On Wednesday morning, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) vice president for eastern region, Ms Salaamu Musumba, surprisingly withdrew a petition that she had filed in the High Court in Jinja challenging the election on January 14 of the former Speaker of Parliament, Ms Rebecca Kadaga, as the Woman MP for Kamuli District.
Ms Kadaga was declared winner of the seat having beaten Ms Musumba with a difference of 65,537 votes. She polled 92,388 votes against Ms Musumba’s negligible 26,851 votes.
Ms Musumba then quickly dashed to court seeking an annulment of the victory on grounds that Ms Kadaga had committed numerous electoral offences including bribery of voters.
Ms Musumba, in her petition, had alleged: “During the campaign period, with the intent of influencing voters, the first respondent (Kadaga) personally and through her agents with her knowledge, consent and approval bribed voters with money, gifts like tents, motor vehicles, motorcycles, money, chicks/chicken, iron sheets, hand hoes, gomesi and many other considerations.”
The FDC honcho, who said she was not satisfied with the manner in which the Electoral Commission (EC) had conducted the polls, also accused the Kamuli District returning officer of having arbitrarily and irregularly declared Ms Kadaga winner of the seat.
That set the stage for what had been expected to be an interesting legal contest.
Her decision to run to court in April where Justice Eve Luswata allowed for substituted service on grounds that Ms Kadaga had been dodging their process server heighted the excitement, but as the British Liberal Politician, Mr Joseph Chamberlain, once pointed out, “In politics, there is no use in looking beyond the next fortnight”. Ms Musumba had as it turned out, flattered to deceive.
Ms Musumba says her move is in the interest of unity and harmony in Busoga sub-region.
“I want to inform the country and the people of Busoga that I have without hesitation withdrawn the election petition that I filed in this court in the interest of unity and harmony. It takes a brave person like Salaamu to do this and that is what I have done. I hope I will be understood,” she says.
Ms Kadaga was not at the court premises. It was also not possible to talk to her for this article, but this is the second time that a petition challenging Kadaga’s victory has been withdrawn.
In 2016, Ms Deborah Mwesigwa who had lost to Ms Kadaga in both NRM primaries and the race for Parliament, withdrew her petition, but the circumstances were quite different.
Ms Kadaga was at the time facing Opposition in her quest for a second term as Speaker of Parliament. Ms Mwesigwa’s petition was, therefore, viewed as an impediment to the realisation of that objective. The Kamuli folk then took it upon themselves to pressure her into backing down.
“When I sat and realised this petition would affect her in the race to become Speaker, the Basoga would have hated me for the rest of my life.
People started calling me, elders starting visiting my mother in the village. It was as if I was standing in her way of becoming Speaker… When I sat with my family and elders, they told me to withdraw the case,” Ms Mwesigwa explained in 2016.
It is not clear whether Ms Musumba was under similar pressure. She indicated to Sunday Monitor late on Wednesday that the decision to withdraw the petition was personal and aimed to serve the interests of Busoga.
“(I withdrew the petition) because I am the owner of the case. I was the front person with my witnesses. We came to an understanding that (we withdraw it) in the best interests of harmony in the region. It is we who had the trump card, we had to do so. (It is) An example of good leadership,” Ms Musumba told Sunday Monitor.
This latest stand will come as a big surprise, especially given the acrimony that characterised the run up to and the campaign.
Ms Musumba first declared her intention to take on Ms Kadaga in July last year, suggesting that it was personal.
“Where have I contested and she has not come out to fight me? Where? So instead of us fighting using proxies let us face off,” she declared.
Accusations that Ms Kadaga fights all politicians in Kamuli have been around for more than a decade now. She has been the subject of accusations from Mr Isaac Musumba, Mr Gerald Menya, Mr Asuman Kiyingi and Mr Moses Kizige.
All have blamed her whenever they have suffered political reversals in their constituencies in Buzaya, Bugabula North and Bugabula South.
Mr Kiyingi, who suffered defeat at the hands of Henry Maurice Kibalya in the 2016 elections, still blames Ms Kadaga for that defeat and accuses her of being obsessed with emerging as the undisputed leader of Busoga. It is an accusation that Ms Musumba later took on.
In October last year, after the NRM primaries that had been held a month before, Ms Musumba while speaking on the fringes of a national council meeting of the FDC, told Sunday Monitor that some NRM leaders, including her husband Isaac Musumba, who was at the time the minister of State for Urban Development; Mr Kizige, who was at minister of State for Karamoja Affairs; and Mr Thomas Kategere, who was at the LC5 chairperson of Kamuli District, had joined her camp after suffering defeats in the primaries.
“I now have the support of some very strong pillars... They are bitter. We now have one common target,” she told Sunday Monitor.
The trio showed up in Matuumu Magogo in October when Ms Musumba launched her campaign. Her husband put party allegiances and position in government aside to declare his support for her.
“I have always disagreed and backed my party candidates against her, but at this material and critical time, I am fully backing the person of Proscovia Salaamu Night Musumba, but not her colour or ideologies. This time round for the first painful time I say rally behind and vote me and also vote Salaamu Musumba for Kamuli District Woman MP,” Mr Musumba declared.
Mr Thomas Kategere also declared his support for Ms Musumba.
“We are obsessed with the belief that she (Ms Kadaga) is the only matchstick, voice and political icon in Busoga, but we need to prepare to shop for more matchboxes in case this one stick fades and burns out. This is the time to get a replacement and mentor others,” Mr Kategere said back then.
Ms Musumba accused Ms Kadaga of having blocked younger people’s access to Parliament by clinging onto the Kamuli District Woman MP seat.
“I am seeking the mandate of the people to rebuild our resource base, redeem and unblock the young girls’ seat for only one term and hand it over to them who have been obstructed from this political progress,” Musumba said.
Ms Kadaga was and is still considered to be the biggest political asset in Busoga today. One just had to visit the Speaker’s boardroom during the tenure of the life of the 10th Parliament to get an inkling of what she meant to the people of Busoga.
Mr Kategere acknowledges the fact that Ms Kadaga is still an asset to Busoga. “Kadaga was a useful person and she still is (to the region),” Mr Kategere says.
A conclusion such as Mr Kategere’s is, however, often a source of confusion. Why then gang up against her if they realise how important she is to the region?
This explains why people close to Ms Kadaga argued in the run up to the January polls that Ms Musumba was a political mercenary who had been deployed and bankrolled by powerful forces in the NRM government to undermine her in her political backyards.
That is a charge Ms Musumba denies, adding that Ms Kadaga is not as powerful as everyone suggests.
“Let me tell you, Kadaga is nothing. Kadaga has grown on our shoulders. Kadaga is nothing without us. And it is because we let her be ahead of us that she is the Kadaga you celebrate,” Ms Musumba insists.
What was it then that forced her to back down?
“I chose the path of humility. There are so many people who talked to me about this and being me, I felt… where I had stretched her that far (was enough),” Ms Musumba says.
Prof Paul Wangoola, a former member of the National Consultative Council, which served as Uganda’s Parliament soon after the ouster of president Idi Amin, thinks that the move was precipitated by the realisation that the plan to politically decimate Kadaga would not come to fruition.
“There is a stalemate. The agenda was to wipe out Kadaga politically, which was not realised. They then realised that the petition would also not serve that purpose hence the decision to withdraw it,” Prof Wangoola argues.
Mr Kategere partially agrees with Prof Wangoola, but for different reasons.
“We had advised her to withdraw the petition much earlier. Our objective had been to ensure that Kadaga did not return to the Office of Speaker of Parliament. Our intention was never to stop her from becoming an MP. We wanted her to become and MP and go and fight, as we had anticipated, with the party. We wanted to see her humiliated. She returned to government at the master’s mercy. The petition was in light of that no longer useful,” Mr Kategere told Sunday Monitor.
From the foregoing, it would seem like a victory for both camps. However, if what Mr Kategere says is not the truth, we may never know whether Ms Musumba was pushed or simply jumped.