NUP split pits LoP against Bobi Wine

Left to right: National Unity Platform secretary general David Lewis Rubongoya, party president Robert Kyagulanyi (Bobi Wine), Leader of Opposition in Parliament Mathias Mpuuga, and the party spokesperson Joel Ssenyonyi at the party offices in Kamwokya, Kampala, on September 21, 2022. PHOTO | MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI 

What you need to know:

  • The crux of the fission is whether political actions should crystallise on either the floor of Parliament or the streets. While the LoP and indeed members of the G-UNIT have pushed for a clear legislative agenda, other NUP lawmakers insist that the party’s voice should be strident on the streets.

The National Unity Platform (NUP) risks dissolving into fission and acrimony, with its 57 lawmakers polarised into two competing ideological positions.

Since its launch in July 2020, NUP has grown accustomed to divisions thanks to Moses Nkonge Kibalama from whose NURP or National Unity, Reconciliation and Development Party idea it emerged.

While Mr Kibalama’s shifting sands have been shrugged off, an apparent split that has Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, alias Bobi Wine—the NUP principal, and Mathias Mpuuga, the Leader of Opposition in Parliament (LoP), at different ends of the aisle looks set to be a stress test.

Sunday Monitor understands that a NUP caucus of more than 20 lawmakers has pledged allegiance to Mr Mpuuga or at least his ideals. Fred Ssimbwa, the Nakifuma country representative in the House, chairs the caucus that refers to itself as G-UNIT.

During an interview with NTV Uganda’s flagship morning show, “Morning@NTV”, Bobi Wine said—without mentioning names—that he is aware of NUP lawmakers who have been “compromised.” It is thought he was referring to the G-UNIT.

“Quite a number of our MPs in Parliament have been compromised, evidently. But we stand with the many that are still strong because we are at war,” Bobi Wine said while on a “Morning@NTV” segment on Thursday.

Two-way split

We understand that the composition of the G-UNIT is mostly members that made a switch from the Democratic Party (DP) shortly before the 2021 General Election. After a red wave handed NUP 57 seats in Parliament, and by extension made it the leading Opposition party in the House, Mr Mpuuga—who twice represented Masaka Municipality in the House on a DP ticket—was named the LoP.

The crux of the fission is whether political actions should crystallise on either the floor of Parliament or the streets. While the LoP and indeed members of the G-UNIT have pushed for a clear legislative agenda, other NUP lawmakers insist that the party’s voice should be strident on the streets.

“We were made out of our actions on the streets and that is what makes sense for our voters,” one of the MPs told Sunday Monitor on condition of anonymity, adding, “Sometimes we would like to express ourselves through action, but we are hindered by the leadership in Parliament.”

It is understood that the NUP lawmakers that hold such views are serving their first term in the House. They have been accused of being wet behind the ears.

Perhaps, the singular episode that has shown the split in the party is the position taken on the European Parliament’s resolution on the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP). In a statement issued on Wednesday, Bobi Wine gave the resolution a ringing endorsement.

“The resolution is in agreement with our view that the project in its present form is not intended for the tangible development of Uganda or its neighbours, but rather aims solely at exporting crude oil,” a statement signed off by the NUP principal said, adding, “The proceeds from the project will likely be lost through the widespread corruption and use for patronage like has happened to all other projects undertaken by the Museveni regime.”

Earlier, on Monday, Medard Lubega Sseggona (Busiro East)—whom Bobi Wine asked to chair the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee—offered his support for the EACOP project.

“I think the government should inform the EU (European Union) that their concerns have been noted and that they will be taken into account,” Mr Sseggona told NTV’s flagship morning show, adding, “I agree with [President] Museveni when he says that halting is out of the way. We must proceed with the oil project.”

Zaake issue

EACOP is not the only infection point. The manner in which Mr Mpuuga has handled the dismissal of Francis Zaake (Mityana Municipality) from the position of Commissioner of Parliament has been questioned by some. 

Lawmakers Sunday Monitor talked to expressed their displeasure, saying they have been gagged by the LoP from expressing their views about this matter and more on the floor of Parliament.

“Some of the MPs have been attacked by leaders for allegedly leaking the information about the money that was being given to MPs, to the party president. Some MPs have been sacked from their positions and when we expected to act, they kept blocking us,” a source in NUP said.

In response, without being specific, Mr Sseggona said that those that are raising these matters could be newcomers who do not know the mandate of the MPs.

“I assume these are new MPs, but did they care to find out what to expect in Parliament when they were coming? We would have been happy to tell them the truth for them to either choose to come or stay away from Parliament,” he said.

Mr Sseggona added: “Parliament is not a boxing ring, it is not an arena for hurling insults at each other… it is rather a place to exchange ideas, make research and talk to each other about whatever is happening. Tell those anonymous sources of yours that matters are handled by leaders and not in the press.”

Clear-the-air talks

Late last month, sources intimated to this reporter that Bobi Wine and the LoP held clear-the-air talks at the former’s Magere residence in Wakiso District. We understand that Mr Mpuuga was, inter alia, “grilled” over “witch-hunting” lawmakers loyal to Bobi Wine. 

The LoP, however, declined to comment about what transpired during the interface. When Sunday Monitor sounded him out, he said, “You mean I had a meeting with the president and he briefed you on what we discussed?”

Mr David Lewis Rubongoya, the party’s secretary general, told Sunday Monitor that the issues have not yet reached his desk. “We have a way we handle our issues, and if there are matters like this, we shall be ready to handle them,” he said, adding, “We encourage our MPs to report them.”

Ssegirinya, Ssewanyana issue

During NUP’s most recent media briefing, Mathias Mpuuga, the Leader of Opposition in Parliament (LoP) criticised party members who have been attacking him and other MPs for being quiet on the continued incarceration of their supporters and leaders for more than a year now.

At the start of last week, Opposition members resolved to have “a week of action” in solidarity with incarcerated lawmakers, Mr Muhammad Ssegirinya (Kawempe South) and Allan Ssewanyana (Makindye West). 

The duo is battling cases in connection with the spate of attacks by machete-wielding gangs that sprung up in the greater Masaka region, leaving more than 27 people murdered in cold blood.

Sources, however, say the resolution suffered a stillbirth after the LoP flew out of the country, leaving a vacuum.

“How do the MPs expect us to work on resolutions that were never concluded? These MPs are leaders, let them start with their constituents,” Mr Sseggona retorted, adding, “Take them to the streets and we shall follow. Do they expect Mpuuga to go to the streets alone?”

On his part, Mr Mpuuga concluded thus: “I am executing my task the way I appreciate it, and I operate in the open. I never impose my views on members, we discuss every matter that arises and agree on a common approach.”