The sorry fate of NRM returnees
Posted Monday, November 4 2013 at 02:00
With hope for a fundamental change extinguished by the reality of betrayal, many key figures in the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) walked away at the turn of the century.
Whereas a few chose to wait it out on the sidelines, most joined the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), vowing never again to share a political bed with President Yoweri Museveni. In the dozen years since the divorce, a few prominent colleagues have crawled back to the NRM, on bended knee, in economic defeat, with their political clout diminished and objects of public ridicule and contempt.
The returnees to the NRM have given various reasons for their capitulation and betrayal of their reputations and struggles. Yet we know that they have all returned to the NRM in search of economic survival.
Accustomed to fat salaries and perks that came with their ministerial and parliamentary jobs, the returnees were unable to adjust to the life of self-reliance and sacrifice that the rest of us take for granted.
The most painful retreat was that of Eriya Tukahirwa Kategaya, one of the most senior folks in the NRM and reportedly a friend of Mr Museveni. Kategaya had declared upon quitting the party in 2003: “A Munyankore man can turn in bed but cannot turn on his word of honour.”
Had someone suggested that Kategaya would turn on his word, very many of us would have dismissed her without much deliberation. Kategaya himself told me that the betrayal by Mr Museveni was such that he could never reconcile with him.
Yet he was also unhappy with the FDC, though he could never articulate a coherent explanation for his reluctance to formally join the new party.
By 2006, out of work, reportedly out of money and completely beaten, Kategaya turned on his word. He died early this year, a broken man, his star dimmed, pitied rather than respected by his political colleagues.
Kategaya’s return to the NRM opened the door for other wavering opposition figures to return to the NRM, most notable being John Butime.
A former Makerere University Guild president (he defeated Sulaiman Kiggundu to take that post in 1968), Butime had been a founder member of the Reform Agenda and the FDC. In a reversal of fortune, he had served as deputy to Dr Kiggundu who was the first chairman of FDC.
When Kiggundu died in 2008, Butime was appointed acting chairman. He served in that capacity until a substantive replacement was elected in 2009. Within months of relinquishing that post, Butime returned to the NRM.
“I had never left the NRM on my own,” Butime told a journalist. “It was after I had been dropped by the President without reason that I joined the un-deployed and the President never recalled me for another assignment.”
Sadly, he died last year, unemployed, untrusted by the government and opposition alike, a sad figure that had failed to live up to his potential.
The other prominent defector from FDC was Alex Onzima who exchanged his honour for an appointment as a minister of state in the Museveni government. It is hard to imagine that the President would ever trust Onzima, any more than he trusted Aggrey Siryoyi Awori, a former member of UPC who had run for president in 2001.
Few people had been more eloquent and forceful than Awori in their condemnation of Museveni and his regime. The gentleman had even reportedly tried his hand at organising an armed rebellion against Museveni.
Yet the same Awori went on to serve in Museveni’s cabinet before being dumped after he had reached his political expiry date. Awori was recently reported to be facing some legal challenges in his home area, a consequence of the economic hardships that have hammered him since his forced exit from the government.
The most pitiable political party-hopper was the nomadic David Pulkol, a former external spy chief, who left the NRM after being fired from his job as ESO chief, flirted with the FDC for a few months, then the Progressive Alliance Party before settling for the Uganda Peoples Congress. He has since been rendered politically homeless after being fired from UPC. He may well be the least trusted politician in Uganda.
To this group we now add Maj Rubaramira Ruranga, whose return to NRM assures him some short-term crumbs from the presidential table but guarantees him a place on the list of the universally distrusted and despised citizens. It is a sorry fate for one who did so much in the struggle for freedom.
These and other returnees to the NRM may well have believed that they had duped Museveni into believing that theirs was a genuine change of heart.
However, the President is a smart politician who understands the Ugandan psyche better than most. He will use these returnees, but he will not trust them. Nobody should.
Dr Mulera is a Daily Monitor columnist based in Canada.