Sunday March 28 2010

An insider’s view on Otunnu

Mr Otunnu

Mr Otunnu addressing journalists in Kampala recently. PHOTO BY YUSUF MUZIRANSA 

By Yoga Adhola

It is a misnomer to say the last UPC presidential election contest was between Olara Otunnu and Jimmy Akena. The elections was really a contest between the ‘Gang of Four’ and the Obote family. Could this explain why Otunnu at his first press conference said: “I am not going to allow myself to be used as a tool to fight the Obote family?”

The Gang of Four is a group of men: Peter Walubiri, former secretary general of UPC; Chris Opio, former vice chairman of UPC; Prof. Patrick Rubaihayo, former national chairman; and Livingstone Okello Okello, former vice president of UPC. Often times, Mindra, the Corporation Secretary of MOF is viewed as the fifth member of the gang.

The Gang of Four got into trouble with former party president, Miria Obote, over their cabinet posts for various reasons including attempts to connive. This removal hurt their egos and they resorted to hating the Obote family. The first time they got opportunity to humiliate the Obote family was during the re-organisation of MOF. Much as Akena had played a major role in the struggles which led to the re-organisation, he was completely marginalised.

Humiliating president
As for Miria Obote, much as the president of the party had always been chairman of the Board of Governors, a scheme was contrived which required that the position should be subjected to a vote. They ended up humiliating the office of the party president. Dr Moses Apiliga voiced objection to this, saying the president of the party should not be subjected to a vote.

The kind of negative attitude displayed by the Gang of Four was not only unhealthy, but they were soon to become simply obstructionist in cabinet. They next called a meeting of what they called the East African Law Review at Lugogo Indoor Stadium. The object of the meeting was to create a parallel machinery to that of the mainstream party to organise the grassroots election. For this they were suspended. In response, they went to court to challenge their suspension. The court granted them an injunction which resulted in the freezing of all party activities.
Around this time, Chris Opoka came up with the idea that Olara Otunnu runs for the presidency of UPC. He was of the view that Otunnu had support across the board and he would be able to become the candidate for the Inter-Party Cooperation. When Opoka mentioned this to Okello Okello, the Chua County MP rejected the idea arguing that no Acholi could be elected leader of UPC at the present time. He later changed his mind. The Gang of Four through Okello Okello then sought to politically own Olara Otunnu.

Eventually, it came time to make a ruling on the case the Gang of Four had brought in court. The court found that the party’s 2006 constitution did not have the force of law because it had not yet been filed with the Electoral Commission.
In that circumstance, the 1970 constitution had to be resorted to. This rendered the case of the Gang of Four unsustainable.

In the meantime, Akena was traversing Teso and consolidating his support at the grassroots. Given the large crowds he was attracting, the Gang of Four decided to manoeuvre for elections using the 2005 delegates, thus by-passing the grassroots elections. There was absolutely no plausible reason for resorting to the 2005 delegates. There was money which had been given by the donors for the purpose of grassroots elections. And there was time as well.

Chris Opio had been in charge of the 2005 grassroots elections and knew he constituted the delegates. He knew he could manipulate the delegates.
In the negotiations, the Gang of Four managed to secure agreement that the National Council be called upon to decide the use of the 2005 delegates for the purpose of electing the party president.

Akena let this through for two reasons. One, they did not expect the National Council to go ahead with the idea of an unconstitutional manner of electing the party president. Two, even if the matter were brought for debate, they expected to easily defeat. After all, they had earlier defeated a motion about the IPC which had been brought forward by Walubiri.

Unfortunately, the National Council was agreeable to the four and the end result was not what the Akena camp expected. And thus with the decision to elect the party president by the 2005 delegates, the first act of rigging had taken place.
The initiative had clearly drifted into the hands of the Gang of Four. The Akena camp tried to stem the tide by calling for the inclusion of women and youth, something which had not been in vogue in 1970. The Gang of Four, particularly in the person of Walubiri, tried to resist this proposal but lost; it was however an inconsequential loss for them.

The Akena camp was hoping that since Obote’s son was good with the youth, he could bolster his chances. And this is also the very reason the Gang of Four was opposed to the addition of the youth to the delegates. They feared that the addition of the youth would thwart their scheme. The next major phase of the rigging occurred during the election of the youth and women representative.

Then came the election itself. Nobody was sure of the delegates of 2005, and so there were three lists of delegates. One of the lists, and the last one to be brought in, was drawn by Chris Opio and Mindra of MOF.

And then came the real mother of scandals. In the 2006 national elections, there were numerous cases of names being absent from the voter register. This was scandalous. I never expected, however, that the same kind of thing could happen at a UPC election. If we can do this at a UPC election, what moral right do we have to complain against President Museveni?

Then there was the case of the number of youths and women to vote. While each constituency was supposed to be represented by one woman and one youth, some constituencies ended up having two women and two youths.

Gang’s expectation
What does the Gang of Four expect for all this? After all they are the kingmakers. One, at the election time, they treated Otunnu as a trophy. That is why they were at his side all the time.

Two, they expect to control him in the same way they initially held Ms Obote hostage. They will also demand a diminished profile for the Obote family. Walubiri stated it succinctly: “It means that the Obote family will be like ordinary UPC members; enjoying equal status not a special status by virtue of birth,” (The Observer, March 14). In the meantime, The Observer reports that Otunnu is reaching out to mend fences with the Obote family.

Mr Adhola belongs to the UPC’s conservative wing of leftist purists and was editor of the party’s newspaper, The People, during Obote II