At a closed-door meeting late Friday evening, Philip Wafula Oguttu was named the surprise new face of the opposition in Parliament.
Among his many character traits that define him, five stand out. He is conservative, God-fearing, mature, politically-inexperienced with a corporate background.
Whatever word or phrase you find appropriate to describe the new leader of Opposition in Parliament, it is clear that the assessment of Oguttu elicits mixed reactions.
Some have hailed Oguttu’s appointment as a masterstroke on the part of Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu, the party president. Faced with a choice of reappointing Nathan Nandala-Mafabi or choosing Alice Alaso, Cecilia Ogwal or Abdu Katuntu, Muntu appointed none.
“It is the only way he would have ensured harmony because Oguttu belongs to Nandala-Mafabi’s camp,” said a senior official who requested for anonymity to speak frankly.
Muntu, sources said, had preferred to reappoint Nandala-Mafabi but he realised that the Budadiri West MP had fallen out of favour with many party MPs, he was supposed to work with. The former army commander had also decided earlier on, that he would not appoint anyone who backed his presidential bid largely to heal the wounds created by the fractious campaign.
Muntu believes Oguttu will bridge the divide that had been created between the Muntu and Nandala-Mafabi camps because he commands respect and is not easy to compromise. Some party members, however, feel that Oguttu’s quick elevation to leader of opposition could backfire given his relatively short experience in legislative practice.
Sources said the doubts became evident in the Friday meeting when some MPs questioned Muntu’s choice. Even Oguttu was surprised by his appointment and had rejected it.
“No…no…no,” Oguttu said, shaking his head as he stepped outside.
It took the intervention of other people to convince Oguttu to accept the appointment. In the meeting, that took 12 hours, some MPs preferred Cecilia Ogwal, given her vast parliamentary experience.
Others argued that if Muntu wanted someone in the Nandala-Mafabi camp, he should have gone for Jack Wamai, the Mbale Municipality MP because of his long experience in diplomatic service. The feeling, therefore, among some FDC MPs is that with Oguttu, the NRM will have a smooth ride.
“He is a pragmatic politician but I don’t think he can take on Mbabazi the same way Mafabi has. You can see that whenever he gets angry in the middle of making a statement, he forfeits his point,” said an FDC MP.
One key lesson that Oguttu can learn from Nandala-Mafabi’s predicament is that he will only deliver if he works in harmony with other party MPs. That will depend on a number of things but most importantly his leadership style.
Will he employ more of the stick, like Mafabi did, to discipline errant MPs or will he go for the carrot. The support of the MPs can be notoriously fickle.
Nandala-Mafabi ran into trouble with some FDC MPs the moment he became a stickler for accountability and reports. Oguttu will be formally introduced as leader of opposition on February 18, when Parliament resumes from the break. His first task will be to appoint a new shadow cabinet.
Who is Oguttu?
Born 61 years ago, Philip Wafula Oguttu has been a member of parliament for Bukooli Central since 2011 to date. He sat for his Junior Leaving Certificate, at Lumino Mill Hill, in 1966 before joining Bukedi College Kachonga and Teso College Aloet, where he acquired his secondary education.
He currently holds a Bachelor of Literature / Political Economy from Beijing University, China. He has also got a Diploma in Chinese Language, Beijing Language Institute (1974) as well as a Postgraduate diploma in Journalism, Cardiff University.
Before joining the media, Oguttu started work in 1973, as a banking assistant, Bank of Uganda. From 1977 to 1979, he worked as an editor in a Tanzania publishing house.
In 1979, he was appointed as an assistant editor of Weekly Topic before being made the chief editor a position he served in until 1992. During 1981 to 1985 he worked as an assistant lecturer at Makerere University.
In 1992, together with colleagues he founded The Monitor, where he assumed the position of Editor-in-Chief till 2004 when he left to become spokesperson of FDC. He also serves as the executive chairman of Santa Lucia Basic School.