Kadaga, Oulanyah and Uganda’s merchant politics

Tuesday April 06 2021

Nicholas Sengoba

By Nicholas Sengoba

In the battle for speakership of the 11th Parliament, we have an intriguing conundrum.

Most, if not all of the Opposition in Uganda is premised on the argument that for a better future, the ruling NRM and its leader Yoweri  Museveni must leave power.

For the Opposition, change is the dominant message that has left many supporters unemployed, financially and physically incapacitated, in jail, exile and in an early grave.

On the other hand, the leading candidates for the job of Speaker are the ruling NRM’s Rebecca Kadaga, who is the incumbent, and her deputy Jacob Oulanyah.

Their selling point is that they helped grant Museveni the licence to rule for life by lifting the age limit from the Constitution.

If you may recall it was not a walk in the park. Armed men breached the sanctity of Parliament, beat up many Opposition MPs  injuring the likes of Mukono Municipality MP Betty Namboze and Mityana Muncipality’s Francis Zaake.


In a somewhat subtle act of acquiescence the usual cries of interference in the work of Parliament were not voiced loudly by the leadership of Parliament then. In fact, there was a punishment meted out to those who attempted to fight against the breach.

Now, many MPs from the Opposition in Parliament have come out strongly to support either Kadaga or Oulanyah who pride themselves in perpetuating NRMs long stay in power!

The Opposition MPs have a very infantile argument. They claim that since they are the minority in the house, they will lose their deposit if they do not support either of the two leading candidates, Kadaga and Oulanyah. Now just imagine if the electorate use the same logic.

That since NRM, unlike the opposition, fields candidates for every seat countrywide in the elections, the Opposition will be the minority in the House as it is, then it is smarter to simply vote for NRM which will dominate with or without the Opposition.

We definitely would not have Opposition MPs who go around marketing themselves as agents of change. Yet when they get to Parliament, throw their hands in the air claiming they are grossly outnumbered to have an effect on the outcomes of debates and resolutions.

On a very serious note, this race for Speaker has exposed the Opposition and the organisation of political parties in Uganda in general. They are not premised on distinct ideology that they will stand for come rain, come sunshine.

Political parties do not just go with the popular flow; they go with what they believe in. That is why in developed democracies, you have small parties like the Greens whose ideology is based on protection of the environment, always fielding candidates even when they stand no chance of being the majority –most times.

They will not vote for parties or support the agenda of individuals that advance policies that endanger the environment simply because they will win.

If they did so they would find themselves in the lower league where opposition politicians who stand for change find themselves voting for a speaker who does not believe in change.

So why are they in Parliament in the first place? It is about money for their progress and aggrandizement as individuals.

The altruistic argument about fighting for the rights of the downtrodden and the voiceless is for all intents and purposes a charade.

Like a veteran journalist once told me, in Uganda there are two types of citizens, the politicians and the people. The political class is one homogenous group that sponges of the people, period.

The distinction between ruling party politician and Opposition politician are simply different shades of the same hue.  They are all in there for the money first and foremost. Other issues are just side shows.

To be fair to all our MPs, this voracious appetite for money is somewhat understandable. In Uganda the social safety net has huge holes so the MP acts as the plug in those holes. (S)he must provide school, hospital, and burial fees. (S)he has replaced the state whose managers are preoccupied with perpetuating themselves in power. Many times this means stealing from the people to create a power relation where they are so poor that they will be subservient and preoccupied with survival on a bare minimum.

In the contest for Speaker, the minds of Opposition MPs are telling them that if they cannot have an impact in Parliament, at least let them get the best out of their presence while it is still possible.

So everyone is gambling, selling their loyalty in the hope of having a compliant godmother or father in the house. That is the type that will consider them for per diem and other allowance laden foreign trips plus activities like being part of juicy committees that have a pecuniary benefit to them as individuals.

That is why they have thrown out what they purport to stand for and are falling over each other trying to enhance friendship with people who stand against them.

As Creon says in Antigone, one of the Theban plays by Sophocles, ‘…money’s the curse of man, none greater. That’s what wrecks cities, banishes men from homes, tempts and deludes the most well-meaning soul, pointing out the way to infamy and shame.”  Oppositon MPs are caught in the middle of Uganda’s merchant politics.

Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues

Twitter: @nsengoba