The ruling National Resistance Movement looked headed for a major split at the weekend, after some of its members of Parliament announced a "government in waiting" as an alternative to President Museveni's "failing" leadership.
Lwemiyaga MP, Theodore Ssekikubo, heads the 'rebel' group as president, with Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East) as attorney general and Dr Chris Baryomunsi (Kinkizi East) as secretary for health. The three legislators took advantage of the Good Shepherd Ntusi Catholic Parish golden jubilee celebrations on Sunday to announce their grand plan to wrestle power from President Museveni.
"We think the old generation has played its part. It's time for our generation to move this country forward, and we think we will govern better," said Niwagaba, as he introduced Ssekikubo to the gathering amidst ululation.
It was not immediately clear how the mainstream leadership of the party would respond to the announcement. Asked about the party's response to this move, NRM's deputy chief whip, David Bahati was curiously reticent.
"We have not received that kind of information. But, if it is put to our attention we shall maybe come up with a substantive response," Bahati said yesterday, although, the matter had been reported to the party on Monday.
However, some party MPs were already trembling at the very idea of anyone declaring an alternative to their visionary leader. This would mean the future of the reformist MPs could lie outside the NRM. But NRM is no stranger to splits; the main opposition party, FDC, is led by former members of the NRM, many of whom shot to prominence at the helm of the reformist Parliamentary Advocacy Forum (PAFO) in the 7th Parliament.
The new group has no name yet, but its leadership, according to Niwagaba, is already in place, although other members of the team are to be revealed later.
"We will definitely not condone grand acts of corruption; we will ensure proper service delivery rather than insisting and relying on simple politics of survival in political offices," Niwagaba added.
His pronouncement came as a shock to some Sembabule leaders, notably the Woman MP, Anifa Bangirana Kawooya, and district chairman, Elly Muhumuza, whose earlier speeches appeared to have invited Niwagaba's and, later, Ssekikubo's and Baryomunsi's remarks. When called to speak, Anifa Kawooya had attacked her colleagues in government who say religious leaders should not get involved in politics. On his part, Dr Muhumuza had ridiculed the NRM for its inability to mobilise a group as big as the one that attended the jubilee celebrations, unless there are promises of food, drinks and transport refund.
These are some of the ills Ssekikubo's group says it is seeking to correct.
"Apart from school children and [the people I ferried] from Kyakachunda, President Museveni, on his recent visit to Sembabule, had no people to address. And, surprisingly, top government officials [shy] away from functions like this one, with big crowds," Ssekikubo said.
His outburst came after the Vice President, Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi, who was meant to be chief guest at the function, indicated at the last minute that he would not attend.
Ssekandi's sudden withdrawal, according to Ssekikubo, was influenced by some senior government officials. It is those same people, he claimed, who in 2006 blocked Prof Gilbert Bukenya, then Vice President, from attending the inauguration of the former district chairman, Herman Ssentongo.
"These are symptoms of a tired system. When the Number Two in the country (Vice President) is formally invited two months ahead of time to come and take advantage of such a congregation, and he or she withdraws unceremoniously without cause -- simply because [he or she] is on remote control-- it is a symptom that all is not well," Ssekikubo said.
He further asserted that Ssekandi had been hijacked by the same group that eventually led Bukenya into troubled waters and saw him kicked out of the cabinet, prosecuted and remanded in Luzira prison -- a scenario Ssekandi should learn from.
"When they turned against him [Bukenya], he turned to me and I offered my shoulder for him to cry on. My shoulder will, this time round, not be available for you, Ssekandi, to cry on because my advice has come early," Ssekikubo said.
Drawing applause from the crowd, as Ms Kawooya, Dr Muhumuza and Sembabule deputy resident district commissioner, Joseph Kitayimbwa Ssekabiito, appeared to be uneasy, Ssekikubo said Sembabule had been turned into a no-go area for top government officials with the exception of President Museveni and Mawogola MP, Sam Kutesa. The rest, he said, required "special permits" to travel to the district.
Bold Bishops lauded
Ssekikubo, Niwagaba and Baryomunsi, who said they were products of the Catholic Church, lauded the Masaka Catholic bishop, John Baptist Kaggwa, and Kampala Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga, for boldly speaking out against government excesses. They suggested that the government should channel funding for development programmes like Naads (National Agricultural Advisory Services) through religious institutions because these were less prone to corruption.
"The school here [St Clement Ntusi Primary School] is collapsing; the church constructed a valley dam here, but why can't the government construct at least one in every parish in Sembabule? The money is [available] but a few individuals are stealing it all. We're not going to allow them to deplete the treasury; we're going to topple them. We shall not look on as our country is going to waste," Niwagaba charged.
Genesis of discontent
In interview with The Observer later, Ssekikubo said their source of discontent with the party leadership stemmed from the failure to implement a resolution of the NRM National Council early this year that the Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi, should step down as the party's secretary general. According to Ssekikubo, because Mbabazi cannot effectively juggle his roles as Prime Minister and secretary general, the NRM secretariat is not well managed.
"Besides, I cannot be party to a group of people that continues to believe that it's only one person with a vision to lead this country. We're not visionless. We see, and we can move this country ahead," Ssekikubo told The Observer.
"Fourteen key cabinet portfolios, including foreign affairs and parliamentary affairs, have been vacant for nearly a year now. That's not the Museveni I knew; those are not the NRM strong points I used to know. There's certainly a problem," he said.
The other cause of discontent is what the dissenting MPs call growing impunity among some senior government officials.
"When you see impunity taking the day, you know all is not well," Ssekikubo said.
Niwagaba reaffirmed the group's resolve to cause a change of leadership in the NRM.
"We're not in politics to simply escort [the people with the vision], but I can assure you that by 2016, we shall put together a team that will take the leadership of this country and move forward," he said.
The Observer has learnt that Anifa Kawooya reported the events in Sembabule to President Museveni during Monday's NRM parliamentary caucus meeting at State House, Entebbe.
"Your Excellency, Hon Ssekikubo has declared himself a president and named a cabinet with which he is planning to wrestle you out of power. They called you a dog and abused the Vice President," a source that attended the meeting quoted Kawooya as having told Museveni.
At the time, Ssekikubo had not arrived at State House. Baryomunsi was present while Niwagaba did not show up. When Ssekikubo finally arrived, he and Baryomunsi prepared to counter Kawooya's report to the President, who surprisingly did not comment on it. In an earlier interview with The Observer, Kawooya had sounded bitter at her colleagues' political behaviour.
"It's unfair to say that [they are] wrestling power from the President. The President of this country is still Yoweri Kaguta Museveni and he's still the leader of the NRM party; he had the majority vote. I don't think that, as leaders, we should incite the people that the government has failed, the President is not doing his work; that he is tired and has [grey] hair. It's not good," Kawooya said.
Ssekikubo confirmed on phone that they had been reported to the President, but insisted that they would not give up.
"Yes, he is the President and he is in charge, but he cannot stop us from aspiring for change in the leadership of this country. What we are facing today are the results of the big problem of a generation gap; that's why we [NRM] have lost a string of by-elections. The youth have been lied to so much and are turning their anger against the party," Ssekikubo told The Observer.