By Mubatsi Asinja Habati
One of the intriguing cables leaked by WikiLeaks on Uganda is where NRM Eastern Region Vice Chairman Mike Mukula vents his frustration about his party to US ambassador Jerry Lanier. In a 2009 diplomatic cable Mukula reportedly told the American diplomat that President Yoweri Museveni was grooming his son, Lt. Col. Muhoozi Kainerugaba to succeed him, favouring Banyankole politically, militarily and economically, and that he, Mukula, wants to become president in 2016.
The first two have been subject of discussion in public domain but hearing them come from a person regarded as NRM insider makes interesting reading. Mukula, who told The Independent that his “conscience is clear” regarding the WikiLeak leaks, says he now wants the debate on restoring term limits reopened because “these are salient issues that must be discussed to make Uganda match with other East African Community countries”.
Since WikiLeaks unleashed the latest dossiers which have revealed intimate details of what American diplomats have been cabling home about their interaction with key figures in Uganda, anxiety has grown over how President Yoweri Museveni will react.
Muhoozi whom Mukula alleged in the cables was being groomed for president has come out to say he cannot be ruled out of the race and will follow the laid down laws to seek the highest office if he is interested.
Insiders say Museveni is unlikely to react immediately because he “is person who keeps his anger for years and punish much later on”.
Charles Rwomushana, a former head of political intelligence at Uganda’s Internal Security Organisation, says although the leaks have given Mukula publicity, which is good, “it may affect his relationship with the establishment”.
“Mukula was expressing his opinion in the cables. What he told the Americans was a private business and was not giving cabinet secrets. The president may have his opinion of Mukula and this may affect the way he relates with Mukula but there are many people in the NRM who hold such opinions,” he said.
He downplays the effect the cables may have on the way countries relate arguing that embassies are charged with collecting intelligence and reports they give can shape the country’s foreign policy but “you may report all that happens in Uganda but again at home the US may weigh the benefit of Uganda being a strategic ally and this becomes the base for foreign policy”.
Embassies collect information for political reports and situation analysis for their countries. When the cables leaked individuals like Mukula who had expressed their opinion became victims. It is now feared that the leaks will make individuals who interact with US diplomats “more cautious” in what they tell their US colleagues in future.
Government officials are downplaying the impact of the leaked diplomatic cables on Uganda released on August 30 will have with the US government. Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary James Mugume says the “WikiLeaks make an interesting reading but add zero value because these are individual opinions which do not necessarily inform the foreign policy relations between two countries.”
Ambassador Mugume says some WikiLeaks reports reflect lazy diplomats who pick stories from bars, believe them and report to show their countries that they are working. He told The Independent that he has sometimes received reports from ambassadors but did not believe them. “We have been seeing this before. These are opinions of individuals that don’t rule the country. You can see that they have been picking rumours from the pubs and report it home. People are always overzealous to show they are working. I thought the American diplomats would have better information but look they are picking this from receptionists, bars, and reporting these rumours as accurate information.”
Mugume dismisses the fear that WikiLeaks revelations would stifle the countries diplomatic relations. He argues that foreign policy is shaped by interests of states not ideas of individuals. “Apart from embarrassing some people I don’t see any effect on the relations between countries. What WikiLeaks shows is that the so-called confidential information is no longer 100% truth but as human nature individuals will always give their opinions, it will make people think that what they say is being recorded. But broadly whatever is reported in WikiLeaks will not affect the relation between Uganda and the US government. Why certain events take place and why somebody is appointed into cabinet depends on who you talk to, ” says Mugume.
Apart from his comments on Muhoozi, Mukula might have stepped on a live wire with his intention to take Museveni’s job; an almost taboo subject in NRM.
Past criticisms of Museveni by insiders have attracted his full wrath.
When former NRM insider turned-opposition leader Col. Kizza Besigye, leader of the Forum for Democratic Change published a scathing dossier claiming the NRM revolution had diverted from its original course, Museveni did not take it lightly. Besigye has since then endured a spate of harassment at the hands of security agents and been jailed several times.
In 2005 when Brig. Henry Tumukunde criticised the government, he was immediately thrown out of parliament in a controversial manner where he was serving as army MP. Even those ministers (Bidandi Ssali, Miria Matembe, Eriya Kategaya) who opposed Museveni’s bid to amend the constitution so as to lift presidential term limits were immediately dropped from cabinet.
Elsewhere, the real impact of WikiLeaks on government-to-government relations remains uncertain for now, but individuals have suffered the wrath following exposure.
In March, the US ambassador to Mexico, Carlos Pascual, resigned after he was embroiled in row with Mexican president, Felipe Calderón, over cables criticising drug war. In that leaked cable Pascual complained about inefficiency and infighting among Mexican security forces in the campaign against drug cartels. In March U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley was forced to resign after he labeled as “stupid” and “ridiculous” the Pentagon’s treatment of Bradley Manning, a U.S. soldier accused of leaking secret documents that appeared on the WikiLeaks website.
In January the board of the German satellite manufacturer OHB-System fired the company’s CEO Berry Smutny over comments attributed to him in a cable obtained by WikiLeaks. In the cable Smutny criticizes his company’s satellite navigation system describing it as a “stupid idea that primarily serves French interests”. In December 2010 German foreign minister’s chief of staff was sacked after WikiLeaks exposed him as a mole for the Americans, keeping the US embassy in Berlin posted on the confidential negotiations to form Angela Merkel’s new government. In Ghana a Minister of Trade, Hannah Tetteh, is under pressure to resign over comments attributed to her in a leaked cable where she criticised the Parliament’s speaker and her country’s policy on gender.
Since the whistleblower WikiLeaks released US government secret document, western diplomats have treated the matter as a no-go zone and do not wish to discuss it publicly. They argue that it is their policy not comment on leaked documents.