Mityana Municipality MP Francis Zaake and Parliament Deputy Speaker Anita Among. PHOTO/COMBO

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Cracks in Opposition armour as Zaake is ejected from House job

What you need to know:

Legislators last Thursday voted to remove Mityana Municipality MP Francis Zaake from the Parliament Commission for disparaging the Deputy Speaker, Ms Anita Among. But what stands out is that an Independent-leaning MP who was courted by the NUP party and handed a coveted role to chair a House accountability committee in the House spearheaded the removal of Zaake, writes Emmanuel Mutaizibwa

The farcical removal of Mityana Municipality MP, Mr Francis Zaake, from the coveted position as a Commissioner in Parliament for insulting the deputy Speaker of Parliament, Ms Anita Among, has amplified the fault-lines within the Opposition rank.

 Zaake, a young turk, embodies the red-beret militant-activism of the National Unity Platform (NUP) party.

Bruised and battered in pitched battles with law enforcement, he carries his scars like a badge of honour. But his impressive resume at the frontline of activism politics did not count when the plotters unleashed their daggers from their sheaths.

Section 94 of the Rules of Procedure stipulates that a Parliamentary Commissioner may be removed from office on grounds of incompetence, misconduct, failure or refusal without justifiable reason to execute the duties of its office.

The member shall be removed upon the vote of at least half of all voting legislators. On Thursday evening, MPs cast their vote, as 155 elected to remove Zaake and four voted against his removal. However, before the vote was cast, most of the Opposition lawmakers walked out of the House.

 The 11th Parliament has at least 529 MPs excluding ex-officio members. It is not clear yet whether the removal of Zaake met the threshold of at least half of all voting Members of Parliament estimated at 256 MPs.

 In 2014, the Constitutional Court struck down the Anti-gay law, which had been passed without quorum.

 This was not the first time an MP was accused of making disparaging remarks against the Speaker.

 In 2004, Rubaga South MP John Ken Lukyamuzi accused then Speaker of Parliament Edward Ssekandi of being unfit to preside over the House for allegedly taking a bribe of Shs5 million as an inducement to lift the presidential term limit.

Lukyamuzi later tabled a poorly drafted censure motion, which was not embraced by most of the Opposition lawmakers in the Seventh Parliament.

 Isolated and dejected, Lukyamuzi was asked to apologise to the Speaker or face expulsion from the House. He was forgiven after making a grovelling apology to the Speaker.

Mr Yusuf Sserunkuma, a researcher and political analyst, proffers that the Mityana Municipality MP should treat his expulsion as a lap of honour.

“Francis Zaake is one of the deserving politicians to be in our Parliament and most deserving to be in that position [Commissioner]. His movement to Parliament was completely out of conviction. After 2005, when we lifted the terms limit, we kicked out the worthy MPs,” argues Sserunkuma who says the 11th Parliament is constituted of run-off the mill politicians.

However, Sserunkuma says NUP MPs ought to emulate Zaake and return to their cradle.

“When NUP was voted in this last election, they were not voted to sit in Parliament and decide on alternative policy, they were voted to resist, they were voted on the single understanding that they represented themselves as capable of dethroning Mr Museveni, so the disappointment of many NUP voters is that after they reached Parliament, they became legislators,” he argues. 

Addressing a news conference on Friday, the Leader of Opposition, Mr Mathias Mpuuga, said the exercise to eject Zaake flouted the rules of natural justice and would be challenged in courts of law.

Nakawa West MP Joel Ssenyonyi says the process to eject Zaake as a Commissioner was flawed and the Speaker ought to have recused herself.

“The rules [of procedure] provide what happens in the House but now you are having a Speaker, who is the chief complaint, she is the judge, she is the executioner, there is a problem with that, conflict of interest and that’s what is very unfortunate, she presided over the session that ousted Hon Zaake and even participated in the debate many times. Our rules don’t allow the Speaker to participate in the debate, very problematic,” argues Ssenyonyi.

Members of Parliament during the plenary chaired by the Deputy Speaker Anita Among last Thursday. PHOTOS/DAVID LUBOWA

Collecting signatures

Ssenyonyi says the requirements of collecting signatures to censure a Commissioner were also flouted.

However, this rift has re-awakened ethno-political cleavages, which may threaten the legislative agenda of the Opposition.

But, Sserunkuma does not look at the disintegration of political parties with a cautionary tale but a revival of strategy to place the peasants at the heart of the struggle.

“As an ordinary Ugandan, I am so happy when political parties disintegrate, because it reminds the average Ugandan that this revolution has to be led by you not established politicians. The men in suits are easy to deal with perks, money, dangled at them; it’s the wretched that should lead this revolution.”

Sserunkuma says the Constitution allows unorganised, non-structured forms of resistance.

“It is at the sheer disintegration of other Opposition political parties that people power emerged, the original people power was the real Opposition, it died when NUP was born. When you form a party with the chairperson, the secretary general, it is easy to deal with. If it is amorphous, its hard to deal with, the more the political parties aspire to organise, they misunderstand the context in which they play their politics,” reveals Sserunkuma.

The chink in the Opposition’s armour emerged when Bardege-Layibi Division MP Martin Ojara Mapenduzi filed a notice with the Clerk to Parliament seeking the removal of Zaake from the Commission.   So why would an Independent-leaning MP who was courted by the National Unity Platform (NUP) party and handed a coveted role to chair a House accountability committee in the House spearhead the removal of Zaake?

“What happened is the Speaker wanted to sanitise this process to say it has been fronted by the Opposition, she had to get people in a sense who won’t be questioned,” argues Ssenyonyi.

Earlier on in February, Mapenduzi alongside the Acholi Parliamentary Group MPs accused the leadership of NUP of fanning the flames after the Speaker of Parliament was flown to the United States for treatment, which cost $500,000 dollars to charter a 252-seater Uganda Airlines Airbus.

This elicited protests from NUP supporters based in Seattle where Oulanyah is being treated, against the astronomical cost of treating the Speaker as hospitals in Uganda lie in ruin.

Ssenyonyi says the plot to kick out Zaake was hatched by those who were not pleased by the protests against this wasteful expenditure.

“This was totally misconstrued, the protest was not about the person of Jacob Oulanyah as it was about the principle of high-ranking government officials flown abroad. What these people are saying is we are spending billions of shillings to treat high-ranking government officials abroad, why don’t we fix healthcare here,” he said.

He says they will exploit avenues to resolve misunderstandings within the larger Opposition.

However, he argues that this must be based on principle.

“There can be points of disagreement, we sit in the shadow cabinet and people have differing views. Interactions are important, meetings to keep fortifying ourselves, to keep making sure were are on the same pages, may be it would have been good for these colleagues to reach out before going to the media and have outbursts, without a doubt dialogue is key,” Ssenyonyi adds.

Sserunkuma says the current rift within the Opposition is symbolic of the inter-party and intra-party conflicts across the political divide in the country.

“The Acholi-Buganda divide, points to a national condition of our politics. All of them are caught up in this mess. All of them have internal bickering. It’s the same with NRM. The difference is that the NRM has money and tools of coercion. The mess you see in the Opposition speaks to a national condition. If you look at the accusations thrown at Nobert Mao, they are factually accurate, when you look at the accusations Mao is throwing at NUP; they are actually accurate,” Sserunkuma told Daily Monitor.

However, he believes Zaake could emerge the victor as long as he remains beholden to the militant activism that endeared NUP to its legions.

“They [NUP] were voted to resist, they were voted to turn the tables. NUP is our version of EFF [Julius Malema South African-led party]. He is the only torch-bearer of this philosophy, voting him out is the indicative of his success, in-fact Zaake should celebrate what has happened to him, it is victory because NUP MPs should take Parliament avenue out of that building and take it to the streets.”

Many NUP lawmakers were voted on the premise of protest politics.

“The struggle to liberate the country will not be led by men in cloth but the wretched. That’s why they were voted even without knowing who they were as long as they were NUP, nobody was voting for the best debater or orator, many best debaters were thrown out, they voted men who will cause commotion, the only man doing this is Zaake carrying the banner, the rest are playing politics of the gallery,” argues Sserunkuma.

However, Ssenyonyi says NUP continues to pursue a two-pronged approach — a legislative agenda that offers a plausible alternative policy and grassroots activism.

“We got to balance, activism is important and you have seen us do it in Parliament, we balance that with the other element of legislation, issues of national debate, we tabled an alternative legislative agenda.”  

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