A traditional spear and shield presented to Mr Amama Mbabazi during a recent cultural evening by the Uganda Chapter of the International Community of Banyakigezi (ICOB), has caused suspicion that the organisation has become a partisan vehicle for the Prime Minister’s presumed interest in becoming president of the Republic.
In these heightened days of political jostling between President Museveni and his PM, an innocuous traditional act becomes a political story where none really exists. The irony is that the Museveni supporters who read political endorsement in the Mbabazi shield and spear would have cheered a similar act had the President been the recipient. They would have assured the world that ICOB was a non-partisan organisation and that the presentation was an acknowledgement of the achievements and status of Mr Museveni. They would have been right.
I believe it was in that spirit that a shield and spear were presented to Mr Mbabazi, the first Munyakigezi to serve as prime minister of Uganda. ICOB is a non-partisan organisation that welcomes every Munyakigezi, including Mr Mbabazi, to be an active member.
Since its inception in 2003, ICOB has understandably attracted questions about its claims of non-partisanship. In a country where churches, professional, community and other organisations have been coopted and neutered by the ruling party, ICOB’s insistence on non-partisanship has confounded observers and those eager to take advantage of its influence.
Such was the fear and suspicion of ICOB’s intentions that its founding conference in Toronto in July 2003 was attended by a high-level delegation sent by President Museveni himself. The delegation, which was led by then minister George Mondo Kagonyera, included cabinet ministers Jim Muhwezi and Hope Mwesigye, then presidential military assistant Kale Kayihura and Robert K. Rutaagi, then general manager of the National Medical Stores. Their brief was to challenge the presumed political agenda of ICOB. The Toronto gathering was assumed to be the political wing of a military rebellion that was allegedly being organised in Rwanda and eastern Congo.
To their pleasant surprise, Museveni’s emissaries discovered that partisan politics and armed rebellion were the furthest things on the minds of the 100 Banyakigezi at the meeting. The agenda, they discovered, was the advancement of the cultural, social and economic interests of Banyakigezi in Uganda and in the Diaspora. ICOB’s annual conventions have attracted Ugandan politicians from the ruling and Opposition parties, including Mr Museveni and Dr Kizza Besigye. As expected, each side has accused ICOB of being partisan depending on which group has had more prominence at a given convention.
ICOB’s commitment to the advancement of political and human rights of Banyakigezi is a non-negotiable agenda. ICOB must not apologise for the cultural recognition of Mr Mbabazi’s stature among the Banyakigezi. A similar gesture should be extended to Mr Museveni, Gen Muntu and Dr Besigye when the opportunity presents itself. Both Mr Museveni and Mr Mbabazi will need the support of Banyakigezi in the 2016 elections.
A political contest between the two men would be a welcome opportunity for Banyakigezi to demand tangible economic and infrastructural investments and social services from them before the elections. Neither Mbabazi nor Museveni should take the Banyakigezi for granted.
As ICOB gathers for its 2014 Convention in Washington DC from Thursday July 31, to Monday August 4, the opportunities presented by the potential Museveni-Mbabazi contest should be high on the agenda.
ICOB’s non-partisan tradition should continue to enable its members to transcend party politics in a single-minded pursuit of common interests. That was the vision of the organisation’s founders. It must remain the foundation of ICOB’s collective efforts.
Dr Mulera is based in Toronto, Canada. firstname.lastname@example.org