Every once in a while, in the election euphoria, a popular candidate emerges and excites the voters. Certainly, in the early years of his uninterrupted rule, President Museveni was widely written about in endearing terms.
Twenty eight years ago, Mr Museveni brought relative stability to most of the country after decades of dictatorship, spearheaded the fight against HIV/Aids pandemic, kicked polio out of Uganda and promised a “fundamental change”.
Then, the Ugandan economy in 1986 was $1.55 billion. Today it is more than $24.5 billion (Shs64 trillion). Uganda’s tax collection in 1986 was only Shs5 billion compared to Shs9 trillion this financial year. Therefore, the poverty and unemployment in the country today notwithstanding, Uganda’s economy has grown 16 times since Mr Museveni took power.
Almost 18 years since Mr Museveni’s 1996 landslide victory in the first election since the controversial 1980 polls which he lost, analysts say because of runaway corruption in public service, the popularity of his regime has plunged. The President of today is different from the one of 1986.
Senior politicians who spoke to the Daily Monitor are of the view that even with the peace in the country, over the years, Uganda has steadily reverted to a brand of divisive and vindictive politics not dissimilar from the factionalism which ruined the country between 1966 and 1980.
Opposition politicians like Nandala Mafabi (Budadiri West) and Reagan Okumu (Aswa) lament that the President has split the country through “nepotistic tendencies”, a claim Presidency minister Frank Tumwebaze dismissed as “ludicrous” and “total lies” intended to “mudsling” the President.
But in the shadow of Ssabalwaanyi (master of fighters) — President Museveni’s pet label -- some observers say other political darlings have started to emerge. One of such ‘pets’ is the current Speaker of Parliament, Ms Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga, also the woman MP for Kamuli District.
In recent weeks the volume has been turned up by those who think her time has come. The Kadaga-for-President drums were first beaten in Parliament late last year. But Ms Kadaga waits in Mr Museveni’s wings as the country searches for possible successors to her boss, whom the opposition want to retire in 2016.
Probably, it is not by coincidence that the President has taken to visiting Kamuli District, in deed some remote corner of Busoga sub-region, every two months lately. Perhaps no politician has had a better 2013 than Ms Kadaga, the chairperson of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians – International, has drawn attention and praise for her relatively sober stewardship of the 9th Parliament. Her supporters speak about her “pro-people” and “pro-poor” approach to issues of national importance.
Ms Kadaga has allowed free debate in the House, and fights for transparency and accountability. Her reward: the rising calls from people asking her to run for President in 2016. Eastern Uganda is the only region never to have produced a President for this country. This could partly explain why the calls for a Kadaga presidency are loudest in her Busoga sub-region.
Other pundits, however, suspect that the push for a Kadaga presidency could be a “handiwork” of tribal politics. People like retired Bishop of Busoga Diocese, Cyprian Bamwoze, have counselled caution, telling the Speaker to beware of the likely traps lurking behind this push and asked her to concentrate on her current job.
Bishop Bamwoze said quite famously that he was putting “the bell on the cat” because he knows how to handle its jaws. He asked her to delay her candidacy, fearing that “these are dangerous waters, you don’t dare swim upstream because the stream will wash you down”.
The former bishop went as far as to say that those pushing Ms Kadaga to run for President “are stupid”. Typically, the Speaker responded with equivocation to Bamwoze’s warning, saying she cannot control what people think or say about her. “I know how leadership is ascended to. We have party structures and a political timetable. My interest is in serving the people and I think am doing it as a Speaker,” she said.
Within the ruling party, the official position appears to be: dismiss the excitement as a passing fancy. Party faithful are confident Mr Museveni will again present himself as their flag-bearer in what promises to be an even more intense contest with an opposition that has not stopped campaigning since the disputed February 2011 polls.
Executive director at the government information hub, the Uganda Media Centre, Mr Ofwono Opondo said: “Kadaga standing against Mr Museveni is a non-issue to us. She is inconsequential even in Busoga and among women. In fact, Kadaga is one of the vulnerable politicians and easy to handle at elections. Just check her margins. She is just noisy and erratic.”
On the other hand, Kabale Diocese’s very political Fr Gaetano Batanyenda, the chairman of the Kigezi Inter-Religious Forum, says: “Our Speaker of Parliament, Rt Hon Rebecca Kadaga has demonstrated capacity to lead this country as President because of her pro-people and pro-poor approach both in Parliament and outside. Since men have ruled Uganda for the last 49 years, it is time now to have a woman President. Countries led by women presidents are stable and developing at a fast rate. Have a look at Brazil and Germany.”
A group of unidentified people have opened a Facebook forum: Rebecca Kadaga for President 2016. It is resplendent with alluring snapshots and fawning stories-- tracking the first female Speaker.
Is it all innocent and genuine acclaim, who could be driving this campaign which is not unlike the usual ruse by politicians who invoke the name of ‘the people’ to justify their wishes to remain in office?
Her spokesperson, Ms Ranny Ismail, denies any connection to the social media campaigns.
On Facebook, Ms Kadaga fans describe her as a politician who has already shown that she is principled and that she cares. They add: “...imagine her running the country with Jennifer Musisi as her Prime Minister.”
Another post reads: “Kadaga sounds more presidential by the day. Careful though not to get drunk on ruling by ‘orders’” – a possible reference to the Speaker’s tendency to be abrupt at times.
There is also a blog: The case for Kadaga 2016. On this blog, Ms Kadaga is commended as a “highly educated and feisty [lady] who has proved that she is not a fawning poodle and that “she has passed the test with aplomb”.
Repeated efforts to get the Speaker for comment failed. But Ms Ismail repeated her boss’ line: that she does not have control over what people say about her. She also said Ms Kadaga does not have a campaign team for 2016 elections and that she is doing her work as a Speaker. Ms Ranny talked of Ms Kadaga’s passion for the people. She said the Facebook fans page was set up by voters in Kamuli.
Understandably, the nationwide recognition of the Speaker’s abilities is exciting to her followers. But the more realistic among them still believe it would be a waste of time should Mr Museveni decide to run again.
Bugabula South MP Asuman Kiyingi, also the State Minister for Foreign Affairs, who said he was speaking like any Ugandan, said Ms Kadaga has every right to aspire to the high office. Bugabula is found in Kamuli but the MP says his views are not influenced by this fact.
“Busoga as a region is part of Uganda and having one of our own assume the highest office has a redeeming effect from every perspective. It is wrong to expect Basoga to support Kadaga simply because she is a Musoga. It must be because of demonstrated leadership capability and competence. If at the time of making a decision on the country’s top leadership she is the most capable, then so be it.”
“I must add, however, that much as a good number of Basoga think Kadaga’s time has come, there are those who are calling for caution given that President Museveni may still be available come 2016. If this happens to be the case, I will persuade the Speaker and other comrades not to waste time.”
Mr Nicholas Opiyo, the secretary general of the Uganda Law Society, who spoke in his private capacity, observed that there is a certain feeling of solidarity from certain sections of the Ugandan society extending beyond ethnic inclinations. He said Busoga’s call for Kadaga to contest is not necessarily borne out of “ethnic sentiment” but a “feeling of neglect” since 1986.
“Busoga was the industrial hub for Uganda. It is now a shadow of itself,” Mr Opiyo said, adding that the poverty levels in Busoga are terrifying. “Any group faced with that sort of situation would no doubt cry to their own for help but that cry is not necessarily tribal,” he said.
Other analysts said the decision to contest for the presidency must be her own and not one borne out of a so-called demand of the people. They said the calls for her to contest may not, in fact, be because they believe in her ability to unseat President Museveni, but might simply represent a certain level of dissatisfaction with Museveni’s empty promises to the people of Busoga, the women and indeed the whole country.
Going by past experience, it’s unlikely that Ms Kadaga will dare her boss in 2016.
“She will need to appreciate a little more the geopolitics and international political interests that Museveni has become a master in,” Mr Opiyo said.
Perhaps union leader Usher Wilson Ower, himself an easterner, put it best when he said: “Museveni is still a strong leader who knows where this country has come from where we are and where we are going he is the symbol of unity in this country now. The army believes in him and as for Kadaga, she still needs mentoring.”
This pervasive feeling that Mr Museveni still looms large over the country combines with the money factor, or brown envelopes syndrome, which today defines elective politics in Uganda. Money and the skullduggery which go on behind the scenes may be the two things which could make the Speaker think deeply about this ‘call of the people.’
Stiff competition expected in Mbale, Maracha and Hoima
Although the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Mr Nandala Mafabi, said in 2011 that he would not contest again for the Budadiri West MP seat, he recently swallowed his words while appearing on a local radio talk show. Mr Mafabi declared that he is still around and would contest, come 2016.
As it stands, Mr Mafabi will face new NRM entrant Paul Wokou, an accountant and former employee of Umeme who is now a businessman in Moroto District. Mr Wokou says: “We have had Mr Nathan Mafabi since 2011, and the people of Budadiri West have also decided that I represent them and I can’t disappoint them.” The race has also attracted Mr Jack Kisolo, an accountant with the Uganda Revenue Authority, who is also NRM-leaning, and Mr Andrew Wasukira, the Sironko District engineer. In 2011, the government supported former minister for the Presidency Beatrice Wabudeya, but NRM lost the seat.
By David Mafabi
Maracha constituency seat is getting hotter by the day as new entrants keep showing interest in the race.
The latest entrant is Mr Denis Acidri (pictured), an employee of Save the Children UK, who is already conducting consultative meetings. The seat is currently occupied by the state minister for Local Government, Mr Alex Onzima, but his main challenger, whom he defeated in the last elections, is also rumoured to be preparing to come back. Mr Lee Oguzu who contested under the FDC ticket, is often seen in the company of Mr Acidri, triggering speculations that he is fronting Mr Acidri, as he is involved in business.
By Clement Aluma
The Bugahya County MP, Mr James Kiiza Rwebembera (pictured), is also a former Hoima District chairman. He faces a stern challenge from various contenders. Contestants include Mr Ham Mugenyi, a lawyer. He is also Bunyoro Kingdom’s attorney general. The Kyankwanzi deputy RDC, Mr James Kiriti, who vied for the seat in the 2011 general elections plans to fire a second shot at the seat in 2016.
The Hoima District NRM secretary general, Mr Yunusu Mugabe, who contested for the Bugahya County NRM primaries and lost in previous elections, has declared intentions to contest for the seat. Mr Mugabe is a journalist-turned politician. He is a former Hoima District speaker.
The former Hoima woman MP, Ms Beatrice Nyakaisiki, is contemplating contesting for the seat.
She is currently a Presidential Adviser.
By Francis Mugerwa
Leaders’ take on Kadaga presidency
Former Archbishop Church of Uganda Henry Luke Orombi. “Do you know the opportunities that God has given you like the Speaker of Parliament, a woman of unique and desirable character and capabilities? You never know God has put her into that position so that she can change this place into a land of honey. You only need to turn her and many others into a blessing from God.”
Former ethics minister Miria Matembe: “Speaker Kadaga should concentrate on redeeming the independence of Parliament before considering contesting for presidency. The situation in Uganda does not favour anyone who is opposed to the style of governance that is currently being used. What the country needs is a fundamental change caused by the people themselves.”
Namutumba RDC Grace Sendabaguzi: “You have moved to the position of Speaker and now that you were elected president of Inter-Parliamentary Union, we are hopeful that you can make a good President for this country. Kadaga will receive the support from women because she will be holding their pride.”
Former Kamuli Town mayor Peter Muwanga: “All we want is not only giving Uganda the first female President in the history of this country, but seeing free transition of power from President Museveni to a new leader. We have, therefore, set aside our political affiliations for one common good and that is ensuring that Kadaga takes the oath as new President in 2016.”