30 December 2012

Uganda: Political Events That Stood Out

As 2012 fades away, certain events and personalities which shaped the year are unlikely to be forgotten soon.

Among these are a couple of political party activities. Good or bad, the year had a rich catalogue of political party events. The ban on the opposition-led Activists for Change (A4C) pressure group by the Attorney General, Peter Nyombi, was hardly surprising. The highly-billed but always unlikely peace talks between President Museveni and Dr Kizza Besigye gripped the nation for weeks.

The change at the top at FDC that ushered in Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu got its fair share of attention. Only recently, the sudden death of Cerinah Nebanda, the Butaleja Woman MP, added to the political drama and suspense. The year started with reports that President Museveni and his nemesis, Dr Kizza Besigye, were getting ready to talk peace.

Since the reports had come to the fore in January and not April (thus ruling out a fools' day prank)-the news generated a lot excitement with some observers applauding the development as the perfect New Year gift to the nation. However, Besigye denied the reports, and before long he was trading punches with Museveni using the Activists for Change (A4C) vehicle.

A4C organised a string of political rallies in Kampala and its suburbs. The rallies became prominent not because of large attendance but rather the police's iron-fisted reaction. It took the death of a police officer, Micheal Ariong, hit with a rock during a protest organised by Besigye, for government to get the perfect justification to end the rallies. So, it did not come as a surprise when in April the government officially banned Activists for Change by invoking an old colonial law.

The ban was contested by opposition leaders but having made little headway in the bid to overturn it legally, they started another pressure group, For God and My Country (4GC). By this time, however, the energy had been sucked out of the protests. Muntu's ascendency to the top seat of FDC in November got many people excited.

Given the former army commander's clean public service record, political analysts have described it as a watershed moment on our political scene, which is presently dogged by dirty, underhand methods. But Muntu's critics believe he will do little to alter the political scene and might end up disappointed.

Bickering in NRM:

Political squabbles dominated the NRM stable for most of 2012. On several occasions, its own MPs (termed rebels) refused to toe the party line, giving its chairman, President Museveni, constant headaches. NRM's problems were compounded by the successive lossess in by-elections. In the nine by-elections held in 2012, NRM won only two (Prof Gilbert Bukenya in Busiro North and Proscovia Alengot in Usuk county), a dismal return by any measure.

But when it mattered most (like voting on the oil bill), Museveni managed to cajole most party MPs to support his position. This underlined the fact that irrespective of the rumblings in the NRM, Museveni retains a tight grip on the party.

FDC opens new chapter:

The biggest opposition party, FDC, appeared to have forged a new path following the election of Muntu on November 22. However, his opponent Nathan Nandala Mafabi's refusal to accept the results has cast a dark shadow on the party.

All reconciliation efforts have so far failed to heal the party as Mafabi and his supporters stick to stiff conditions such as the resignation of secretary general Alice Alaso.

Rejuvenation of DP?

In some respects, 2012 saw the rejuvenation of DP, which many had written off as a spent political force. Out of the nine parliamentary by-elections held in 2012, DP registered four victories, three of which involved capturing seats previously held by the NRM. This was a better record than that of the FDC, which in total won three by-elections, wresting two from NRM.

The victories of Muwanga Kivumbi, Matthias Nsubuga and Brenda Nabukenya (whose election is still a court matter) brought to 14 the number of DP MPs in the Ninth Parliament, six more than the number the party had in the Eighth Parliament. When one considers the fact that DP now has a member in the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), Mukasa Mbidde, there is every reason for DP supporters to believe that the party could one day rekindle its glorious past.

Analysts will be watching in 2013 to see whether the party can consolidate these gains. However, there were no signs to suggest that the disagreement that arose from the disputed Mbale delegates' conference that elected Norbert Mao as president general had been put behind DP.

UPC on the edge:

UPC started 2012 on the wrong footing after its leader, Olara Otunnu, had sacked senior party members, including national chairman Edward Rurangaranga in December 2011.

Otunnu accused the officials of insubordination and of working with NRM to destabilise the party. In January 2012, David Pulkol, who had been sacked as secretary for mobilization, described Otunnu as a "weak leader" who was destined to destroy UPC.

So for most of 2012, Otunnu ---whose election in 2010 was greeted with hope amongst many UPC supporters given his rich CV-- has been living on the edge. In the course of the year, Otunnu fell out with the party's MPs, virtually leaving him isolated. Among the few leaders still by his side is Joseph Bbosa, the vice president. For Otunnu, 2013 might be a break-or-make year.

One-man-show CP:

The Conservative Party continued to be a one-man show with Ken Lukyamuzi, the Lubaga South MP, being its most visible actor. In January, Lukyamuzi together with Odonga Otto and Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda attempted to set in motion the impeachment of President Museveni but a couple of months later, the move was abandoned as their colleagues shunned it.

As for JEEMA, the People's Progressive Party and Uganda Federal Alliance, there were no notable developments in their parties.

Best Politician of the Year - Rebecca Kadaga

The Speaker of Parliament arguably takes the accolade for fearlessly steering Parliament through the muddy political waters. There were moments when she faced a lot of pressure from the executive to pander to its interests but she held firm.

Worst politician of the Year- President Museveni

The President wins this unenviable tag for using unpalatable language in reference to MPs who rejected the government's position on the death of Nebanda. In a televised live broadcast, Museveni described the MPs who rejected the autopsy report that linked Nebanda's death to drug abuse and alcohol as "idiots and fools".

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