The making of Mao-Museveni marriage

President Museveni, who is also the chairman of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) party (left), after signing a cooperation agreementthe  with Democratic Party (DP) President General Norbert Mao (second left). Second right is DP Secretary General Gerald Siranda, and the President’s lawyer, Mr Edwin Karugire,  at State Lodge Nakasero, Kampala, Wednesday.  Photo | PPU

What you need to know:

  • Mr Samuel Walter Mukaaku, who was with Mr Mao during the founding of the Uganda Young Democratic in the 1990s, yesterday said they had been suspicious of him being a mole since their time in the Uganda Young Democrats, a youth wing of the DP.

Nothing made Mr Norbert Mao run out of his skin and then go native like being accused of working for the National Resistance Movement (NRM) and President Museveni.

Those who claimed that Mr Mao was a NRM mole suffered a barrage of abuses from him.

Ms Betty Nambooze, a Member of Parliament of Mukono Municipality, Mr Erias Lukwago, the Lord Mayor, and Mr Muwanga Kivumbi, the MP for Butambala County, tasted Mr Mao’s venom as he denied accusations that he was an NRM mole.

President Museveni, the NRM boss, yesterday appointed Mr Mao, the president general of the Democratic Party (DP), the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs.  The appointment of Mr Mao came a day after the two leaders of different political parties signed a document to cooperate.

Mr Mao came on the national scene when he stood as the president of the student guild at Makerere University in 1990 against government candidate, the late Noble Mayombo, and defeated him in an election that was marked by deadly violence.

Mayombo later joined the military and rose in ranks to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence before his death.

Mr Mao’s student guild speaker was the Late Jacob Oulanyah, a Uganda Peoples Congress supporter. The Late Oulanyah later turned out to be one of Mr Mao’s best friends despite their political differences.

Mr Samuel Walter Mukaaku, who was with Mr Mao during the founding of the Uganda Young Democratic in the 1990s, yesterday said they had been suspicious of him being a mole since their time in the Uganda Young Democrats, a youth wing of the DP.

“Mr Mao has been a good friend to [President] Museveni’s young brother, Gen Salim Saleh for a long time,” Mr Mukaaku said, adding that at one time, Gen Saleh was the chairman of a Union while Mr Mao was his vice in the 1990s.

In 1996, Mr Mao joined elective politics as the MP of Gulu Municipality.  He was considered one of the toughest legislators that put the government on tenterhooks, especially on the army handling of the population during the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency in the north.

However, in October 2001, when the UPDF returned from the DR Congo, he was among the few Opposition legislators to welcome them back and even stood on top of one of the battle tanks at Uganda border to show his support of the troops. Many government supporters praised him as patriotic.

One year later, in November 2002, President Museveni appointed Mr Mao as a member on a six-member committee led by Eriya Kategeya, the then Uganda’s first deputy prime minister, which would lead talks with the Lord Resistance Army rebels.

The committee led to peace talks with LRA’s chief Joseph Kony, a ceasefire and peace in northern Uganda.

Mr Mao said in 2003 that Kony talked to him on phone about the peace talks. In 2006, Mr Mao would later be part of an Acholi delegation that met Kony in the then Southern Sudan. Mr Mao attributed the visit as a commencement of a peace agreement between the LRA rebels and the government.

In 2006, when he opted not to contest again as an MP, he went for the Gulu District chairperson post.  Mr Mao said his council was dominated by ruling government councillors, but he worked with them without any problems.

“I worked with the NRM councillors in harmony and there was no pulling of ropes like you witness in the council of Erias Lukwago, the Lord Mayor [of Kampala Capital City Authority],” he said on a local radio station in 2020.

Some DP leaders accused him of side-lining the few Opposition in his council in favour of the NRM councillors when he was the Chairman of Gulu District.

Mr Mukaaku said in Gulu, Mr Mao leaned more on President Museveni’s government by working with NRM’s Late Col Walter Ochola, the then Gulu Resident District Commissioner, than the Opposition.  The allegations by members of the opposition that Mr Mao was an NRM mole in the DP spread widely when he stood for presidency of the party in 2010.

It followed a viral photograph of him whispering in President Museveni’s ear during an event in Gulu District. Earlier this year, Mr Mao said he was asking President Museveni to help treat Late Oulanyah, who was sick and was short of funds.  The photograph was used by the Opposition members during the Inter-Party Cooperation to de-campaign him. 

In response in Mbarara District, Mr Mao said: “We want our position to be understood. They are saying Mao and DP are working for Museveni. Can Dr Besigye lecture me on how to fight Museveni? By the time I was fighting Museveni, where was Dr Besigye? They were in that eating house when I opposed Museveni.”

His opponents alleged that Mr Mao had been compromised by President Museveni since his former wife, Naomi Achieng Adong, worked in State House, allegations he denied.

The differences between DP members reached the pinnacle when Mr Mao was accused by Mr Lukwago’s faction of getting funding from the ruling party to hold a delegates’ conference in 2015.

Mr Lukwago and MP Nambooze organised events to revive DP in Buganda region. But Mr Mao blocked the events prompting the police to arrest Ms Nambooze at Nsambya Sharing Hall on March 31, 2017.

“Mao and [Dennis] Mbidde have a calculated agenda for DP to die out through inactivity. They have deliberately refused to hold party meetings to the extent that the National Executive Committee we have today isn’t fully constituted…. The DP is run as an organ of the state where all the decisions of the party are reached after consulting the ruling government and executed by Uganda police,” Ms Nambooze said on March 31, 2017.

In 2020, the DP leaders, especially those in Buganda region, attempted to use their party to back Mr Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, presidential ambition, but Mr Mao declined insisting that he would stand.

MP Kivumbi accused Mr Mao of being sponsored by President Museveni to frustrate them from fielding a single Opposition presidential candidate.

He told the Daily Monitor newspaper then that he had very reliable information that his party president, Mr Mao was being used by the ruling NRM party to also contest in the 2021 General Election, a move he said aimed at weakening the new People Power pressure group headed by Mr Kyagulanyi.

Mr Mao’s cooperation with the ruling party was evident during the Interparty Organisation for Dialogue, and even attacked other parties including the National Unity Platform that refused to join the dialogue with President Museveni.

Sickness dilemma

  Another incident in 2014 where a sick Mao was evacuated from Gulu to Entebbe International Airport on his way to a hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, for treatment using a UPDF helicopter was used by both his opponent in the Opposition and in the government to pin him as an NRM mole. “We did not receive any money from State House,” Mr Mao stated then that “my medical treatment was Shs30 million, and that Shs350 million is a lot of money. We know nothing about that money”. He said the army helicopter that evacuated him had been requested by his friend, the late Jacob Oulanyah.