During a meeting of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) on January 27, 2007, Party Chairman Yoweri Museveni conceded that raising money for the party’s activities was proving hard.
Five years later, he embarked on fundraising dinners to do the trick. Three dinners later, one in July 2012 and two in June 2015, the party had raked in Shs20b in cash and pledges to construct the Movement House, a 27-storey structure, each representing one of the 27 men who are said to have started the five-year guerilla war that led him to power in 1986.
The building was planned to provide office space for the NRM and have conference facilities, a shopping complex, roof garden and theatres, from which the party was expected to get income.
“When we have that building, we shall stop renting and will also rent out some space, which will bring monthly income to the party,” the party’s Treasurer, Ms Rose Namayanja, said in 2015.
Following the last two dinners, Ms Namayanja said the groundbreaking was meant to take place in July 2015.
“In one month, we shall break ground and construction will start immediately. That is our priority. We want to build a strong sustainable financial base for the party,” she said.
With at least two thirds of the required Shs30b already in the kitty, one would have expected the party to have kick started the construction work. Nothing has been done thus far.
“Things came up”
Mr Richard Todwong, the party’s deputy secretary general, says that a lot is going on behind the scenes. He says that a special committee was tasked with both raising funds and identifying a contractor, but that different ideas had come up, which might be the cause of the delay in commencement of the work.
“There have been suggestions that the party puts up a purely commercial building on the plot in town and constructs its headquarters elsewhere. That would warrant a change in designs. A decision is however yet to be made,” Mr Todwong says.
Despite what Mr Todwong says, however, an April 29 communication from Mr Museveni to the Chairman of the Kwagalana Group, a platform that brings together some of Kampala’s top business personalities who have been the leading contributors at the dinners, indicates that priorities have shifted to increasing the party’s numbers in parliament and holding onto power in the next general elections.
“Having won the General and Local Government elections in 2016, we still face by-elections in different areas and also elections for new electoral areas such as the new Rubanda and Rukiga districts. All this needs money. We need to also build up funds for the future general elections. Therefore your contribution towards this cause is most welcome if you are able,” Mr Museveni wrote to the group.
Is it intentional?
Now there is a school of thought that avers that the change of priorities, which seems has literary confined earlier plans to make the party economically independent to the back seat. One of the proponents of that school of thought is Mr Crispy Kaheru, the Coordinator of the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy (CCEDU). He argues that the march towards economic independence is being deliberately slowed down by Mr Museveni.
“He has engaged the ‘slow-drive’ gear with regard to institutionalising the party (NRM). Naturally, once the party is fully institutionalised, he will lose his degree of control over it,” Mr Kaheru says.
In December 2015 during campaigns ahead of the February 2016 general elections, it emerged that while NRM leaders holding government jobs had been contributing 20 percent of their monthly salaries to the party, and each of the 259 NRM MPs contributing Shs150,750 per month, Mr Museveni remained the single biggest fundraiser.
“One hundred per cent of our money comes from local business people and we use quiet methods of asking supporters to contribute money or material like T-shirts, posters, etc. Museveni has a list of key people who raise money for the party,” the party’s Deputy Spokesperson, Mr Ofwono Opondo told sections of the local media back then.
He said Mr Museveni sometimes either instructs others on how to raise the funds or writes to possible funders.
Now Mr Kaheru argues that the power that comes with the position of Chief fundraiser who also has a say in how resources might be whittled away once there is a measure of economic independence.
“He has to make careful choices; and the end result is — he would rather remain in his vantage position where he is more or less the sole giver/lender/funder/donor of the party,” Mr Kaheru says.
The President of the Democratic Party (DP), Mr Norbert Mao, weighs in saying that it has never been in Mr Museveni’s interest to let the NRM grow.
“I don’t think Museveni would like to see an institutionally strong party. They has stifled internal debate. The NRM is Museveni and Museveni is the NRM. The decisions of Museveni are those of the NRM. He therefore cannot let it grow on its own,” Mr Mao’s argues.
In defence of Museveni
However, Mr Todwong is quick to dismiss talk of a deliberate effort to slow down the party’s growth.
“That (Mr Museveni is afraid that he will lose power over the party) is not true. There is a lot of goodwill on the part of the Chairman and the leadership. There is total commitment on the part of the Chairman,” Mr Todwong says.
It would however look like this seeming phobia for institutionalised parties actually dates back to the days before Mr Museveni took power.
Mr Mao, however, argues that it is only now that Mr Museveni’s phobia for institutionalised parties is being manifested closer to home, but that it dates back to January 1986 when Mr Museveni was sworn as President.
With legal notice Number 1 of 1986, the NRM was able to suspend several provisions of the constitution including that on multiparty activity. The notice also barred anyone from suing government for any act or even offense committed during the operations and circumstance that precipitated the proclamation of the legal notice.
The formation of a broad based government in which members of key political organisations were appointed to cabinet under an informal working relations and the August 11, 1992 decision by the National Resistance Council to impose legal restrictions on political parties were part of what is fast proving to have been a well-choreographed moves.
That was followed by the promulgation of the 1995 constitution which through Article 269 which confined activities of political parties to their headquarters, barring them from opening grassroots branches, recruitment of new members and holding of fundraising activities.
Even now, more than 20 years since Uganda returned to the practice of multiparty democracy there is still selective application of the law, especially in implementation of the Public Order Management Act (POMA), with the police often impeding members of political parties like the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) and DP from carrying out planned political activities.
According to the Spokesperson of the UPC James Akena faction, Mr Michael Orach Osinde, the police has not been very enthusiastic in stopping their activities because of their decision to work with the NRM.
“The environment does not favour raising money, but because of our strategy of engaging in dialogue as opposed to defiance, when we arrange our activities the Police does not interfere,” he says.
These legal pitfalls and challenges, according to Mr Kaheru, are impeding growth of the parties and hindering their capacity to raise funds from the populace. They are also scaring the public into shunning contribution to their parties.
On the other parties
In the circumstances, it is not surprising that only one, FDC, out of the six major political parties including the NRM owns its party headquarters. DP and CP are operating out of rented premises on City and Raja Chambers.
According to Mr Mao, DP’s plans of constructing an office block along Kabaka Anjagala Road in Rubaga Division, but work on the structure, a five storey building that that is to be named after one of the Party’s heroes, Bendicto Kiwanuka, is being held back by among other things a boundary dispute with one of the party’s neighbours, Mr Hussein Zake Mukasa, who runs Mengo Park yard. Here again though, sections of the party see the interfering arm of the NRM.
“We have suspicions about the conduct of our neighbor. We are investigating. If indeed he was being influenced by NRM operatives he has realized that DP has quite a following in Kampala and that the NRM will not be here forever,” Mr Mao says.
On its part UPC is locked up in a legal dispute with the Milton Obote Foundation (MOF) over the ownership of UPC. UPC filed a case, Civil Suit number 282 of 2018 in which it is seeking to compel court to throw MOF out of Ugandan House so that it takes full charge of the same.
Mr Kaheru, says that parties must work hard to extricate themselves from this situation, but first they have to deal with the contradictions surrounding the implementation of the POMA.
“Political parties need to strongly advocate for the review, amendment and nonselective application of laws such as the POMA, which are often used to curtail their efforts to organise for, among other purposes, fundraising,” he says
Matters are not being helped by the fact that what should have been public funds meant for all political parties is in the hands of the NRM, with which they are competing for power.
The Political Parties and Organisation’s Act 2005 was amended in 2010 to provide for public funding of political parties. It would appear that government only makes the funds available when it is convenient for it to do so. Sometimes it is inadequate. Funding only began in the financial year 2014/2015. In the financial year 2017/2018 only Shs7.5b out of the Shs10b that had been required was made available.
This financial year it gets even trickier because the parties will not be getting any funds. In January, the Secretary to the Electoral Commission, Mr Sam Rwakojo, told the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament that the parties were not provided for in the budget for the financial year 2018/2019.
At the same time, the criteria of distribution of the money which is based on the number of MPs that a party has in parliament and not the amount of support that a party commands in a direct vote for say a presidential candidate of a party means that the NRM takes a lion’s share of the money.
“The formula was discussed and passed by parliament. It can only change when parliament brings in a new law,” he says.
Mr Mao believes that all these obstacles are meant to frustrate the opposition which Mr Museveni has often referred to as “useless”.
“DP has withstood many pressures since it was founded, but it has prevailed. Longevity depends on how many true believers you have. NRM doesn’t have many true believers. It is just a banquet hall. When the food is finished people will leave,” he says.
The NRM, Mr Todwong says, is not responsible for what is perceived as an attempt to keep the opposition in a perpetual state of weakness.
“If I am to be selfish a weak opposition would be good, but it wouldn’t love to have a weak opposition. It wouldn’t be able to keep us in check in terms of policies and performance in delivery of our promises to the people,” he says
Just how useful would a weak opposition be in checking the NRM? It is hard to tell.