Longtime politician Aggrey Awori, a former minister of ICT and MP for Samia Bugwe North, says President Museveni has to rein in corruption and ethnic favoritism that characterize his government because Uganda risks disintegrating.
In a wide-ranging interview with Baker Batte Lule about NRM’s 32 years in power, Awori, who spent over two decades opposing Museveni but later joined him, said the imbalance between the north/east and central/west is so glaring that both the private and public sectors are dominated by the same group.
This, he said, has capacity to trigger a genocide as the marginalized groups try to fight against being left out in the national cake sharing.
How would you describe Uganda before 1986?
Immediately after independence Uganda was a fast-developing country. We had inherited a very vibrant economy from the British; yes there was low development in infrastructure but people were managing life. Coffee, cotton and copper were booming especially during Obote I.
But when Amin came, things started turning around. There was mismanagement of the state; the economy took a nose-dive. When Amin was deposed, there came a new phase of governance as everybody thought they were the right candidates to lead.
After the 1980 elections, the group led by Museveni didn’t accept the results and went to the bush and ushered in a new phase of political turbulence leading to the 1985 coup of Tito Lutwa and Bazilio Okello. But this somehow energized the NRA who within a year took over Kampala.
In your view was the 1981-86 NRA bush war justified?
I have heard Museveni say that he went to the bush because elections were not fair; that they were rigged by UPC led by Obote. But some of us who knew him before he went to the bush didn’t think he did so because of elections.
The 1980 elections were just a trigger point for his ambitions to become president and also see Uganda run in a certain direction. So, I would say whether it was justifiable or not, there was a lot of personal ambition on the part of Museveni.
If there hadn’t been problems in the UNLA/F, I doubt whether Museveni would have come to power by 1986. Those of us who monitor political happenings closely, the infighting between the Acholi and Langi leaders triggered the overthrow of the Obote II government.
When did you first meet Museveni?
I first met him in 1969 when he had just completed his studies in Dar es Salaam. He came to the government and joined the president’s office and I was running Uganda Television at that time.
Some people were saying that Museveni was a spy, that he was part of the General Service Unit but I doubt. General services Unit covered a very big scope of pure academic research and intelligence gathering but it was more of an academic research than intelligence. He was more inclined on the preparation of the 1971 elections which had been promised by Obote.
How would you describe the Museveni you saw in 1969?
A lot of young people at that time liked him because he leaned towards socialism; he was an uncompromising Marxist and that created for him a following. In the 1980, you could see a state determined to stop him from winning.
Why on earth would UPC try to facilitate a DP candidate, Sam Kutesa, to defeat Museveni, a UPC-leaning candidate? So, frankly speaking, Museveni had already been identified as somebody to be eliminated politically.
Do you think Ugandans got a better deal with the coming of the NRM?
The Movement system that the NRM introduced looked like it was a compromise between various political actors. It had only one distinction that you were not allowed to show your true party colors.
It was a no-party government but obviously it was a one-party state. I believe the intention was to kill other political parties. In the sixth parliament, we agitated for the return of political parties but when they did, many people didn’t go back to their previous political parties except some of us who were UPC at heart.
After the return of political parties, that’s when we got a proper NRM government. The North and part of the East resisted NRM; we had several groups fighting. I must say that was the beginning of the undoing of northern Uganda.
Up to now, the north is still suffering from the aftermath of the war between the NRA and ruminants of the previous regimes. When you compare with previous regimes how does Uganda fare; I would say that the north has suffered serious economic and political setback. I must say that this thing became ethnic Bantu verses Nilotics, the Baganda-Banyankore versus the Luo north.
That’s why you don’t find many Luo-speaking people in this government as some people jokingly put it; what we have in Uganda is a Bantustan.[Apartheid-era concentration camps in South Africa] The north and the bigger part of the east have been left out and the recent economic survey attests to that.
What do you think is NRM’s biggest failure in the 32 years?
Corruption. NRM has failed badly in combating corruption. They have to do something and if they don’t, it might cause genocide between the haves and the have-nots. The [issue of] haves and the have-nots has really now become an ethnic issue because the richest people in the country come from the west and the central and the poorest people in the country come from the east and the north.
This is not just a political allegation but it was proved this month by an economic commission. It is also beginning to show in the social sector in education and health. Schools in the north and east are doing very badly and yet in schools doing very well in the central, teachers come from the east. Look at the distribution of permanent secretaries. Virtually all DPCs (District Police Commanders) in the country are Banyankore; this is dangerous.
Does it matter where somebody comes from or we look at his capacity to serve?
It matters a lot. You have to understand the people you do the work with. Number two, when I skip you and give the job to another person simply because he belongs to my ethnic group, how does it make you feel like? Ethnicity influences a lot of service delivery, maybe this explains why the north and east are left out because their people are not part of the decision-making.
What can you point at as NRM’s most successful story?
I must compliment Museveni because he has grabbed the international economic situation to the advantage of Uganda. He has made it possible for investors like those in ICT to come and invest in the country.
We now have things like mobile money. He has made the environment conducive for this kind of investment. He has also done his best in terms of infrastructure like roads and now we have more electricity although I’m hearing people murmuring that what is the point of giving them a tarmac road in an area where there is no economic activity at all?
Why don’t you put that money in other social services? But when you analyze, you see that the two move together; you need health centers as much as you need a good road.
You spent over two decades opposing the NRM at a time when many say it was at its best in serving the interests of Ugandans. But you accepted to serve the same government. What influenced your decision?
You cannot influence things unless you’re in a position of influence; you can’t. You join the cabinet where you can speak for your people. For example, I was able to secure a municipality for my area. Just like I joined the sixth parliament to influence the granting of Busia district. So, when you are in government you can influence a lot of things.
Was working with Museveni responsible for ending your political career in Busia?
It didn’t kill me as such but there was breeding space. Why I lost my seat was not so much because I worked with Museveni but certain internal Movement politics. There is a lot of infighting within the Movement. That was what cost me the seat, not really working with Museveni.
The country is starting to recover from the divisive Kogikwatako debate; on which side were you?
I was clearly for lifting of the age limit. From the start, I was against putting that article in the Constitution because as a member of the CA, I knew it was to serve the purpose of keeping Obote out of the elections.
So, those of us who were staunch UPC supporters opposed it. So, I have stood firm on this up to now that there shouldn’t be age limit on those to run for the office of the president.
Do you realize that lifting of the age limit is solely aimed at facilitating Museveni to run again as president?
What’s wrong with that? The older he grows, the more vulnerable he becomes. Some people think it’s the other way round that the longer he stays in power, the more entrenched he becomes; no,… the more mistakes he makes.
But this is a country we are talking about; these mistakes have catastrophic consequences…
No, no… what mistakes can you say can be catastrophic, lifting the ban on hanging murderers? What fundamental mistake can you say can be disastrous?
So, you wouldn’t have a problem Museveni contesting again?
I have no problem at all as long as he is asked to decide not just the law. Why were we not afraid of him at the age of 45 and now afraid at the age of 90? Nobody has come out with any scientific proof that the older you grow, the less you can perform.
If it’s about people suffering mentally, I can prove that even a 45-year-old man cannot perform the way he performed at the age of 30. Dementia can attack you at the age of 30.
Isn’t 35 years enough time to have an impact?
The trouble is, we want to give a lot of power and functions to people regardless of their age. At 45 or 90 you want to do everything. No, that’s where we go wrong. What we should do is to share power instead of having State House having all the envelopes.
How do you achieve reducing Museveni’s power?
Who has ever stood up against Museveni in his cabinet or his army? Gen David Tinyefuza stood up against him, what happened? How many said no, Mzee, what you have done to Tinyefuza is wrong?
My friend Gen Kayihura is having problems in the police; how many have stood with him? The fighting between Gen Kayihura and security minister Henry Tumukunde and the confession made by the criminals; how many people in government are speaking?
You said you are here in your home enjoying retirement with your grandchildren. Don’t you wish the same for the president?
Definitely I would wish him to enjoy his retirement like I’m. Not only him but actually even other ministers.
But what I’m saying is; don’t put it in writing that you are prohibited by law to stand because you are of a certain age. Let people say that your performance in the last tenure was below standard; get out whether you’re 45 or 90.
You have participated in elective politics; is that even possible for the people to raise a red card and say time up through an election?
Yes it’s possible; people are doing it. Tell the public that don’t vote for NRM because they have failed in the last 10 years. Here we are talking about the 32 years of NRM. Who has done a scorecard?
At least you as a journalist you’re asking me. What about us the politicians? FDC should have come out with a 30-page pamphlet to distribute it to show how the NRM has been a disaster.
One of the issues that moved together with the lifting of the age limit was for this present parliament to extend its tenure by two years. What are your thoughts?
That’s wrong; according to my experience in parliament, when an issue is about parliament, it doesn’t apply to that particular one; it is applicable to the next. Anyway, this is a matter before court; we have got to wait for the judgment. But to me, period is not the problem, but the process.
What is your view about the caliber of the current crop of MPs?
They are totally disappointing but I just blame the voters. Why should they vote for somebody they well know can’t perform? You get what you pay for. Don’t complain; you buy it, take it.
Shape for us the future through…
Uganda is definitely on unstoppable journey to be a prosperous nation if we can exploit our natural resources like oil although nobody should look at it as the Alfa and Omega of our economic development.
Two, unless we make a drastic step to cut out corruption, it could lead to instability and ultimately genocide because the longer it takes when fewer people become rich, then it’s just a matter of time that poor people who most probably are of the same ethnic group take up arms and say we cannot remain poor.
Why should our children continue to work for other people’s children when they went to the same schools?
Can the NRM fight corruption?
It is something it has to recognize and do something about. If Museveni can tell the DPP to drop charges against Red Pepper, he can use the same phone to call the judge to tell him to convict a minister who has ‘eaten’ money for the road.
Won’t that also be corruption and abuse of power?
Yes it’s abuse of power but to the benefit of the country. If corruption has become a menace as I see it, let him abuse his office and fight it. Abuse of office is a lesser evil than corruption.
Awori has seen it all in politics
He represented Samia Bugwe north constituency from 1994 up to 2006.
He contested the presidency in 2001 and in the 2009 cabinet reshuffle; he was appointed minister of ICT to replace Ham Mulira. After the 2011 elections, he was dropped from cabinet months after he lost his bid to regain his Samia Bugwe north parliamentary seat he had lost in 2006.
His name is Aggrey Siryori Awori, born February 16, 1939 in the present day Busia district. Since his dropping from cabinet, Awori has been living a quiet life away from the political hustle and bustle of Kampala.
Like many people, he follows what is happening in the country on his radio, television and newspapers. I find him in a small living room that looks like a study with book and several files hanging on shelves. In the compound of the house, a cream Benz UAN…is parked.
Awori is reading newspapers while resting on one corner of his small wooden table when I enter. On this Sunday morning, his radio is playing soft music. If he is not at this palatial home; a big one storied building with an expansive compound located at Kibimba along the Bugiri-Tororo highway next to the Kibimba Rice factory, he is in his other two homes in Busia municipality.
The taxi men, the passengers; everybody knows his Kibamba home; it stands out from those in its neighborhood. Before he negotiated his return to Uganda from exile in 1994, the army had taken it over using it as a base like Bulange, the official seat of Buganda kingdom was being used.
Awori says he spends much of his time either reading or playing with his grandchildren. “I’m really enjoying my retirement. At the age of 70 you cease minding so much about the future,” Awori says. True to form, as the interview starts he restricts his grand children who are playing in the living room from interrupting him.
“Eeeeh go play on the other side, I’m having an interview,” he tells three of them who are hanging around him.
They oblige but they keep on coming back. “Grandpa… look here is your airtime,” one hands him an unscratched MTN card, he hands it to another of his elder grandchildren together with his small phone to load it.
Away from enjoying the serenity of his home, Awori says he also prides in being useful to his community. He says he donated land worth Shs 10million to his community to construct a water reservoir that is used to serve the community.
“Now this area has piped water… it’s work like this that gives you a sense of satisfaction because you’re able to be of help to your community,”