Former minister NUWE AMANYA MUSHEGA, 69, is a historical member of the National Resistance Movement who fell out with President Museveni in 2005.
He became vice-president of the Forum for Democratic Change, and later secretary general of the East African Community. Mushega is now a member of The Democratic Alliance (TDA)’s Summit, the top organ expected to decide a joint presidential candidate for the 2016 elections.
In an interview on Thursday, Deo Walusimbi asked Mushega about Amama Mbabazi’s presidential bid and opposition political wrangles, among other issues. Below are excerpts:
What do you think of Mbabazi as a president?
No, it’s not me to say, and it’s his right to stand, as everybody who is above the age of 35 and not beyond 75, plus other qualifications, is entitled to run. My biggest worry, in Uganda, people seem to be looking for a savior. Whether it’s [Museveni, [Amama] Mbabazi, [Kizza] Besigye, whoever is a savior, and I don’t think Uganda’s problem will be addressed by a savior.
We have had that problem; when [Milton] Obote came the first round, some people sung ‘our Obote’; when [Idi] Amin came, a section of Ugandans thought he was coming to save them from Obote.
When Obote came the second round, some said that it’s only Obote that could solve Uganda’s problems and he failed. And when we [NRA] came from the bush, people were saying that it’s only Museveni who can manage. [But] human beings are terminal.
One great philosopher said that graves are full of indispensable men. So, the issue to me is not the individual; we should look for somebody who is a team builder, listens to others, has a track record and who will help in building the systems and institutions.
Would you find those qualities in Mbabazi?
I don’t want individuals to turn into my subject of discussion. But we can discuss what kind of leader you need, and I mentioned the qualities…a team builder, a person who is accountable and respects the laws of the land but not this ‘I’. It’s a question of a person who leads a team, but not an indispensable individual.
So, I think we should disabuse ourselves of looking for a savior because we have seen that before. We should be looking for a party, an organisation that fits in these qualities plus others so that the person does not hold the party and the nation to ransom.
One time President [Julius] Nyerere [Tanzania] said that we don’t want a leader who is coming to lead a party, then eventually the party and the country looks to him for solutions.
He becomes the party, the country and if you know the history of these great leaders, they have always led teams, respected and built institutions, systems and processes, and always praised the roles played by their [predecessors].
Are you suggesting that Uganda lacks a leader?
Otherwise, why is everybody searching? The biggest problem we have had is that the bar of leadership has been lowered so low. If you looked at the leadership at independence…, I may not mean just political leadership; we are talking about people in the professions; professional lawyers, doctors, architects, accountants, religious leaders, civil society, the permanent secretaries, the chiefs.
They were not highly educated, but highly conducted themselves with dignity, because you must first respect yourself before others respect you.
… There is a [leadership deficit and it will not be addressed by an individual. It’s only that individual leading institution [and] believes there is a problem and tells the public that this is the solution…So, there is a need to go back to the drawing board…
It looks like we need to overhaul the entire system, but where would we get the leaders to take us there?
What has happened now is that institutions are not being respected and you gave an impression that Uganda has gone to the dogs. [But] somebody told me ‘no, Uganda has not gone to the dogs; the dogs have taken over Uganda’, which was a little bit too harsh!
And, therefore, if you see the people going into leadership in politics, academia, the best are not going through and they are there. A lot of good Ugandans, if given an opportunity, can work… We are now going to have a parliament of over 400 [MPs]…
The critical issue is to train our people what will transform our country to wealth. You need more doctors than RDCs [Resident District Commissioners], you need more agro-extension officers than CAOs [Chief Administrative Officers], you need more teachers and medical officers than many district councils…we have gone astray and it’s going to cost [us] a lot of energy to go back on track.
What do you make of NRM’s handling of Mbabazi’s presidential bid?
Well, first of all, you give an impression that it’s Mbabazi first to be handled badly. He is not; there were many other people before who have tried to contest and they have been handled badly, except now Mbabazi has been added onto the numbers. Those who were asleep have also woken up. The mere fact that you are still asleep doesn’t mean that the sun has not risen.
He is not the first and most likely, he won’t be the last. And I saw my brother Mbabazi saying that the movement has deviated from its original goals now, but that started long ago.
I remember in 2001 when Dr Besigye declared his candidature, when we were in movement then before it became the party. People moved a motion that President Museveni should be a sole candidate as early as 2001.
This sole candidate project is not new.
Except that it was defeated [in 2001] but even then, Besigye was given some wrath treatment but at least he stood as a candidate within the movement. In 2003 or 2004, there were people who were leading [the push] to amend the Constitution to lift the presidential term limits, now they are saying the man [Museveni] has over stayed [in power].
I am not passing the blame, but it’s good to recognize the roles played at different stages even politely. Tell Ugandans that I made a mistake now I have realised I made a mistake; because all along the way, we have made many mistakes.
If you are a leader who has not made mistakes over 30-years, then you really belong to the angels. So, I don’t agree personally and I made it very clear to my friends in the movement that handling a leader in that manner is untenable…
What does Mbabazi’s candidature mean to NRM ahead of 2016?
I told you earlier, I don’t want to spend my energies on an individual, but since you like individuals, Dr Besigye was a personal doctor of Museveni in the bush. How was he treated?
Mugisha Muntu was the army commander of NRA/UPDF for close to ten years, how is he treated? Some of my colleagues were historicals. Now it seems to be historical you must be in NRM. So, as I mentioned earlier, Uganda’s solution is not going to rely on Besigye, or Muntu or Mbabazi or Museveni [because] it can’t be an individual.
So, let us not spend a lot of time on whether Mbabazi will affect NRM or not; there will be an impact, there is no doubt about it, but the question is how deep will that impact be? How long will it last together with other impacts?
Being a historical who abandoned your posh house in Kololo for a revolutionary war, did you ever envision Mbabazi taking on Museveni one day?
The house wasn’t mine, it was an institutional house belonging to Makerere [University] where I was teaching, but it’s true, it was located in Kololo. So, the only things which I abandoned there were the cars, and others, but the institution repossessed the house.
I didn’t meet Museveni or Mbabazi or people like Muntu yesterday… these are people some of whom I met in schools and others when we were involved in the anti-Amin struggle. And one comrade, I remember I had come to Nairobi to visit Museveni in 1974 and he introduced me to Kahinda Otafiire saying that this is one of us.
Then in 1976, Museveni came to Lusaka [Zambia] to meet us, I was there with [Eriya] Kategaya [RIP], Dr [Ruhakana] Rugunda and others and then he [Museveni] came with Mbabazi and he introduced Mbabazi to us.
When I came back to [Uganda], the person who welcomed me was Mbabazi, his wife Jacqueline Mbabazi, I remember Hope [Mwesigye] and his boyfriend then.
So, I have known some of these people long before the bush [war] and others in the bush. So, that is why some people get surprised that you belong to the other party [but] you continue to be comrades.
I don’t mix comrades with politics. Some of my best friends are in UPC, others are in NRM, and a few are in FDC. Leadership should be for all [to] contest and the best will go through. And then stability starts immediately and when your time comes, you leave.
I was an MP, I stopped; I was deputy president of FDC, when time came, I didn’t seek re-election for any other office and willingly. Let other people come and do the job and build institutional memory…So, Mbabazi should be free to stand, I am not shocked with what he did.
Some Ugandans contend that Museveni is Uganda’s problem. Do you agree?
I gave a lecture sometime back at Makerere about the democratic processes in Uganda. My view then and now is that when a leader turns up and those around him begin to think he is the solution to all problems and the leader, whoever it is, you can see the same problem in FDC.
The leader now begins to think he is the solution to national problems then some people begin to believe that leader is part of the cause of the problem, and eventually think he is the problem.
It’s not true but it’s perceived and any leader who is taken to be the sole solution to the problems and the leader believes it, others will rightly think he is the problem.
I don’t believe he [Museveni] is the problem, but he contributes to the problems like the tolerance of corruption… which is high cost to maintain…
You fell out with Museveni but we haven’t heard you attacking him like your opposition colleagues do…
First of all, the way I was brought up… I was never brought up to abuse people. So, I will never do it out of upbringing and practice. Abusing or mistreating people is not good for you or a society. I despise people who are abusing others.
I may criticise or disagree with them, but I will point out where we disagree, not calling people names, throwing stones. But there are people who are proud about it…I abhor that type of behavior and it shows that you lack confidence in yourself.
Aren’t you afraid of being perceived as an NRM mole in opposition?
I have been arguing with my colleagues in other parties; why do you fear to talk to people in other parties? Will they convince you? If they convince you, it means they have superior reason.
Former leader of opposition Nandala-Mafabi feared all FDC ministers perceived to be hobnobbing with NRM.
I don’t buy that because if you are a leader, you must attract more people to you. First keep those you have, and persuade others who don’t believe in you yet to accept you and one of the methods is to approach them with humility…
You must win people over, and not by abusing and calling them names. So, those who use such words really need to be helped to grow more politically and culturally…
If you have fought to remove tribal sectarianism, then you bring party sectarianism and some of the parties are hardly 10-years-old… what is the point of abusing people that they are tribalists when you can’t talk to others in a party?
I continue to talk with my friends and “enemies” wherever they are and you can call me what you want. Let us move away from that type of childishness, that when you belong to a particular party, you don’t see value in other people within other organisations…
….a leader doesn’t divide people and it’s partly a problem to some of the parties, including my own FDC. I think you find many accusing others of being mole[s] except him/herself and it will hinder growth of the party and nation because you cocoon people.
I have heard people saying so and so have been used; I don’t believe a human being can be used…it’s unfortunate. How can you work with somebody for so many years and you claim at the end that you were being used. Are you a dust bin? You are abusing your own intelligence, you need to recognize and give someone credit where it’s due...
What do you make of the fights within opposition parties?
There are fights all over. There are fights within religious institutions…You get a problem of people losing the element of shame, whereby leaders say things and say I have never said them. It’s unfortunate.
I will give you an example of FDC, where one of the leaders said, and it’s on record, that “I will not run again, I am going to organise civil society. As long as President Museveni is a president, I will not run, as long as Kiggundu is still organising [an election] I will not run, as long as these electoral reforms are not done, I will not run.” then suddenly, you are running.
You step down as a leader, but you continue not to cooperate with your colleague [Muntu] who has taken over. Actually, you begin organizing parallel structures. To me, those [things] will not contribute to build harmony.
If I stopped being a secretary general, I will continue supporting any person who takes over from me. If I stop being a minister of education, any minister who seeks advise, I will give them honest advise whether NRM or DP…
So these fights are part and parcel of a fracturing society of dishonesty in the land and we need to address it. Of course we know the impact of a fight in opposition is not as bad as a fight in the ruling party.
Why, when you are fighting to oust the incumbent?
Because a quarrel of the ruling party becomes a national quarrel. If you see the impact of a disagreement between Museveni and Mbabazi is not the same as that of [Erias] Lukwago and [Norbert] Mao because it stays within them, but the other party can access bigger resources.
So, disagreements will always be there. Our biggest problem has been mistaking disagreements as hostility…we have used a military approach to socio-political issues, but even in a war, when people are fighting, negotiations are going on behind the scenes…
So, it’s a culture that is deliberately fermented and when you take politics as the beginning and end of your life, [it’s dangerous].
Your example within FDC reminds me that it’s Dr Besigye who told me in January 2014 that he would run again: are you disappointed in him?
No, I am not disappointed, but I am not happy [with Besigye] and I have no shame about it. You see, you cannot tell what you don’t have. When people believe that you are the answer God has given, [because] I have heard people say it’s only Besigye who can manage the FDC...
But [Julius] Nyerere [Tanzania] gave up the leadership of CMM which he led and eventually the country, but he went on to support those who came after him in the party and the country to make Tanzania a better place. He even advised them not to do some of the things he had done and apologised to his people.
[Nelson] Mandela in South Africa gave up the leadership of ANC and the country he even criticized them sometimes. He never went behind the scenes to create parallel structures to create civil society and other things…
So, let us learn from others. The moment you think you are indispensable, you begin to be a problem whether you see it or not, you will be and you are undermining the institution.
It will be good if a leader steps down and then works hand in hand with those after him, and advise them if they see that they need you back, they should be the ones to genuinely say so. But when people praise you that without you there will not be a party, then you are not everlasting. We will all come to end but what will you leave behind?
Some people reading this will think you are washing FDC’s dirty linen in public.
The crucial issue is not washing linen in public; it’s washing linen wherever you can wash it because if you don’t wash it and keep it in the closet, it will eventually stink and cause more problems. Don’t you see people washing clothes and plates and put them on wires when you move in Kampala? What are you hiding if the linen is dirty? Wash it.
If we are to go by support base, don’t you view Besigye’s standing a better chance for TDA?
You are taking me back to my first answer. I don’t believe in saviors, I have seen it…there are things you will do by leading others...by advising your successors than leaving the grave to advise them…it’s not a question of defeating Museveni, it’s about if you are to be in power, what organisation is likely to lift Ugandans out of this situation. Is the priority strong leaders or strong institutions? But I have told you that the graves are full of indispensable leaders…
NRM has claimed 10.2 million voters out of the 15.2m which are likely to participate in the 2016 polls. Shouldn’t this development worry the opposition?
If that is the case, well and good, but I can see victims out of it. They publish those figures to make people give up. Whatever you [opposition] do, we have already won… that is what they claim, we should know what we need on the polling, the day, the free and fair election, the level playing field which is not there now, you can ask the opposition, Mbabazi and then do it properly.
If it’s true that they have 10.2m [members], which I doubt, then they have won, but I am working very hard to reduce that number to 3m.