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During President Museveni’s 5th elective term of office alone, there were tens of public spats between his ministers and other government officials even when he had at the inauguration of the Cabinet described it as one that had been formed with the aim of “maximizing the unity of the country”, Isaac Mufumba writes.
Recently, government released photographs taken after a meeting that Vice President, Ms Jessica Alupo, convened to reconcile the Prime Minister, Ms Robinah Nabbanja, and the Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, Mr Hilary Onek.
The two had a showdown following a November 29 letter that Mr Onek wrote to Ms Nabbanja, threatening to quit Cabinet over what he deemed as “micromanagement” on her part.
In the letter, which did the rounds on social media, Mr Onek took issue with the Premier’s “very abrasive” methods and accused her of “calling for meetings, going to disaster-affected places and visiting refugee settlements without informing” him or his deputy, which conduct he said sharply contrasted with that of her predecessors, Prof Apolo Nsibambi, Mr Amama Mbabazi and Dr Ruhakana Rugunda.
“They (predecessors) never got involved in micro-management of other ministries. If you (Nabbanja) decide to micromanage other ministries, what then is the role of the sector ministers who are supposed to plan, make policies and deliver on the manifesto of His Excellency, the President?” he wondered.
Ms Nabbanja’s responded by accusing Mr Onek of lack of discipline, dodging meetings and failure to cope with the pace at which she was operating.
“I want members to appreciate that we are changing the mode of how we operate…If the minister (for Relief, Disaster Preparedness, (Hilary Onek) decided to address me through social media then that’s different. He is indisciplined…” she said.
A picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words. A look at recent photographs will reveal that they are very different from those that have been previously published in the wake of previous fallouts.
In May 2016, ahead of elections for the Speaker of the 10th Parliament, Mr Museveni brokered a deal in which Mr Jacob Oulanyah backed down from challenging her boss then, Ms Rebecca Kadaga, for the job of Speaker. Photographs taken after the meeting depicted the two protagonists smiling and shaking hands in the presence of the broker.
The recent Nabbanja-Onek photographs show the two gloomy faced protagonists standing on either side of the Vice President.
In 2005, Vice President, Prof Gilbert Bukenya, convened a press conference at which he retracted comments he had made in an interview with Daily Monitor alluding to the existence of a corrupt mafia group in Mr Museveni’s government. Whereas Prof Bukenya did not name the mafiosi, it was generally understood that he was talking about Mr Sam Kutesa, Mr John Patrick Amama Mbabazia and Ms Hope Mwesigye.
A smiling Mr Amama Mbabazi, one of the three people along with Mr Sam Kuteesa and Ms Hope Mwesigye, that Prof Bukenya was generally understood to be talking about, showed up to take photographs with Prof Bukenya at the presser which was also attended by Ms Hope Mwesigye.
Prof Bukenya’s comment suggested that the hatchet had indeed been buried.
“I have been telling journalists that this man (Mbabazi) has been advising me since I joined politics. How could I have harassed him? I am delighted this is over,” Prof Bukenya said.
In the Nabbanja-Onek case, it was the Vice President who issued an official statement in which she indicated that they had agreed to work together.
Ms Nabbanja and Mr Onek were mute, their masked faces giving nothing away. That none of them has since tried to explain the cause of their quarrel or what transpired during the meeting is quite disturbing. Were they ordered not to make any further comments about the matter? Or is there still a bone of contention?
Dr Chris Baryomunsi, the Minister of Information, Communications Technology and National Guidance, downplayed their silence. He insists that the meeting did not find any fundamental differences between the two.
“There was no fundamental problem between the two as individuals. It was just a question of understanding each other in terms of methods of work and issues to do with communication between the various offices, which issues we went through and we reached a common understanding,” Mr Baryomunsi says.
Why then their silence?
“Maybe they deliberately need to put there some public appearances, which show that the two are working together and that there are no more problems between the two offices,” Mr Baryomunsi says.
The fallout between Ms Nabbanja and Mr Onek came less than six months after Mr Museveni swore in his Cabinet of “fishermen” and tasked Ms Alupo and Premier Nabbanja to take the lead in the fight against corruption and ensuring cohesion and service delivery.
“This is a Cabinet of cohesion in the system. I want the programme of National Resistance Movement to be implemented enthusiastically. It must be a Cabinet of no corruption,” Mr Museveni said at the time.
Will the cabinet achieve on ensuring “cohesion in the system” when fights have broken out so early in the term of office? Does this point to a bigger problem in government than meets the eye?
Prof Sabiiti Makara, who teaches political science at Makerere University, says that whereas the tiff between Mr Onek and Ms Nabbanja almost certainly suggest that the team will not be achieving on the cohesion that Mr Museveni envisaged, it does not mean that there is a bigger problem in government.
“I don’t think there is a bigger problem.
Mr Onek was right to protest the encroachment on his Ministry, because a Prime Minister’s role is really to coordinate, oversee and audit. Her mandate is not to implement, but the folly of the Minister was to play in the gallery of the press. That, however, does not mean that there is a bigger problem in government,” Prof Makara says.
The problem though is that Mr Museveni and the leadership of the NRM have never demonstrated the ability to deal with internal contradictions and conflicts such as the one that we saw between Mr Onek and Ms Nabbanja.
During Mr Museveni 5th elective term of office alone there were tens of public spats between his ministers and other government officials even when he had at the inauguration of the Cabinet described it as one that had been formed with the aim of “maximising the unity of the country”.
In that term alone, the State Minister for Investment, Ms Evelyn Anite, and her Senior Minister, Mr Matia Kasaija, faced off over the appointment of a new Board for the Uganda Electricity Generation Company (UEGCL), while there was also a big fight between Gen Kale Kayihura and Mr Henry Tumukunde; between Gen Kale Kayihura and Col Kaka Bagyenda over security-related matters.
Fights between then minister for Kampala, Ms Beti Kamya, and the Executive Director of KCCA, Ms Jennifer Musisi; between Lands Minister, Ms Betti Amongi, and State Minister for Lands, Ms Persis Namuganza and; between State Minister for ICT then, Ms Aidah Nantaba; and Ms Namuganza.
Other fights featured the Governor of Bank of Uganda, Mr Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile, and the Inspector General of Government, Ms Irene Mulyagonja; between the Chairperson of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters, Ms Catharine Bamugemereire and Mr Mwesigwa Rukutana and; Ms Anite and Mwesigwa Rukutana.
It always bothers watchers of the goings on in government that disagreements that should have ordinarily played out in the ministerial boardrooms or offices often end up being played out in the public.
Using the example of the tiff between Mr Onek and Ms Nabbanja, the Vice Chairperson of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), Ms Proscovia Salaamu Musumba, blames the situation on both the character and egos of the individuals concerned.
“The first thing is excitement and proving a point to the public that she (Ms Nabbanja) is the Prime Minister. She is putting her foot on the doorway to be acknowledged. In the world of fishermen you create territory and guard that territory and you prove (that you are guarding it). If you are not seeing, I walk all over you,” Ms Musumba says.
She adds, “The other part is a matter of ego, because Onek’s profile is a long one. He went to school and understands his job. He is self-confident and maybe overly confident that he is not used to working with less equals. He is an accomplished engineer. I remember him warning this country about Nalubaable II and Bujagali. Then there is the ego of being a man. You cannot take it away from him. He is a man and a man of that generation”.
One would, however argue that government should have by now developed mechanisms for helping individuals deal with the excitement that comes with elevation to high office or containing the egos of senior people.
The bigger question though is whether there are mechanism for dealing ensuring that internal fights never end up in the public domain.
But Dr Baryomunsi says, “Mechanisms for ensuring that disagreements are kept out of the public domain are in place, but there are always third parties which often have different interests. That leads to leaks. When we sat we were for example not clear on how (Onek’s) letter leaked.”
One of the most disturbing aspect of the fights has been that Mr Museveni has always been conspicuously silent about them. Does he enjoy watching such fights? Why is he never seen to be doing anything to put an end to such bickering?
Dr Baryomunsi leaps to Mr Museveni’s defence saying that he takes action only that he never does so publicly.
“The President is definitely never happy with those kind of quarrels, because he appoints us and he expects us to work together as a team and to focus on service delivery for the people, not to expend energies and time on those quarrels which are not productive. So he puts his foot down, but he does it internally, he doesn’t go into the media to make his point,” Mr Baryomunsi says.
It would, however, appear that Mr Museveni’s foot has never really come down hard enough. How else would you explain the continued bickering?