Is NRM winking in the dark?

Sunday January 20 2013

NRM MPs dance at the end of their retreat in Kyankwanzi . PHOTO STEPHEN WANDERA

NRM MPs dance at the end of their retreat in Kyankwanzi . PHOTO STEPHEN WANDERA 

By Yasiin Mugerwa

A bit of throat-clearing to begin with: One of the “rebels” in Parliament last week invoked one of the best known stories in the Gospel to explain the current political storm in the ruling party. His story goes like this: And suddenly a gale arose on the Sea of Galilee, so great that the boat was being swamped by the dangerous waves; but the captain was asleep. Then his followers awoke him, yelling, “Captain, save us! We are perishing!” Eventually, the captain arose in the middle of the storm and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm.

In addressing President Museveni, the party chairman, whom he accused of harassing party members who criticise his government, Mr Godfrey Kiwanda (Mityana North) used the Gospel of Jesus as it was told in Mark 4: 35-41 and Mathew 14:22-33 to call for a cease-fire in the handling of the political storm in the party. Unfortunately, it seems those who went to Kyankwanzi for “renewal” either misunderstood Mr Kiwanda’s views or simply chose to pour scorn on him for political reasons. I am told the Caucus wants Mr Kiwanda and Mukono Municipality MP Betty Nambooze removed from the Buganda grouping.

Well, by endorsing the disciplinary measures against the five outspoken legislators, the NRM party is trying to treat symptoms of more serious problems within the party. The “indiscipline” is just the body’s effort to get our attention, telling us that it needs help to correct underlying conditions of imbalance, which, if left to continue, will develop into severe conditions. The question is, what have we been doing wrong that is causing the “body” to complain? The symptom is not the problem; it is our friend.

First, for speaking out on the government’s failures, particularly in the area of service delivery, NRM MPs Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga), Muhammad Nsereko (Kampala Central), Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East), Barnabas Tinkasiimire (Buyaga West) and Vincent Kyamadidi (Rwampara) cannot be called saboteurs. The party leadership has a duty to highlight the need for reconciliation, and putting in place practical and responsive mechanisms for addressing the causes of “indiscipline” among some Members of Parliament, will make sense.

The impudence in Parliament is not an isolated political episode. These “rebels” are the manifestation of lack of collectivity, public trust and confidence in the handling of public affairs. This is why the Kyankwanzi retreat should have focused on how to improve the service delivery. There is need for the party to rethink its politics. I doubt whether the “bad boys” speak for themselves. These MPs speak for millions of Ugandans, who are stuck in abject poverty and those struggling to put food on the table because of the unhindered theft in government.
Last October, Gen. David Sejusa penned a public letter to the Daily Monitor, warning against the “creeping lawlessness, impunity, primitive arrogance and insensitive behaviour” among “some actors who manage the affairs of the State”.

All these are serious issues, which must be discussed in a candid retreat. It’s okay to punish the “bad boys” but when you look at the bigger picture, this line of thinking fails the reconciliation test.

Secondly, for criticising President Museveni, and going against the “party positions” in Parliament, the outspoken MPs have been labelled “bad boys”. But if we may pose a question here, is there anything like party line? I am not talking about the bush war ideals — the Ten-Point Programme - the discussion is about the undocumented ideology the President normally talks about. The NRM leadership should stop being ambiguous on the principles the core the NRM party stands for. There is a clear distinction between individual visions and the ideals of a political party.
Isolation as an option

If the party opts for isolation, dismissing the “bad boys” is unlikely to impart the kind of discipline we see in Tanzania’s Chama Cha Mapinduzi (Party of the Revolution), South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Dominant political parties have internal weaknesses, but in trying to inculcate discipline among cadres, they only reprimand “rebels” in breach of specific principles. The CCP runs the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, which is separate from ordinary Chinese law enforcement and courts.

This is so powerful that it is feared by crooked cadres. This arrangement has resulted in successful investigation and prosecution of a number of corrupt cadres, including some very powerful party officials.

It was wrong for the Kyankwanzi retreat to focus on gagging outspoken members at the price of the endemic challenges the country is facing today. My understanding of a caucus retreat of a governing party is that it should not just be seen trying to act, but it should be a viable think-tank for the nation. Every time the NRM goes to Kyankwanzi for a retreat, they are fire-fighting. Last October, it was about an economy in a shamble. While the growth is not felt in peoples’ pockets as a result of the rampant corruption, statistically, the double-digit inflation has since reduced to a single digit.

House on fire
This time, the House is on fire. But in trying to put out the fire, the NRM leaders forget that it is challenging for belching people to talk to politicians about discipline when their voters are yawning. It’s also difficult to tell people to toe a none-existent party line; to exercise faith in time of political uncertainty, and about their real safety in apparent peril; but it is another, and a far better thing for the NRM leader to be clear on the ideals of the party. The absence of consensus values in the NRM has created confusion in the governance structures, fusing the State and the party. The result is the endless rumbling between the Executive and Parliament, stifling service delivery in the process.

The funny politics we see today has created suspicion from some members that the arrest of critical members could be linked to party discipline and not about Cerinah Nebanda’s death. For instance, why should the Cabinet discuss party discipline?

This is not right. We will get time and deal with Speaker Rebecca Kadaga’s antics in the handling of the petitition to recall the House and President Museveni’s “timid” ministers.
For now, the party code of conduct and the unflinching NRM rules of procedure must be linked to the party ideals, otherwise, the way things are, in trying to demonise the “bad boys”, the NRM party seems to be winking in the dark.