MPs are puppets, opportunists says former minister Atubo

President Museveni (left) is welcomed by then Otuke Municipality MP Daniel Omara Atubo during his visit to Lira District in the 1990s. Photos | File

What you need to know:

  • Atubo laments that our sad history has continued to haunt us, saying the level of militarism, human rights abuse, tribalism and nepotism makes the future of this country very dark.
  • The former Lands minister says the current crop of legislators cannot stand up to the Executive and oppose policies that are not pro-people.

Daniel Omara Atubo has had a rare vantage point over Uganda’s politics for the last four decades.
He is the only Opposition politician who has served the longest in President Museveni’s Cabinet, having served as State minister for Foreign Affairs, State Minister for Defence deputising Mr Museveni himself when he was serving both as President and minister of Defence, and later minister of Lands.

While in the Opposition, Atubo started criticising President Museveni as early as 1990 when the latter sought to extend his tenure from the initial four years that he had said the military would lead for before handing over to civilian leadership.

At the time, the former minister faced off with the then minister of Justice and attorney general George Kanyeihamba, when he brought the proposal to Parliament reminding him that the legal notice (the instrument that brought the NRM government in power) said he would serve for only four years.

It was wrong for the government to unilaterally extend its tenure without consulting Ugandans, Atubo insisted.  He was a serving minister when he took that position.
He would later that year be arrested for criticising a government he was serving in over the way it was handling the war in the northern part of the country.

Battling treason charges
Then Brig [now Gen] David Tinyefuza, who later came to be known as Sejusa, who was leading soldiers fighting insurgents in northern Uganda at the time, accused him of engaging in subversive activities, saying it was unacceptable for a minister to criticise government instead of supporting its policies and efforts.

Mr Museveni gave Tinyefuza the go ahead to arrest him and he was incarcerated for more than a year on charges of treason.
Atubo’s sin had been to question why the government and particularly the army had failed to stop the rebel activities in the north yet the people had convinced their children to abandon rebel activities.

Atubo had joined the people of Lango to ask government and the army commanders why the war was getting more intense despite the efforts made by the people to help the army stop it.
Despite that incident, Mr Museveni appointed Atubo to work in his Cabinet again.
In 2006, after the latter fell out with his party, the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC), President Museveni appointed Atubo Lands minister.
Atubo had been expelled from the party along with Dokolo Woman MP Cecilia Ogwal for opposing what he called the ring-fencing of positions in the party for former president Milton Obote’s family.

At the time, the late Obote’s wife, Miria Obote, was vying for the presidency of the party while his son Jimmy Akena wanted the Lira Municipality seat, which was then occupied by Ms Ogwal, another party stalwart.
After an eventful tenure, Atubo eventually retired from elective politics following his loss of the Otuke County seat, which he attributes to NRM members who he says were not happy that Mr Museveni had appointed him, a non-member of the party, as minister.

He says he is now happily focusing his energies on his private businesses instead of “wasting my time and resources” trying to get back into politics.
But this hasn’t stopped him from closely observing the country’s politics, which he says has been obliterated due to commercialisation of politics, which he says has filled political positions with selfish and opportunistic people.

“Politics should be about service, about caring and working towards the good welfare of the people but our politics today is about selfishness and opportunism,” Atubo says.
He speaks with nostalgia about the politics he participated in where the MPs and even ministers stood up to President Museveni where they thought he was straying away from the values and ideals that they were all striving for.

Mr Atubo (centre) with some security personnel after a security meeting in Gulu in the 1990s.

For him, the situation keeps getting worse and the democratic values have been shrinking by the day.
“We are entering complete totalitarianism. Now all the MPs are puppets and a good number of them are opportunists. I am sorry to say this about my colleagues in Parliament but they are hopeless and useless.”

He cites an example of the Lango and Acholi MPs, who were apparently instructed by their voters not to vote for the removal of the presidential age limit during the constitutional amendment in 2017, but went against their voters’ wishes and voted ‘yes’.
He says the “pitiful” quality of politicians has made it easy for Mr Museveni to fight multipartism and democracy, where he has “bought everyone with money and political positions”.

However, the former legislator, who represented Otuke for 24 years, does not sit easy in retirement, looking back at the years gone by with regret.
He says Uganda has lost an opportunity under Mr Museveni to change its trajectory. He believes Uganda would be better than what it is now had Mr Museveni implemented his 10-Point Programme.

The NRM 10-Point Programme included aspects such as promoting democracy, consolidation of national security and elimination of all forms of sectarianism, defending and consolidating national independence, building an independent, self-sustaining economy, restoring and improving social services and the rehabilitation of the war-ravaged areas, elimination of corruption and misuse of power, among others.

He says he is particularly sad that President Museveni, who he has known and worked closely with for more than 50 years, has not lived up to what his contemporaries expected of him when he took over power in 1986.

In those days when Mr Museveni was studying Political Science at the University of Dar es Salaam, Atubo was studying Law at Makerere University, and Mr Museveni would visit them to discuss the problems of Africa and how he felt they would be resolved.
It is because of the confidence Atubo had developed in Mr Museveni that he decided to quit his booming legal practice and join him when the latter shot his way to power in 1986.

This confidence was further boosted by Mr Museveni’s 10-Point Programme and the promulgation of the 1995 Constitution, which made Atubo believe Uganda was for the first time since Independence going to subject itself to the rule of law and choose and change its leaders democratically.
He says he now wonders how a man many looked at as Uganda’s saviour turned out to be “the country’s biggest headache” as his hope of Uganda seeing a peaceful transition dwindles.

“Mr Museveni dashed our hopes when he tampered with the 1995 Constitution, which we had seen as the solution to Uganda’s previous troubles,”Atubo says in reference to the 2005 removal of presidential term limit from the Constitution. This had been included to forestall the wars that had preceded the change of presidents.
Mr Museveni would later in 2017 mastermind the removal of the presidential age limit clause, which barred anyone above 75 years to run for the presidency, from the Constitution.

Atubo says he worries about the political future of this country since Mr Museveni’s “only preoccupation now seems to be consolidation of a one man’s rule”.
He says Mr Museveni deliberately refused to develop institutions and killed those which were there to advance an authoritarian state. He gives an example of Parliament, which he says the President has continuously undermined yet the Constitution provides for the separation of powers among the three arms of government.  

“I commend those challenging Mr Museveni but they have a very difficult task because they are not confronting Mr Museveni only but the entire state.”
While he acknowledges the insurmountable task of removing President Museveni from power, Atubo is opposed to any violent attempts to achieve this objective.
He calls upon Opposition politicians and Ugandans to not be desperate but to continue mobilising Ugandans “until Mr Museveni realises that leaving peacefully is the only option he has”.

For Atubo, the forthcoming elections in their form might not bring the much desired change.
“The system is already formulated in a way that Mr Museveni must win. Covid-19 has worked in favour of Mr Museveni. For instance, it has helped him to achieve what he has always wanted. It has enabled him to further restrict human rights and exacerbated corruption, which will help him to consolidate his dictatorship.”

Atubo laments that our sad history has continued to haunt us, saying the level of militarism, human rights abuse, tribalism and nepotism makes the future of this country very dark.
“But I have hope that evil can never defeat good. The only pain and worry I have is that this might end violently.”