Dear Tingasiga; Rebecca Kadaga, the speaker of the Ugandan parliament, who has been engaged in a battle for political survival for several years, has inexplicably adopted an apparent kamikaze strategy whose results we can reasonably predict.
Prior to the last presidential elections, there were two names of ruling party politicians that were often mentioned as potential successors to President Museveni. One was Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, who had spent years quietly organising and mobilising support, especially within the ruling party and the structures of the government. Mbabazi came close to upsetting the cart until Museveni launched one of the most ruthless counter-offensives that settled the two men’s contest in 2016.
The other name was that of the Speaker, not as one who had a chance against the president but against other post-Museveni pretenders to the throne. With Mbabazi out of the way, the political watchers’ attention turned to Kadaga. It was not a misplaced focus, for she had a number of advantages.
First, her long tenure as Speaker had given her a major platform from which to build her political army for the inevitable fight that will follow Museveni’s exit. Second, her gender was an exploitable resource in a country where women were better organised and were easier to mobilise than men. Third, Uganda’s tribal politics of “it is our turn to eat” favoured her against the main contenders from her party and the opposition groups.
At first, Kadaga seemed to do well in exploiting these advantages. Instead of adopting the neutrality and reserved dignity of a traditional speaker of parliament, she became a combative spokesperson for the MPs and assumed a visibility that blurred the lines between her official job and that of a perpetual partisan campaigner.
She became a constant presence at all manner of events inside and outside the country. She used parliamentary patronage opportunities to entice MPs with taxpayer funded junkets abroad, officially to attend Diaspora meetings, but really tourism and shopping opportunities for the legislators.
She latched onto the popular anti-homosexuality sentiment, and successfully positioned herself as the champion of Uganda’s pushback against alleged attempts to impose foreign practices on Africans. She became the hero of the Anglican Church, whose support is important presidential aspirants.
Recognising the value in bemoaning the dominance of Banyankore, Bahororo and Bakiga in the political contests of the Museveni era, Kadaga played the tribal card without apology. Notwithstanding her position as a national leader, she openly warned “western politicians” to stop meddling in Busoga affairs.
In one memorable diatribe in 2015, she declared her home area of Busoga to be off limits to politicians from “other tribes.” Most of us understood which the unwelcome “other tribes” were.
Kadaga also understood that the populous Busoga region was of critical importance to Museveni’s efforts to get enough formal votes to legitimise his rule. To get whatever she wanted, she reportedly became a regular impromptu visitor to the State House, unwilling to suffer the indignity of formal appointments to see the president.
A recent example was when Kadaga, acting as a promoter of an untested substance, took the discoverers of “the cure for Covid-19” to get a presidential endorsement for their product.
However, like many before her, Kadaga seems to have underestimated Museveni’s capacity to scuttle the ambitions of anyone who appears to be remotely interested in power beyond that which only he is allowed to dispense. Not even her near-death political experience that the president allowed to play out in 2016, courtesy of Jacob Oulanyah’s push to replace her as Speaker, seems to have taught her that Museveni remains a guerilla fighter.
The president usually lets the enemy make multiple strategic mistakes while he encircles them. Once the enemy is isolated, Museveni goes in for the kill, administering the blows out of sight, often using the enemy’s “friends” to administer the kiss of death.
Enter the Supplementary Budget for Covid-19. Billions of shillings were requisitioned by the Executive. Kadaga saw an opportunity to get a little something for “her MPs,” Shs10b ($2.6 million) to be exact. The President smiled, probably well aware of the predictable negative reaction from the public.
When the matter went to court, Kadaga attacked the two MPs who sought legal intervention. When the High Court found in favour of the petitioners, she went native, dismissing Judiciary as interfering with Legislature and giving the Attorney General some tongue thrashing when the latter gave his opinion as the government’s chief legal adviser.
Then there was last week’s news conference in which she threatened to reveal the dirt surrounding the money that “her MPs” had approved for the Executive’s anti-Covid-19 efforts.
Kadaga inadvertently admitted that MPs had approved funds they either did not consider necessary or which they knew would be misused. It was a stunning admission of collusion or incompetence that probably brought smiles to the President’s inner circle.
Whether or not her attack on the Attorney General, the Executive, and the Judiciary was a bit of theatre for the consumption of “her MPs”, Kadaga may have tightened the noose around her political neck.
To be sure, by alienating the Judiciary and the public, Kadaga was fighting a war without guarding her rear. With Oulanyah’s eye firmly fixed on the Speaker’s chair, Museveni may now administer the last rights to Kadaga and let her head into political oblivion next year, with the help of “her MPs.”
However, all this assumes that Kadaga’s fight is about retaining her seat as Speaker. Could it be that she is interviewing for the vice-presidency instead?
By showing independence and popularity with her MPs, claiming to be the women’s hope for real power and by claiming supremacy in Busoga, she becomes an irritant, to be scratched off Museveni’s back through promotion to a powerless position.
So Kadaga may not be the hyperactive, impulsive and self-destructive politician she appears to be. She is certainly not a fool. She may well emerge from this theatre smiling as Her Excellency the Vice President. Museveni may emerge from the contest with a smile, having eased her out of power. It is too early to tell what Museveni and Kadaga are really up to.