What Ssenyonyi wants to do differently from Mpuuga

Former LoP Mathias Mpuuga (right) hands over office to his successor Joel Ssenyonyi in January 2024. PHOTOs/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Throughout his two-year term of office, Mr Mpuuga had many a time been criticised for allegedly employing a “soft approach” on the President Museveni regime despite NUP being popular for activism.

We shall be the voice of our people and we shall speak all the English we have got to speak. But every so often, we shall take Parliament to our people,” was the first vow the new Leader of Opposition in Parliament (LOP), Mr Joel Ssenyonyi, made shortly after swearing in the Shadow Cabinet in Kampala last Friday.

Unlike his predecessor Mathias Mpuuga, Mr Ssenyonyi, also the Nakawa West legislator, said his term of office will be characterised by both diplomacy and political activism as Opposition presses the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government for better leadership.

He pledged that his tenure will go beyond “speaking in English” in Parliament to also involve rallying the masses to push for better governance in the country.

“Every so often, we shall take Parliament to our people,” he said adding, “We shall go out there and keep the government in check. So we will do it both ways.”

Change of tactics?
Throughout his two-year term of office, Mr Mpuuga had many a time been criticised for allegedly employing a “soft approach” on the President Museveni regime despite National Unity Platform (NUP) being popular for activism.

NUP leader Robert Kyagulanyi.

This is said to have formed part of the reasons why he encountered divisions within the NUP camp. 

This also resurfaced on December 20, 2023, as he gave the final accountability address to the media at Parliament when he asked his critics to appreciate the resilience his leadership had put up against the NRM government.

Boycotts and keeping Opposition away from plenary sittings came off as some of the major tactics he deployed, with examples drawn from his final four months of office when his camp kept away, demanding that government tables a clear response to persistent cases of human rights abuse.

These boycotts also showed cracks in his camp, considering that some Opposition leaders such as Nandala Mafabi (Budadiri West) and the late Cecilia Ogwal (Dokolo Woman MP) continued to attend plenary sittings despite the open boycott.

When the media questioned him about such acts of disunity in December last year, Mr Mpuuga said: “I think that question should be put to those who go back.” 

“Some party leaders have elected to work with the ruling government. And I believe that they have been cajoling and convincing their members to tow the line,” he added.

During his tenure, some members from his camp crossed to the NRM. Mr Martin Ojaara Mapenduzi, who entered the House as an Independent-Opposition leaning MP started working with government. 

Mr Mapenduzi faced a backlash when he quit his role as the chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) – Local Government to become the chairperson of the Committee on Public Service and Local government.

“Midway, we had some of the Opposition party members who crossed. That is not a small thing. But when they cross, as the leader you have a duty to gather the remaining team members to deliver effectively,” Mr Mpuuga said in December.

And why Ssenyonyi approach now?
Mr Ssenyonyi, who laid his plans in the presence of his predecessor Mpuuga at the Imperial Royale Hotel in Kampala last week, indicated that activism would stir up government to react.

“We want to rally Ugandans to join this fight. Let’s not think that this is a fight for only Members of Parliament. It is a fight for all of us,” he said.

His clarion call was sent out to, among others, religious leaders, members of the civil society, and cultural leaders. He intimated that he would, among others, visit areas characterised by land grabbing, inspect renovation works at the Mandela National Stadium-Namboole and also inspect the John Akii Bua Stadium.

“We are coming. We are putting everyone on notice. Everyone that thinks that they will frustrate our work, you have been put on notice,” he said.

“And no one will stand in our way because we are duty bound. So anyone that does not like us being in these offices, we are not in these offices by the mercies of anybody, we are in these offices courtesy of the Constitution of Uganda and the people of Uganda.”

Since ascension to office, Mr Ssenyonyi has mobilised his troops to inspect the state of roads in Kampala, and attempted to inspect construction progress at the International Specialised Hospital located in Lubowa on Entebbe Road.

This awakened debate on the stalled hospital project in Parliament.

On Tuesday, plenary sitting chaired by Speaker Anita Among opened on a tough note. Most of lawmakers, including Ms Among, were displeased and demanded that government explains why Members of Parliament, while doing oversight work, are obstructed from inspecting projects paid for by taxpayers’ money.

This saw the Speaker instruct her Deputy Thomas Tayebwa to head out to the said site and establish progress on the project into which State Minister in charge of General Duties Henry Musasizi revealed that government has so “paid through promissory notes an amount of $156m (more than Shs592b).”

Legislators such Margaret Rwabushaija expressed worry that security agencies were reluctant to rein in security personnel who obstruct work of MPs.

“They [security personnel] are sealing it off and nobody should go there because it is a ghost. They are armed and our members are not armed; this is threatening. One day our people might get shot,” Ms Rwabushaija said.

Lawmakers pressed Attorney General Kiryowa Kiwanuka on whether government intentionally frustrates Members of Parliament in their oversight role.

“The last time I checked it [oversight] was still in the statute book. The oversight role of Parliament still exists,” Mr Kiryowa said.