Clashes, slips and final fall of Kadaga

President Museveni (centre), shakes hands with former Speaker Rebecca Kadaga (left) as First Lady Janet Museveni looks on during the national prayer breakfast at Pearl of Africa Hotel in Kampala on September 8, 2019. PHOTO/DAVID LUBOWA

What you need to know:

The breakdown of warm relations between President Museveni and former Speaker Kadaga and her ouster wasn’t a one-day event, but a series of defiance and miss-steps by Ms Kadaga that led her to fall into traps carefully crafted and executed by her adversaries. We trace the clashes, slips and final fall of the Speaker of the 10th Parliament.

Following the triumph of Omoro County MP Jacob Oulanyah as Speaker of the 11th Parliament, President Museveni, in a gleeful mood, bragged in his speech how he had broken the defiance and crushed the resistance staged by Ms Rebecca Kadaga, his hitherto trusted ally.

This celebratory tone followed a tense overnight meeting and crunch decision by NRM’s top party organ to lock out Ms Kadaga and anoint Mr Oulanyah as the party’s sole candidate for the race for Speaker of Parliament.

A day earlier, on the morning of Sunday, May 24, Ms Kadaga had returned to State House Entebbe where a meeting of the Central Executive Committee (CEC) of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party was ongoing.

Ms Kadaga and her former Deputy Oulanyah are members of CEC and were rival candidates for the party flag ahead of Monday’s elections for Speaker of the 11th Parliament.

Both had also been part of the meeting which had started a day before, but were ordered to leave Entebbe for the night and wait for CEC’s decision the following morning.

Both Ms Kadaga and Mr Oulanyah had been subjected to a question-and-answer session.

A source that attended the meeting revealed that it had until that time been difficult for CEC to decide one way or another.

Going by practice, the CEC members have often preferred consensus and that’s what they had tried to do throughout Saturday.

But Ms Kadaga’s allies, including Mr Mike Mukula, the NRM vice chairperson for Eastern Uganda, Mr Abdul Nadduli, the former Minister without Portfolio, who was tapped into CEC by Mr Museveni on sympathy grounds, Mr Moses Kigongo, the party’s national vice-chairperson, were reportedly resolute that the decision be referred to NRM parliamentary caucus for a vote. 

Sources that attended the CEC meeting revealed that when the meeting resumed on Sunday, Mr Museveni, who was said to have been irked that Ms Kadaga had repeatedly boasted that he (Museveni) would probably not have appeared on the 2021 presidential ballot paper if she had not played a key role in having the Constitution amended, directed that the matter be subjected to a vote in CEC instead of being sent to the party MPs caucus for final determination.

It’s not clear who voted for who in CEC, but what’s apparent is the majority of members of the top party organ had always preferred Mr Oulanyah to Ms Kadaga.

Accusations

Shortly after their arrival, the two rivals were ushered into the meeting of CEC where Mr Museveni read to Ms Kadaga a raft of accusations, before informing her that CEC had decided to endorse Mr Oulanyah as the party’s candidate for the Speaker job.

Sources close to Ms Kadaga and others within CEC told Saturday Monitor that Ms Kadaga was accused of dispatching her agents to the National Leadership Institute in Kyankwanzi with intentions of greasing some palms of newly-elected MPs aligned to the NRM, who were undergoing orientation.

“She was accused of sending Kagoma North MP Alex Brandon Kintu to bribe the new MPs,” a source close to Ms Kadaga told Saturday Monitor.

Ms Kadaga was also accused of making disparaging remarks about the Uganda Peoples’ Defense Forces (UPDF). Mr Museveni is said to have been unhappy with Ms Kadaga’s remarks about the army’s handling of the fishing communities since it was deployed to the lakes to combat illegal fishing.

Ms Kadaga was also accused of conducting herself in a manner that was bringing the NRM party image into disrepute.

Kadaga storms out

But our sources that attended the session say Ms Kadaga chose not to comment about accusations around her conduct in Parliament.

“I will not talk about my work in Parliament, but this talk about bribery is what has hurt me most. I have never bribed anyone. I have never sent anyone any money. If that is what you have based on to reach that decision, then your ruling is unfair. I am, for that matter, leaving,” Ms Kadaga is quoted to have told the meeting before storming out of State House.

According to sources close to her, she first held a meeting with members of her core campaign team at the team’s tactical headquarters in Ntinda, Kampala, before moving to Hotel Africana where she announced her decision to contest for the job as an independent candidate.

It would, however, appear that the breakdown of warm relations between Mr Museveni and Ms Kadaga and her subsequent ouster were not a one day event. Instead, the fallout was a series of miss-steps, defiance and traps that fell into carefully crafted and executed plot. The manoeuvres go deeper than the bragging that Mr Museveni put on show, claiming he had unleashed his famed guerilla Bush War tactics to defeat Ms Kadaga, hitherto an ally.

Telltale signs

It had been evident that Mr Museveni had had enough of Ms Kadaga as Speaker of Parliament, but the reasons had been unclear.

That was before last weekend’s CEC meeting.

On Saturday, Mr Museveni accused Ms Kadaga of presiding over a corrupt Parliament that simply doesn’t work for Ugandans.

Most importantly, sources that attended the CEC meeting said Mr Museveni tabled intelligence reports that showed Ms Kadaga engaging in furtive activities with the Opposition in a bid to undermine the ruling NRM. 

Ms Kadaga reportedly denied every accusation levelled against her, especially over corruption. She then accused the intelligence agencies of trying to undermine her work.

Ms Kadaga is known for having a frosty relationship with Luweero Bush War veterans, including Mr Museveni’s brother, Gen Salim Saleh, who she accused of joining forces to oust her.

At a party organised by Oulanyah supporters at the Sheraton Kampala Hotel last Friday, just before CEC could start deliberations, the presence of Maj Gen Jim Muhwezi, a former spy chief, and Lt Col Bright Rwamirama, who later nominated Mr Oulanyah at Kololo Independence Grounds, spoke volumes.

Ms Kadaga has accused Gen Saleh of funding her perennial rival, Ms Salaam Musumba of the Opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) during the January parliamentary elections.

Both Gen Saleh and Ms Musumba deny the accusations as a figment of the former Speaker’s imagination.

The attacks in CEC were, however, a follow-up of what the President had said earlier this year when he addressed new NRM MPs at the closing of their retreat at the Kyankwanzi National Leadership Institute.

Mr Museveni then warned how he would not stomach the idea that Parliament stalls projects he claimed were meant to grow the economy. He also castigated MPs for engaging in relentless travels abroad, describing it as a form of corruption. Many analysts interpreted those comments to be digs aimed at Ms Kadaga.

“MPs [claim] they are going to benchmark. That is corruption. This time I must tell you as members of the NRM that this time we shall fight. They end up involving all of us in mistakes. It is not right to squander and waste resources for the country [through] travelling [around the world],” Mr Museveni said.

Over time, our sources say, Mr Museveni had grown wary of the power that Ms Kadaga wielded in her native Busoga sub-region to the extent that all politicians – be they NRM or the Opposition – had to seek her blessings – if they are to sail through.

However, key among the things that pained Mr Museveni the most was the resolution of displeasure passed by Parliament on the watch of Ms Kadaga.

In May last year, an open war of words erupted between Ms Kadaga and President Museveni. The exchange seemed to be over the Shs20m that Parliament had deposited on each MPs’ bank accounts, pointedly to fight the spread Covid-19.

  Mr Museveni labelled the act of allocating these funds to MPs as wicked.  

“We had planned in another way and you come and change. It is not a good way. It is morally reprehensible for MPs to give themselves money for personal use when the country is in such a crisis; and totally unacceptable to me and to the NRM,” Mr Museveni said.

In a blunt rebuff, Ms Kadaga, undeterred, still presided over a session that passed a resolution denouncing Mr Museveni’s statements. In further defiance, the Kamuli Woman MP asked the MPs not to return the money, saying Parliament was under attack from both the Executive and Judiciary. She vowed to “fight back.”

Later, Mr Museveni penned a letter accusing Parliament of trying to undermine the Executive arm of government.

“First of all, it is unconstitutional, both in logic and law. It cannot be correct that the head of hovernment, the President, through the ministers responsible, submits a plan for expenditure to Parliament and then Parliament reshuffles the priorities and creates its own against the plan of the President,” he wrote in April last year. 

“My decision, therefore, is that by copy of this letter, I am requesting the Auditor General to audit this aspect, where the MPs became purchasing officers of the State and see whether their efforts were legal. I ask him to conclude it in four weeks so that we do not have to wait indefinitely,” he wrote.

Although this dustup looked like just another fight between the Executive and the Legislature, the battle for the Speaker job has revealed that the Oulanyah camp believed Ms Kadaga had begun campaigning for the job by telling MPs that the money was meant to help them in their upcoming campaigns.

Panicky, the Oulanyah team dashed for rescue to Mr Museveni, who told them to leave the matter to him.  

Beginning of the end

But how did this fallout emerge, yet Ms Kadaga has for more than three decades now been among Mr Museveni’s most trusted cadres?

As the 10th Parliament was winding up, it became apparent that Ms Kadaga wasn’t about to give way to Mr Oulanyah, like she had promised. She started rallying her allies to see to it that she retains in the seat, but Mr Museveni had other ideas.

Sources say by late last year, Mr Oulanyah’s camp complained to Mr Museveni about Ms Kadaga’s camp being bankrolled by Mr Sudhir Ruparelia, a Kampala City tycoon known for supporting different political groups, who in turn advance his interests.

“She has Sudhir,” the President reportedly told Mr Oulanyah, but “you have me.”        

Although the businessman has vehemently denied having any dealings with Ms Kadaga, the links have been apparent.

Parliament rents some of Mr Ruparelia’s premises for use as offices. The suspicion spiraled when Ms Kadaga launched her campaign at the classy Speke Resort Munyonyo, yet another of the Ruparelia Group properties.

With such, Mr Museveni took matters into his own hands and personally tapped Ms Margaret Muhanga, the MP for the newly-formed Fort Portal North constituency, to lead Mr Oulanyah’s campaign. 

NRM stalwarts such as former NRM House whip Ruth Nankabirwa, the outgoing NRM Chief Whip, Mr Godfrey Kiwanda Suubi, the NRM vice-chairperson for Buganda, Mr Ofwono Opondo, the Uganda Media Centre executive director, and Mr David Kabanda, the Kasambya County MP, have all openly decampaigned Ms Kadaga, but Ms Muhanga’s role in Mr Oulanyah’s underground campaign remained hidden until she came out openly to support Mr Oulanyah’s when the campaigns hit the home stretch.   

The Fort Portal City North MP, who previously has represented Buharya County and Kabarole District women, is known to have hosted droves of other NRM MPs at her home in Butabika, a Kampala suburb.

Soon, Ms Kadaga’s camp noticed Ms Muhanga’s movements. Ms Kadaga reportedly listed Ms Muhanga as one of the people fighting her during a meeting that she had with Mr Museveni in April.

Mr Museveni’s role in tilting the race in Mr Oulanyah’s favour was also visible when it came to Ms Anifa Kawooya.

The Mawogola West County MP is believed to have been crucial in undercutting Ms Kadaga’s support in Buganda.

Ms Kawooya had been mobilising for Ms Kadaga, but switched sides with a promise that Mr Oulanyah would assist her get a position at the African Union (AU) Parliament.

Indeed, the first thing Mr Oulanyah did as Speaker was to read out names of MPs who will be at the Pan-African Parliament. Ms Kawooya is among those sent by the NRM.

UPDF on the lakes

Mr Museveni also did not like Ms Kadaga’s comments about the military’s involvement on the lakes and landing sites. In March 2019, Ms Kadaga accused soldiers of driving out the fishing communities from water bodies, saying the lakes were being privatised.

“When I go and speak and they attack me; no one answers me. The soldiers went on radio saying the Speaker doesn’t know what she is talking about. I, with a Master degree; I don’t know what I am talking about! Our people are being chased out of the lake, it is being privatised,” Ms Kadaga told a plenary sitting of Parliament on March 5, 2019.

Her comments followed a submission by Buvuma Islands MP Janepher Nantume, in which she accused the soldiers of violating the rights of women in island communities.

On that occasion, Ms Kadaga also told Parliament that a minister had gone to her office in January 2019 and warned her against making further comments on the army.

“Last year, when I complained about the harassment of members at Lake Victoria by the UPDF, there is a minister who came to my office telling me to stop talking about the army, that we are damaging their name. I told him ‘you man, tell them to stop their atrocities that is when I will stop talking’ and I chased him out of my office. You can imagine someone coming threatening the Speaker not to talk.”

In December 2019, Ms Kadaga directed the UPDF to halt all its operations on all water bodies in the country amid accusations that the force was brutalising fishing communities.

“Relating to the conducting of UPDF against the citizens of Uganda, this House directs that the operations of the Fisheries Protection Unit be halted with immediate effect...” she ruled.

Little wonder that in declaring her intentions to run as an Independent candidate on Sunday evening, Ms Kadaga claimed NRM had rejected her because of her common man’s agenda. The majority of MPs, whether influenced or not, did not seem to agree with her.

But the troubles for Ms Kadaga seems far from over. On Thursday, the NRM party secretary general, Ms Justine Kasule Lumumba, announced that Ms Kadaga could face disciplinary action for defying the party’s position ahead of the race for the Speaker’s job.

This would be like trying to kick someone who is already down. Could this be the beginning of the end of Ms Rebecca Kadaga, or will she still bounce back in some other form and way? That waits to be seen.

By Isaac Mufumba, Derrick Kiyonga & Joel Mukisa.

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