President Museveni. PHOTO/FILE

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Museveni’s tough choices in the wake of Oulanyah’s death

What you need to know:

  • Jacob Oulanyah’s demise will no doubt lead to major changes on the political landscape in Acholi and greater north and is certain to have a ripple effect on the shape of government where another position at Cabinet level, the office of Government Chief Whip, has since fallen vacant, writes Isaac Mufumba.

On March 25, Members of Parliament (MP) convened at Kololo Independence Grounds to fill the post of Speaker.

The post had fallen vacant five days before, following the demise of Jacob Oulanyah in a hospital in Seattle in the United States of America where he had been flown for specialised treatment early in February.

Ms Anita Among, who had deputised Oulanyah for only nine months and 24 days, was elected to replace her former boss, while Mr Thomas Tayebwa, who had only occupied the office of Government Chief Whip for seven months and 22 days, was elected Deputy Speaker in an election that was forced on Parliament by the provisions of Article 82(4) of the Constitution.

The article provides that, “No business shall be transacted in Parliament other than an election to the office of Speaker at any time that office is vacant.”

Oulanyah’s demise created a vacuum at both Parliament and in the politics of northern Uganda. The vacuum that had arisen at Parliament has since been dealt with. 

The difficult bit is how to deal with the vacuum that his demise left in the Acholi sub-region and the greater northern Uganda.

Four days before a new Speaker was elected, a caucus of MPs from Acholi, Lango and West Nile petitioned President Museveni to ring fence the office of the Speaker for someone from northern Uganda.

The demand was articulated by Kole North County MP Samuel Acuti Opio.
“The speakership position was given to us (Greater North) [but] we have not yet served. We have just started and, therefore, there is need for continuity so that northern Uganda can continue serving the people of Uganda in that position,” Mr Opio argued.

The caucus argued that it was because of the late Oulanyah that Mr Museveni and the ruling NRM had for the first time received overwhelming support and a resounding victory from northern Uganda, which was a departure from results from previous elections when the region had overwhelmingly voted for the Opposition.

The numbers
It was only in eight out of the 23 districts in the three sub-regions that Mr Museveni’s performance in the January 2021 elections mirrored results from previous elections in the traditional northern Uganda and West Nile.

He got 32.7 percent of the votes in Gulu; 41.8 percent in Kitgum; 39.4 percent in Lira; 41.6 percent in Nwoya; 48.8 percent in Alebtong; 31.5 percent in Amuru; 42.9 percent in Lamwo and; 38.8 percent of the vote in Pader districts.

He, however, won in 15 of the 23 districts, making it the first time that he and the ruling NRM had run away with majority of the votes.
He got 56.2 percent of the vote in Apac; 57.7 percent of the vote in Arua; 58.8 percent in Moyo; 65.8 percent in Nebbi; 66.1 percent in Adjumani; 68.3 percent in Yumbe and 55.3 percent of the vote in Amolatar.

Mr Museveni also got 65.8 percent in Koboko; 50.9 percent of the vote in Dokolo; 50.6 percent in Oyam; 60.5 percent in Maracha; 64.2 percent in Otuke; 75 percent in Zombo; 54.9 percent in Kole and 59.9 percent of the vote in Agago.

It was also the first time that the ruling NRM swept most of the parliamentary seats in the Acholi sub-region. It was only in Amuru District where all the three Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) MPs – Mr Gilbert Olanya (Kilak South), Ms Lucy Akello (Woman MP) and Mr Anthony Akol (Kilak North) – retained their parliamentary seats.

Members of the caucus argued that the results were as a result of the tough shift that Oulanyah had put into the campaign and that the decision by NRM Central Executive Committee (CEC) to pick him over his former boss, Ms Rebecca Kadaga, as the party’s candidate for the office of Speaker was some kind of reward that had to be retained by the north.

Ultimatum
The MPs’ caucus then threatened not to show up at Kololo if their demand was not met.
“Our position is that if CEC fails to select any names from the region, we have agreed (as greater north) that we shall not turn up to vote for [a new] Speaker. Instead, we shall continue mourning our brother, Oulanyah,” Mr Opio said.

There has been very little information about the kind of negotiations that led to the decision by members of the caucus to back down and attend the March 25 elections at which Ms Among was elected.

Conundrum
Of course, the Electoral Commission (EC) will call a by-election where a new MP for Omoro County will be elected.

Mr Tanga Odoi, who heads NRM’s electoral commission, is also likely to soon set into motion a process through which a new vice chairperson for northern Uganda will be elected to take care of the interests of the region in CEC.

The problem though is that Oulanyah’s was not simply the death of the MP for Omoro and vice chairperson of NRM. It was the death of a man who had by his ascension to the head of the Legislature became one of the three legs of the stool of Acholi.

The other two legs are Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo and Mr Richard Todwong, who is in-charge of the engine room at the NRM Secretariat.

By his ascension to the office of Speaker, the third highest office in the land, Oulanyah became the undisputed political leader of the Acholi.

Oulanyah’s demise will no doubt lead to major changes on the political landscape in Acholi and northern Uganda and is certain to have a ripple effect on the shape of government where another position at Cabinet level, the office of Government Chief Whip, has since fallen vacant.

As we have already pointed out, Mr Oulanyah’s death and the election that followed meant that the post of Government Chief Whip becomes the second position at Cabinet level to become vacant after that of Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs that was never filled when Mr Museveni named his Cabinet in August last year.

Mr Museveni did not acquiesce to the demands of the caucus of MPs from Acholi, Lango and West Nile, but their demand also came against a backdrop of complaints that Acholi sub-region is not well represented at Cabinet level where the minister for Relief and Disaster Preparedness, Mr Hilary Onek, is the only full Cabinet minister.

Ministers during a recent meeting between President Museveni and Members of Parliament at Kololo Independence Grounds. PHOTO/ DAVID LUBOWA

The minister of Information, Communications Technology and National Guidance, Dr Chris Baryomunsi, says President Museveni is aware of some of the sentiments of the people of Acholi.
“I think the point that a power centre has been lost and the power vacuum it created was made by people from northern Uganda. The President is aware of that,” Dr Baryomunsi says.

The question is, how he will proceed and when? 
Mr Museveni has always been known to carry out Cabinet reshuffles at least two and half years into a five-year term, but these are not normal times and there is a school of thought that argues that the death of Oulanyah and the need to keep northern Uganda within NRM’s hold means that he has to move fast and carry out a major reshuffle less than a year after he first named his Cabinet.

Prof Sabiti Makara, who teaches Political Science at Makerere University, does not believe that Mr Museveni will carry out a major reshuffle at this point in time.

“Mr Museveni still has the position of minister of Justice and that of the Chief Whip to fill. I think in the wisdom of representativeness, he might think of one important person from Acholi sub-region or the greater north to fill one of them,” Prof Makara says.

Prof Makara says in light of the complaint that Acholi sub-region has only one person at full Cabinet level, one of the ministers of State might be considered for promotion as part of moves to try and fill the power vacuum created by Oulanyah’s death.

Dr Baryomunsi believes that the President will make a mini reshuffle whose priority will be to name a Government Chief Whip.

“It is, of course, very difficult to predict the President because I think he usually keeps his cards very close to his chest when he is appointing ministers. I don’t think he will do a comprehensive reshuffle. I think he will do a mini reshuffle mainly to bring in Chief Whip,” Dr Baryomunsi says.

If what Dr Baryomunsi says is indicative of the thinking in government, the argument should be on where the next Chief Whip should be coming from and the kind of qualities that he should have.

Eastern and western Uganda are, according to some schools of thought, saturated with power. Western already has a President, prime minister, deputy Speaker of Parliament and a number of Cabinet ministers.

Eastern has a vice president, Speaker of Parliament, two deputy prime ministers and a sizeable number of Cabinet ministers.
If we are to go by the need to have a semblance of regional balancing, northern and central regions would be the leading contenders for provision of a Whip, but Prof Makara rules out central region, saying there are indicators that Mr Museveni feels that it short-changed him during the last election.

“I think Mr Museveni is not so much bothered because in the balancing of the current Cabinet he did not really put much consideration on the Buganda question. From my perspective, it is not a question for him anymore because I think he felt cheated in a way that much of Buganda voted against him. The question of filling one of the two remaining posts with a person from Buganda might not arise,” Prof Makara says.

January 2021 was the first time that Mr Museveni and NRM lost the Buganda vote to the Opposition.
The National Unity Platform (NUP) of Mr Robert Kyagulanyi, garnered 1,453,535 votes against Mr Museveni’s 838,858 votes, a margin of 614,677 votes.

NRM also lost 10 parliamentary constituencies as Government Chief Whip Ruth Nankabirwa and ministers Rosemary Sseninde, Chrysostom Muyingo, Vincent Ssempijja, Amelia Kyambadde, Judith Nabakooba, Ronald Kibuule and Denis Galabuzi Ssozi lost to NUP candidates. 

Ministers Beti Kamya and Florence Nakiwala Kiyingi, who had converted from the Opposition and contested the elections on an NRM ticket, also suffered at the hands of NUP candidates.

The constituencies of former vice president Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi and that of Haruna Kasolo were taken by DP candidates.

If we are to go by Prof Makara’s arguments, that would tilt the balance in the race for finding a Whip in favour of the north, but Dr Baryomunsi thinks that regional balancing is unlikely to be a factor in determining who will be Chief Whip.

“I think the President will be guided more by the qualities and capacities of the person. A Chief Whip is somebody who has ability to easily relate with MPs and who can also cultivate a relationship with the Opposition so that he brings warmth in Parliament in terms of how MPs relate. He is respected by MPs, including ministers,” Dr Baryomunsi says.

It would look like naming an effective Chief Whip while at the same time appeasing the north will be a tough call.

History ... The numbers...
It was only in eight out of the 23 districts in the three sub-regions that Mr Museveni’s performance in the January 2021 elections mirrored results from previous elections in the traditional northern Uganda and West Nile. 

It was also the first time that the ruling NRM swept most of the parliamentary seats in the Acholi sub-region.

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