Rebels with a cause
The latest intake of MPs from Museveni's party is causing ructions over oil
and corruption as jockeying starts for the presidential succession
2nd March 2012
ue&ddlVolume=53&ddlIssue=5> Vol 53 N0 5
A group of truculent members of parliament in the governing National
Resistance Movement has forced ministers to resign and is obliging President
Yoweri Kaguta Museveni to contemplate sacking most of his cabinet. This is
unlikely to include his near untouchable comrade-in-arms, Prime Minister
John Patrick Amama Mbabazi. In the absence of effective constitutional
opposition, the NRM has become the most important check on President
Museveni's government. The young MPs are joining forces with some senior
party members to challenge Museveni's policies and his appointments.
Museveni's authority is being challenged as never before. A year after his
overwhelming election victory, he is said to be planning a fresh start to
placate the troublesome MPs. The NRM rebels' willingness to confront their
leader goes beyond the usual jockeying for position. Over 60% of MPs are
newcomers who won their seats in the elections in February 2011. They
believe they have the right to be heard after winning competitive and
expensive primary elections for NRM candidacies. There is a more assertive
mood in the political class. Politicians and activists argue heatedly over
the government's management of the oil sector.
After over a year's delay, Ireland's Tullow Oil won a production licence for
the Kingfisher field on Lake Albert on 8 February. This is despite a
parliamentary petition to halt all deals, including Tullow's, until new
legislation is in place (see Box,
go for Tullow). 'Oil is an emotive, nationalist issue,' an analyst in
Kampala told us. 'It's making it harder to push people down the government
A political crisis is still in full flow. Six cabinet ministers have been
forced to resign in the last five months, while ten positions remain vacant.
This includes Foreign Minister Sam Kahamba Kutesa, who 'stepped aside' in
December to face corruption charges related to the 2007 Commonwealth Heads
of Government affair (AC Vol 52 No 21,
Oil in troubled waters). The latest ministers to go, on 16 February, are the
Minister of Gender and Social Affairs, Syda Namirembe Bbumba, and the
Minister for General Duties in the Office of the Prime Minister, Edward
Khiddu Makubuya, after the Public Accounts Committee accused them of
approving 'excess compensation' payments to companies owned by an NRM
Executive Committee member and key party-benefactor Hassan Basajjabalaba.
Nearly 200 NRM MPs signed a petition calling for Bbumba and Makubuya to
resign over the 142 billion Ugandan shilling (US$70 million) payments. That
left State House with little option. Both ministers denied wrongdoing but
the scandal tarnishes the President's reputation. Museveni admits he issued
orders for Basajjabalaba's companies to be rewarded for construction work in
Kampala that wasn't done. But he denies authorising payments on such a
The ministerial departures may have wider significance. The resignation
letter from Bbumba, who was Finance Minister at the time of the payments,
pointedly referred to her influential Baganda family's military service.
This is a coded criticism of Museveni for abandoning her while protecting
his fellow Banyankole westerners in power.
At the same time, NRM 'historicals' (veterans of the 1981-86 guerrilla war),
such as the Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister, Major General
(Retired) Kahinda Otafiire, are showing their anger at Museveni's perceived
favouritism towards Amama Mbabazi. Hidden tensions are surfacing, some
relating to ethnic loyalties and rival families. Former Vice-President
Gilbert Bukenya, back in Parliament after the humiliation of a night in gaol
on corruption charges, went on television to defend Bbumba. 'Don't be fooled
that this is about corruption,' he said. 'It's about finishing the Baganda
Museveni's problems have escalated since October, when independent Western
Uganda Youth MP Gerald Karuhanga tabled bank documents in Parliament
purporting to show corrupt payments by Tullow Oil to Kutesa and Internal
Affairs Minister Hilary Onek in 2010.
MPs have called on Mbabazi to defend himself against allegations, in a
United States diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, that he benefited from
a relationship with Italian oil company ENI. The documents first appeared in
2010 via a South African intermediary with the apparent intention of
derailing Tullow's buy-out of Heritage Oil's licences (AC Vol 51 No 23,
> Oil to
play for). At the time, ENI had been hoping to enter the market via a deal
with Tony Buckingham's Heritage but it lost out. We hear experts are in
South Africa investigating the history of the forgeries.
All of those accused of accepting bribes deny wrongdoing. But the
allegations have poisoned the atmosphere in the NRM as factions assert
themselves. The position of Wilfred Niwagaba, 40, a lawyer in his second
term, is typical of Parliament's new generation. 'The old party structures
don't work any more,' he said. 'The question is, "Will the NRM survive the
end of Museveni?'" Niwagaba and fellow NRM rebel Theodore Ssekikubo, a
long-standing rival of ousted Foreign Minister Kutesa and advocate of
transparency in the oil industry, have been mobilising the new MPs at
informal meetings and proposing motions criticising ministers.
New Kampala MP Muhammad Nsereko is influential. Speaker Rebecca Kadaga has
been an independent bulwark against pressure from the executive. New
independents, who beat off challenges from rivals within the NRM to win
their seats in 2011, such as Gerald Karuhanga, are willing to make
Museveni was on the verge of pacifying the core of 50 malcontents last year
when the oil bribery allegations surfaced. Since then, his enforcers have
tried to bring them into line at party caucuses and ideological seminars.
For the new intake, talks on 'deepening ideological consciousness for better
service delivery' are an embarrassing throwback to the NRM's military past.
Claiming more pressing engagements, Ssekikubo and others boycotted a January
'retreat'. 'Being a troublemaker is still a career move,' said one sceptical
former NRM MP. 'It often leads Museveni to take notice and bring you inside
his circle.' Critics say that's why Karuhanga made the claims about Tullow:
to get a safe seat at the next elections.
The NRM rebels rarely call for the President to go. The much criticised
Mbabazi, whom most see as Museveni's likely successor, acts as a lightning
conductor for discontent. The opposition Forum for Democratic Change focuses
on street protests, with Colonel (Rtd.) Kizza Besigye leading more Walk to
Work protests. On 21 February, his leg was wounded by a flying tear gas
canister (AC Vol 52 No 9,
k> Opposition works the walk). Besigye, who is not an MP, has said that he
intends to step down as FDC Chairman in June. The former Chairman of the
Public Accounts Committee and leader of the opposition in Parliament, Nathan
Nandala-Mafabi, is tipped to succeed him.
Bugweri FDC MP Abdu Katuntu is also winning support and has been cannily
working with the NRM rebels. Maj. Gen. Gregory Mugisha Muntu, a strong
contender for the FDC leadership in 2010, is set to try again. He is the man
Museveni would least like to face in any future election. Nevertheless,
Besigye told Africa Confidential that he will continue the protests and does
not rule out taking on Museveni in 2016: 'Any member of the party is
entitled to run.'
The poor state of public finances constrain room for manoeuvre. Early
February's announcement that electricity subsidies would end has shocked
everyone. Power-cuts in Kampala are more frequent than ever. The government
has slashed public spending after last year's pre-poll spree. The Central
Bank has set interest rates at over 20%, aiming to reduce the current 25%
inflation to single digits by year-end. Growth forecasts have been revised
downwards to 3-4% for 2012. The International Monetary Fund may applaud the
tighter monetary strategy, but it means a big drop in living standards for
most Ugandans. This comes at a dangerous political time for State House.
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Received on Tue Mar 06 2012 - 18:10:01 EST