It has been a politically difficult week given the events that transpired at the NRM Caucus on Monday and Tuesday. What do you make of everything?
Well, I am not sure that I agree with your assessment of the week, because I wouldn’t classify it as a difficult week because there was nothing special. It is true there are certain things that happened. Maybe they were not your usual routine kind of activities; it had some surprises, but there you are. It is one of those things. You know in the NRM, when we meet, we speak as openly as we can. People feel free but I can understand why you are saying that because you got these leakages, which were, of course, calculated to convey a message and image that was inaccurate and full of exaggerations, misrepresentations or distortions as the President calls it.
When this whole matter started, it all started in Kyankwazi about two weeks earlier. Were you surprised by the events in the caucus?
Yes, I was surprised by the manner in which that motion was handled because it was not on the agenda. It just came out of the blue. I think that’s not normal, but in politics there are not too many surprises.
There has been talk that all this has been planned and carried out by your senior colleagues whom you may have undermined on your way up?
Well, there were some people behind it obviously, and in the debate, some spoke candidly so I have no doubt that some of the people who are behind this are those who have one grievance or another against me. Of course, it’s not true that I have undermined anyone because I have never done so. There are allegations, but it is not true.
Any specific names you can throw up?
No, not really, I don’t want to.
At State House, the President presented a recording gathered by intelligence, showing you had been speaking to mobilisers to garner support for your presidential ambition. You say we got selected leakages. What exactly did the President present to the caucus?
In the first place there was no recording. Zero! Nothing but that is popular now in the media.
So what exactly, did the President present?
What he read was taken off some recording of some junior officials of the party at the district level and actually they did not implicate me at all. I mean there were people getting signatures to support the anti-Kyankwazi motion. My name only came in because they said for us we shall urge so and so to stand. They had not even urged me to stand. I don’t think they said we are urging. They said we will urge so and so, and I don’t know when they will urge.
There is a context to this recording that we need to be clear about. Your wife has issued a statement confirming that somebody actually recorded her?
Not at all. Nothing, and it had no voice. It was a discussion between these guys and one of them was talking about meeting her (my wife). Another one was saying, “But you people they are asking us to sign this thing for Mbabazi, I have been with him for so long, I worked with him, and he has never told me anything like that.” He was questioning.
Do you feel you have been unfairly treated and betrayed seeing these young people like Evelyn Anite attack you at the caucus meetings?
I think it shows we the parents must pay great attention to how we bring up our children, especially in regard to giving respect to elders and seniors. You know even if an elder is wrong and he is making a mistake or has made a mistake, it does not cost you anything to tell him in a respectful manner. But I am not saying the Anites did that. Those are your names, not mine.
During those two different meetings, you and your wife were accused of using your positions in the party to build structures for the supposed Mbabazi presidential bid in 2016.
By the way, I have not even been accused of that. I haven’t heard.
Those are the lines we have been getting in the media.
Those are your confusions, and I don’t know where they came from. It is implied but I have not heard any direct accusation because I told them, if they had them in mind, I would encourage them not to waste their time; just bring one single person.
You see the President presented a paper in Kyankwanzi, and warned members about cliques. Many have jumped to say he was talking about Mbabazi and his presidential bid. So you have been accused.
In my response, I said someone told me after the President’s speech that when he was talking about cohesion, he meant me. I said it can’t be me. I said the Museveni I know, if he had anything, he would have asked me first.
So Why is there persistent talk that you are planning a presidential bid and trying to build a political base?
Let me tell you my own suspicions. First of all in 2003, we made the NRM constitution but didn’t activate the party because we were still in the Movement until after the referendum of July 2005. So we activated the party and in that short time organised primaries, leading to the national conference. Even during that time, some misgivings were raised about this position of Secretary General. But we didn’t have time to discuss it in detail. We kept what we had in the constitution.
In 2010, the same issue came up. The issue was: Should the Secretary General of the party be full time or not?
We had discussed this in 2003 and chosen the arrangement that we have the secretary general who will be a political leader and, like the other party leaders, he would be elected. The alternative that we looked at and I am the one who made the proposal; would be to have a bureaucratic secretary general appointed by the party and an employee of the party, we didn’t choose this. Now, I am the secretary general of the NRM as an elected political leader, and according to our constitution, when elected, one serves a five-year term.
I was elected again and the question was discussed in specific terms: Mbabazi is our secretary general; would he hold another political office? I won’t dig into the other details because you will confuse our people if you write them but may be when I am writing books it will be important to bring out.
So in specific terms, Mbabazi is secretary general, the party has won, what do we do?
And there was a strong will by some that he should just be secretary general, you see people out there don’t know this but all of us in NRM are just volunteers because the party doesn’t pay us. I have never been paid even one shilling by the party.
We are volunteers who use our resources to support our party so being Secretary General has no pecuniary benefits to me. I only offer myself and I am ready to work tirelessly. This is our party; I have a cause to which I subscribe which I can push not as an individual but collectively as a party. So I didn’t have a choice, but the arrangement now is that the Secretary General is a party leader.
But if this is amended such that the secretary general becomes bureaucratic and an employee, would I apply for the job? No! Why would I want to be a bureaucrat?
We would need young people to do that kind of work so when this debate was on going within the organs of the party, we had different positions, my wife had a position not the same as mine. My wife had been involved in looking for votes for secretary general and she maintained these contacts for the same purpose of secretary general, with this question of whether Mbabazi should go or not.
As far as I am concerned, that is what she was doing even if I didn’t entirely agree with her, she is entitled to her opinion. My wife need not hold the same opinion as mine. We can happily live together even if we have different political opinions. So when Kyankwazi happened, of course, there was a reaction, that signing of letters they are talking about was a post-Kyankwazi resolution activity, people should know this difference.
You have been quoted in the media saying you are not planning to run against the President , but you have not said that you will not run for president. The interpretation is that if Mr Museveni is not on the ballot in 2016, possibly you will run. Is that a proper reading of the situation?
You see you have to understand the arrangement in NRM. You know that we did for secretary general position in 2010 is wrong – you remember Prof [Gilbert] Bukenya traversing the country? [Maj Gen Kahinda] Otafire? [Theodre] Ssekikubo? [Elijah] Mushemeza?
I was the only one who didn’t go around. I actually did it through my wife. That is how my wife came in, and it was last minute because some of my friends had started spreading stories that I had given up so I had to send people to say, “No, I am there”. All that was wrong. We should not have done it that way. We should have done it the way we did in 2005. For example, if you want to be a presidential candidate, you may express interest.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with expressing interest but not publicly but to the relevant organ dealing with the issue in this case it begins with Central Executive Committee. It is the one which looks at names and recommends to National Executive Committee, which then does its own assessment and recommends names to the national conference that votes. So you don’t have to express interest, people can look at you and say you have the potential.
Which brings us to the Kyankwanzi resolution that the President should be the sole party candidate in 2016. That seems to go outside the constitution as you have described. Why do you think the party made such a resolution, and why has the President seemed to embrace it?
I don’t actually think the President embraced it. After the resolution, I made a speech and the last speech was made by the President and in his speech, he said I accept your resolution in the context of maintaining cohesion within the party.
You see in the context of what he was saying. If there are cliques and intrigue, the idea was that people are forming cliques because they want to propel themselves to leadership of the party. So if this resolution is saying there is no vacancy then presumably those who were in the cliques will say, “Oh, too bad. Let us go back home and sleep.” He accepted it in that context. He didn’t say he had accepted the invitation to be the sole candidate. He didn’t say that.
The context of this Kyankwanzi thing is that such resolutions outside the normal party structures actually kill internal democracy in the party.
But you see, as I have said before, I regard it as an opinion. People are entitled to their opinions. Those who oppose it are entitled to their opinion. Both of them I think should not have done that.
But it is not such a disastrous thing. It is okay. I don’t see a problem with it.
In the past two elections you have had as a party, the position of party chair seems to be ring-fenced. There has been no contest for that position, and there has been no contest for the flag bearer position of the NRM party. Do you think this is healthy for the party, and is this likely to change soon?
I don’t think it is ring-fenced. In both elections, we had candidates who had expressed interest, but I think when they tasted the waters, they realised they were not favourable. Okot Ogong was one of them. He had even offered me to be his vice president, so I think they just tasted the waters and found they are not favourable and gave up. It is not that it is ring-fenced. You see, President Museveni enjoys a unique position as a historical leader of the revolution and the struggle so the advantage he has, the authority he has mastered because of this historical contribution to the liberation of the country, is such a strong starting point that for you to realistically challenge him, you simply have to tighten your belts. So, the position is not ring-fenced; it happens that the incumbent is a very strong person.
Now all this hullabaloo from Kyankwazi, State House, misrepresented or not it has created a lot of issues within the party, where do you think this is going to leave the party and you as a party leader?
I think we are handling it well because we are talking. The forces of rumour-mongering had the upper hand in the beginning, but I think sanity and rationality have been restored because we are now talking, we are addressing issues rationally, systematically getting facts, and this will enable us in the end to handle the weakness we find in the party, and I think the President is doing this very well.
We are making good progress because we are talking; we are having another caucus meeting on Monday [today] and the Central Executive Committee will meet on Tuesday.
So after the meeting at Entebbe, it was announced that Mr Richard Todwong was going to take over the duties of mobilisation from you. The President later issued a statement clarifying otherwise, but this had been contrived to mean your powers have been trimmed?
The position is that, right from the day Todwong was appointed, it was announced he would be minister without portfolio in-charge of mobilisation. Of course, they didn’t say that it would be mobilisation of the party, so that was government.
However, my understanding even at that time was he would also be doing mobilisation in the party, so it is nothing new. It is not something that happened this week in the caucus as those who reported put it.
Away from that the NRM government has been in power for 28 years now. When you look back at what you set out to achieve, do you think you have achieved as a group and how much?
Yes. We have achieved a lot. Of course if we had achieved everything, we would have gone home. The reason why we are still around is that we still have work to do. We have pacified Uganda that is the most important achievement because without peace, nothing else would have happened. So peace and security was our priority; we have attained it.
We have rebuilt the state; the Legislature, Judiciary and Executive are fully operational. We still have challenges here and there, such as having appropriate manpower, but all in all, the basics have been put in place. The economy has been restored. In 1986, the total revenue of government was Shs5 billion but this year, our budget is about Shs12 trillion. In the education sector, for example, enrolment at Makerere University has jumped from 2,000 students in 1986 up to 66,000 students today. There are 30 other universities and tertiary institutions which graduate 400,000 Ugandans annually.
Look at the main road arteries! These are great achievements. We still have to restore our rail line. We have incredible minerals; maybe we are the wealthiest in the world in terms of minerals not exploited but we are beginning slowly. Even the discovery after aerial surveys is an achievement. When we took power do you know that safe water coverage for the whole country was 12 per cent? Now we are at 65 per cent-75 per cent which is not good enough as we should have safe water for all, but there is steady progress.
But many think that despite all this progress many things are beginning to go wrong in areas of governance. Corruption is high, and social service delivery is still not good when it comes to health. Many people are living below the poverty line?
Whereas some of the things you are saying are correct, the assessment over all is wrong, because even on those fields we have made tremendous progress. Let’s look at social service delivery: the overall plan is to have a health care unit within walking distance of every homestead. It will take time to build health units instead of big hospitals where it is possible to provide health care. Obote’s philosophy was to build huge hospitals but only 5 per cent would access them so our idea is different. Let’s have a health care centre near every homestead and then have a tertiary health care centre which is referral. We are now at sub-county level.
There are no drugs in those health centres, Mr Prime Minister, and the health workers are overwhelmed
(Laughs) They were not there then but now they are there.
In your view, has the removal of term limits from the constitution affected the country positively or negatively?
I think it is a good thing. (Giggles) You are asking the wrong person. You know in 1994, I totally opposed the inclusion of term limits in our constitution. This is nonsense. I have always made the point that Africa’s historical problem has been a problem of leadership so for you to say in those circumstances that leadership should just change by operation of the constitution is just nonsensical. Absolutely nonsensical! We don’t enjoy an abundance of good leaders.
What about countries like Tanzania that have been changing. Do they have more good leaders? In effect, absence of term limits suffocates the process of producing other leaders because the incumbent will always be domineering?
Did you read my paper on this? I think the right to be ignorant is not in our constitution. You should read my paper, I shall send you a copy. You see our constitution says power lies in the hands of the people who will choose leaders through regular elections. What is implied in that are term limits because if you are a bad leader, if we elect you Mr Bichachi, and you don’t perform we shall not elect you next time.
What if I manipulate the system?
That is not democratic. So democracy simply means people have a choice, you don’t constrain their choice by operation of the constitution, they say Bichachi is a good man but unfortunately we must elect Alex because the constitution has knocked out Bichachi and our hands are tied.
Dr Kizza Besigye has extended an invitation to you to join the opposition?
Where is the invitation?
He has publicly called you to join the opposition?
No, no, no! First of all, I have not received that invitation, but I can give the answer now even before it arrives. I am in NRM and I want to tell my friend Kizza Besigye that the doors of NRM are open. This is his home; he had gone astray but he is welcome back. Come back home, Doctor! I told him that long time ago and I maintain that position.
I will certainly not be hounded out of NRM because nobody will hound me out. No way! How? Being hounded out of NRM? (Laughs) Forget about it!
People have been pushed out before Mr Mbabazi.
The story line has been that with what happened in the caucus, you are finished.
Well, you have heard that story that Mbabazi is finished many times before so just disregard it. What would finish me? I am not finished.
Monitor reporter Ivan Okuda transcribed the interview.