, less ambitious, and loyal. Stereotypes are dangerous as Museveni’s recent showdown with outgoing Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, showed when she stood up to him as he pushed her out of the door. But Kadaga is an exception not the rule.
In fact, Museveni gave a hint of his survival strategy when, during comments after the budget reading in parliament on June 10, he defended his selection of relatively unknown and untested people into top, sensitive positions.
“Many of these people I have nominated to you, I have been studying them for a long time and I know more about them,” he said, “Some of them have got good qualities; loyalty. They don’t have squinted eyes for one not to know whether they are looking at you or something else.”
Many of those listening to Museveni laughed at the apparent joke. But for Museveni, who for 35 years has been the centre star around whom everything revolves, it was a serious revelation.
Museveni has previously used the VP slot as parking for members of his party who deserve respect for past contributions but have hit their political expiry date. The exception was when he named Speciosa Kazibwe. But that was at the height of gender affirmative action. Alupo is not coming on a gender ticket because that is no longer a novelty.
Compared to past VP office holders, Alupo is relatively young and not politically expired. Speculation is now high that Museveni plans to have a more active VP than the previous office holder, former Speaker of Parliament Edward Ssekandi. But for what purpose? Could it be a signal that the 77-year old is feeling his age and is inclined to delegate more?
Alupo is an enigmatic choice. She does not tick any of the usual boxes Museveni considers when making appointment. She is not a tribal leader, has no religious constituency, and is not a regional balancing appointment.
Her appointment adds to an already packed VIP crowd from her Teso region. Before her appointment, the region already had notched the deputy speakership of parliament with the election of Anita Annet Among. Alupo now sits a few rows ahead. And below both of them is Gen. Jeje Odongo, who has been Minister of Internal Affairs but this time notched the influential minister of Foreign Affairs docket. The area also has Musa Ecweru and others.
It is not clear why Museveni has gone Teso wild but his interest in the region is equally interesting because it appears to bolster Museveni’s eye for support in northern Uganda and comes at the expense of the central region.
All previous VPs under Museveni have been from the central region or had connections to it. But Alupo’s appointment is, therefore, being seen as a slap in the face of politicians and voters from the central region who failed to “vote wisely” as Museveni would say – meaning voting for the opposition.
The new Prime Minister, Robinah Nabbanja is a renowned grassroots operator from the oil –rich and sensitive Bunyoro region who has a long working history with Museveni but is a relative debutante on the national stage, having joined parliament in 2011. A noted rubble-rouser, she did not hesitate to throw her name into the ring when the party opened nominations for deputy speaker. In the end, they all pulled out for Among. But Museveni possibly chose her because of her self-less feeling for the communities she serves. She is propertied and gives personal money to community causes. And she is not shy to wear boots, grab a spade or hoe and jump into work with wanainchi. She is passionate about women issues and has spearheaded the building of health facilities in the Bunyoro region. Museveni gave a hint of why he might have picked her when he said he was looking for people who are hardworking and not corrupt.