14 February 2013

Uganda: Kadaga Heads Down Slippery Political Slope


A day in politics is a long time, it is often said, which makes a year in politics a very long time and two years a very, very long time.

In the last two years since Rebecca Kadaga took the reins of the Ninth Parliament, Ugandans have seen her swing through the full motions of a political pendulum, from one extreme to the other until she has finally settled where many of her predecessors did.

Kadaga climbed the podium in 2011 amid a lot of goodwill that cut across the political spectrum. She had shown steel when she refused to bow to pressure to take another appointment, possibly in cabinet, and let the party nominate a new speaker and deputy speaker.

President Museveni was forced to contend with her popularity in the NRM caucus sitting at State House Entebbe shortly after the February 2011 elections and give her the nod.

Her moment in the sun was perhaps during the emergency session that discussed corruption in the oil sector. The two-day debate ended in high-sounding resolutions calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi and ministers Hilary Onek and Sam Kutesa.

The resolutions may have been shot down later by Museveni, who even derided her for her love of the dance floor, but she had discharged her duty by letting MPs debate an issue that was very close to the country's heart.

In between, there were many other flashy moments, like the throwing out of several ministerial nominees for lack of academic qualifications; her rejection of the government's 'phony' report on the death of MP Cerina Nebanda, and some mundane ones.

She has also had her populist moments, the most notable being when at the 127th Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) Assembly in Quebec, she faced off with Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird over MP David Bahati's proposed Anti-Homosexuality bill. For this, she was received by a huge homophobic crowd at Entebbe airport upon her return, to whom she ecstatically promised a "Christmas present" in the form of passing the controversial bill.

By this time, many Ugandans had started openly imagining a Kadaga presidency. The fact that her deputy Jacob Oulanyah was largely disgraced in the eyes of the public for always being on-hand to ram through Parliament unpopular government positions made her a welcome breath in a very foul political environment.

From her demeanour, it was apparent that she was warming up to the idea and started to quietly build a bi-partisan base among MPs whom she hoped would sell her candidature.

Kadaga was, indeed, a silent factor in the hotly contested FDC presidential elections that pitted Leader of Opposition and Budadiri West MP, Nathan Nandala Mafabi, and former army commander, Maj. Gen. Mugisha Muntu, with her strategists wary of a Mafabi win that would cement him as the eastern Uganda candidate, the same springboard Kadaga was looking to use, in addition to the women ticket.

It explains why many of Busoga leaders did not stand with Mafabi because he was thought to be unlikely to cede leadership to Kadaga in the event the Uganda version of 'Orange Democratic Movement (ODM)' that Aruu MP Odonga Otto hinted at in one of his loose moments, was created.

Muntu was seen as more amenable to working with Kadaga since he had no real political base, besides many of his strategists being Kadaga's strategists as well.

The last few weeks have, however, brought down the two-year facade of 'fearless' Kadaga who has broken out of the NRM mould and is ready to lead the country to change and prosperity, Museveni's wishes notwithstanding.

This was possible because her deputy Oulanyah, who has faithfully taken the flak in the last many months, refused to continue playing the fall guy, thus pushing Kadaga to prove to the world whether she was really different or was only playing different. She proved to be the same.

Her superfluous ruling that Parliament could not be recalled to discuss Nebanda's death and events thereafter because some MPs had withdrawn signatures in phone calls to her, days before she even received the petition, and that some signatures were forged, was the first indication that like Ssekandi and Oulanyah, she really cared more about her place on the dining table than justice, the law or the interests of the country.

Her suspension of the probe into corruption in the Office of the Prime Minister by PAC, after Karamoja Minister Janet Museveni (also First Lady) was summoned to appear on the flimsy excuse that it will undermine Geoffrey Kazinda's trial is therefore the next logical step down the slippery path of political survival that she must now openly live by.

It is probably too late for her to claw back uphill and in the coming months she will likely go further down the slippery slope until she falls down to the level of Ssekandi and Oulanyah.

The author is a political and social critic. He is a former editor of Sunday Monitor and The Independent.

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