‘Museveni can’t stand for president over age limit’

Benjamin Alipanga, the petitioner that challenged President Museveni’s NRM sole candidature bid.

What you need to know:

Running to court. Benjamin Alipanga stirred the water when he sued the National Resistance Movement (NRM) and asked court to block the appointment of the party’s new team at the secretariat. He challenged the Kyankwanzi sole candidature resolution and last week, asked court to block President Museveni from standing on account of age limit set by the Constitution. He spoke to Ivan Okuda about his support for former prime minister Amama Mbabazi and a wide range of issues

You are the man in the news now thanks to the two petitions you filed against the NRM and the party’s senior officials. What do you make of the events in your party?
You know the story of what happened in Kyankwanzi but the major point is the Kyankwanzi resolution where NRM MPs resolved to support president Museveni as a sole candidate which marked a turning point for the party.
It was such a critical decision that showed the party had deviated from the ideals it stands for.
If you read the NRM Ten-point programme, democracy is one of them but the gains achieved are being lost very fast.

What drove you to the courts of law; what was your motivation?
What I have done is something that should have been done by any member of the party. Anyone should have taken action to prevent what happened from happening. Somebody who loves the party had to come out.
Surely, someone who cherishes democracy in the true sense of the word had to stand up and be counted.
And not that I stand to gain, it is the party and people of Uganda who stand to gain from this process. I am only a member of NRM trying to remind the party of the right direction.

You lost round one when you moved to the constitutional court seeking to grant you an injunction stopping the NRM from appointing new office bearers. Justice Steven Kavuma quashed your application. Were you disappointed?
Of course, naturally when you want something and know it is right, you will be let down.
I expected the judge to agree with me but he was not satisfied. So yes, I was disappointed but we respected his judgment and that is why we humbly appealed.

Mr Mbabazi is the subject of your petition…
Let me cut you short, the petition addresses real issues; Mbabazi was a casualty of misdeeds in the party.
Even if it was someone else, even if it was Museveni by the way, who was mistreated like that, I would have come out.
Mr Mbabazi only happens to be the [former] secretary general and the petition is directly linked to him but you cannot say he is the subject of the petition.

You and I know that he is the one who was disgruntled. I have talked to Amelia Kyambadde and she says she is contented with the changes made….
Has he told you he is disgruntled?

Well his actions could never be far from those of a disgruntled man. In the last CEC [Central Executive Committee] meeting he stood up and told the party chairman he would seek legal redress. And here you are!
(Thinks for a while) But humanly speaking, even if it was you Mr Okuda, you are elected by people and one group just conspires one day to throw you out of office. What would you do? Let us look at this from a basic human point of view. Tell me what you would do.

Have you met Mr Mbabazi?
Oh yes, several times in different capacities, including at social events. I played a role in his election as secretary general by mobilising people to vote him. He knows me well and I know him well. I fully support him.

Would it be fair to say you are his proxy?
That cannot be true. I feel a duty as a citizen and member of the NRM party to take action when my party is doing something wrong.

When did you last talk to and meet him?
Recently, even this week, I met him. It was not about the petition but we talked.

What does he tell you? Does he back your petition, for instance?
It is better to ask him. If I say he supports it you will say that is his position, if I say he doesn’t, you will say that is his position. He is a very approachable man, talk to him. But he has no problem with the petition.

Has he told you he is standing for president of Uganda?
He has not told me but I am urging him to stand and save the country from a crisis because I believe he can do well much as he has not said he is contesting. He told me he is thinking about it.

Does this thinking about it have a time frame?
He has not told me but even then, I know he is a principled and law abiding citizen. Why would he announce now even before the Electoral Commission releases its time table?
Why would he announce before the official time as stipulated in the law? Nomination time has not even started yet. He says the right time will come. He is waiting for the Electoral Commission to set the ball in motion.

You are represented by four law firms of fair standing. Who is footing the legal bills?
By virtue of the fact that they have accepted to represent me, they are sure of my ability to pay. I am paying the bills myself.

But the last time I met you, when you filed the first petition, you said well-wishers would foot the bills…
Did I say that? May be you misquoted me. I am footing the bills myself. I am not a poor man by the way. In fact, just for your information, I am not represented by four firms only.
I have a team of over 50 lawyers; nine from the United States and six from the United Kingdom, one of whom has the prestigious title of QC (Queen ’s Counsel) who left the country a few days ago. In fact, you should expect more legal arsenal. And yes, I am paying the bills.
I cannot estimate how much I will spend because the legal process is long and unpredictable.

Is Mbabazi contributing to this bill you cannot estimate now?
I don’t mind him intervening as a Good Samaritan though he has not yet offered to help and I have not asked him.
Anybody else can come in and join this effort, even you, though I have money to pay my bills. Have you heard the lawyers complain? I am comfortable.

How does Hope Mwesigye, a sister-in-law to Mbabazi come in to swear an affidavit supporting your petition? That seems to give credence to talk that this case is Amama and not Alipanga. You are a mere pawn in a complex chess game.
You see her affidavit is hinged on what transpired at the December delegates’ conference in Namboole.
She is a member of the delegates’ conference and she was brought in to give an eye witness account of what happened so that no one says I am telling lies. She is an advocate of the High Court and an adult of sound mind, she doesn’t have to be working for the brother-in-law.

Have you been intimidated?
Officially, I have not but some people purporting to be from State House were talking of things like money.
They did not put a figure but were saying I should drop the cases and they clear me. In fact, they even offered to pay for my stay abroad if I left the country.

Do you fear for your life?
So far I have received no threats but the policy of assassination is not the NRM government’s style of work and President Museveni has been here all these years, I don’t think he can do that or even condone it. But even then, I am not doing anything criminal. If anyone wanted to hurt a man like me or my family, then it would be unfortunate.

What is this debate on the age limit you are starting in your second petition?
My point is that the president is not capable to offer himself as a candidate because of the age limit.
When the constitution sets out the age limit, it is not about the number but capability beyond the number 75, which is the upper limit. That is the question I want the courts to interpret.

You are saying Mr Museveni is too old to lead Uganda?
Precisely. That is the point.

Do you in your heart of hearts believe the courts can hear this petition and dispose of it?
That is why I have gone to them to guide me and the nation.
Those MPs are not acting in their real right as MPs but as members of the NRM, I am also a member of the NRM but if I wanted to meet the top leadership and address them on my grievances over their actions I doubt I would get access. The country must be given back to us.

Do we see Alipanga seeking political office any time soon?
At times people are asked to offer themselves for leadership. I feel I can make a difference when inside the field than out. I am seriously thinking of going to Parliament.
I have heard some people are campaigning in my district of Zombo.
You can tell them to give way because it is time for serious people to lead. I am therefore officially announcing through your esteemed newspaper that I am contesting for MP seat for Okoro County.

Are you using this court process as your launch pad?
No. My interest in politics has been long-term and this case came up recently. You see I believe Mbabazi is one person who can save this nation from a crisis. He has experience and knowledge.

What does he stand for?
He stands for truth, democracy, rule of law and rights of the people.
Some people have shot that down and argued that his tenure in government contradicts those ideals. That he is an architect of many things that go against what you claim he stands for.
He was not the supreme leader, I don’t know if you have worked in a group before. You know a thing or two about collective action and responsibility.
There are things those ministers don’t support and clearly disagree with but collective responsibility binds them.

But collective responsibility is not defence. That is why Dominic Ongwen is on trial. He cannot say he was working on Joseph Kony’s orders or as part of LRA. He has to answer for his alleged sins alone…
Anyway, Mbabazi did whatever he did because he was part of government.

Some people find Mbabazi arrogant. How do you relate with him?
I don’t know how they define arrogance but I know he is firm and principled and not swayed by the crowds when doing the right thing. May be that is what they call arrogance.

Up-close with Alipanga
Benjamin Alipanga walks with the gait of a priest strolling down a corridor in a cathedral in Rome. His laughter is soft and pristine and the face is plastered with a smile that only whispers innocence. Humility can as well be his middle name. At first sight, he cuts the pose of a man who will not hurt a fly. But that would only be to judge this book by its cover.

You have to read the case Benjamin Alipanga Vs NRM, Justine Kasule Lumumba and others. Therein lies the resolve of a man pulling the political bull by its horns, walking where the angels have dared not step.

And the latest which is a revised version of the first petition, this time with more eye brow raising prayers to the constitutional court including blocking President Museveni from standing for president because he will clock 75 years while in office and will be physically incapacitated. That is cud for the courts to chew.

Alipanga’s deceased father was a staunch Democratic Party member while his mother is apolitical.
He went to a seminary and would otherwise be in the pulpit preaching the word of God and not burning the midnight candle over politics. So what shapes his interest in the political arena?

He says, “The first party I ever got to know is the NRM. In 1996, I campaigned for President Museveni as a young man and when I joined the National Youth Council, that was after the time of the Constituent Assembly, representing Nebbi District, my interest for politics grew even stronger despite going to the seminary.

I love people and even love more to make a positive difference in their lives.

That is why I am going to court to challenge the misdeeds of my party that directly affected some people.”

Benjamin Alipanga, petitioner
Born. February 14, 1968, in Zombo District.
Education. : Apostles of Jesus Seminary Moroto for Ordinary and Advanced Level (1983-1990).
Apostles of Jesus School of Theology (Kenya).
Bachelor of Arts in Theology (programme not completed) in 1993.
Institute of Teacher Education Kyambogo-Diploma in Education (1996).
Makerere University –BA Social Sciences (2002) and Masters of Science in Clinical Psychology.
Ghent University – Pursing PhD in Psychology and Educational Sciences.
Employment. Alipanga currently lectures at St Mary’s University, Juba. Before Juba, he taught at Gulu University and worked with a number of local and international non-government organisations.


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