Kyankwanzi — The last five days at the National Leadership Institute (NALI) in Kyankwanzi have been a punishing experience for NRM MPs camped there for a retreat.
Many have struggled to cope with the modest living conditions and attending classes the whole day.
For those used to the softer life in Kampala, sleeping on two-inch mattresses and negotiating their way to crowded bathrooms during the shower hour have been a hassle. The most affected are ministers, who are used to the trappings of their job - with a bodyguard and personal assistant. Without these perks, some have looked out of place.
To compound matters, no cars are allowed in the confines of the institute during the retreat. MPs who came with their personal cars were forced to abandon them about 2km away from the main entrance to the institute. We have been told that the restrictions were pushed by the party chairman, President Museveni, who does not want members to abandon the retreat to attend to personal matters.
Museveni was not amused during the last retreat at the same venue when a group of MPs, led by Kampala Central's Muhammad Nsereko, stormed out and drove back to Kampala. Nsereko, Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga), Chris Baryomunsi (Kinkiizi East), Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa east) and the late Cerinah Nebanda (Butaleja Woman) stormed out in protest at the President's perceived defence of ministers accused of taking bribes from oil-prospecting companies.
The only cars allowed into the institute include that of the President, Vice President and Prime Minister. We understand that all MPs, including ministers, must seek permission from Museveni if they want to leave the institute. One unimpressed minister told The Observer that he was forced to put off an important family meeting because of the strict regulations.
"We are like in a boarding secondary school," said the minister who did not want to be named.
Hard knock life
Indeed NALI is like a school. Located in Kyankwanzi district, 160km from Kampala, it sits on more than five square miles. In the same way schools use barbed wire to deter students from escaping, at Kyankwanzi the overgrown bushes and hills form a natural barricade against intrusion. Besides, hundreds of soldiers are deployed around the institute.
MPs are expected to wake up at 5am and go for military drills (Mchakamchaka) for one hour. That is followed by a shower, and then breakfast, normally served at 7:30am. Breakfast mostly consists of milk or porridge served with bread and light snacks such as samosas and sausages. The delegates then prepare for the morning session, which starts at 8.30am, with a 30-minute tea break at 10:30am.
Lunch is served at 1.30pm in the renovated dining hall, named after John Garang, the deceased former president of South Sudan. Owing to the different cultural backgrounds of the MPs, the organisers have endeavoured to provide a variety of foods. The regular foods on the menu are matooke, millet, posho and rice, served usually with meat, chicken, beans and peas.
However, on Saturday, one MP from Busoga complained bitterly about the absence of sweet potatoes. Officials have since added the sweet tubers to the menu.
2.30pm is time for lectures, which are said to be the most exhausting exercise. Many MPs, overpowered by sleep, rarely pay attention to the presentations.
Lectures end at 6pm and MPs do some jogging for an hour, before dinner is served. They then retire to their dormitories, where, according to sources, the real fun begins. The dormitories are dotted with double--in some cases-- triple deckers. The dormitory allocation was done on first come, first served basis, disappointing some MPs who had wanted to sleep next to their friends.
Those who reported early secured good beds in the spacious corners, or the beds next to windows that allow them more fresh air. Those sleeping on the beds along the corridors endure most hardships, with their items constantly trampled on and with no room for privacy, even when dressing up.
At least one MP forgot to carry basic items such as basins, toothpaste, toothbrush, bathing soap and Vaseline. While the institute's canteen has these items, the said MP preferred to beg from colleagues rather than buy. Such behaviour, as well as some members moving around shirtless, has turned certain individuals into a laughing stock.
On the other hand, more senior leaders such as the President, VP and Prime Minister, enjoy a higher standard of living here, putting up in the houses meant for instructors. Others that have been spared the inconvenience of putting up in the congested dormitories and small beds include the burly Deputy Prime Minister, Moses Ali.
MPs enjoy a good gossip too, and it is their favourite pass time every evening. Sources told us that they talk about a range of subjects, from politics to sex and money, to nice clothes and cars to perfumes. Some of the topics that have attracted heated debate include a news report that ran in The Red Pepper of Friday, January 11, 2013, claiming that many of them use drugs.
On Saturday evening, Barnabas Tinkasiimire (Buyaga West) found himself under attack for suggesting that President Museveni has ruled for far too long and should give way to young blood. One of the MPs from Ankole suggested that "It is going to be bloody" (as Tinkasiimire is referred to among MPs) was mentally sick and should check into a mental hospital. Tinkasimiire shot back, saying many MPs were cowards who could not face off with Museveni like he had done.
While alcohol is not allowed during the retreat, which is conducted along military principles, a few MPs managed to sneak in some. But those who indulge have discovered how difficult it is to wake up early morning and go jogging after a night of boozing. Organisers have greatly restricted the interaction between male and female MPs at the retreat.
They can only interact during lecturers, exercises and meal time. In the evening the dormitories housing female MPs are strictly out of bounds and are heavily guarded. So after dark, male MPs, who have an urgent message to pass on to their female counterparts, can only do so using their mobile phones. Even then, the networks of major telephone companies are quite fuzzy here. Welcome to Kyankwanzi!