12 February 2013

Uganda: Kutesa, Ssekandi, Otafiire Under Pressure to Retire

Kutesa, Ssekandi, Otafiire are either under pressure to retire or are considering quitting elective politics, with power looking likely to shift to younger cadres under Museveni's control.

Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kahamba Kutesa, who is also the Mawogola MP, is facing family pressure to retire from elective politics in 2016, The Observer has learnt. Sources close to Kutesa say that a family meeting at his farm in Lugusuulu, Sembabule district late last year, urged Kutesa to quit and concentrate on his vast business empire.

Kutesa is one of Uganda's most powerful ministers, who has been in virtually all cabinets named by Museveni. A relative to Museveni, Kutesa is no stranger to controversy, having been once censured for influence peddling, and implicated in corruption scandals. Were he to quit, it could confirm a trend of passing of power from old guards to younger political and military cadres.

Kutesa is not the only one being nudged towards retirement. Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, Vice President Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi, third Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Public Service Henry Muganwa Kajura, Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Maj Gen Kahinda Otafiire and the state Minister for Luweero Triangle Rosemary Namayanja Nsereko have also contemplated retirement at one time or another.

Big joke

An insider source said Kutesa's family is particularly concerned that some bad politics is tainting the minister's public standing especially when his name keeps being mentioned in financial scandals like the 2007 Chogm scam. Although he was acquitted by the Anti-corruption court, family members believe that it is better for the minister to steer clear of politics.

"They think that such issues are putting at risk the family interests," a source told The Observer.

Another source told us that the family, particularly his children are not happy with the way their father is rebuked by supporters of his rivals back in Mawogola. His daughter, Elizabeth Kutesa, who occasionally gets involved in her father's political activities in Sembabule, was markedly guarded when we contacted her this week.

"I think your call to me will not be of any help if you can't tell me the sources that gave you this information," she said.

However, Kutesa has reportedly described attempts to get him to retire as a "big joke."

"His plans are focusing on 2016, and he is expected to meet the NRM set up in the district before attending to the leadership wrangles in the district," a source told us.

Kutesa's Political Assistant, Ronald Ssemwogere, told us that his boss' political road map had no indications that he will retire soon. He is said to be looking at helping the district climb out of poverty and get better services. He also wants to see an end to the fights between Sembabule LCV Chairman Elly Muhumuza and Chief Administrative Officer Nsubuga Kiberu, and the presence of Lwemiyagga MP Theodore Ssekikubo.

"He can't leave when Ssekikubo is still around because it will be as if he has surrendered to Ssekikubo," a source told us.

Kutesa and Ssekikubo have been fierce political rivals since 2001 when Ssekikubo defeated Kutesa's cousin Sam Rwakoojo (current Electoral Commission Secretary). They have always sponsored rival candidates for various positions.

It's only in the 2011 polls that candidates loyal to Kutesa won most leadership positions in the district especially in Kutesa's Mawogola County.

2016 road map

If Kutesa were to retire in 2016, he would probably join Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, who is also reportedly considering quitting (See: Mbabazi to quit in 2016).

Other top government officials said to have considered retiring include Vice President Edward Ssekandi, Third Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Public Service Henry Muganwa Kajura, Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Kahinda Otafiire and the State Minister for Luweero Triangle Rosemary Namayanja Nsereko.

Electoral pressure

While some politicians are retiring due to old age, Dr Aaron Mukwaya a senior lecturer at Makerere University's department of Political Science suggests that some could be afraid of losing the next election.

"Many of them look at politics as a means of their survival and protection, therefore there is no way they can choose to retire unless due to a fear that they will not get support from their sponsors or fear for a loss of an election," Dr. Mukwaya said.

A NRM MP, one of those considering a 2016 retirement, says that after 15 years in parliament, it would be risky for him to go back to his constituents to seek re-election.

"Winning is possible but it will be a hard-fought win, and the best thing is for me to leave without being necessarily voted out," the MP said.

This, sources say, could be the thinking of VP Ssekandi. Having narrowly defeated youthful Jude Mbabaali, Ssekandi may not seek re-election in his Bukoto Central constituency. However, according to his political assistant Kizito Kawonawo, the VP remains undecided.

"He says he doesn't know whether he will seek re-election or not, that is an issue he will think about in 2015," Kawonawo told us.

With Jude Mbabaali on seemingly shaky ground for 2016, having upset a section of his supporters after he dramatically withdrew an election petition challenging Ssekandi's election, Masaka Woman MP Freda Mubanda could be eying Ssekandi's seat.

Although she is an NRM MP, Mubanda is positioning herself as an independent minded MP, who is not shy to go against an official NRM position, something that could endear her to some of Mbabaali supporters.

NRM future

Their retirement may shock some NRM party supporters but it is likely to have little impact on the party's support base. President Museveni appears to be shifting allegiance from the old guards to the party's young Turks. This departure is also reflected in the army, where his son Muhoozi Kainerugaba is in charge of the all-powerful Special Forces Command.

The exit of veterans like Kajura may, therefore, be good news to a president who wants to build a party that can be in charge of the country's politics for foreseeable future.

"That party is a decision of one individual, if he likes you, he will keep you around, and if he doesn't want you, he will de-campaign you and get rid of you," Dr. Mukwaya says.

Yet this argument also points to another fact. If some of these ministers realise they are still wanted by the big man they may return in 2016. In the run up to the 2011 elections, Ssekandi had indicated that he would not seek re-election, and anointed Kityamuweesi Musuubire, who works in the vice president's office, to replace him.

But a few weeks to the NRM primaries, Ssekandi hit the campaign trail once again. A shocked Musuubire chose to run as an independent but was persuaded to drop out of the race. According to some sources, Ssekandi's sudden U-turn was prompted by an assurance from the president that he would be appointed to his current position of Vice President, having previously had fears that if he returned to Parliament, he would have little chance of winning the Speakership.

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