The announcement by Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago that he has crossed from the Democratic Party (DP) to the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) has perhaps attracted as much condemnation as it has done praise.
Mr Lukwago has said he made the decision to join like-minded strugglers, which is not surprising given his long association with Dr Kizza Besigye, the founding president of FDC.
In the same vein, Mr Lukwago has mainly refused to be drawn into the reasons for his decision to quit DP, and when he has attempted to do so, he has only dwelt on Mr Norbert Mao’s leadership, which he disagrees with.
There are, however, other deep-seated factors that have soured the relationship between Mr Lukwago and the party to which he was inducted by Dr Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere, its former leader who Mr Lukwago has praised a lot this week.
When Mr Lukwago stepped up to claim the Lord Mayor position in 2011, he was not just setting up a faceoff with the ruling party.
In going for the city’s top leadership on the platform he had proclaimed, Mr Lukwago was declaring war against fellow members of the Democratic Party (DP) who had controlled affairs at City Hall for over a decade.
Under DP mayors John Ssebaana Kizito and Hajj Nasser Ntege Ssebaggala, Kampala City Council (KCC) had experienced runaway corruption, with public land, markets and other properties sold off in deals which were suspect.
In those days, the city had an executive mayor and the city Council took the important decisions on every major issue, including disposal of land and other properties.
So much abuse took place under the arrangement that the central government, which somehow couldn’t win back the mayoral seat through the vote, engineered a change to provide for what they called a largely ceremonial mayor, renamed Lord Mayor. The changes placed the administration of the city under the office of the President, with a chief technocrat called Executive Director leading the staff at City Hall.
Before the changeover from KCC to Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), there were claims that a number of youthful DP members became brokers in the underhand deals that took place at City Hall, the seat of the then KCC.
Civil servants were also accused of involvement in immense corruption with Ms Jennifer Musisi, the first executive director of Kampala appointed in 2010, having almost absolute authority to shuffle things at City Hall.
Mr Lukwago, who had served as Member of Parliament for Kampala Central Division for one term, between 2006 and 2011, dared to claim that City Hall stunk and needed to be cleaned up. “Nzize kugogola Kampala (I’ve come to clean up Kampala),” Mr Lukwago’s campaign slogan screamed. The clean-up that he sought to do, he repeatedly explained, was to rid Kampala of corruption.
To many DP members who had profiteered from the bonanza at City Hall over the years that had gone by, Mr Lukwago was a self-righteous saboteur who left a sour taste in their mouths. Even as MP for Kampala Central Division, Mr Lukwago had distinguished himself as an enemy of some players in DP by opposing the sale of city markets to businessman Hassan Basajjabalaba, who is a member of the ruling NRM party.
Mr Lukwago would further complicate his relationship with some members of his party who took it over in 2010 by refusing to attend the delegates conference in Mbale, during which Mr Mao was elected president of DP.
Mr Lukwago, like a number of fellow DP members then, argued that the party was too divided and unprepared for a delegates conference and needed to first work on healing before going to Mbale.
He backed a process led by party elders Ssemogerere, Prof Frederick Ssempebwa and others to foster what they called reconciliation within the party before the delegates conference would take place.
Emmanuel Cardinal Wamala, then the head of the Catholic Church in Uganda, was also drawn into the botched talks.
In fact, the talks to delay the delegates conference seemed to be succeeding, and a document was signed in the presence of the Cardinal, but the late Ssebaana, who was party president at the time, was persuaded by the youthful players who were said to have captured him to go back on his word and okay the trip to Mbale at the eleventh hour.
Mbale would turn out to be a place of farther fracturing, not unity for the party. Hajj Ssebaggala and Mr Mao were both hopeful for victory, but the influential youthful players within the party tilted the balance by moving to back Mr Mao.
Hajj Ssebaggala lost and declared that he had left the party, forming another which he named the Liberal Democratic Transparency Party (LDTP).
He alleged that there had been massive rigging in Mr Mao’s favour, with a number of people who were taken to Mbale to vote drawn from places such as Kisekka Market in Kampala instead of having been elected by the party’s grassroots.
In this case, Hajj Ssebaggala was going back to a charge that had been powerfully made before the delegates conference, that there had not been sufficient preparation by way of holding grassroots elections. This charge would gain more currency at every turn during Mr Mao’s decade-long (and still counting) hold on the party.
In the lead up to the 2016 elections, for instance, Mr Mao fell seriously ill and even had to be flown out of the country for treatment. He was recuperating as preparations for the elections peaked. Having run for president in 2011 and come a distant third, Mr Mao was not enthusiastic about running again, and in fact it would later emerge that he was not even on the voter register for that round of elections.
Mr Mao proposed a change in the constitution of DP which would allow Mr Lukwago to run for president on the party’s ticket while Mr Mao remained party president. That was the main proposal that was presented to Mr Lukwago during a series of meetings that the duo had with a number of DP members, several sources say.
Mr Lukwago, he would later tell confidants, did not consider that 2016 would be right timing for him to run for president, and he eventually declined the offer. Mr Mao would let off a tirade against him, likening Mr Lukwago’s head to that of lung fish.
Mr Lukwago did not respond, and he again skipped the party’s delegates conference at Katomi Kingdom Hotel on the shores of Lake Victoria, on the Kampala-Entebbe road.
Mr Lukwago proceeded to run again for the Lord Mayor as an Independent, just like he had done in 2011. He was elected Lord Mayor in a repeat election after the first one was cancelled when ballots pre-ticked in favour of the NRM candidate, Mr Peter Ssematimba, were intercepted by Mr Lukwago’s agents.
Whereas Mr Lukwago did not attend the Katomi delegates conference, a number of his allies, including Mukono Municipality MP Betty Nambooze and Busiro East MP Medard Sseggona, attended and were even voted into leadership positions within the party.
Ms Nambooze became the party’s vice president for Buganda region, but their relationship with Mr Mao would soon deteriorate and they decamped, only remaining DP members in name.
If Mr Lukwago had looked to use the experiment that his colleagues were undertaking to consider whether he would get back into the party, it does not seem to have gone well.
Mr Mao often lampoons their group as tribal, looking to evict him from the leadership of the party because he is not a Muganda.
They, on the other hand, accuse him of failing to democratise the party, for which reason none of them fancies their chances against Mr Mao in an internal election.
Betrayed by DP members?
For all the past decade, Mr Lukwago has mainly steered clear of happenings within DP, often not responding to jibes that Mr Mao throws at him and also ignoring calls to return to the party.
But even after he stayed away from DP, he did not join FDC, the party with which he was always associated, at least through its founding leader Dr Besigye.
A number of Mr Lukwago’s confidants say that he felt secure playing his politics the way he did, outside a formal party arrangement, as he relied on pressure groups to further his interests.
In 2016, Mr Lukwago founded a pressure group that he named Truth and Justice (TJ) supposedly to fight for reforms within DP, but in reality it worked more as an election platform, bringing together people like the comedian Kato Lubwama, who would evict Mr Ken Lukyamuzi from Lubaga South, and Kawempe North MP Latif Ssebaggala. TJ, however, seemed to let Mr Mao run his business in DP without interference.
Through his activism, Mr Lukwago had endeared himself to the common man, on whose side he always bent. During his first term as Lord Mayor, for instance, Mr Lukwago spent a lot of time fighting against the activities of Ms Musisi, saying he was fighting for the common man.
In light of what was happening, this newspaper published an article entitle ‘How Lukwago became the opposition leader of his government’.
Mr Lukwago’s alliance with the majority voters can best be illustrated by his comeback after his controversial impeachment in November 2013.
The majority of the councillors that were elected to the KCCA council in 2011 were DP, and Mr Lukwago, elected as an independent, had no choice but to work with them.
In the debilitating war that followed between Mr Lukwago on the one hand and Ms Musisi and the central government on the other, majority of the DP members bent to the side of the ruling party and eventually voted to impeach the Lord Mayor.
The vote was taken after the High Court had issued an injunction stopping it, but Mr Lukwago was not allowed back into office until the end of his term in 2016 even when the courts ruled that the impeachment was illegal.
Mr Lukwago would complain about the ‘betrayal’ by the DP councillors, and when he was re-elected in 2016, most of the councillors that had voted to impeach him were not returned. The current council is dominated by FDC members, who campaigned in concert with Mr Lukwago. After he was sworn in, Mr Lukwago said he would not be betrayed by the FDC members like the previous council had done.
At no point during this term has Mr Lukwago looked like losing grip at City Hall like it were last term. But one key thing has happened; his former deputy, Ms Sarah Kanyike, was this week approved as State minister for Disability and the Elderly, joining the central government.
Ms Kanyike was Mr Lukwago’s personal assistant as Lord mayor in the first term, and Mr Lukwago expressed sadness at her decision to leave the deputy lord mayor position and take up an appointment from President Museveni.
Before Ms Kanyike, there was Mr Sulaiman Kidandala, the man Mr Lukwago named deputy lord mayor in 2011.
Mr Kidandala endured a hard time, with his recognition as deputy lord mayor running into trouble as the war ensued at KCCA.
Mr Kidandala, as a result, went unpaid as deputy lord mayor for almost the entire term. In audio recordings that were leaked in the run up to the 2016 elections, Mr Kidandala was one of the people who were heard involved in compromising conversations with former police boss Gen Kale Kayihura.
Whenever Mr Lukwago suffered such ‘betrayal’, he would blame it on the leadership in DP and ‘a bad culture’ that he says has been created in DP for a long time.
Talking of the ‘bad culture’, many speak about individuals they call the ‘Johnson Street boys’. Johnson Street in Kampala, near the Pioneer Mall, is where the offices of the Uganda Youth Democrats (UYD) were located for many years.
A number of youth, educated and uneducated, would converge at the offices every morning to do politics. Many of them, even professionals, did not pursue their professions.
As the years gone by, with personal needs mounting, many of them fell prey to the state machinery, which recruited them to do a number of things while others crossed to the ruling party.
Mr Lukwago, on the other hand, pursued the legal profession, forming a law firm that took on a number of pro bono cases but also made some money. The firm still exists.
Insiders say that many within DP, especially those who did not have regular jobs and businesses and relied entirely on politics, accused Mr Lukwago of taking a puritanical stance and castigating not only the ruling party but also his fellow DP members over corruption. This won him a lot of enemies within the party.
Mr Lukwago’s confidants say he in the past weighed up a shot at the presidency of DP and ruled it out, saying the party was irredeemable. He thinks Mr Mao is trapped as leader of DP because he cannot do much to reform it.
When we asked Mr Mao why he has bitterly attacked Mr Lukwago after the latter declared that he had left the party, Mr Mao said: “Was Lucifer an angel? Yes. When Lucifer was still loyal, he was a trusted angel. When he rebelled, he became Satan! He remains an angel but a fallen one!”