Opposition in Uganda has never been strong enough to challenge the Status Quo at the centre since the British Colonialists granted political independence to Uganda in 1962. During the 1960s, Uganda had two major political Parties: Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC), which was in power and the Democratic Party (DP), which wanted power.
Opposition however was almost constantly weakened by frequent crossover to the UPC. And many big fish that crossed over were given big jobs, usually Ministries. In a way, Opposition was a fish pond for Prime Minister (later President) Apollo Milton Obote, who was also the President of UPC.
A good example of an Opposition member who crossed over to UPC was the leader of Opposition in the Parliament of Uganda, Basil Bataringaya who, in 1964, defected from DP and was immediately appointed Minister of Internal Affairs.
With or without being told what to do, in his new role Bataringaya was, among other things, to confront the Opposition to keep it in check and disable it. Bataringaya did not cross alone. James Ochola, Stanilaus Okurut, M.K. Patel, Joseph Magara, and Francis Mugeni also crossed.
Bataringaya and his colleagues were followed years later, in 1982, by all DP Members of Parliament from Busoga, except Prof Yoweri Kyesimira, defecting to Obote’s UPC, fished by the mercurial Party’s Secretary-General, Dr. Luwuliza-Kirunda. The Members of Parliament who defected from D.P were: Dr. E. G. N. Muzira, Dr. D.K. Kazungu, M P. Batumbya, D.J.K. Nabeta and J.K. Mpaulo.
When Idi Amin captured the instruments of power from Apollo Milton Obote on 25th January 1971, he fished a good number of the members of his first Cabinet from amongst the big fish of the Democratic Party.
It had no Muslim (apart from Amin himself) and no woman, but had only Colonel Obitre Gama as the other soldier in the Cabinet. However, almost immediately he started to show weariness with former Members of political parties, which he banned. He started to clog his Cabinet with soldiers. In fact by the time he was removed from power in 1979, most of his Ministers were soldiers. His was a military Government par see.
It is during the almost 37 year-long reign of President Tibuhabuurwa that we have seen the Opposition in Uganda being used by him as a rich source of big fish to both project his Party and regime as accommodative of different political faiths and to keep the Opposition in perennial weakness and disarray.
When he captured the instruments of power from Tito Okello on 25th January 1986, President Tibuhaburwa Museveni (then known as Yoweri Museveni) immediately announced that he had reached a gentleman’s agreement with Opposition Parties not to engage in political activities.
The political parties were UPC, DP, Conservative Party (CP) and his own Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM). They were the parties that had participated in the 1980 Elections that brought Apollo Milton Obote to the Presidency of Uganda again, and which President Museveni, then Vice-Chairman Military Commission, dismissed as rigged, although he was rejected in his own Constituency in Ankole and his Party, UPM, got only one Member of Parliament, Dr Crispus Kiyonga.
This meant that the leaders of the Parties had agreed to belong to National Resistance Movement (NRM). By extension, all the members of the parties, and their children and grandchildren, were now members of NRM. Even babies were to be born in NRM.
So, President Tibuhaburwa Museveni had an extensive political pond from which to fish people to do his political work.
Indeed he caught many big fish from the parties, mainly DP, CP and UPM, to serve as Ministers in his Cabinet. DP stalwarts that joined President Tibuhaburwa Museveni included Paul Ssemogerere, Evaristo Nyanzi, Ssebaana Kizito, Israel Mayengo, and many others. Many others were appointed to other positions such as District Administrators (DAs).
Therefore, the political parties, which were coopted into NRM, helped the largely militarised outfit from the bushes of Luwero to grow and develop politically, without necessarily changing the ideological stance of President Tibuhaburwa Museveni and Team and quickly gain the label “accommodative”.
President Tibuhaburwa Museveni also used the parties to make a constitution, the Uganda Constitution 1995, that put all power and authority in the Office of President, which was his, by virtue of having used the gun to capture the instruments of power.
Deceptively, the Uganda Constitution 1995 was made under a no-Party dispensation, although most of those involved belonged to their parties, and President Tibuhaburwa Museveni himself directed the process from behind the scenes.
The first woman Vice-President in Uganda and Africa, Specioza Kazibwe Naigaga from Busoga, was President Museveni’s deputy from 1994 to 2003. She had her roots in the DP.
She was preceded by Dr Samson Kisekka, who was Prime Minister from 1986 to 1991 and Vice-President from 1991 to 1994, and succeeded by Prof. Gilbert Balibaseka Bukenya, who was Vice-President from 2003 to 2011.
Both Samson Kisekka and Balibaseka Bukenya had roots in the DP. Bukenya was succeeded by Edward Ssekandi, who also had roots in DP. It was only in 2021 that President Tibuhaburwa Museveni, who has been militarising everything in recent times, decided to militarise the Vice Presidency of Uganda, when he appointed retired Major Jessica Alupo as his Vice-President, the second woman to occupy that post in post-colonial Uganda.
Earlier on, Idi Amin had appointed General Mustafa Adrisi Abataki as his Vice-President, thereby becoming Uganda’s third Vice President after Sir William Wilberforce Kadhumbula Gabula Nadiope (1963-1966 and John Babiha (1966-1971) under Apollo Milton Obote.
If President Tibuhaburwa Museveni specialised in anything during his reign, it was to fish people from the Opposition to do his political work and beef up NRM politically. He always capped this with telling Ugandans to send people to Parliament that he knew: Members of NRM.
He also shifted, and continues, to shift the National Cake from one region to another (Buganda, Eastern, Northern), with Western being perennially assured of a big slice of the National Cake. For example, at the time if writing this article the Speaker of Parliament is from Eastern Uganda but the Chief Government Whip in Parliament is from Northern Uganda.
Until his death recently, Jacob Oulanyah from the North was Speaker of Parliament, while the current Speaker, Anite Annet Among from Eastern, was his Deputy. The Chief Justice, Alfonse Winy Dollo, is from Northern Uganda. Therefore, if one wanted to a accuse President Tibuhaburwa Museveni of ethnicity and tribalism in leadership and governance, one would have to stop, think critically and analyse critically.
Many of the Big fish the President used in his early rule in the leadership of NRM were UPC in the past. Kirunda Kivejinja, Kintu Musoke, Amama Mbabazi, Ruhakana Rugunda and Bidandi Ssali were such people. Others, such as Omara Atubo and Aggrey Awori, that he predated later on were also UPC. Many were children of strong UPC members. A good example is General Mugisha Muntu, whose father, Muntuyera, was a UPC stalwart in Ankole.
When President Tibuhaburwa Museveni enforced a referendum, in 2005, to reintroduce Multiparty Politics in Uganda, perhaps spurred on by the Anglo-American Alliance said to have brought him to power, the stage was set for him to line cash to fish political actors from the Political Parties.
Some adversaries of the President believe, and are convinced, most of the money the President uses to buy political support is some the billions Parliament allocates to his State House and to the Office of President in every annual National Budget. No one has yet carried out a critical analysis of the flows of money between Parliament and the two institutions, and what it is used for.
Along the way the President instigated the creation of the Interparty Organisation for Dialogue ( IPOD). This benefits the President to project himself as a democrat who consults his political adversaries. This enables him to gain acceptability in West. Beyond that it does not add value to the craze for good governance in Uganda.
Otherwise many heavyweight actors in the political parties have continued to defect to President Tibuhaburwa Museveni, who once, while campaigning in Busia, told Opposition people to come to him because he has all the money.
In 2011 three big fish in the UPC joined President Tibuhaburwa Museveni: Badru Wegulo, a former National Chairman of UPC, who immediately became a Senior Political Advisor to the President; Henry Mayega, a former Vice-Chairman of the Presidential Policy Commission (PPC) of the UPC, and at the time of writing this article, is Head of the Uganda Consulate in Dubai; and Osinde Wangor, a former Deputy Minister in the Obote II Government (1981-1985). Badru Wegulo and Osinde Wangor have since died.
A notable woman figure, who may have had her roots in DP, but I have not got evidence that this is the case, is Beti Namisango Kamya Turomwe. She first ticked as a heavyweight in Kizza Besigye’s FDC, formed her own political party that was federation leaning, stood for Presidency of Uganda in 2011, and then, in 2016, joined President Tibuhaburwa Museveni, becoming a Member of NRM. She has since variously served as Minister of Lands, Minister for Kampala City and, at the time of writing this article, is the President’s Inspector General of Government (IGG).
Recently, the President-General of DP, Nobert Mao, who in September 2020 was elected Secretary-General of the Continental Democratic Union of Africa, joined President Tibuhaburwa Museveni. The President immediately appointed him Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs as if he had been preserving it for him.
It would be interesting to see how Mao handles the ongoing Constitutional and human rights erosions and abuses in the country, which are worsening as violence of the State against citizens peaks.
At his desk are the two Members of Parliament who have been incarcerated for almost one year, ostensibly for funding thugs who killed people in Masaka with Pangas in 2021. He has also to help resolve the clogging of Uganda with prisons with political prisoners, accused of treason but under unclear proof.
I should not forget to mention two people: Major Rubaramira Ruranga and General Mugusha-Muntu. In 2013, Rubaramira Ruranga, a big fish in FDC, joined President Tibuhaburwa Museveni. He has been forced into a conspiracy of silence.
After a stint in FDC as one of the Vice-Presidents of the Party and unsuccessfully seeking to be President of the Party after Kizza Bessigye who decided to step down, Gregory Mugisha Muntuyera, commonly known as Mugish Muntu, formed his own Party, together with some people who had been big fish in FDC.
He called his party, Alliance for National Transformation (ANT), which he referred to as a people-centred, value-based party that believes in the instituionalisation of political processes as a key to unlocking democracy.
Big fish in the party include Gerald Karuhanga a former President of Makerere University Students Guild and Member of Parliament; Winnie Kizza, a former Member of Parliament and Leader of Opposition therein; and Edith Ssempala a civil engineer who accidentally became a diplomat. I have not heard of any big fish in ANT being fished out by President Tibuhaburwa Museveni.
President Tibuhaburwa Museveni has three main tools he uses to fish politicians out of other Parties: Fear, jobs and money. This way 1) he has created a political atmosphere where politicians fear for their lives, and are unable to sustain opposition against him; and 2) he uses crossing over to NRM as assurance for a job and money.
However, some politicians, like Nandala Mafabi, the Secretary General of FDC, say they have resisted being enticed by Presidential jobs and offers of money. Recently, Nandala Mafabi said the President has told him for 10 years that he was going to appoint him Governor, Bank of Uganda. Well, he might still get it. Haven’t we been waiting for Jesus Christ for over 2000 years?
One thing is true: use of money and jobs for buying political support is political corruption. It is unlikely this type of corruption falls under the jurisdiction of the IGG.
The Ten Million Dollar Question is: After President Tibuhaburwa Museveni, what next in and for Uganda?
For God and My Country.
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