What you need to know:
- Justine Kasule Lumumba has been used to being in the limelight for the past decade, having served initially as the NRM’s Chief Whip before being tapped by the President for the position of NRM secretary general, but as Derrick Kiyonga writes, her appointment as minister of General Duties has seemingly consigned her to the periphery.
More than a few eyebrows were raised when President Museveni named Ms Robinah Nabbanja as Prime Minister, with cynical Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, the Kira Municipality Member of Parliament (MP), pointing out that the office will be too big for her since she would even find it an uphill task to superintend a city bin van.
The Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) has a number of ministries, including one for Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, Northern Uganda, Karamoja, Luweero Triangle-Rwenzori region, Bunyoro Affairs, General Duties, and Teso Affairs – all supervised by Ms Nabbanja.
In a sign of tensions that have cropped up in OPM, resulting from Nabbanja’s brush leadership style, Mr Hillary Onek, the minister of Disaster Preparedness and Refugees wrote a prickly letter last week threatening to throw in the towel.
Mr Onek, who has been the minister of Disaster Preparedness and Refugees since 2013, criminated Ms Nabbanja for conducting meetings behind his back, interdicting his line staff without investigations, and taking decisions for his ministry without his input for which he said he won’t allow being held accountable.
“Rt Hon Prime minister, if you have decided to carry on working like this and rendering my docket irrelevant, kindly put it in writing to H.E. the president, who is the appointing authority, and I will relieve myself of my responsibilities and allow you to carry on with your duties. I will NOT be held accountable for decisions that have been taken without my input,” Mr Onek, 73, wrote.
Amid these rumblings in the OPM, one person who has remained tight-lipped is Justine Kasule Lumumba, the minister of General Duties, who just like Mr Onek, is supervised by Ms Nabbanja.
The OPM website signals that as Minister-in-charge of General Duties, Ms Kasule Lumumba is expected to “ably” represent Ms Nabbanja; coordinate the presidential Investors Round Table (PIRT), harmonize, and enhance government operations, and also enhance government presence is felt in the populace.
While the current roles as the minister of General Duties are clearly vague, for 6 years, Ms Lumumba as the head of ruling party NRM secretariat, was in charge of implementing NRM policies, decisions, and directives on a day-to-day basis. She was also in charge of preparing rules, regulations, and procedures for approval by the respective authorities within NRM.
She was also to prepare relevant papers and documents, which guided NRM organs in decision-making; disseminating information from NRM Committee and Commissions to all organs of NRM.
She was also in charge of enhancing the capacity of NRM for competitive group politics; providing administrative and secretarial services to the party’s National Conference and National Executive Council; coordinating of the activities of all organs of NRM; maintaining a National Register of members and also carrying out such other functions as may be assigned to it by Mr Museveni, the party chairperson.
As NRM Secretary General, Ms Kasule Lumumba was allotted escorts and a lead car and it’s also said she couldn’t end her speeches without reminding whoever cared to listen how she was number five in the national hierarchy.
But it has been four months since Ms Kasule Lumumba handed over the duties of being NRM Secretary-General to her deputy Mr Richard Todwong and headed to the General Duties docket in OPM, with many seeing her shift differently.
“It was a demotion because when she was the Secretary-General, she was ever in touch with the President because she had to mobilize party members,” one of the people who are close to Ms Kasule Lumumba told Sunday Monitor.
“But in the current docket, she is like Ms Nabbanja’s assistant.”
Though politics can be hard to predict, before President Museveni could name his Cabinet in June, few would have predicted that he would relieve Ms Kasule Lumumba of her position as NRM’s Secretary-General and relegate her to General duties.
The NRM party had retained both the presidency and solid parliamentary majority, and Ms Kasule Lumumba was also key in mobilising for Jacob Oulanyah for Speaker, brushing off a challenge from Ms Rebecca Kadaga, who had been Speaker for 10 years and had defied the NRM to stand as an Independent in the race for Speaker.
Even if Lumumba was to be removed from the position of secretary general, the expectation was that Museveni would give her something superior, say, appointing her Prime Minister, but instead the President picked the lesser known Nabbanja.
“No one would have expected that Museveni was going to pick Nabbanja for the position [Prime Minister]. So, in a way, it shocked Lumumba that she was moved from the [NRM] secretariat and placed under OPM. It was a shock,” a source familiar with Lumumba’s thinking said.
Blemish on her performance
The main blemish on her performance and could have been the reason why Museveni dropped her as secretary general was the fact that Museveni was outclassed by National Unity Platform’s (NUP) Robert Kyagulanyi, popularly known as Bobi Wine, in Lumumba’s backyard, Busoga sub-region.
“You really made me look small,” Lumumba told residents of Mayuge District in March during the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccination programme. “How could you not vote for the President yet the secretary general comes from here [Busoga]? You really ashamed me.”
Lumumba’s devotion to NRM has been total and it was clear when in 2016, before Ugandans would go to vote, when she warned how the State would kill the youth that would go to the streets to protest the outcome.
“When President Museveni, the chief fighter, is still seated on the throne, whatever they are planning, tell them the government of NRM is not going anywhere! Don’t send your children to bring chaos in Kampala and because confusion during elections, disrupt peace in the country, the government will handle you…. you will be shot,” she said while presiding over the launch of NRM campaigns in Wakiso District at Nsangi Sub-county headquarters.
In order for Lumumba to replace NRM historical Amama Mbabazi as NRM secretary general, the party had to make sweeping amendments to the constitution that were interpreted by many as a move to clip the control Mbabazi had.
The revisions, tellingly, handed Museveni the powers to appoint all the people who ran the NRM secretariat, including the secretary general, deputy secretary general, treasurer and deputy treasury who were before that voted for at the party’s national delegates’ conference.
Another amendment that Lumumba in retrospect now could regret was the one in which all people running the NRM secretariat were stopped from holding elective positions.
This meant that Lumumba, who had been the Bugiri Woman MP from 2001, couldn’t stand again as long as she was holding the same office. This paved way for her sidekick Agnes Taaka to enter Parliament where she is now serving her second term.
Lumumba had been in the same office through the 2016 and 2021 elections, meaning she couldn’t vie for any parliamentary seat. But the status quo has now changed, leaving her hanging with no elective office.
“Being in Parliament would have given her some political capital, but now she is even rare in the district,” Umar Mulawa, a councillor at Bugiri District, says. “Some people within NRM celebrated when she was dropped as secretary general.”
It’s no secret that during her time as secretary general Lumumba ruffled feathers of many people, but her war of words with Tanga Odoi, the party’s electoral commission chairperson, stood out. The two bickered over funds, with Lumumba also accusing Odoi of insubordination and it took the intervention of Mr Museveni for a ceasefire to be obtained.
With tensions going through the roof, NRM honchos in 2015 had to relocate Odoi’s office from the Plot 10 Kyadondo Road party headquarters to Plot 13 on the same street.
Before becoming party secretary general, though Lumumba between 2011 and 2014 served as NRM’s Chief Whip in Parliament and was christened “yellow girl”, her first shine came as an Opposition MP.
In 2003, during her first term as MP, Lumumba was part of what was known as the Parliamentary Advocacy Forum (PAFO) which merged with Reform Agenda to get what today is known as Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), an Opposition party.
Lumumba, together with politicians such as FDC vice chairperson Eastern Uganda Salaam Musumba, Bugweri Country MP Abdu Katutu, NRM director communications Emmanuel Ddombo, Augustine Ruzindana and Maj Guma Gumisiriza were the key linchpins of PAFO, an organisation that had budded from the Young Parliamentarians Association, and was ruffling feathers by fighting what they called efforts by Museveni to turn Parliament into a rubber stamp.
Lumumba also opposed the 2005 removal of presidential term limits to give Museveni unlimited terms in power.
Of course, Lumumba has changed her views on amending the Constitution and for now, she seems unlikely to throw a tantrum akin to that thrown byOnek with people close to her insisting that she is calmly following the orders of Nabbanja, her supervisor, who warned that she hates lazy people.
Could this be signalling the dimming of Lumumba’s shine at OPM? Because even Mary Karooro Okurut, her predecessor, was quiet the entire five years she served in the position.