Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi was in Boston, USA, last week for a private visit. Ronnie Mayanja of Uganda Diaspora News sat him down for an interview. In the interview, Mbabazi discusses the politics of succession in Uganda, corruption, government business and diaspora affairs, among others. Below is the first part of the transcribed conversation. The last and final part will be published on Monday.
How do you describe your relationship with the first family in Uganda in light of the recent allegations and reports that came out in the Uganda media?
I don’t know what you have been reading. You mean in Ugandan newspapers? Oh please, don’t go by them. They either exaggerate things or most of the time they distort facts. Or one of them in particular specialises in giving falsehoods. But my relationship with the president is excellent if that is what you mean by the first family…
My relationship with the president as my president is excellent, and the first lady, who is also a minister in the cabinet where I serve as Prime Minister, is excellent. Of course at a family level we have known each other for a very long time and our children have grown up together; so, there is no problem.
The diaspora, especially those with investments back home, are getting scared that we are sliding back to those days of insecurity. This is due to the tension caused by the succession battle between you and the president. Some in the diaspora are wondering what is going to happen to the stability of the country, especially since some are getting ready to retire and return home.
You see, what has been going on in the media is an issue that I feel the media has not handled very well. Essentially many of the issues revolve around the question of succession. Many people think President Museveni may not offer himself to stand for 2016 or they think it’s time to begin thinking about transition because 2021 is only seven years away or less, and that is not a long time in the history of a country…or in terms of preparations. So yes, there has been quite a bit of talk, but that is democratic. And nobody should be worried. Why should anybody worry that even in NRM there is debate about that?
Let me ask you a more direct question — are you offering yourself as a candidate to run for office in 2016?
Ronnie, running as what? Because there are many positions to run for….but I suspect you mean running for president. I have given a standard answer. My answer is, I am a disciplined cadre of the NRM party and I have been for the past 40 years. And in this time the party assigns me responsibilities and I have never turned down any assignment the party has given me, and it’s not really up to me to choose or think.
That is not how we have behaved in the past…at a leadership level. That’s point number one. Point number two: I have said that if President Museveni is a candidate in 2016, then of course I will not stand against him. As a disciplined cadre, naturally I will not stand against him but if the NRM party chooses him or anybody else I will not stand against him.
Some say, to use media reports…that you were caught off guard by attempts to make President Museveni a sole candidate outside party structures in Kyankwanzi.
Well….incidentally, I have again spoken quite vividly on this point. One — the resolution is requesting President Museveni to offer himself and this line that President Museveni has become a candidate by that resolution is obviously off the mark. Because the president has not responded….he did respond at Kyankwanzi in the context of a point he made about cliques or formation of sections within the party, presumably on the question of candidature for president in 2016.
He said that [cliques] were not good for the cohesion of NRM, and he said if that resolution would settle internal matters within the party on cohesion, he would welcome it. But I don’t think that because somebody passed a resolution to request him to offer himself that he had done so…. That is point number one.
Point number two: yes, I signed–actually I was the last one to sign. And I will give you two reasons. The first reason, I am the secretary general of the party, I am a member of the higher organs of the party, I am a member of the organs that have the mandate to determine the candidate of NRM and therefore I hesitated because I needed to understand the implications of my decision. That was one question in my mind.
The second reason — essentially the caucus was expressing an opinion and any member of the party is free to express an opinion, including myself. Therefore, looking at what happened in that context, it was not harmful to express my opinion. And my opinion was that I support President Museveni, and if that resolution was to support President Museveni, I wanted to be clear that I do support President Museveni of course.
How about at the delegates’ level? Some people felt that such decisions must be made at the delegates’ level… It should be done at that level and true the caucus is not mandated to make such a decision but, rather, it makes recommendations.
Let’s move to your relationship with some of your other party colleagues, especially the former Vice President. Can you comment on such statements [made by Bukenya]?
You mean…we have had many former vice presidents…you mean Dr Gilbert Bukenya? Yes, I have read things attributed to him in the media. I can give you an example — I was in England in the past, we were debating the issue of term limits and I read these headlines in Ugandan papers purporting to be quoting him that he had called us mafias.
When I returned, we held a meeting with the president and others. He denied those allegations, saying he had not made such statements and so I gave him a benefit of doubt. So, when the media quotes Dr Gilbert Bukenya, I will not take what the media says but, rather, what he says.
How would you describe your relationship with the Inspector General of Police [after] the leaked tapes that accuse you and your family of harbouring presidential ambitions?
First of all, I have a problem with that accusation. Because that accusation presupposes that it’s criminal to harbour presidential ambitions. I want to inform you it’s actually noble if people feel they have potential and commitment to serve our country in a leadership position. The more we have such people, the better for our country. They seem to suggest that it’s criminal to harbour presidential ambitions.
So, this thing that harbouring presidential ambitions is criminal or an offence is absolutely ridiculous because there is no crime in harbouring such ambitions in Uganda. There is nothing legally or morally wrong with anyone harbouring such ambitions. I have held meetings with the Inspector General of Police and what he told me was that he received people who were giving him reports, and that was all. He seemed to suggest that there was nothing wrong and I took him at his word.
The other issue is the Public Order Management [Act] as it seems to create a lack of a level playing field. Some feel this law was enacted in part to prevent public gatherings. Why are opposition candidates prevented from holding public consultative meetings back home?
Again that is incorrect…It’s now a law — Public Management Order Act. It’s now an essential law to regulate police. Without it, the police would be free to do things unregulated. That law was passed under our Constitution. The police have a duty to maintain the peace. The question was how do they do it, especially in areas of political sensitivity.
Why, you know the temperatures that politics raises in our country. Under our Constitution, police has a duty to keep law and order and regulate public meetings. The question was, how do they do it while maintaining law and order? The idea was, if police was to maintain law and order, then we needed to know how police would regulate these meetings in order to perform their role.
The new law seems to prevent opposition candidates from going to sell their agenda upcountry. Forgive me for referring to media reports that have shown opposition candidates being prevented from organizing public gatherings by the police. There has been an overreach of some sort – ometimes on the side of the police that has blocked opposition meetings. Wouldn’t you agree?
You could say we have had an incident or two where the police has overreached. I have spoken in parliament about this issue myself. But I think we have to look at both sides of the coin. Because I think the opposition sometimes makes political capital out of such incidents because it brings them into the limelight. They don’t seem to have issues they can put across to the public to attract attention. I’m not saying this is the case all the time, but sometimes a police officer may act beyond his powers.
Sometimes an opposition leader may attract that kind of reaction from the police because it gives him or her publicity. But otherwise, generally that law is a law that was enacted strictly in accordance with the ruling of the Constitutional court, which struck out a section of the Police Act that gave police power to give ordinary permission to political parties or any political actor to hold public meetings.
This Public Management Order Act actually does not restore the powers of the police to grant or not grant permission. It only requires those organizing public meetings to notify the police so that the police have enough time to prepare to keep law and order.
The diaspora community, especially in Boston with its numbers, is very interested in acquiring ‘voting rights’ by proxy, the way our neighbours, say Rwanda and Kenya, are able to do today. They [want to] participate in the democratic process of the country.
As part of our manifesto, government said that we would work toward enabling the diaspora to exercise their constitutional right to choose their leaders in Uganda. Of course that is the aim, but the management of the process of achieving that aim is quite difficult. We are in the exercise of citizen registration for the national identity card programme, and we hope that once we finish what we are doing in Uganda, we shall be able to extend the exercise to Ugandans abroad. Essentially in 2016, many of the rights, like the right to vote, would depend on your identity.
Can you clarify on this point….that this process will be extended to the Diaspora; is that what you are saying?
I don’t know if we will manage to complete this exercise. The Electoral Commission must have a voter registered I think within a certain specified time. They are issued a timetable. The national registration process must be completed within four months, the census needs to be completed, and so it may not be possible to register all of you people in time for the elections. Those who come to Uganda have a right to be registered. But you can be registered after that cut-off time. It will not stop; this will be a continuous process.