We should know Museveni’s successor now - Nagenda

Nagenda during the interview. Photo by Michael Kakumirizi

What you need to know:

I have far more interests in seeing how we can decide on somebody to come after Museveni, so that we are not taken by surprise. Can you imagine if, as I said, Museveni died, and all of a sudden people [who have disagreed with him such as Sejusa] came out of the woodwork to takeover power by the gun, it would be a terrible shame and it would undo so much that have happened.

Change of goal posts? John Nagenda is a Senior Presidential Adviser on Media and Communication Affairs. Recently, he wrote in his weekly column, defending amendment of the Constitution to scrap term limits, which was a U-turn since Nagenda had opposed the amendment of the Constitution. Sunday Monitor’s Richard Wanambwa caught up with the adviser on a wide-range of issues and below is the first segment of the two-part interview.

Recently you wrote in your column defending the third term (amendment of the Constitution) which you had previously opposed. Why the sudden U-turn and what has changed?
No, but it has not been of all of a sudden and when we last talked it was what, two years ago or maybe even more. I have been thinking about it, the America say, if it aint broken, don’t mend it right and that is one thing. The second thing is, let me be very honest; the President is doing a fantastic job as we shall see when we go on, he is really doing a very good job and for example, we went to Somalia which I think is fantastic of an African country helping another and then we have recently gone into South Sudan.

And don’t forget that Museveni has always supported South Sudan to gain independence from Khartoum and we went there and we have been part of it under IGAD but it has been a good job done.

The last thing we want to do is to get that country to be in terrible problems because those problems rebound on us. But two, we had to help the elected government of South Sudan against rebels. Now thinking of all the other people we have all around, who might have taken over from Museveni, I don’t see any of them having courage to go into these countries and partly funnily enough, ironically enough, the longer he has gone on, the stronger he has become and he is now definitely a leading person in Africa and I think in the third world.
Now I ask myself, as I had been a very strong supporter of term limits for many reasons and especially the bad governance that we had in the past, what do you do with it and when I wrote this time, I said, let it be personal to the holder and I know that people might be skeptical and say who decides that it should be personal to holder or XYZ and that is the argument I see very well but you can say, let us stick to term limits.

Actually, now we are really not controlled by term limits because they were removed with the approval of Parliament. However, my feeling now is that having given away on that one, which I have accepted quite honestly and I have kept quiet about it, then my conditionality is that as a country we should know his successor, it maybe that he knows him in one way or another, it maybe some of the bigger people in Parliament or in government, cabinet. But there should be a knowledge that all other things being equal, this person is being groomed to be a leader and that he /she should be acceptable to the party and hope also to the country.

You know my nightmare and I am not joking, it is a nightmare, sometimes I wake up and say what if - and God forbid - Museveni died accidently or was overcome by sudden illness and he died, it would be so terrible after all these years when the movement has been in power, the country has been well-run, and of course, there are shortcomings and it would be terrible to think of us sinking back to what things were before the movement came in and before Museveni came.
I have far more interests in seeing how we can decide on somebody to come after Museveni, so that we are not taken by surprise. Can you imagine if, as I said, Museveni died, and all of a sudden people [who have disagreed with him such as Sejusa] came out of the woodwork to takeover power by the gun, it would be a terrible shame and it would undo so much that have happened.

You mean there is no credible person at the moment in government or opposition to take on the mantle from Museveni?
There are people who could do the job yes, but whether they will do the job as well as Museveni is a different question. But in any case you can’t say Museveni is 90 or 100 or whatever that is... we must groom somebody very strongly.
There hasn’t been grooming of some sorts. But that [lack of grooming] happens elsewhere. For example in United States, who do you suppose will take over when Mr Obama gives up? In England, who do you suppose will take over when Mr [David] Cameron quits?

If you give somebody 28 years and counting, then in return he/she should be able to see your worry but who after all these time, will have the necessary qualities to takeover and therefore, definitely somebody should be involved.

But as outsiders, we have been informed that Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi has been groomed to replace him?
I don’t believe you for a minute. I know Mr Mbabazi very well, Mr Mbabazi is a very good speaker by the way in Parliament. He is easily the best but I don’t know if he thinks he is going to succeed [Museveni] but I think majority [of people] wouldn’t say he has been groomed. I don’t think he is being groomed, I haven’t seen him groomed, have you?

Who do we apportion this whole blame on; don’t we blame it on President Museveni?
No, because if all the people in the Movement, in the hierarchy, in the upper most hierarchy really felt very strongly that Mr Museveni should go then I guess he would go.
One person cannot holdout against a whole flood of other people, and of course, having said that, I think Mr Museveni feels very strongly that he is the one who can do it and who will say he is not right?

You see, as I have told you, think of other African countries, think of those around us. In Rwanda, you will find it very difficult to replace Mr [Paul] Kagame, in Tanzania they usually go by what has been written in stone that after two terms you go by CCM, the governing body, and in Kenya, I have to say, I am so impressed by Uhuru Kinyatta, he has the stamp of somebody who would do a very good job and he is the man of the people and the rest of it.

But to go back maybe to Museveni, I have worked for the President for the last 17 years, and nothing makes me believe that he thinks there is somebody else who can take over from him at the moment. But I think this happens with certain leaders, he just feels conviction which is offset by what they hear from their cabinets or their junior people. They say, I am the one chosen and it is a very good thing when it happens because then they can act with great conviction and think it puts them on their metal if people give way and say you are the one to do it.
Of course for me I believe and in Luganda we say Awakula ennume tewakula emu, which means where one bull has been born, it cannot be alone. Unfortunately for me, I am already 75 years old. I can’t stand but I could see myself I have been captain of teams and the rest of it. But there might be other people who feel the same way but when you say whose fault is it that nobody else has emerged, remember life occasionally follows biological substances.
It is like a tree with very wide leaves and below it things don’t grow and in any case, it is not entirely a bad thing by the way, since it is so difficult to find good leaders and strong leaders. I think we are lucky to have Museveni, and unless there is a very strong reason that he can no longer run the government like illness, age and whatever, it is difficult to accept when you have an idea that there should be changes. But as I said at the beginning, I have now rested on this subject and I very much hope that it is not for ever and I mean Kamuzu Banda was 98 or 99. Jesus! I hope Mr Museveni does not stay that long.

But I like so much that he has put Uganda on the map in some things because of the force of his personality and because of the love which most Ugandans have for him that we should not negate that factor when he obviously wants to go on.

But some people allege that he is grooming his son to take over, how true are these allegations since you are close to him?
I don’t buy that argument at all and I have heard it for the last 10 to 15 years and I don’t agree. But if he did that, he would be really uncharacteristically stupid because Uganda is not something to put in your pocket. Besides, he has got too much love for his son to really want to throw him into a thing where people might not necessarily want him and this is not a kingdom, right?

Of course if, and I have written this, Muhoozi stood and people chose him freely you cannot punish him that because he is a son of Museveni he can’t succeed but what I am really 100 per cent against is if it was forced on Ugandans to accept him because he is a son of Museveni.

Since you have worked closely with President Museveni for this long, is there anything he has done that has annoyed you and you have regretted why he ever did it?
Well, I will be honest occasionally. I have been at meetings when President Museveni has turned around and said he would like to go and look after his cattle but who around can do this job and people have dutifully laughed it off.
And I think it hurts them because it is all very well having strong convictions about yourself but if you continuously have correspondingly low beliefs about your colleagues with whom you work, it must take some vigour from them and it is partly because of Museveni’s overwhelming force. Some people have overwhelming force. Like president Mao Zedong (China) had it, JF Kennedy (US) had it until he was shot.
It is very good to have belief in yourself but at a much lower level or being a captain of Uganda cricket team... I constantly found myself being a little bit unkind to my colleagues and thinking that I was the only one who could do it until they rebelled.

I had wanted to be a captain when I was 50 because that is fantastic but before I became 50, there was a rebellion started by my own cards men and I left. I would be very interested to see if cabinet were to say you have been very fantastic to us, you have been very good - which is very true and which has happened - but we would like to have somebody else, I would like to be a fly on the ceiling to see how that will be taken but nobody is going to say it. But I would like to see if somebody stood up and said that.

Are you then surprised that people like Kizza Besigye, Sejusa and others yet to emerge, are challenging him because they now know the man they brought to power is not giving way?
I preferred it if Sejusa had done it as a military man, if he had brought this up in a meeting and if he had the courage to do that rather than to sneak around and go to another country.

I think he is regretting about how badly he has handled this particular subject. It hasn’t helped at all, it comes out almost as competition between Museveni on one hand and Sejusa on the other and it is quite obvious who loses that argument. And if there any other people and I noticed that my good friend Maj Gen Benon Biraaro is also trying to throw his hat in the ring. Yeah fine and I don’t mind that at all, let people decide by vote. But if all of them started talking behind the scene and is seen as a conspiracy, which is against army rules. But let people in cabinet be strong enough to bring it up and cabinet is luckier than the army in the sense that the rules about it are much loser. However, let them, if they felt that they have had enough and I don’t think they feel so at all at the moment, come up and say this is Cabinet even if the President is a little bit harsh on them.

Yes, it is true. I have been quite unkind about cabinet but you see the way they are chosen, they are not chosen on merit. Many of them are chosen because of where they come from and that means that for them to come together and really bring force, a strong feeling is very unlikely to happen. You remember the Animal Farm by George Orwell; the animals at the end did get the courage. There is a well known English saying - Who will bell the cat? Because they said let us put a bell on him so that we can hear him when he is coming. But there was silence on who was going to bell the cat, right. And of course, partly the people feel frightened by such a strong character.

It is very difficult because a strong character is good for you as I have said and we have gone into places and now we are a powerhouse. Before that we had been seen as a regional hub but we have proved that we need it because there is no way we would have got it without a strong leader but if a leader is so strong, that even people are afraid of their own shadows before him, then I don’t think that is very healthy. But then, let us say I was Museveni, am I going to say please don’t fear me? People have to have the compassion to say it.

At what stage would you like President Museveni to end his reign and now that his age is nearing the mandatory limit of 75 as recommended by the Constitution?
I believe he is now 69 going into 70, something tells me he is going to stand one more term, he hasn’t said so and he has always said and I believe him that if the people said to him, you are not going to stand again, right and said it strongly enough, he would be bound to listen but I am not quite sure how you tell him because is it going to be cabinet that will take him out? Is it going to be the army? Is it going to be the public? The public, of course, should be the one to do it.

If they felt that his job was done right, and I am not saying the job was done, in the sense of he has finished his earthly work (dead). Yeah, I believe that the country, if they really felt that they have had enough, would not give him their votes and why not. But what is more, I honestly believe very strongly that if the President felt that he wasn’t going to go through, because he does his maths like anybody else, and people in the districts take him through this, he would change his mind.
But then consider this; nobody has ever come close to getting there and I think there was a time when Dr Kizza Besigye got 36 per cent. That is the nearest and I am not a believer at all in this rubbish that the votes were cheated. And even in some places some were lost and so on, I don’t think it changed results and definitely you have seen Besigye disappearing and he is just now a nuisance value. He comes out and then people without jobs who get a bottle of soda out of it come and shout but I don’t know any serious people who think he could do it.

We the public think that people who have access to him can tell him this but from what you are saying it looks like you don’t access him and now who does advice him and when did you last advice him?
Yes, I am proud I have to say that I have given him advice which may be coincided with what he wanted to do but which he has listened to and you can take it from me that I have given him advice which he didn’t appreciate. But if you give me advice and I don’t take it is that a crime? But it is up to him to take it or not but believe me and take it from me that I have talked to him very seriously and he knows it and I know it and we were two of us.

But does he still take advice because some people say he comes with preconceived position which he imposes on them as final say?
I think he would take advice and I think he does take advice if your advice is here and his is a long way away you will really be lucky to change and so many things in life are much closer than that and therefore, you give your advice but what I know he has never refused to listen.

If you take your courage and some of us are quite courageous people, give a statement and furnish it with reasons, he will take it. And that is why I am so sad that our friend Kategaya (Late Eriya Kategaya) died because people like him are not there anymore.
Kategaya would talk very seriously about somebody he had known when he was seven years old and Museveni would listen and it is true he wouldn’t always agree and neither would Kategaya agree but there was some kind of talking at parity or near parity. And there are people during the war, they were people who mattered, who had known him, whom he trusted quite a lot and if they all came and said the same thing, I am sure he would listen.
But the problem is who are the people around him? They are the new people, they are chosen as I said mostly where they come from really there, I don’t expect them to be very strong and to say we disagree with you for these reasons because maybe their reasons are not the same. And also don’t forget that out of their jobs, can grow influence even wealth and people just say listen this man is doing a good job; he is a very strong person who is going to bell him? Not me, it is actually a tragedy in my view.
However, when I say that, I also look at it slightly in a different way. There are very few major subjects that I can think of where the president has gone actually the wrong way; very few and if you show me some, we can discuss it but people say what he is saying is reasonable and why should I come out and fight it.

Maybe I would say the districts are his idea. I think these millions of districts are completely very wrong and I have always said so and I have never changed my mind on that one but we can change our mind but on the district I don’t see. I have talked to some people from Tororo and so on. All of them didn’t want to get smaller and smaller units. The districts, if they are the ideas of the President, then that would have given an opportunity for people to come out and say no, this is not good enough.

Another area where he went wrong, I think is agriculture, for the longtime the President said and let us be honest about it that we must be like the Far East tigers and I didn’t see any point in that at all because you do what you do because that is what you have. Singapore is a city state almost and of course you don’t have the land to go into agriculture right and I think we have wasted so much time on agriculture. Some of us have written about if from time to time and I once drove from Arua back to Kampala when I was on the board of British-American Tobacco; there is beautiful land in every direction but not a single bit of agriculture. Then you come and see somebody has a hoe digging the ground but this is nonsense. From the beginning, we should have taken agriculture very seriously, the hoe is evil, it is a crime for people to use a hoe and unless you are doing in my garden here where you can’t use a tractor but when you are trying to grow food; how the hell do you use hoes? Why haven’t we got hundreds and hundreds of tractors and why haven’t we brought back cooperatives?

I know the cooperatives used to have thieving leaders so they fell out of favour but we should have brought them in these 28 years. What are we doing now if on those points we are not doing anything because the President hasn’t brought it up and then without people going to him and saying you are running this country the wrong way Mr President, then they should say we must do this in agriculture and there must be a blue-print for it.

And that is the chance which I have to say we haven’t taken up seriously at all. We should go back to nature that is a great gift; we have got one of the most fertile places on earth what are we doing with it? We could be the bread basket of Africa.

What must be done with the question of Buganda?
Buganda? I am a Muganda, Buganda is very well-treated and I think that the people of Luweero triangle might not agree with me as they see most of the things going beyond them to the north or whatever all the time and they say what about us. I think quite honestly sometimes the people of Luweero haven’t been all that happy. However, when I was lucky in 1985, to go those areas with the Kabaka and yes, I brought him, sometimes people think he brought me and we heard a lot about people like Lutamaguzi and other people.

For me I am completely against federalism or federo as we call it, they say it is very competitive and so on but I don’t see that at all and Britain which I know quite well had England, Scotland and Wales mostly plus Northland Island and it is only now 300 years after they got together that they are now saying yeah, if Scotland wants to go, they can go and so on because we shall be friends and that is what I will like for Uganda to know that federal at the moment will do away with our wonderful chances of working together as Ugandans and Uganda is too small.

In East Africa, we must be in the East African Community right, Uganda is not big enough and I wouldn’t like to listen too much to Mengo when it wants federal. I will be 100 per cent against it. The chances are there right and if the people are going to follow them (Mengo), the way is open to grow the way they like.

Let us face it and I have to say I was very annoyed with Mengo for many years because they seemed to me to be standing in the way of progress for Uganda as a whole but I see a change and I think the Kabaka has realised that the only way things are going to go is if Buganda sees itself as completely as part of Uganda right and grows from there. I think that is what is happening now and I am delighted.

You remember when Kabaka wasn’t allowed to go to Kayunga? [in 2009] And all those tried rising up trying to burn people’s vehicles and so on and I don’t think that will happen again. In any case even as we speak he (Kabaka) is there or about to get there, an understanding has been reached that there are certain things which were taken during the bad days of Buganda and they should be given back and they should do that to other parts of Uganda, of course. I very much hope that as a Muganda, this is what our progress will be through out Uganda.

In the light of a large population we have today and the demand for land, would you advocate the return of 9,000 square miles to be given back to Buganda?
The 9,000 square miles don’t exist and by the way, the 9,000 square miles is the title for the land that was given out at that time and it is not there. You may find maybe there is 1,000 or not, it doesn’t exist when you hear people say we want our land, I say this is rubbish and in any case what is there is that some of the people who have been there to go and look for it and when they find little, they put it in their pocket.

You mean people at Mengo?
Yes people at Mengo and many of them if they find a little part, it is gone and so the 9,000 square miles is not there full stop. It is like saying using highfalutin phrases the land that was given was 9,000 square miles and it was long time ago and taken right and people realised they are very much mistaken thinking that somewhere there are porches of 9,000 square miles it is not there.


In part two of the interview next week, Nagenda says corruption has defeated NRM and NRM can do nothing to fight graft.
He says Jennifer Musisi has done well but she is an iron lady while on environment, he says the President was wrong to allocate part of Murchison falls land for development of a golf course at the expense of wildlife conservation.

Nagenda also criticises Mr Museveni for having a soft spot for foreign investors at the expense of locals. The Presidential adviser also says he is not disgruntled as alleged by Tamale Mirundi and dismisses Mirundi as not worth answering back.