In August and September, the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) conducted chaotic internal elections that left the party largely bruised rather than strengthened. The elections, which were to choose leaders to form the Central Executive Committee (CEC) and to elect party flag bearers for parliamentary and other local government positions, were characterised by allegations of rigging and violence.
While the primaries and CEC elections can be said to have further cemented the party’s popularity as noted from the big number of contestants, they also put the party’s internal democracy to the test. For instance, the CEC elections were dominated by many young party members, including Persis Namuganza, Hakeem Asiimwe Lukenge, Jane Frances Amongin, and Deborah Kyazike Kinobe, all seeking to unseat the old guard featuring Moses Kigongo, Rebecca Kadaga, and Maj Gen Matayo Kyaligonza, etc.
While the process was largely democratic, which is a hallmark of NRM party democracy, there were intriguing moments where some senior party positions were ring-fenced for some senior leaders. For instance, Kigongo, the NRM first national vice chairperson, was shielded, with the other candidates eventually convinced to give way for the veteran politician.
The same happened in 2015 elections when Odrek Rwabwogo was equally “talked out” of stepping aside for Maj Gen Kyaligonza in the race for the NRM chairperson for western region.
While these incidents point to a party that seeks to respect its historical members, they also raise questions about the party’s democratic credentials.
It should be remembered that the practice of ring-fencing certain positions has also been noted at the grassroots. In some areas, some NRM leaders at village and sub-county levels have been in the same positions for more than 20 years and will do everything in their power to frustrate any young leaders seeking to compete for the positions.
In the end, this leaves young enthusiastic NRM members disgruntled and left out of the leadership.
Therefore, my view is that the party internal democracy should allow transparency like it is done in the army as professional as the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF). In the army, promotion is based on merit (performance). This should be replicated in the administration of the party from the secretariat to the grassroots structures at village level.
In the NRM Secretariat, there should be a streamlined system where vibrant and enthusiastic party members who mobilise and work hard for the party at the grassroots are recognised with appointment to the national party secretariat.
This would eliminate the current structures where it is hard to trace how certain members working at the party offices were appointed since no adverts for the jobs were ever put out.
In the same vein, the party must also change the way it is dealing with youth affairs. One of the reasons advanced for the ruling party’s poor performance in central region in the January 14 General Election is that NRM did not properly handle the youth problems well. They may be right or wrong, but my own observation is that currently, the party has multiple, uncoordinated party structures.
For instance, the party secretariat, the office of NRM chairman at Kyambogo and the other government programmes such as Emyooga and Operation Wealth Creation all operate parallel youth structures, whose roles sometimes clash or contradict. This may further alienate some party youth.
All in all, the party must work towards resolving contradictions in its internal democracy so as to continue dominating the politics of the country for years.
We want to avoid a scenario where many disgruntled party members due to the chaotic primary elections turn around to stand as Independents or even joining the Opposition.
Mr Kefa Mafumo is presidential aide in-charge of Youth.