This week’s elections that gave UPC and DP each one member in the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) showed an emerging understanding between Uganda’s oldest parties and the ruling NRM.
Not so long ago, such an understanding was unimaginable. But this was the last thing on the minds of the two NRM envoys that reached out to DP’s Fred Mukasa Mbidde shortly after endorsing six candidates for the polls.
Mbidde is the man whose petition to the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) allowed other groups, besides NRM and the main opposition party, FDC, to seek representation in EALA.
NRM, we can reveal, struck a deal with Mbidde in order to foil the FDC-led plot to boycott the elections. FDC had urged a boycott, citing NRM’s breach of Article 50 of the East African treaty. Sources have told us that NRM used its deputy whip, David Bahati (Ndorwa West) and Kabula county MP James Kakooza. Bahati first sent Kakooza as an emissary to Mbidde.
A close confidant of Mbidde’s says that although Mbidde felt sceptical about the whole issue, he agreed to meet Bahati. This meeting was also attended by top DP officials. The NRM envoys told Mbidde that their party would work with other parties if they ignored the boycott. With an assurance of support from the ruling party, sources told us, DP President Norbert Mao asked Secretary General Mathias Nsubuga to write to the Clerk to Parliament, endorsing Mbidde as DP’s candidate for EALA.
DP’s argument was that it was better to work with NRM that has the majority, than siding with FDC that is pushing for a boycott that was likely to fail. Actually, when Mbidde picked nomination forms last Wednesday, Bahati’s lobbying for the DP man was clear. Indeed, 13 of the 20 signatures Mbidde had on his nomination form were from NRM lawmakers courtesy of Bahati. After keeping their end of the bargain, Mbidde made good on his promise not to launch an appeal to EACJ.
Kakooza confirmed the above version of events, telling The Observer: “FDC was caught off guard”.
Kakooza added: “I told Mbidde that if you go for a function and you are hungry, you have to first eat the food and then, complain that it is bad. I also assured him that you cannot be like Maj Gen Fred Rwigyema (RIP) who fought all the [RPF and NRA] battles and didn’t become president”.
It, therefore, came as no surprise to those in the know that Mbidde garnered 247 votes from a House dominated by NRM legislators.
Our sources have also revealed that the power behind the throne in the deal between NRM and UPC was Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi. He reportedly assured NRM members that Chris Opoka should be supported. Actually, in his campaign address before the House, Opoka referred the audience to Mbabazi in case they wanted to get an insight about his credentials.
“[Mbabazi] knows how much I can stand above political affiliation when it comes to national issues,” Opoka said.
After Opoka’s address, the marriage of convenience was sealed with a song; NRM MPs sweetly sang UPC’s signature rally tune with the standout line: “Oh, oh, oh mama, twagala Obote nga sente…” Prominent NRM members who crooned the song include ministers Amelia Kyambadde (Trade), Ephraim Kamuntu (Tourism), Hilary Onek (Internal Affairs) and Mary Karooro Okurut (Information).
We have also been told that the EALA elections were discussed in cabinet, and members agreed to support Mbidde and Opoka. Little wonder, Mbidde mocked FDC in his acceptance speech by saying, “Our vehicles are moving as those of others’ are stuck”.
DP, UPC response
Mao and UPC Chief Whip, Betty Amongi (Oyam South), however, denied entering any marriage of convenience with NRM. “We didn’t take the decision as a deal; it was after being informed by the clerk’s office that the FDC wrote a letter indicating their intention to nominate candidates,” said Amongi.
DP’s Mao added: “The FDC letter to the clerk didn’t indicate that they were boycotting the polls; so, we proceeded to make a decision as a party.”
FDC’s secretary general, Alice Alaso, however, denied the allegations, saying that her letter to the clerk was to request parliament to extend nomination dates.
“We didn’t have a second thought about the boycott; we just wanted the clerk to extend the days as we wait for the E.A Court of Justice verdict,” she said.
On Wednesday, Parliament finally selected the nine representatives out of the seventeen contestants to represent Uganda in the third regional assembly slated to start on June 4. The nine include NRM’s Dora Byamukama, Daniel Kidega, Margaret Zziwa, Bernard Mulengani, Mike Kennedy Ssebalu and Nusura Tiperu. Two opposition candidates, Fred Mukasa Mbidde (DP) and Chris Opoka Okumu (UPC), and Susan Nakawuki, an independent, also sailed through.
The participation in the polls by DP, UPC and CP angered the Leader of Opposition, Nathan Nandala Mafabi, who literally fired other, non-FDC opposition politicians from the shadow cabinet.
“We have done everything in good faith and I didn’t know that my colleagues I was leading had turned against me. So, from now on I want to tell the Prime Minister that there is only one party in the opposition you should deal with,” Mafabi said.