Margaret Baba Diri, the long-serving Koboko Woman Member of Parliament (MP) who was voted out in January, seemed to have had enough. On March 2, 2021, one year since Jacob Oulanyah, the outgoing Deputy Speaker of Parliament, chaired a parliamentary session, she rose up to get the matter off her chest.
“Madam Speaker, you have a Deputy Speaker who should help you when you are busy. When you are in problems,” she said. “I want to find out; what has happened to the Deputy Speaker?” she asked. “For long, we have not seen him. Is he on leave? Where is he?” she continued asking.
“So that he can help you in this difficult moment.”
Speaker Kadaga, who was visibly uncomfortable with Diri’s line of questioning, responded in a few words:“You will see him.” Hours later, Mr Oulanyah tweeted how he was going to chair Parliament on March 3, 2020.
He had last chaired the house on February 4, 2020. As the animosity between the Speaker and her deputy plays out in the last days of the 10th Parliament, it’s understood that Mr Oulanyah, who is hell-bent on ending Ms Kadaga’s 10-year reign as Speaker, has put together a team of debutants who are crisscrossing the country drumming up support for him.
The new MPs include Martin Ojara Mapenduzi (Gulu West Division), Linos Ngompek ( Kibanda North), Dr Samuel Ocuti Opio (Kole North), Yorke Alioni Odria ( Aringa South), David Kabanda ( Kasambya County), Yona Musinguzi ( Ntungamo Municipality), and Flora Natumanya (Kikuube District Woman).
It’s not the first time Mr Oulanyah is taking a shot at the speakership. In the aftermath of the 2016 General Election, he tried to mobilise for the seat but he didn’t take the fight to voting day as he was talked out of the race by the National Resistance Movement (NRM) party when they asked him to grant Kadaga another term, and their relationship in this term has worsened. The acrimony between Ms Kadaga and Mr Oulanyah was there for everybody to see at the height of the age limit debate, which gave President Museveni a chance to stand in the just concluded election.
The temperatures rose through the roof to the extent that Mr Oulanyah accused Ms Kadaga of always ducking whenever a divisive issue propped up. Ms Kadaga’s critics have accused her of trying to portray Parliament as an independent arm and always checking the domineering executive, only to buckle under pressure on legislative issues.
It’s not yet clear how NRM, which still has an overwhelming majority in the coming 11th Parliament, will decide on who will be the Speaker but sources privy to discussions in Mr Oulanyah’s camp say the Omoro County MP isn’t waiting for the official position of the party like the case was in 2016. He has given his campaigners a green light go after Ms Kadaga.
“I am supporting the Deputy Speaker for speakership, I have been to West Nile, I have talked to some MPs in Acholi, I have talked to MPs in Lango and also Karamoja and we support honourable [Oulanyah] as Speaker,” Mr Mapenduzi, who won the Gulu West seat as an Independent, having ditched the Forum for Democratic Change party , said.
Mr Oulanyah, the NRM’s vice-chairperson for Northern Uganda, fancies his chances of finally uprooting Ms Kadaga thanks to the dominant performance the NRM put in the recent election, not only in his native Acholi Sub-region but also the entire northern region. With Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, routing Mr Museveni in the Buganda Sub-region and Kadaga’s Busoga Sub-region, it is western and the northern region that ensured Mr Museveni’s reelection.
Mr Oulanyah played a big role in dismantling the skeleton structure that Mr Kyagulanyi’s National Unity Platform (NUP) had put up in the North. During the campaign period, Mr Oulanyah hogged the media limelight as he always welcomed THE youth that he alleged had decamped from NUP. As a result, the feeling, among many NRM MPs, more so those from the north, is the only reward Mr Oulanyah can get from the party is getting the speakership having deputised Kadaga for the last 10 years.
“We believe time is now,” Mr Samue Opio, the Kole North MP, told this newspaper in a phone interview at the weekend. “The NRM and President Museveni did well in West Nile, Acholi, Lango and Karamoja so the person in charge of that area should be rewarded.”
Those vouching for Mr Kadaga have insisted that since Alfonse Owiny-Dollo, the Chief Justice, hails from Acholi Sub-region, it would be unfair for Parliament to be headed by Mr Oulanyah since he hails from the same area. “In the spirit of creating balance in the country,” an MP, who is supporting Ms Kadaga’s bid said: “The speakerships should remain with Ms Kadaga. It is only fair.”
But Mr Mapenduzi, who is the outgoing Gulu LC5 boss, pointed out that in the 1990s, Uganda had Chief Justice Samuel Wako Wambuzi and Vice President Speciosa Wandera Kazibwe and Speaker James Wapakhabulo all hailing from the east.
Most recently, Mr Mapenduzi said, the President, Chief Justice emeritus Bart Katureebe and Prime Minister Ruhakana Ruganda - all hailed from western Uganda and served at the same time. “What matters is that person can do the job,” Opio said. “It doesn’t matter where they come from. The most important thing is that we believe that Honourable Oulanyah is competent and he has shown it several times.”
Mr Oulanyah, it seems, is not putting his eggs in one basket. He has courted incoming MPs from Bunyoro and Ankole sub-regions. “I have been talking to new MPs from Bunyoro, Ngompek,” a former Residence District Commissioner, said. “We want a person who really isn’t shy to say ‘that’ belongs to the NRM. The current speaker pretends a lot. That is why I am mobilising for Mr Oulanyah,” he added.
On his part, Mr Wilson Kajwengye, who will be making his debut in Parliament representing Nyabushozi County, Kiruhura District, said although he will be waiting for a position from the NRM’s topmost organs, he has no problem with Mr Oulanyah going for the jugular. “Why not?” he asked referring to Mr Oulanyah’s ambitions. “He shouldn’t just pull out. I think he is a good candidate.” According to Dr Opio, there is a need of new leadership at Parliament if the rate at which MPs lose re-election battles is to be stemmed.
“Eighty per cent of the MPs have not returned to Parliament and I think the current Speaker is partly to blame,” Dr Opio said. “She has not provided proper guidance and that is what we think Honourable Oulanyah is going to provide.”
Mr Mapenduzi, away from politics, believes the Acholi will gain more in terms of service delivery if Mr Oulanyah becomes Speaker.
“During my time in Local Government, I have worked closely with Mr Oulanyah. He was always available when we needed him so that we provided services to our people. I think he will continue with the same spirit when he becomes the Speaker.”
With Ms Kadaga insisting that her being a Speaker is a forgone conclusion, it remains to be seen if Mr Museveni doesn’t cite “internal party harmony” to convince Mr Oulanyah to once again step down from the speakership race as he did five years ago.
Age limit factor
Other MPs say another reason as to why Mr Kadaga needs to be booted from speakership was how she handled to age limit debate which was interrupted when the elite Special Forces Commandos raided Parliament and beat up mainly Opposition MPs. “The results perhaps couldn’t have changed much but the way the speaker handled it wasn’t the best,” Dr Opio added. “That is why we need Mr Oulanyah who would have handled the situation more diplomatically.”
During the age limit debate, Ms Kadaga suspended six Opposition MP accusing them of fomenting trouble in the House. The suspended MPs who included Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda (Kira Municipality), Allan Ssewanyana (Makindye West), Gerald Karuhanga ( Ntungamo Municipality ), Jonathan Odur (Erute County South, Anthony Akol (Kilak North County ), and Mubarak Manyangwa (Kawempe South), sued Ms Kadaga at the High Court’s Civil Division saying her acts were illegal and shouldn’t be repeated in future. The High Court rejected to handle the matter telling the MPs to take their case to the Constitutional Court for Constitutional interpretation in 2017.
Despite claiming that she acted as a bulwark between the independence of Parliament and the overreaches of Mr Museveni when Kadaga was campaigning to be reelected as NRM’s second national vice chairperson last year, she said she deserves the position because she acted as an enabler of Mr Museveni’s move to edit the presidential age limit Clause in the Constitution.
“In very difficult circumstances, I facilitated the amendment of the Constitution under article 102 to enable continuity of the NRM ideology, but most importantly, our national chairperson to continue leading the country after the end of the present term. I have demonstrated my commitment to the party throughout…I have enacted all the necessary legislation and I have been available for work in the party throughout,” Ms Kadaga told the NRM’s Central Executive Committee at State House Entebbe.