Two years ago, Kawempe North Member of Parliament (MP) Latif Sebaggala Sengendo audaciously said he would vie for the position of Kampala Lord Mayor. This pronouncement fitted the old adage, if not a Machiavellian notion, there are no permanent friends or enemies but only permanent interests.
In choosing to challenge Erias Lukwago, who has patented the lord mayorship position, Sebaggala was seeking to confront his 2016 general election ally.
Before those elections could take place, Sebaggala had joined Lukwago in falling out with the party that taught them the ABCD of politics, the Democratic Party (DP).
They cited irreconcilable differences with Mr Norbert Mao, the president general of DP, who they accused, among other things, of leading the party in a draconian manner. They decided to form a pressure group they christened Truth and Justice (TJ) and both sailed through their elections as Independents without much difficulties.
But by 2018, unlike Lukwago, Sebaggala had embraced the People Power movement led by musician-turned-politician Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu who goes by the moniker Bobi Wine.
Though Lukwago has won the two previous mayoral elections – by a landslide – and consequently touted himself as the undisputed king of Kampala politics, Sebaggala’s calculation, according to those who know him, was that since People Power, which has now taken on the name National Unity Platform (NUP), had gained traction in Buganda urban centres, he would ride on the wave of its popularity and cause an upset.
In declaring his mayoral candidature, Sebaggala blundered, if not contradicted himself, according to his critics.
Though he said he was convinced that Kyagulanyi would be Uganda’s president come February 2021, he said the main reason as he decided to challenge Lukwago was to bring about synchronisation between City Hall and President Museveni’s government which Lukwago has repeatedly fought with.
This posed questions of whether Sebaggala really believed that Kyagulanyi would be president in the coming elections.
But this year alone, Sebaggala has mastered the art of flip-flopping. When 2020 was commencing, he had his eyes fully on the lord mayor seat, then for unknown reasons, he changed his mind and decided to run again for the Kawempe North slot.
This turned on its head plans within NUP since Muhammad Ssegirinya and former Deputy Kampala Lord Mayor Sulaiman Kidandala had already registered interest and mobilised massively in the constituency.
By the end of August, Sebaggala had yet again made a U-turn when he picked nomination forms for the position of lord mayor from the NUP headquarters in Kamwokya, Kampala, meaning he was bound to have a confrontation with musician Joseph Mayanja, who is popularly known as Jose Chameleone, who had decamped to NUP from the DP where he had been appointed by Mao as the party’s national mobiliser a year earlier.
This hasty reversal in thinking is normally a trait of political novices, but Sebaggala is no amateur. For 19 years, he has been a mainstay in Uganda’s Parliament having been elected in 2001 general election when he got the better of Jamada Luzinda, the father of singer Desire Luzinda.
Abdu Katuntu (Bugweri County), Nandala Mafabi (Budadiri West), Reagan Okumu (Aswa County) and Samuel Odonga Otto (Aruu County) are the other Opposition politicians who made their debuts in Parliament in 2001, the year in which Dr Kizza Besigye first challenged President Museveni, but during that time political parties, at least on paper, weren’t legally permitted.
Every Ugandan was co-opted in what was called the movement system until 2005 when political space was opened up and political parties were allowed to operate though they still face similar hardships as it was pre-2005.
Though Kawempe Division is generally known for being populated with regime malcontents, over the years, Sebaggala, 52, has moulded himself as a moderate, always trying to reach out to the NRM for a compromise where it’s needed.
“We have to discuss these issues and reach a compromise,” has been a key statement of his which at times has portrayed him as weak in the lenses of the radical Opposition supporters.
Nevertheless, he has been known for being passionate about Buganda issues, education, human rights and being vocal on issues relating to the Muslim community to which he belongs – he is called the parliamentary Imam.
Standing as an Independent in 2016, Sebaggala easily cruised to victory when he polled 22,325 votes yet his “close” rival Asadullah Semmindi of the FDC could only muster 14,844 votes, while Kidandala who that time stood on the DP ticket got miserable 10,806 votes.
But overtime, observers of Kawempe North politics insist that Sebaggala had lost grip over politics of his constituency and standing for mayorship for the wider Kampala against a popular Lukwago was simply going to result in a humiliating defeat.
“I don’t believe that he really wanted to stand for mayorship. It’s NUP guys who were telling him to stand but he never had that conviction,” a lawyer who is working with NUP told Sunday Monitor on condition of anonymity.
Sources within the new political party say that no sooner had Sebaggala appeared before the NUP’s elections management committee for vetting than he wrote a letter indicating how was no longer interested in the mayoral seat.
“All those NUP people knew he was no longer interested in that position but they went ahead to give him that ticket because they wanted to get back at Chameleone,” a source familiar with NUP operations said.
On September 22, at a hastily organised press conference, Sebaggala claimed that he wasn’t going to stand for the mayoral seat in the interest of his party and the Opposition which has for the umpteenth time failed to forge a coalition to faceoff with Museveni.
“I have taken this decision in the best interest of the wider Opposition and also given the fact that we have conflicting interests as NUP…. I apologise to all Ugandans and to all those who have put their interest in me,” Sebaggala, a younger brother of Nasser Ntege Sebaggala, a former Kampala mayor, said.
It’s not that first time or perhaps the last time Sebaggala will be making a U-turn. In 2016 elections he was among the Opposition politicians who backed former prime minister Amama Mbabazi’s presidential bid and also was part of his nomination party at Nakivubo Stadium. But within days, having witnessed the sheer number of crowds that had attended Besigye’s rallies across the country, Sebaggala had a change of heart.
“The people have decided that it’s Besigye,” he said. “I have to go with that.”
Sources, however, say that this time round there is more to this than what Sebaggala said during his now famous, or infamous, press conference.
Lukwago’s allies in NUP such as MPs Medard Lubega Sseggona (Busiro East), Betty Nambooze Bakireke (Mukono Municipality) and Muhammad Muwanga Kivumbi (Butambala County), sources say, had held meetings with Kyagulanyi, making it clear to him that they won’t support anybody within their party who will confront Lukwago.
Initially, Kyagulanyi, sources who are in the know of the talks say, was hesitant. He thinks his party should sweep Kampala but Lukwago’s allies with whom they formed a pressure a group called Suubi in 2011 didn’t badge as they invited former Buganda Katikkiro (prime minister) Joseph Mulwanyamuli Ssemwogerere to mediate the talks.
“Before the talks could be completed, Sebaggala had called a press conference declaring how he had stood down,” a source said.
In retrospect, it makes sense because when Lukwago was launching his bid on September 16, to return to City Hall come next year, he never directed any of his salvos at Sebaggala or his close allies.
Rather, when he decided to disparage anybody within the Opposition: It was a former presidential candidate and now Rubaga South parliamentary candidate Samuel Walter Lubega Mukaaku and Makindye East parliamentary hopeful Michael Mabikke who were at the receiving end of Lukwago’s verbal artillery.
Mukaaku and Mabikke are self-confessed campaigners of Chameleone. When the singer, who has since fallen out with NUP over not endorsing him for mayorship, was opening his office earlier this month, Mukaaku and Mabikke directly attacked Lukwago.
They threw around innuendos that he is a weak leader who easily loses grip of his council and thus he doesn’t deserve to be the lord mayor.
Another theory being advanced that could have moved Sebaggala to stand down is the alleged involvement of Prince Kassim Nakibinge Kakungulu, the cousin of Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II. The prince, who wields influence within the Muslim community, was allegedly not comfortable with two Muslims, Lukwago and Sebaggala, vying for the same seat.
“Being a close friend of the prince [Nakibinge], Sebaggala had to give in,” another source said.
Many speculators have insisted that we shall hear more from Sebaggala with him being a member of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) come next year being the only chance of remaining relevant on the political scene.
It’s not that first time or perhaps the last time Sebaggala will be taking a U-turn. In 2016 elections he was among the Opposition politicians who backed former prime minister Amama Mbabazi’s presidential bid and also was part of his nomination party at Nakivubo Stadium. But within days, having witnessed the sheer number of crowds that had attended Besigye’s rallies across the country, Sebaggala had a change of heart.