3 February 2013

Uganda: To Take Power, DP Should Get Rid of Factions - MP Kawuma

Growing up in the sprawling Kitooro suburb in Entebbe, Muhammad Kawuma developed a fascination for politics at a tender age.

He would often listen to debates while at St Theresa primary school and on the weekends would stare in admiration at politicians on the political podium speaking with fiery rhetoric.

His family was of a humble background -- his mother sold produce at the market to contribute to the welfare of the family. In 2001, after completing school at the Islamic University in Uganda (IUIU), where he was a student leader, Kawuma immediately joined politics.

"When I finished university, I was elected village chairperson of Entebbe, Kiwafu West, I contested as youth councillor and won. So, I began serving my people," recalls Kawuma.

By 2001, Kawuma had already established a strong bond with his community. Quite an energetic young man glowing with effervescence, he decided to throw the hat in the ring for the Entebbe municipality seat.

"At the time Entebbe was an NRM stronghold. But people already knew my potential. I was ready to serve my people as a leader," says Kawuma.

He contested against the incumbent and NRM flag bearer, Dr Byatike Matovu.

"I had won [at] many polling stations. I began celebrating and merry-making throughout the night. I brought a disco for my supporters but the next day, they announced someone else; Entebbe went cold," Kawuma told The Observer.

Though he lost at the time, he was convinced he had won overwhelmingly. Kawuma learnt that it is not over until the fat lady sings.

"I chose not to petition court. I decided to contest for a councillor seat at LC IV as a consolation and won. By virtue of my office I did a lot of work in Entebbe. I waited for five years," says Kawuma.

Learning from the bitter lesson in 2001, Kawuma was more vigilant at polling stations and waited till the last ballot had been counted before he could begin celebrating his victory. He was re-elected to represent the cosmopolitan constituency in 2011.

The Democratic Party (DP), to which he belongs, also won about 90% of the seats at the grassroots, including defeating the quite-popular NRM mayor Stephen Kabuye. But Kawuma's re-election was nullified after the loser, NRM's Patience Mubangizi, successfully petitioned the High court.

"I refused to appeal in 2011 even when my leaders in the party said I do so. I said those who elected me shall vote me once again. In fact I won by a bigger margin in the by-election held in September 2011," said Kawuma.

Kawuma has distinguished himself as a champion of people's rights. He spent much of his time as a leader fighting off the predatory hand of government in selling public land to fake investors, gave financial support to fishermen and boda boda riders and connected a number of youths to jobs overseas.

"There is a big problem of unemployment. Many youths graduate and cannot find jobs. However, I helped them get jobs overseas in Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Canada. Some of them have returned home and started their own businesses," says Kawuma. Many of his constituents often speak of his selflessness and humility.

Though he returned to Parliament, Kawuma, fears the regime is bent on reversing a few gains it had made. He fears that the country is under the personality cult siege of a leader who wants to rule by decree.

However, he also lamented the state of affairs in his party.

"With 50 years of existence we need to take action in DP. Leadership is not about eloquent talking, but results. You need to capture state power and provide service. DP has values, let's go on the ground, take action and capture power," he lamented.

Kawuma says DP can only progress if it rids itself of factionalism, nitpicking and tribal overtures.

"Uganda is not [just] in Kampala; the principles of DP are of a national outlook. But we have extremists who have created factionalism. Some people claim DP is for Baganda and Catholics. This is archaic and that is why I supported [Norbert] Mao. Much as the founders were Baganda and Catholic, like Benedicto Kiwanuka, they looked at politics through a national prism," argues Kawuma.

He also questioned the ambitions of his party.

"Can you imagine we presented less than half the candidates in all, out of over 300 constituencies in 2011? We concentrated around Kampala. For instance, why did we field six candidates in Makindye East? All of us are not born in Kampala," he argues.

He sees DP's fundamental objective as capturing state power.

Kawuma says he is reluctant to contest again; but he may be forced to because of the disunity in his party.

"I have been thinking of exiting politics. We have been looking at the president and demanded that he steps aside because he has overstayed in power. We want to serve as exemplary leaders," says Kawuma.

"But we are getting concerned. Our party only has 15 representatives in Parliament, I and Kikungwe [Kyadondo South] were thinking of exiting. I am still considering retiring if we have order and sanity, but if it stays this way, I will have no choice but to stay," opines Kawuma.

The lawmaker says he admires the late Speaker James Wapakhabulo who "was a clear-headed person", and Rebecca Kadaga's courage. He is also fascinated by Barack Obama's charisma and eloquence despite US president's humble roots.

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