Is Museveni’s plan to wipe out opposition finally taking shape?

Mohammed Kezaala (C) who this week resigned from the DP national chairman job was appointed ambassador- designate. PHOTO BY ABUBAKER LUBOWA.

What you need to know:

  • Political gamble. President Museveni has for a long time had the desire to wipe out the Opposition but how much can he swallow, writes Stephen Kafeero.
  • UPC, founded in 1960 and DP earlier in 1954, are Uganda’s oldest political parties and with UPC seemingly “finished”, the next onslaught seems to be on DP.

In his maiden speech after he was declared winner of the 2016 elections, Mr Museveni, at his country home in Rwakitura, announced he will “wipe out the opposition completely in the next five years”.
“NRM is going to be stronger,” the incumbent who in the next three months—in May— would be sworn in for a fifth elective term declared.
The promise, was a follow up, to one Mr Museveni had made before president Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and Parliament in August, 2015 that he would wipe out the Opposition after winning the election, which at the time was months away.

Mr Museveni’s critics argue he has never been tolerant of the Opposition but only allows a semblance of it to boost his democratic credentials mainly to appease the West which often condition aid on democracy. His supporters argue differently believing that Uganda is a democracy.
Indeed critics point out that the return to multiparty politics was a fallacy that only sought to guarantee Mr Museveni’s stay in power with periodical elections.
The President, who has been in power for 31 years knows time is not on his side and even if he changes the Constitution, like he did in 2005 with term limits, opposition against his rule or those he chooses to succeed him, will only grow. This could be informing his desire to finish off the opposition.

UPC down
Ahead of the 2016 presidential elections, the Jimmy Akena-led UPC faction agreed to work with Mr Museveni and NRM, which they claim, they want out of power.
The other UPC faction now led by Joseph Bbosa, had prior to the public consistently branded Mr Akena, a mole of NRM, alleging that he had received Shs1b from Mr Museveni to “hand over the party to the President”.
Mr Akena denies the claims and says he is working to see a peaceful transition from President Museveni to another leader in 2021. Mr Museveni who will officially make 75 years during his current term, is barred by the Constitution from standing for the presidency.
State agencies are also firmly behind Akena’s UPC as they, in 2015, assisted his faction to forcefully take over UPC headquarters from the Olara Otunnu-led team and they [police] continue to protect the occupation assisted by private guards.

But apart from the assistance of state agencies, embattled deputy Chief Justice Steven Kavuma has also assisted in the occupation having issued an order to block the execution of a ruling by Justice Yasin Nyanzi, in 2015 that had declared that Mr Akena was illegally elected UPC president.
This ping pong, analysts claim, could be a script likening it to Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago’s controversial first term at KCCA that they say smacked of Mr Museveni’s invisible hand.
In some of his appointments recently, President Museveni rewarded some UPC allies perhaps to thank them for the gains made in the Lango sub-region - Mr Akena’s home area.

Oyam South MP, Betty Amongi who is also Mr Akena’s wife was named Lands minister and former Kole Woman MP Joy Ruth Achieng, was named Fisheries state minister, although her name was later withdrawn. Ms Achieng was recently handed a new role as the High Commissioner to Canada.
By keeping his allies in UPC in control, Mr Museveni in essence, pushed out of the way one key opposition party. The time, Mr Bbosa’s UPC should have used to oppose Mr Museveni has been spent in courts or attacking Mr Akena’s faction.
Also, Mr Bbosa’s group is starved of resources to conduct any serious activity, legitimacy and even office space among other things.

UPC, founded in 1960 and DP earlier in 1954, are Uganda’s oldest political parties and with UPC seemingly “finished”, the next onslaught seems to be on DP.
Rumors of senior DP leaders working for and on behalf of President Museveni or his associates are not new.
The hand of President Museveni and his proxies in DP internal elections was cited by Mr Lukwago and others who shunned the party’s delegates’ conference that re-elected DP president Norbert Mao at former vice president Gilbert Bukenya’s Katomi Kingdom Resort, Garuga in Wakiso District.

Before joining NRM, Prof Bukenya had been a member of DP and at the time of the conference he had allegedly fallen out with President Museveni and was active in organising Opposition against his former boss ahead of the 2016 general elections but he has since been “rehabilitated” and is back to the NRM fold.
Among the people accused of double dealing, is DP vice president and East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) MP Fred Mukasa Mbidde as he is said to have worked closely with NRM to outfox FDC in 2012 Eala elections. The Opposition had agreed to boycott Eala elections on grounds that NRM was taking a lion’s but DP fronted Mbidde and UPC fronted Chris Opoka, which was viewed as betrayal.

On January 26, during the NRM Liberation Day in Masindi, President Museveni shared a podium with Mr Mbidde, before describing his political nemesis [Mbidde] as a good man in DP.
Hours later, on January 27, Mr Museveni announced the appointment of DP chairman Muhammad Kezaala, as a deputy ambassador-designate.

Mr Kezaala, the former mayor of Jinja Municipality had lost to NRM’s Majid Batambuze in the 2016 polls and also lost with costs a subsequent election petition.
Those close to him, say he had fallen on hard times and with the help of his “good people in DP”, President Museveni is said to have sized his loyalty with a job opportunity.
Stella Kiryowa, a known DP member shocked some, when she picked nomination papers to represent Uganda in Eala as an NRM member. However, it is not clear at what point Ms Kiryowa, who in September, 2015 had lost to Florence Nakiwala Kiyingi for the Kampala Woman flag on the DP ticket, switched to NRM.
Ms Nakiwala, who eventually lost to Nabilah Naggayi Sempala, was named state minister for Youth and Children Affairs in Mr Museveni’s Cabinet.

Similarly questions have been raised pointing to President Museveni’s role in the collapse of The Democratic Alliance, a loose coalition that had sought to choose a joint candidate for the 2016 polls.
Mr Kezaala, Prof Bukenya and Uganda Federal Alliance President Beti Kamya were among the Opposition leaders at the time who signed on to the TDA protocol. Ms Kamya, who split ranks with the Opposition, has since been named Minister for Kampala and she has promised to vigorously campaign for Mr Museveni so that he wins in Kampala with more than 80 per cent of the vote.
The Constitution does not allow Mr Museveni to stand in 2021 by virtue of his age On the surface, FDC seems to have resisted most of, Museveni’s overtures but the questing is “for how long”?
Already, there are senior and prominent members of FDC who have been accused of being close to Mr Museveni and NRM.

One of such members is Bugweri County MP Abdu Katuntu, who has publicly asked the Opposition to work with NRM, maintaining that he is not in “politics of dividing up the people”.
MP Nabillah Naggayi Sempala’s name has also come up. During the 2016 polls, critics claim, she pretended to be close to Dr Besigye but has since winning the election turned around criticising his tactics that had delivered her vote.
NRM supporters and agents use examples of Ms Nabilah Naggayi Sempala, Mr Katuntu, Kitgum Municipality MP Beatrice Anywar and Aruu County MP Odonga Otto, to point to a major rift between FDC president Mugisha Muntu and Dr Besigye.

Both men (Dr Besigye and Gen Muntu) who fought with Mr Museveni in the Bush War dismiss the allegations.
The attempts to “wipe out” FDC as part of the larger plan to end Opposition against Mr Museveni now border on a perceived or existing rift between the “moderates” and “radicals”.
Mr Museveni and NRM proxies have since his swearing in May last year enthusiastically promoted the apparent rift in FDC with claims that there are “moderates” led by Gen Muntu and “radicals” led by Dr Besigye.
The notion has been promoted by businessman Andrew Mwenda, who of late emerged as the leader of this project.
Mr Mwenda has made it his pre-occupation to purge FDC of a “cult-like group around Besigye” who he claims have hijacked FDC.

He argues that Dr Besigye who has contested and been announced loser against President Museveni in the last four general elections leads “radical extremists”, is “power hungry” and a “despot” far worse than Mr Museveni.
However, his [Mwenda] critics claim he is on a mission to damage the Besigye brand and create doubts among his supporters and potential followers in favour of President Museveni or his anointed successor, if any.

Weak opposition?
By snatching a party chairperson from DP, one would at least judging from history, expect Mr Museveni to appoint his new catch to a significant position.
However, Mr Museveni’s appointment of Mr Kezaala, as a deputy ambassador-designate without even allocating him a post could be an indication that he has been able to annihilate sections of the Opposition and turned them desperate for crumbs he throws at them.
Some prominent DP members who have served under Museveni include former DP president general Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere who served as Internal Affairs Minister, former DP secretary general Robert Kitariko who served as deputy Electoral Commission chairman, Prof Bukenya and Dr Specioza Kazibwe who served as vice presidents.
Many other former DP members have served in Cabinet and other key government posts under, especially prior to the restoration of multi-party politics in 2005.
Whether he plans to name a successor or continue to rule, it is very clear that President Museveni is becoming intolerant of dissent and is likely to deploy all the tools at his disposal including the State machinery more than he has before in an attempt to “wipe out” the Opposition.

Key background

Mr Museveni has on various occasions convinced key Opposition figures to work with him with the first such incident happening in the 80s after his rebel forces had captured power from the Tito Okello junta.
The move saw prominent DP members, including the party’s president general Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere move en mass into Mr Museveni’s broad-based government to key cabinet positions.
On a another occasion, he appointed the DP secretary General Ms Maria Mutagamba to his Cabinet. Ms Mutagamba is famously quoted to have said that she had telephone bills to pay yet DP could not afford to pay them. Therefore, she had gone to where they would be paid.

Notable figures
Florence Nakiwala Kiyingi: She was recently appointed minister for Youth and Child Affairs after losing the Kampala Woman MP seat on the DP ticket.

Jimmy Akena: He is the leader of a UPC faction and critics have accused him of handing the party to Mr Museveni who he pledged to work with ahead of the February 2016 polls.

Fred Mukasa Mbidde: The DP vice president has been accused of hobnobbing with Mr Museveni and NRM leaders as well as making air raising statements.

Putting perspective to opposition challenges

Erias Lukwago, Kampala Lord Mayor: “A simple message to colleagues in DP; it would be treasonable for us to betray a generational cause -- the struggle for the restoration of Rule of Law. Why capitulate at such a critical moment when Gen. Museveni’s “centre bolt” is cracking and his tired regime is being silhouetted against a political sunset? I hope it is not lost on all of us.”

Beti Olive Kamya, Kampala Minister: “Mr President in 2021, you are going to get 80 per cent of the vote in Kampala or more. You know my mobilisation skills. I pledge this in “Kisanja” 2021. Ugandans still appreciate your service, Mr President, despite what your detractors say. We know you are still strong. No one else in Uganda has stamina as you.”

Norbert Mao, DP President: “We face a conundrum. There is a solution but the solution is not apparent. The Democratic Party is at a defining moment. There is a saying that what come out of you when you are squeezed is what you are made of, if you are made of rubbish when you are squeezed only rubbish comes out. What will come out of DP at this moment of pressure is what DP is made of.”