21 June 2012

Uganda: We'll Bring Change to NRM - Niwagaba


NRM 'rebel' MPs recently announced a "government-in-waiting" as an alternative to President Museveni's "failing" leadership. Ndorwa East MP, Wilfred Niwagaba, who is the group's attorney general, explained to Sulaiman Kakaire what this is all about, and what the group hopes to achieve. It has been reported that you and some of your colleagues have formed an alternative government.

What exactly is this about?

No; we're not forming a government, because it would be unconstitutional. We're just formalising what has been in existence.

Since the 8th Parliament, in order to enhance our capacity as NRM backbench legislators and to keep the executive accountable for what they promise to the masses, we organised ourselves into some sort of shadow cabinet to check the activities of the front bench.

The group's chairperson then was Henry Banyenzaki, who has since joined the front bench. So, we had to reorganise the group and get other members of the 9th Parliament to champion our cause.

After getting individuals like Muhammad Nsereko, Vincent Kyamadidi, Henry Musasizi, Cerinah Nebanda and others, who are newcomers in the House, our cause was strengthened, and it's [because of this] that the 9th Parliament has earned public trust. We plan to come up with the final cabinet list before the end of this month. So, it is true that we have formalised this group.

But you have been championing your cause even though the group was not formal. Why are you formalising it at this time?

We believe that it's not good to continue operating informally. First, formalising the group will give a clear picture of what we are up to, and maybe attract more backbenchers who believe in our cause. Secondly, this will also enable us draw plans on how to progress whenever something comes up in the House. Thirdly, we want to let everyone recognise our presence and not to take us for granted.

What are the objectives of your group?

We are [advocating] for good governance, service delivery, anti-corruption and transparency in our party leadership. We want to have a responsible leadership that is answerable to the people. Our concern is that the NRM is contradicting this particular objective, which is enshrined in the party's manifesto.

How many members are in this group, and who are they?

The number is not yet definite, but from what I know, there are more than 10 of us [NRM MPs] who have come out to identify with the group, although there are more than 50 others that are sympathisers. [The 10 include] myself, Nsereko, Kyamadidi, Nebanda, Theodore Ssekikubo, who is our leader, Musasizi and others.

There are reports that your group wants to form a political party. Is this true?

The law on the formation of parties is clear. If we wanted to form one, we would have to follow the Political Parties and Organizations Act. Our main target in this is to keep our NRM leadership accountable to the people. So, there should be no misunderstanding. I know that people are anxious about our [activities] but they shouldn't be; they should focus on addressing what we are saying. People should know that our main target in this is to keep our party leadership on its toes.

Isn't that the work of the opposition?

The constitution mandates the opposition to keep the party in power in check, but we have realised that the opposition is inimical and non-existent. So we have resorted to our internal self assessment as a way to ensure effective and responsible leadership.

Is this a move to disregard the opposition?

No; this is a move to strengthen our party and to galvanise our members who belong to the young generation. We want the youthful members to look at the future of our country; we want members to know that national interests are above party interests. By the way, our colleagues should understand that the old guard needs to be given a soft goodbye.

But the NRM caucus bars you from doing this.

That caucus constitution is unconstitutional. How can I legitimise it? Our move is constitutional, as it is appreciated under the right to associate, enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Besides, Parliament's Rules of Procedure are very clear that any member is free to associate.

Initially, you had independents and members of the opposition on your side. In formalising the group, as NRM MPs, aren't you leaving them out?

This particular one is for the NRM. But, of course, on some issues that require a bi-partisan arrangement, [opposition and independent MPs] will be free either to support us, or we shall always support them.

Why do I say that this is for the NRM? For instance, the President has recently placed [the minister for East African Community Affairs and Second Deputy Prime Minister, Eriya] Kategaya ahead of [The Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca] Kadaga. We think this is wrong, because the latter is more senior in the party hierarchy. The speaker is a national vice chairperson [of the NRM]. So we want to bring our house to order.

You are not the first people to come up with a pressure group within the NRM. People like Dr Kizza Besigye did that but were frustrated and ended up forming [another] party. How will you desist from heading into a similar direction?

By that time there was no party; we were still under the Movement system. However, although we are in a multiparty democracy, we shall have to champion our cause from within. The group that later formed the FDC did a disservice to the country. They should have remained within. You cannot cause change from outside. I want to make it clear that we are fighting from within and we shall not be intimidated by anyone.

What will you do if the party fails to make internal reforms?

We believe we will get what we want within the party; we shall die for this -- although I can't rule out the alternative of forming a political party if this fails. We believe that our targets can only be attained by staying within.

Some time back you came up with a bill to restore presidential term limits. How far have you gone with this?

It's progressing, and several other things are still in the kitchen.

There are claims that some big shots are using you. Who are these people?

That's not true. Take it from me, we are independent members. What we can say is that if anyone wants to use us, they should first join us. Some people have alleged that the former vice president, Dr Gilbert Bukenya, is funding us, which is not true. Bukenya can only use us when he is with us.

There are claims that he is already with you.

Yes, he [identifies] with some of our activities, but he has not openly come out to identify with us.

The President is concerned that your group is being used by foreign governments.

Take it from me, nobody has funded us. These are matters within our conscience as representatives of the people. So whoever is saying that is despicable, and that's unfortunate.

Do you think President Museveni is leading this country effectively?

For this [presidential] term, we can only make a balance sheet when it expires. However, I think he will need to pause and reflect, because if you look at his performance in the last five years, things are worsening. I believe that after this term, he should leave both the party and national leadership because he is becoming a menace. He should respond to the call from Ugandans who are requesting him to retire. Perhaps this will also help his legacy remain intact.

Your group recently said you want to take over the party leadership.

We don't want to simply continue cheering the old guard; we're ready to take over the leadership. By the way, all the factors are on our side: [For instance], majority of the citizenry is youthful and will determine who is best positioned to champion their aspirations.

Besides, even the Museveni or [Milton] Obote groups came to power when they were in our age bracket. We have a [bigger] stake in the future of this country than [the old guard] do. They should know that most countries that have transformed have had youthful leadership, not the ageing ilk.

But, the young Turks have failed to move out of the shell of the old guard.

This country has a wealth of leaders, and all we have to do is open doors for them. Our group is very serious and I promise Ugandans that the time is coming. By the way, even people with potential, like Kadaga, have been frustrated by the weak democracy within the party. These undemocratic tendencies have been unfolding in various ways.

For instance, when Kadaga [went] to Kigezi and we [encouraged her to vie] for the presidency, some people started threatening her. We condemn this. We want every Ugandan to feel free in their country. I just pray that we have a democratic mechanism of choosing a flag bearer in 2015. The enemy will be unmasked.

What are some of the weaknesses that you want to be addressed within NRM?

We just want the President to answer the challenges, like the ones he outlined during the caucus [meeting] on Monday. That is: individualism that has led to corruption; failure to deliver services to the people; and political careerism.

We want some party leaders, including the President, to know that politics is not a career. This country is not for one individual. We should account for what we promised the people. Museveni and his group need to do a reality check by looking at the [original NRA/M] Ten-Point Programme that they swore to uphold. If they think the progress is fine, they can claim power. But if the answer is not on their side, they should leave the country's leadership to the younger generation.

Last word

I would like to appeal to NRM members to look at the future of the country. I want them to make a choice of leaders who have a stake, not the limping old guard. Also, Ugandans should know that change in the country will come from within the NRM. It's clear that Ugandans want change, but it can only come from NRM. However, I would like to alert the party that everyone's eye is on the NRM primaries that will lead to the 2016 general elections.

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