National Unity Platform (NUP) presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi alias Bobi Wine wears a bullet proof jacket during 2021 presidential campaigns. PHOTO/ FILE   


NUP factionalism: Self-inflicted crisis, or victim of divide and rule?

What you need to know:

  • The fight over the ownership of National Unity Platform (NUP) resurfaced once again with some pointing a finger at the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party. Derrick Kiyonga writes how divide and rule has over the years worked to disrupt the Opposition.

When a group of Democratic Party (DP) members who had formed a faction they christened “DP Bloc” decamped in 2020 en masse and joined National Unity Platform (NUP) – a nascent political party – DP president Norbert Mao’s response was to chide them.

Mao went ahead to mock DP members who were fraternising with NUP principal Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, popularly known as Bobi Wine, calling them watermelon; those who were green (DP) on the outside and red (People Power) on the inside.

Mao, who was in a defiant mood, also warned that his group wasn’t about to give their cards to DP members who were in bed with other political formations.

NUP founding leader Moses Nkonge Kibalama (left) at the unveiling of their faction headquarters in Kabowa, Kampala on June 21, 2022. PHOTO/ ISAAC KASAMANI

“They are promoted by the media because they are dramatic. They are promoted by the comedians who we call leaders but I call them lumpen elites: They are educated. They have degrees but I call them lumpen elites because they have no values anchoring their degrees,” Mr Mao said in 2020 as Uganda prepared for the 2021 General Election. 

One of the key accusations levelled against Mao by the renegade group was that instead of working day and night to ensure that President Museveni’s rule under his National Resistance Movement (NRM) comes to an end, Mao was instead in bed with the ruling party which has been in power since 1986.

“Sometimes with these facts someone must stomach the abuse and insult and save the cause that transcends personal ambition. When you look at how far building this Opposition has come from and the price that has been paid by many that have lost their lives along the way you cannot cash it down to embark on a mission that literally will confuse the cause,” Mr Muhammad Muwanga Kivumbi, the Butambala County MP who was among the several DP MPs who decamped to NUP, said in 2020.

To show that Mao was Museveni’s enabler, the politicians pointed a finger towards DP national vice president Mukasa Mbidde.

Mbidde on January 26, 2017, in a bid to get another term in the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala), had attended the NRM Liberation Day celebrations in the western district of Masindi.

Mbidde needed NRM’s support in Parliament. NRM has an overwhelming majority and decides who goes to Eala.

As if Mbidde’s attendance wasn’t enough, Museveni went ahead to sow seeds of discord when he divided DP into two groups: good DP, which he said works with his NRM, and the bad DP which he said was uncooperative.

“There are the Mbidde’s who are good because they work with Mr Museveni, but there are also the bad ones like me who don’t work with him,” Ms Betty Nambooze, the Mukono Municipality MP who would later join NUP, said in 2019.

Amid all these exchanges, the word “crisis” became DP’s default operational mode and Mao warned that problems in Uganda’s body politic aren’t a sanctuary of DP and that wherever the rebels went they would encounter them. 

Two years after NUP was formed following an amalgamation of a pressure group known as People Power and “DP bloc” it seems now its ownership will remain in question as a splinter group has been formed.  

As things stand now, there is NUP which the Electoral Commission (EC) says it recognises, headed by Kyagulanyi with its offices headquartered in Kamwokya, Kampala, and another NUP headed by Mr Moses Nkonge Kibalama, the party’s founding leader, with its offices in Kabowa, Kampala. 

Kibalama and his cluster have listed a cocktail of accusations against Kyagulanyi’s leadership, ranging from absence of transparency, failure to provide accountability, failure to respect and follow the NUP constitution, and mismanagement of party affairs to an exhibition of dictatorial management. 

“As per the delegates’ conference of NUP held on May 27, it was resolved that the party finds new headquarters from Kamwokya. In fulfilment of the decision of the delegates, the central executive committee of the party hereby unveils the new party headquarters on June 21. The decision to change the party headquarters was as a result of the resolution to end the relationship between People Power Movement and the NUP leadership,” Kibalama said, further explaining that they had a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with People Power, which morphed into NUP, which was to be reviewed after one year, noting that when this time elapsed, Kyagulanyi’s faction failed to honour the agreement.

“We made an agreement and thought they were a legitimate group, but we found out People Power was not registered. We went into a partnership but found out it was a kiwani [concoction] as they sing. We thought they would come to account to us, to show how they have led the party after the elapse of one year in accordance with the agreement, but this never happened.”

L-R: NUP secretary general David Rubongoya, deputy president in charge of north Lina Zedriga, and party spokesperson Joel Ssenyonyi at the Kamwokya headquarters recently. PHOTO/ COURTESY

Kyagulanyi’s faction was under the impression that matters were settled in 2020 when Kibalama’s group dashed to the High Court’s Civil Division, challenging the change of the party’s name by EC from National Unity, Reconciliation and Development Party (NURP) to NUP as published under General Notice number 838 of 2019 in Uganda Gazette dated August 12, 2019, saying there were illegal, null and void as they are not supported by the requisite resolutions under the NURP party constitution.   

Kibalama’s group, who told court that Kyagulanyi had promised them $5m (about Shs19 billion), in order to take over the party but he never came through, asked court to quash Kyagulanyi’s 2021 presidential nomination as NUP party’s presidential flag bearer on grounds that the party had not organised the delegates’ conference as the party’s constitution mandates. 

Justice Musa Ssekaana, the head of the Civil Division, much to the relief of Kyagulanyi’s camp, dismissed the case.

“The applicant, in this case, ought to have applied for judicial review within three months after the change of name of the party from NURP to NUP i.e. by June 6, 2019, but instead the applicants filed this application on August 24, 2020, after over one year. This application was made with a view of making some money during the election season and the applicants have no genuine grievance but rather want to be relevant and make some quick cash, “Justice Ssekaana ruled.

He added: “The court is empowered to refuse relief and deny access to the judicial review reliefs on the ground of laches because of several considerations e.g. it is not desirable to allow stale claims to be canvassed before the court; there should be finality to ligation. It cannot be argued that the Constitution intended to disregard all procedural rules in relation to access to justice or grant of reliefs and allow applications filed after inordinate delay. Constitutional provisions are not intended to supersede the available modes of obtaining relief before a civil court or deny the defences legitimately open in such action.”

A year or so after Justice Ssekaana ruled, the wrangle over NUP’s ownership has failed to disappear, but both the Kamwokya camp and Mao, who has made it a point to comment about issues concerning the leading Opposition party in Parliament, have blamed the issue on NRM.

Mao has a theory that NUP – which he disparagingly calls “meal card” – was actually an NRM creation that was used by some calculative politicians to find their way to Parliament.

“The dilemma of democracy sans democrats. The battle over ownership of the coveted centre number continues. I’m told some of the successful candidates in the 2021 elections are already in talks with the people who founded this party. Just for insurance. This is a developing story,” Mao tweeted as soon as news surfaced that Kibalama had opened his own office.

Though NRM has kept quiet about this fight, Joel Ssenyonyi, Kamwokya’s mouthpiece, once again linked the Kibalama’s group to NRM.

“Previously, the same people told court that the State had coached them to tell lies against the legitimate leadership of NUP. It is clear the State continues to use them in the hope that they will undermine the leadership of NUP and throw the party in disarray,” Ssenyonyi, who represents Nakawa West in Parliament, said. 

“We call on the public to treat these masqueraders with the contempt they deserve. We also send a stern warning to these masqueraders; the full wrath of the law will be unleashed on them over their fraudulent tendencies.”   

NUP’s problems could also be linked to Museveni’s speech in the western city of Hoima during the 2021 election campaign when he bragged how he had clandestinely infiltrated Kyagulanyi’s party. 

“Kyagulanyi; those who support him are foolish,” Museveni, who was then looking at extending his 34-year reign in power, said in Runyakitara.

“Those who support him are those who don’t know Uganda. And among those fools are the Bazungu [White people],” he said.

The President, who was pointing fingers, added: “Then there are fools from Bunyoro. I know them as well. That fool… [pointing]. I know them. I have them in my file. Kyagulanyi’s group is not here,” Mr Museveni, who was visibly angry, continued as the crowd laughed. “I’m going to finish it off because I work under. You be here shouting oyeeee oyeee.”

NRM’s endeavour to weaken political parties was seen when Museveni’s first Cabinet in 1986, having marched into the streets of Kampala by a barrel of the gun, was all-inclusive with Opposition parties having positions.

“During the first 10 years, NRM leadership embraced participatory politics and tolerated divergent political views. Evidence of political tolerance can be exemplified by President Museveni’s first Cabinet, which was all-embracing and broad-based,” Prof William Muhumuza, a lecturer of Political Science at Makerere University, wrote in his paper entitled From Fundamental Change to No Change: The NRM and Democratisation in Uganda.

“It drew members from NRM, traditional political parties, and other shades of political life. It tried to accommodate Uganda’s religious, regional and ethnic social diversities.”

The period from 1996 onwards, Prof Muhumuza says, marked a shift from the all-inclusive and broad-based politics of national unity to politics of exclusion and manipulation. 

“In short, it was no longer necessary for President Museveni to have a broad-based government because the 10 years in power had helped him consolidate his power base by building a strong grassroots network and military machine. Besides, the State and economy had been reconstructed and the country was relatively stable. Hence, Museveni’s position was stronger than ever before both domestically and externally.”

Enter UPC

Another party that has been split with one group accusing the other of hobnobbing with NRM is Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) which brags about leading Uganda to independence in 1962.

On one hand, there is a group led by Jimmy Akena, the son of UPC‘s founding president Milton Obote, and on another led by constitutional lawyer Peter Walubiri, who has dismissed Mr Akena’s faction as a strand of NRM.

This disintegration of UPC is decades-long but reached its summit prior to the 2016 General Election when Akena’s faction signed a MoU with NRM.

Akena agreed not to stand for presidency and in return, NRM was not going to harass him in his Lira Municipality seat (now Lira City East).

“Most of you have not understood what this is about. This is political pragmatism. You may choose to believe what others are saying, but you need to know what this is about,” Akena said and later Museveni appointed Oyam South MP Betty Amongi, Akena’s wife, as minister for Lands, Housing, and Urban Development and during this term, she has been appointed minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development.

In explaining the deal with NRM, Mr Akena said it would enable UPC to operate as a political party without being stopped by police which was at the time led by Gen Kale Kayihura.

President Museveni

“The most important thing is that if the party can operate then we have no problem. You see, if we are in an alliance, it will be hard for Gen Kayihura to teargas our rallies...that is the arrangement. We can field candidates and more members will now be in a position to stand since the ruling party, which was the opponent, will be an ally,” he said.

Still, prior to the 2016 elections, Akena’s faction announced that it would not field a presidential candidate with the MP offering that Opposition needs to get their priorities right and invest in the right places instead of going into elections for the sake of it.

For the 2021 elections, Mr Akena said he would on retaining his Lira East parliamentary seat strengthen the party’s grassroots structures in order for it to be able to work on increasing its representation in local governments and Parliament.

In broadening divisions within Opposition, Mao and Akena have continued to attend Interparty Organisation for Dialogue (IPOD) meetings, sometimes hosted at the behest of Mr Museveni – a move that has annoyed other Oppositions parties such as NUP and Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) which have rallied the Opposition to ignore the meetings on account that nothing productive can come out of them, besides legitimising NRM. 

IPOD was formed with a view of bringing all political parties with representation in Parliament to one table to discuss political issues, but it has proved to be divisive within Opposition. 

“We would like to take this opportunity to extend a hand of friendship to the colleagues who by virtue of the recently concluded elections qualify to be members of the IPOD and this is specifically to the People’s Progressive Party and National Unity Platform (NUP),” Mr Akena said about IPOD last year.

According to Prof Muhumuza, the divide and rule tactics deployed by NRM show that indeed Mr Museveni was forced into opening political space.

“The political transition was securely placed under the control and influence of Museveni’s NRM government. The only concession was to open up for individuals from any political persuasion to compete for power at all levels of government on the basis of individual merit, but not parties. This was justified on the grounds that multipartism would return sectarian politics and consequently polarise the country. This allowed NRM to implement piecemeal democratic reforms, which were manipulated to ensure that Museveni maintains political control. It is not until 2005 that change to multiparty politics was approved,” Prof Muhumza says.

“It should be pointed out that Museveni opted for this change because it suited his vested political interests. He made this concession in order to get a new lease of political life and bounce back as a President under a different political dispensation. He needed to assure donors that Uganda was steadily transiting to multiparty democracy so as to continue getting aid.”