We plan to unite more, take parliament to the people, says Mpuuga

Leader of Opposition Mathias Mpuuga. PHOTOS/ABUBAKER LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • In his first tenure as Leader of Opposition (LOP) in the 11th Parliament, Mr Mathias Mpuuga and his team have shot at many things. Whereas some of their strategies and actions have yielded positives, some cracks seem to have appeared in the walls of the National Unity Platform (NUP) steered by ex-legislator, Mr Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu. To appreciate NUP internal issues, Sunday Monitor’s Arthur Wadero caught up with Mr Mpuuga. 

It is a new year, and days into 2023, what are your plans as the Opposition in Parliament this year?

It’s an eventful new year. Last year, a lot happened, so much did not happen. And some major disappointments of last year were that we remained too few in the House from the NUP side. We continue receiving a lot of information regarding many citizens being abducted by the regime. It is a new day, a new year but nothing has shifted in the country because we are in the same objectives [and] same activities. Our intentions are to halt the regime.
So, I can only say that from what we tried to do last year, we are now going to do more. Most importantly, to mobilise the opposition in Parliament to work more coherently together because the last 12 months [or] 15, we had just met and we lived in an environment of mutual suspicion. Probably we were never able to have enough time to understand each other’s objectives. 

Now that a year has gone under the bridge, we have been able to speak to each other, to listen to each other. We are now able to appreciate the areas of convergence and probably along the way, we shall minimise departing points.  So we are more inclined to work closely together as the opposition.
If anybody [or] any group thought that they hold sway or advantage over the other, they now know that in a sinking boat, nobody holds an advantage over the other. It’s the same water [and] same old rickety boat, so we are going to sink together. So we all have every reason to summon our extraordinary ideas and capabilities to work on surmounting the challenges before us. This is because the challenges in Parliament are a microelement of the challenges outside Parliament. So there’s nothing that is a preserve of Parliament in as far as what we are working in to change our political situation is concerned.

You talk of pulling muscle in all units of the opposition so that 2023 can be a better year, but what are the particulars you are looking at?
I announced in my end of year presser that we want to prioritise considering constitutional reforms. The second was that it is going to be preceded by consultations across political stakeholders and that has already started. From my mother party, the NUP, which is the vanguard opposition party, there is a lot of reaching out to the different stakeholders as part of harmonising what (in case we pursued this agenda) should be the issues emerging. Not forgetting that some years back, we embarked on a joint civil society-political parties’ framework and outed (sic) what was termed as the Citizens’ Compact; An enumeration of the 16 aspirations in the new constitution and a number of electoral reforms that the citizens considered necessary for us to be able to birth a durable constitutional and electoral framework or legal regime for that matter.

So the consultations are on, and once they are flagged off by the joint forces of change, we shall be able to domesticate them in Parliament and work on them. That, will not stop us from pursuing other considered [aspirations]. You see, Parliament per se is a structured platform and works in a structured way. I have a number of colleagues working on a number of legislations. I don’t want to pre-empt them until they are presented including those that we have presented in the previous sessions—installations that we are going to be pushing because we are pro-people legislations.
Take an example of the Dr Abed [Bwanika]-led Bill- the Contract Farming Bill; the Hon [Hilary] Kiyaga’s Bill-the Amendment Bill to the Copyright Law and Neighbouring Act which aims at strengthening the bargain of creators and artists.
There are so many other proposed legislations that are coming up, including those listed in my legislative agenda, and alternative budget statement for the outgoing financial year.

But again, critically, we are going to have a lot of Parliament outside Parliament. We are the people’s voice. A voice is as good as the issues it communicates and these issues live and obtain from the citizenry. I am going to be working a lot with my team in Parliament to make sure that we devote and commit more time with the citizens. The people of Uganda are a suffering people [and] they need to be heard. People are being evicted from their workplaces. People at the landing sites are being disempowered. People’s land is being grabbed. All these people need voices. So we shall be doing a lot of community consultations to hear from the people, to reach out to the people and to be able to try and generate a people’s consensus in what we do in Parliament as of our legislative framework.

There is perception that your leadership is fronting a different and more diplomatic approach in pushing for change as opposed to the more heads-on style at the NUP Party headquarters. What do you say to that?
There is a lot. It is not new that Parliament and the party headquarters would look at Parliament differently. I’ve been here for more than 10 years and it has been the case with the previous opposition leaders. I worked with Hon Nandala [Mafabi]. I worked with Hon Winnie Kiiza and then my immediate predecessor, Hon [Betty] Aol, [it was the] same thing.

What we probably fail to do is to first work out a framework that can harmoni these working relations. Remember, you have more numbers outside than inside the Parliament. You have more people outside and the team at Parliament plays the role of voicing what the outside thinks. So the better way is to always harmonise. Sometimes harmonisation is not an event that you’re going to fast-track. It takes a series but also the structured manner of Parliament makes it almost improbable to do certain things.
So we need to explain to each other what is feasible and what is not feasible: And that certain things cannot be done as a matter of cram work because in Parliament, you confront so many situations. On a given day, you have a Bill, so what is confrontational about discussing a Bill? 
You only have to take your head with you and well researched information and give the opposition view on particular legislation: On another day, you are tabling the BiIl.

So, you [have] got to be able to fairly balance the expectations of the people. Right now we are into the budget process. What do you need to do as opposition in the budget process? You have got to have cool heads to understand the implications of the government’s proposed budget and then go out with all the competency and knowledge and speak the people about the dangers of the regime proposal while you also tell the people what you plan to do about the budget.
So the point I’m making is that we work to get to understand each other, how to work better. What will probably sound out more in the media are our points of disagreement. But clearly there are so many points of agreement over how we work and they constitute more than 80 per cent. The 10 per cent speaks loud because bad news is good news in the newsroom.

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Throughout last year, you kept pressing for the release of two of your members; Allan Ssewanyana (Makindye West MP) and Muhammad Ssegirinya (Kawempe North) together with condemnation of continuous violation of human rights, to no avail. Is it time that the international community is brought in? 

Without necessarily letting loose my working lines, you probably remember that I made more statements on the floor of Parliament on matters of human rights than any other issue for the last one year. My sense is that the abstinence of the regime is because the regime is purely a military outfit, and those are their methods of work and we are educating ourselves to the fact that they are not going to change, which is why we are working with all stakeholders to expose them. I don’t have to mention what we have been doing behind the lines. Indictments alone are not the final target. Eventually we need to have the top dogs targeted and have the entire regime and its apparatus surrounded because it’s this apparatus that is being used to undermine democracy in Uganda.

The National Unity Platform (NUP) leader Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine addressing journalists in Kampala. PHOTOS/ABUBAKER LUBOWA

Parliament has to speak out and probably get even more information on the activities of some of the individuals. If we cannot work on the group, then we must work on the individuals and the drive and expose those who are directly and personally involved in violating human rights.
The fact that two of my colleagues have been in incarceration for last two years is one of the dark spots of the 11th Parliament. Unfortunately, you are asking the victim. This question should be put to the regime and to the ministers, what their motivation is in doing what they are doing because they have frustrated prosecution. They have also frustrated the right of these members to bail meaning that the entire arrangement about these two MPs is political persecution.

If they wanted to prosecute them, the evidence is with them. The members are with them, they are not in exile. So we are dealing with the fact that the regime is preparing the country for a final assault on what is remaining of the titbits of our failing democracy. I am very sure that they are rehearsing the final military assault on the constitution. I will not be shocked if what we see more than doubles.
I won’t be shocked if by the end of the year, you have more members of Parliament in jail or more activists disappearing or jailed because regime vulnerability would as of necessity generate this. We have a regime driving in the survival mode and therefore without legitimacy, the result is intimidation and trying to claw back on people’s agitation. So the final settlement of the unsettled questions in Uganda, according to Gen Museveni and his people, is by brandishing militarism.

One of your members, Francis Zake employed a different approach on the floor of Parliament late last year and it seems sections of the public lauded him for using that approach, possibly in the belief that it pushes the regime to listen to and act. What do you say to people who support this?
The way we do things in Parliament, we are not competing for anything. Whatever we are able to do is complementary, The Hon Zake was not competing with anyone in doing what he did. That is what he was able to do at the time and we shall encourage our members to summon their best skills to be able to hammer their points home.
So there is no contradiction in the fact that that is what he was able to master as a man frustrated with the status-quo. There is nothing like competition. I am what I am and I do offer leadership the way I know it. I am not competing with anybody for style. There is nothing like, ‘I must go and train for a new style’.

I encourage my members to self-express [and] bring their best because we must bring the best of each to bear on our work because some of the team members are horses and others are bears. The work we do cannot be a preserve of bears alone and horses alone. The blend of these multiple skills should really make us a better team.
If we were uniform, that would be a danger for democracy. We are different. We are skilled differently. We comprehend issues differently and therefore must be able to even work better because we are a good blend of age, skill and experience.
What are your specific strategies to unite the opposition more with regard to pushing for regime change?
Uniting people is not an event. You can be united by the problems you face [or] the ambitions you bear. A combination of those should be able to enable the opposition to generate the minimal level of consensus. In uniting the opposition we are not telling any group or individuals to drop, ambitions, objectives but as matter of necessity, for the sake of this country, we need to cede our small groupings and first rescue the course of our democracy so that we can retreat to our coolest to go and push for individual or party agenda.
So there is a lot we are doing because we are all suffering. The immediate thing we are doing is to speak to each other [and] when do, it makes unity quite easy.

What is your response to allegation that your office is in conflict with your party leader, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu?

How can my office be in conflict? This is an office. The office is not a personal property. The office is a subset of a party structure because we are the leading opposition. Myself and Hon Kyagulanyi are not two conformists. The two of us are people who hold views on situations and events. When they arise, we meet very regularly and discuss these issues.
It is not in my space to address in public what we agree on and what we don’t. What I implement is what we have agreed on because it is not personal property. I am not here to impress my ideas upon the team. I only share my ideas with them. Hon Kyagulanyi is the party president. He has his views. The beauty about him is that he makes them known, not as a matter of imposition but as matter of view and then we discuss them. Nobody in NUP makes their own discussions and they become the law, No! We discuss the ideas.
Of course because we discuss in a rather murky political environment, I get the sense that there are people who prefer that the environment or situation of disagreement is created. What their intentions and benefits are, I am yet to understand. I am adult enough to hold views but I don’t make these views the views of the party. I subordinate them to the party decision.

What do you make of the growing push for the First Son, Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba to succeed his father as popularid through the Muhoozi project?
Muhoozi and his shenanigans are part of the diversion and it is intentional. Would you imagine a situation where another military general does what he does and he is not court martialled? It is an attestation to an overthrow of a constitutional order that allows Muhoozi to be above the law and others must subordinate themselves to court, to which Muhoozi is not subjected. So that kind of cause is recipe for disaster for this country and this country must be discussing how to restore constitutional order by empowering citizens to take decisions through the different arms of government and those decisions become binding.

What are your parting shots?
An invitation to take interest in matters of governance of this country. The struggle to restore constitutional order in Uganda is not a preserve of politicians. It is the duty of everyone; civil society, media, religious institutions and everyone. This is because where democracy fails, nobody is going to survive. Where the rule of law is overthrown, no one is going to thrive. So it is going to be the rule of the jungle. In the jungle, nobody is going to survive. So we all got (sic) to work together. We should stop undermining each other.