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Vol 54 No 19

Published 20th September 2013


Museveni on the defensive

It is becoming clear that the President wants yet another term of office, possibly for his son, but he has major legal and political obstacles to overcome first

Uganda’s next election may only be in 2016 but President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, who is almost certain to run again, has set out an early agenda. He is mobilising support amongst the armed forces and veterans – and moving to quash all dissent in the governing National Resistance Movement (NRM). With the Public Order Management Bill, which has been widely criticised for restricting free speech, having passed into law in May, police now have discretionary powers to break up meetings of three people or more that they believe to be political. Museveni may also be seeking to raise the constitutional age limit for a president above 75.

Yet the biggest battle Museveni and NRM Secretary General and Prime Minister John Patrick Amama Mbabazi are now fighting is an attempt to rein in the ‘rebel MPs’, as four NRM dissident members of parliament have become known:  Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga, AC Vol 53 No 4, Spring in opposition’s step and Vol 53 No 5, Rebels with a cause), Barnabas Ateenyi Tinkasiimire (Buyaga West), Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East) and Muhammad Nsereko (Kampala Central). All were expelled by an NRM tribunal in April 2013, but they refused to leave parliament even though the constitution requires MPs who have left their political parties also to resign their seats. They claim that the provision in the constitution is aimed at MPs switching party allegiance – and they have not. The Supreme Court was in hearings on the matter as AC went to press.

The rebels were helped by Speaker of the House Rebecca Kadaga, who together with Mbabazi is regarded as a possible presidential candidate. Kadaga was part of the NRM committee that expelled the four. She then changed her mind and kept them in the chamber until the courts could decide. Mbabazi retaliated against Kadaga’s retention of the MPs when the government front bench (cabinet ministers who are responsible to Mbabazi) boycotted the house and brought government business to a standstill.

The outcome of this issue will shape Kadaga's decision on whether or not to break from the party and stand as an independent presidential candidate in 2016, according to sources close to her. Mbabazi is, however, determined to ensure that the troublesome MPs lose their seats. If he succeeds, the party could use the same tactic against Kadaga, whose independence from the NRM leadership angers the Prime Minister and the President.

Playing with loaded dice
Museveni hopes the Supreme Court will rule against the MPs and has attracted accusations of trying to load the dice in his favour. When the issue moved to the courts, Museveni reappointed retired Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki, a former schoolmate, to the Supreme Court in July, against the advice of the Judicial Service Commission. Odoki had passed the mandatory retirement age of 70. The Attorney General, Peter Nyombi, was then ‘suspended’ from the Uganda Law Society for advising the President that the Odoki appointment was lawful. Nyombi has denied that the ULS has any say in his activities and has threatened to sue them.

Legal scholars and observers believe that by reappointing Odoki, Museveni is also surreptitiously lifting age limits in the constitution generally. Uganda has an age limit of 75 for the president. Museveni is officially 69, although some believe he is older. Nyombi was also faulted by his lawyer critics for advising the President that it was lawful to appoint Gen. Aronda Nyakairima to the cabinet as Internal Affairs Minister without him first resigning from the army. This is another strand in Museveni’s strategy of building a higher-profile military constituency and extending the armed forces into parts of civil society.

Another general, Kale Kayihura, is in charge of the Uganda Police Force. The two Generals are bitter foes and Kayihura was once tipped to replace Nyakairima after he ceased to be army chief. Like the rivalry between Kadaga and Mbabazi, the feud between the military men benefits Museveni, observers say, because it puts him ‘above the fray’.

The President also used the recent reshuffle at the top of the military to speed up the appointment of younger army officers. The military establishment defers to Museveni’s son, Brigadier Kainerugaba Muhoozi, the chief of the Special Forces Command, as the ‘real’ head of the army. It was Museveni's plan to install Muhoozi as his successor that drove David Sejusa, the head of the External Security Organisation, Uganda’s foreign intelligence service, into exile (AC Vol 54 No 11, Talking Tinyefuza).

In recent months, Museveni’s half-brother Gen. Salim Saleh, the head of the reserve forces who is also responsible for veterans, has accompanied him on his ‘anti-poverty’ tours around the country, the traditional elements of early presidential campaigns. Starting with the district of Luwero, Museveni announced in July that the military would get more involved in monitoring government anti-poverty campaigns and supervising new initiatives. He even pledged to set up barracks in every county so as to guarantee their implementation. The deployment of serving officers as government anti-poverty civil servants across the country is intended to bind the younger officers more to Muhoozi and Saleh, who are at the heart of Ugandan electoral politics.

Muhoozi project speeds up
This week the Electoral Commission announced an ‘updating’ process for polling stations that has largely been shunned or ignored by the political opposition. The former leader of the Forum for Democratic Change, Kizza Besigye, who is a retired Colonel, claimed recently that Museveni believed that Sejusa had turned many veterans against him and was plotting to overthrow him in a coup. This explains the Museveni campaign, he said. ‘Paradoxically,’ Besigye continued in an article for the Kampala Observer, ‘what Gen. Sejusa and other senior Uganda People’s Defence Force officers were concerned about seems to have been fuelled by the fallout. The changes and purges that were precipitated in the UPDF and other armed forces, paramilitary forces and security organisations have accelerated the "Muhoozi Project".’

No matter which way the wind blows, Museveni is set to remain the main political player. All this politicking is, however, taking its toll on the practical business of government. Both central and local governments are in a state of inertia. The annual budget was read in June but parliament has not appropriated the monies. Many public servants remain unpaid despite the passing of the Supplementary Budgets request, which was designed to deal with the shortfalls. Strikes by primary school teachers, lecturers at public universities and health workers have shown that government funds, gutted by donor-aid withdrawals, continue to suffer.

According to the Minister of Finance, Maria Kiwanuka, the government is broke but a flurry of largely bilateral deals in construction, energy and oil have come in to plug the gaps. Yet there are widespread suspicions that the political elite is sponging off these procurements in order to raise funds for elections. A spate of capital-intensive procurements has resulted in a greater loss of public funds, according to the Auditor General, John FS Muwanga, in his report for the year ending June 2012. His report – which AC will analyse – details an exponential increase in the loss of public funds to theft and fraud amounting to up to US$100 million. The political import of losses on such a scale is equivalent to a run on the banks. Afraid of the consequences of the coming elections, politicians are stealing money for their war chests.

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