Anite and the NRM’s dark politics

Sunday August 25 2019

Minister of State for Privatisation and

Minister of State for Privatisation and Investment, Evelyn Anite. PHOTO BY ALEX ESAGALA 

By Timothy Kalyegira

In May 2005, the-then vice president Gilbert Bukenya sought out a meeting and interview with the-then Monitor Publications managing director Conrad Nkutu.

During this interview, Bukenya disclosed that there was a “mafia” at the helm of the Ugandan State and this mafia was, he said, engaged in intrigue against him.
For 19 years since 1986 when the NRM ascended to power, the enemy was always defined as being out there, opposed to President Museveni’s government – the UPDA, LRA, ADF, FOBA, Major Herbert Itongwa’s brief insurgency, Rwanda during the 1999 Kisangani Uganda-Rwanda clashes and so on.
Opposition politicians such as Kizza Besigye and others who contested for the presidency against Museveni were also labelled the enemy and elusive armed rebel groups like the PRA attached to them as proof.
The enemy was never within the NRM State itself.
That 2005 Daily Monitor interview set the stage for a new chapter in the history of NRM Uganda.

Bukenya got the media, political class, human rights lawyers, human rights activists and others viewing the situation in Uganda from a different perspective.
That was when the term “mafia” entered into Ugandan political lexicology and the media started paying more attention to and publishing reports on the political infighting within the NRM government.
The latest of these news alerts about the mafia came last week from the Minister of State for Privatisation and Investment, Evelyn Anite.

In a desperate plea, ironically via the same media she had just a few years ago treated like an enemy of the State, Anite signalled that she was getting death threats and her life was in such danger that her only course of action was to go public.
Equally notable is the fact that nobody in government disputes or dismisses this frequent reference to a mafia within the government.

It has become more or less a given that there is.
People from West Nile staged a demonstration at Arua Park in central Kampala on August 21 and MPs from West Nile threatened at a press conference to have West Nile secede from Uganda if Anite were to be killed or harmed.
The question is: Why Anite and why now?
Anite was the person we recall who in February 2015 during the NRM party retreat at the political school in Kyankwanzi, got on her knees and proposed a resolution to have Museveni contest in the 2016 general election as the NRM’s sole presidential candidate.
From that point onward, her political fortunes started to rise.

Later in response to Opposition claims to state power, Anite declared that the Opposition can claim and protest all they want but the NRM has the army behind it, the “magye” or “majje” remark that angered the Opposition, social media users and media commentators.
More pragmatic analysts responded by saying Anite was only echoing the mindset of Museveni and his core NRM establishment of their dominance of the army and their army’s loyalty to them.

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Since making that statement about the army, Anite largely faded away from the media and public limelight until recently when she started actively investigating the finances of the State telecom company Uganda Telecom or UTL.
The first take away from this is that there are certain red lines in the sand as far as the NRM State is concerned and to cross those red lines is to come into conflict with the NRM State.

The first and most important red line, as is common knowledge, is to seek the Ugandan presidency in any way by armed rebellion, attempted assassination or serious political mobilisation for as long as Yoweri Museveni is the incumbent.
The second red line seems to be to investigate, expose or publish details that reveal the act of stripping State-owned corporations of their finances or assets by powerful or highly-connected figures within the government.

This second is the lesser known of the two red lines, but has been behind many mysterious deaths or death threats of and to high-ranking civil servants, police officers, human rights activists and journalists over the last 33 years.
For some reason, the consequences on any serious designs on Museveni’s presidential office are openly stated in public.
But revelations about the secret stripping of State-owned corporations and institutions of their finances and assets are responded to by covert means.
It is difficult to know where to place Anite’s call of alarm.

Appearing on a local Luganda radio station on Monday August 19, the vocal Member of Parliament Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda pointed out that Anite got her office and present political prominence via the same mafia she is alleging want to kill her.
When it was reported that she had flown to Mauritius to discuss UTL with a Mauritian investor, Anite denied that and stuck to her narrative about the mafia seeking to eliminate her.
The State-owned New Vision newspaper was forced to retract their story on her trip to Mauritius.
But by August 21, Anite had admitted to the Mauritius trip, as published by the Daily Monitor.

Clearly, Anite is not disclosing the whole truth.
Anite is reported to have promised to deliver UTL to the people in Mauritius, failed to, and some say she is now creating a political storm to protect herself more from the Mauritians than from Uganda’s political mafia.
According to Ssemujju Nganda on August 19, President Museveni over a decade ago had offered UTL to the-then Libyan leader, Col Muammar Gaddafi, as a swop for Ugandan debt to Libya.

Leaders. Senior members of the NRM party. For

Leaders. Senior members of the NRM party. For 19 years since 1986 when the NRM ascended to power, the enemy was always defined as being out there, opposed to President Museveni’s government. FILE PHOTO

Gaddafi was killed in 2010 and both his government and the Libyan state effectively crumbled.
Who now effectively owns UTL is hard to know.
Even though Anite has not been honest about her role in UTL and that trip to Mauritius, her allegations about death threats cannot be lightly dismissed.

UTL appears to be in the same category of State-owned corporations as Uganda Commercial Bank, Uganda Airlines, Uganda Railways, Dairy Corporation and others that in the last 28 years or so were divested by the government but ended up in the hands of foreign owners, with powerful Ugandan politicians or military officials acting as middle men in these opaque deals.
Of interest to People&Power is the politics of all this.
It confirms the widespread view among the political class and the media that there are two layers of power within the NRM State.

The first is the general party members and State functionaries who mainly serve as token political representation of the country. These have no real power and influence.
The second is of a much smaller, inner core close to the President, many of them his relatives or long-standing aides.

This inner core is where the real political power in Uganda resides. This is the inner core euphemistically referred to as the “mafia”.
So far, President Museveni has remained conspicuously silent over Anite’s allegations.
His silence could be taken to mean that Anite does not belong to the inner circle and her fate is probably sealed.

It could also mean that he is still studying the situation, looking out for who speaks out, who threatens to break away from Uganda, who reveals top-secrets about UTL and how all this plays out, before taking action.
Silence has also rung loudly from among Anite’s fellow ministers and just as loudly from the police who surely are required by law to investigate allegations of death threats by a government minister.

The silence by the President and Anite’s own Cabinet colleagues reveals the paralysis within the NRM government, with heightened intrigue and everyone playing it safe.
Anite at her press appearance alleged that the former Attorney General Francis Ayume, who like Anite was from Koboko, and the late Arua Municipality MP Ibrahim Abiriga, were killed by the mafia.
In essence, Anite claimed these two prominent West Nilers had been killed by the State.

Anite’s claims about Ayume’s and Abiriga’s deaths further reveals that many within the NRM share roughly the same view of suspicious events as the Opposition, the media, and the online social media community.
People who have been inside the government and start revealing its secrets or alleging dark deeds by the government are always walking on slippery ground.
The danger both for Anite and the government is that this presents a golden opportunity for the government’s enemies.
Any of them could harm Anite, knowing that to do so would seemingly confirm what she had warned about months earlier.

Ahead of the 2020/2021 political campaign and general election season, we see an NRM government full of distrust between the players.
Fear of the consequences of breaking away from the NRM and the lack of financial alternatives to their lucrative positions are what keep many unhappily within the NRM State.
Looking forward, then, we can expect no factional break-up of the NRM or defections from within the government.

The political elite within the NRM will remain where they are, growing increasingly paranoid but lacking alternative outlets.
The Opposition so far has not managed or bothered to capitalise on Anite during her hour of crisis.
It is possible that, like Gilbert Bukenya 14 years ago, Anite will be made by that same mafia to publicly retract her statements about a mafia in government.

NRM red lines
1.The first and most important red line, as is common knowledge, is to seek the Ugandan presidency in any way by armed rebellion, attempted assassination or serious political mobilisation for as long as Yoweri Museveni is the incumbent.

2.The second red line seems to be to investigate, expose or publish details that reveal the act of stripping State-owned corporations of their finances or assets by powerful or highly-connected figures within the government. This second is the lesser known of the two red lines, but has been behind many mysterious deaths or death threats of and to high-ranking civil servants.

Claims

When it was reported that she had flown to Mauritius to discuss UTL with a Mauritian investor, Anite denied that and stuck to her narrative about the mafia seeking to eliminate her.
The State-owned New Vision newspaper was forced to retract their story on her trip to Mauritius.
But by August 21, Anite had admitted to the Mauritius trip, as published by the Daily Monitor.
Clearly, Anite is not disclosing the whole truth.

editorial@ug.nationmedia.com

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