Why Mao jumped on the yellow bus

DP president general Nobert Mao and long serving party president Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere after a meeting in 2005. Photo / File

What you need to know:

  • Hours later, President Museveni named Mr Mao a Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs. In response to the backlash, Mr Mao on Wednesday evening held a Twitter space conversation to explain himself. Our reporter, Shabibah Nakirigya, listened in and brings the highlights.

The Democratic Party (DP) President-General, Mr Norbert Mao, on Wednesday kicked up a political storm when he signed a “cooperation agreement” to work with President Museveni’s government. It was retailed as a party-to-party arrangement, with secretary generals of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) and DP witnessing the deal signing. Hours later, President Museveni named Mr Mao a Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs. In response to the backlash, Mr Mao on Wednesday evening held a Twitter space conversation to explain himself. Our reporter, Shabibah Nakirigya, listened in and brings the highlights.

‘‘It’s very important to take initiatives based on what you believe in. It’s very important for people to make decisions and realise that this country is on the edge of a cliff. Uganda has been changing with several governments, and it’s possible for Uganda to change the usual way [through violence].

I want to assure everyone that this is a conversation that started in 1980 when our leaders came from Tanzania and a series of governments collapsed. Elections [results] were announced [by the Paul Muwanga-led Military Commission, with Milton Obote of Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) party declared winner].

The Democratic Party (DP), [which was] the leading challenger to UPC, started a conversation with the then leader for Front for National Salvation (Fronasa of) Yoweri Museveni, [but] they disagreed about the methods, tactics and strategies [to use to dislodge Obote].

Mr Museveni set up his own political party, the Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM), and DP became the main challenger. DP won that (1980) election. I know on good authority because one time I asked the then candidate, our former President, Dr Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere, and he told me that he got a [telephone] call from Mr Vicent Sekkono, who was then the secretary of the Electoral Commission, and Mr Sekkono had told Dr Ssemogerere “congratulations; that he won the elections!”

Shortly thereafter, the then head of State, Mr Paulo Muwanga, who was the chairman of the Military Commission, whose deputy was Yoweri Museveni, took over the role of Electoral Commission and stopped anyone from announcing the results [of the December 1980 elections]. The rest is history as they say.

And Mr Museveni went to the bush [to start the National Resistance Army/Movement guerrilla war], and a large number of DP members decided to support him. Actually, perhaps, the largest number of those skulls and bones in the Luweero triangle [the cradle of the Museveni rebellion] are of DP members.

DP is not a party which was formed yesterday, as I always say, it was born for a reason, not a season.

In 1982, another DP leader emerged. The NRA of Yoweri Museveni merged with Professor Yusuf Lule, another prominent DP [leader], and became the chairman of NRM High Command. Unfortunately, he did not live to see the fruits of his efforts.

Fast forward to 1986, Mr Museveni’s guerilla bands marches to Kampala (the Ugandan capital) and they had a meeting with Dr Ssemogerere, who was then the President of DP.

The DP had been preparing to challenge Dr Obote again in 1985. It had even held a delegates’ conference in 1984 and they had chosen Dr Ssemogerere to be the presidential candidate again.

The then guerilla leader Yoweri Museveni, and our former party President Dr Ssemogerere, met in Nabbingo, outside Kampala, … and Dr Ssemogerere agreed to join the NRM government led by the victorious rebels of Museveni. And a large number of DP leaders joined the government [under what was] called the gentleman’s agreement.

I have always asked them: Were the people who came from the bush gentlemen …why did you trust them? 10 years later after failing to agree on what role DP [would] play in the NRM formation, Dr Ssemogerere left in frustration and became a main challenger to Mr Museveni in 1996 [as a flag bearer of the Inter-Political Forces Cooperation] …

We have endeavoured to cooperate with everybody who will agree with us in Parliament. The Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party as leading Opposition party for previous years did not believe in having any formal agreement with any party. We would wake up to the news that FDC had appointed DP members of Parliament to their Shadow Cabinet without any consultation.

I hope that provides context how DP has been navigating political waters. We believe in dialogue; that is why we belong to Inter-Party Organisation for Dialogue though people criticise it.

Recently, President Museveni confessed to me that he was told that I was on the payroll of the former Sudan President Omar al-Bashir and former Speaker of Sudan’s Parliament.

On one way or the other, we must try to reach out and find common ground. I have demonstrated to you that they have tried very hard to find common grounds with the party in Opposition.

Specifically, this conversation between NRM and DP has been going on for months, and you will need to know that the top leaders of DP have been aware of the conversation. It is actually to the credit of the DP leaders that there has not been any leak.

I think the NRM leaks more than the DP to that extent and I want to tell people that we remain DP. The cooperation has got specific areas and we are not hostile to cooperate with any other parties.

For instance, we may find ourselves cooperating with the other parties in the Opposition on other areas. But it looks like parties in Opposition do not like to put their signature to anything, they just prefer to bulldoze others …

When you agree to cooperate, you focus on the areas that you have agreed upon. It means only, for instance, you do not expect me to say that I support torture …

I cannot support kidnaps of people, corruption and election rigging. So, that is the over-simplification that I have been complaining about, because it’s false dichotomy to say the moment you have any agreement to cooperate with NRM, then it means you have agreed to everything.

I went to the bush to meet [Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) Joseph Kony, but does it mean I was supporting the rape and defilement he was accused of? Was I supporting the mutilation at that time NRM was talking the way people are talking now?

We do not accept that false dichotomy, we focus on the areas we think can be starting point for building a national consensus. All political parties, when you read their manifestos, they claim they believe in democracy and shared prosperity. Those are the things that we have got to hold each other mutually accountable for.

So, we are not going to apologise for cooperating with a party that has been accused of multiple offences against the Ugandan people, we are simply focusing on the contribution that we can make. Like I said, cooperating with NRM does not mean being hostile, or not cooperating with other parties.

It is our prerogative now concerning consultations in the kind of politics we have, which is very unstable and oversimplified, you would find that there are hierarchies of decision-making.

I admit that this document which we have signed is sensitive … Nelson Mandela negotiated with Apartied regime and you can picture the African National Congress (ANC) delegation that went to meet him in his prison.

In organisational management, we must know the levels of discussions as you continue to unpack something. So, the consultation to the top management of the party was full with a parliamentary Caucus.’’