KAMPALA- Denis Namara, Adam Luzindana, Omodo Omodo, Moses Kiwanuka, Ibrahim Kitata and David Kabanda were all but just mere NRM youth wing members until after the ritual Kyankwanzi ruling party retreat in February.
Save for youth MPs Evelyn Anite (Northern) and Peter Egwang (Eastern), many of the youth had barely made mentions in the media until the Kyankwanzi resolution that gave President Museveni the green light to stand as the party’s sole candidate in the 2016 polls, was reached.
However, immediately after the resolution, the party youth league leadership went into over drive, splitting into two, some supporting Museveni and others saying Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi should be on the ballot paper come 2016; a thing which was later interpreted by some party organs as “drawing a wedge” between the party chairperson, Museveni, and his secretary general Mbabazi.
However, following a series of dramatic incidents, which included the arrest of youth deemed pro-Mbabazi over accountability issues, the rival NRM youth factions mid this month met President Museveni for more than two hours at State House Entebbe, and their national chairperson Denis Namara told a hastily arranged press conference that they had reconciled.
“We want to remove the propaganda that the NRM Youth League does not support Mr Museveni. The youth league supports him as the supreme leader, revolutionary President and sole party President come 2016,” said Mr Namara.
The fighting among the youthful ruling party cadres could have been tamed, but what does this say about party politics in Uganda and particularly the NRM party?
Although the “smoke” is more in the NRM kitchen, political commentators say the happenings in the party not only point to the disorganisation and lack of proper mentorship in the party but also a “perfect” representation of the after effects of the unemployment problem in the country.
Makerere University political science Associate professor Makara Sabiiti says the NRM has not got any serious programme for its youth and this has started haunting the party.
“They (NRM leadership) have taken them [youth] for granted- for some time now- that they can only mobilise them when it’s time for voting to look for votes,” Sabiiti says.
“I think now that there’s some disgruntlement there may be a programme for them. There is need for the party to reorganise the youth in terms of development and political organization,” he adds.
Parliament and political governance researcher and consultant, Hippo Twebaze, a one time researcher for the NRM secretariat, opines that the current conflict tells you more about the leadership of the party and how it is disorganised and not directed.
“The failure to create cohesion will return to haunt the party in the future if the current situation is just managed and not solved. It shows the gap between the youth and the party leadership. They are not guided about the ideology of the party and its foundation and this tells you that NRM as a political party is weakening,” Twebaze says.
In many political parties across Africa, the youth league is used as a party branch to nurture future leaders. In the Africa National Congress in South Africa, for instance, leaders like Thabo Mbeki and Julius Malema (now of Economic Freedom Fighters) became active in the youth wing before taking centre stage in national politics.
The NRM deputy spokesperson and Uganda Media Centre Executive Director, Mr Ofwono Opondo, says the lack of robust party structures and party institutions has made the youth less focused and only trumpeters for those in leadership.
Therefore, he says, the NRM youth infightings are not based on ideology but a quest for favours from party leaders; the reason, he says, the NRM youths are “trying to outdo each other on who supports the President more than the other.”
“Since the advent of multi-partism [in 2005], the parties have failed to build strong structures, we are still operating on individual merit so you either have the money - which the youth do not have - or you give your allegiance to a political leader and that is what the youth are doing,” Opondo says.
He further argues that this lack of party structures and institutions has begot the spirit of god-fatherhood where party members run to government leaders instead of the party secretariat when they are in trouble.
“After elections, everyone wants to be in government instead of working at the party secretariat to strengthen the party. An MP who loses a seat wants to be a presidential advisor instead of remaining at the secretariat.
If we had strong structures, these NRM youths wouldn’t be running to the President and other government leaders but to the party leadership,” Opondo adds.
Unemployment and poor funding for agriculture
Mr Moses Kiwanuka, the NRM party youth chairman for eastern Uganda, says beyond politics, the NRM youth equally feel the unemployment pinch.
“No youth is born in the Opposition or in the ruling party.
When the youth are not employed, they create problems for government. It is because of that that President Museveni agreed to put up a fund for agriculture so that the youth who want farming can borrow money to help them kick start,” Kiwanuka says.
According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, only 30 per cent of the youth are employed in Uganda.
Former Leader of Opposition in Parliament Ogenga Latigo says in “normal political organisation”, the youth should not play the role they are playing now (political activism). But because of the hard economic situation created by the political leaders, the youth now want to be in charge.
“I don’t think most of them have the maturity and expertise but the situation has been brought about by the approach used to address economic development. We (political leaders) focus on economic figures instead of building economic opportunities across the board,” he said.
Prof Latigo adds: “In Tanzania, there’s no youth agitation to gain leadership because they are allowed to play national roles through national services arrangements and because of the frequent changes in leadership they know they can easily occupy any political office they want if they perform well.”
Prof Latigo adds that the squabbles among the youth “is a symptom of a larger problem in political parties. There is youth unrest in the country”.
As a short term measure, he says, government should liberalise politics because when you do, the youth then have opportunities.
For the long term, Latigo says, government needs to increase money in agriculture so that they youth can remain engaged, an argument Prof Makara agrees with.
“The youth are abandoning agriculture because it doesn’t make profit and that is because government has not given it attention and enough funding. This disgruntlement in NRM is a wake-up call for all the parties to attend to the issues of the youth before the bubble bursts,” Prof Makara says.
The Namaras, Ruzindanas, and Omodo Omodos could have kept quiet now, but the picture they paint could be a mirror of what youth across the country are – thirsty for income generating activities, and jobs not merely political power and handouts.