interviewBy Deo Walusimbi
A diminished political status for Prime Minister and NRM Secretary General Amama Mbabazi within the ruling NRM has put a bright spotlight on new comer Richard Todwong, 41, the minister Without Portfolio in charge of political mobilisation.
He was recently tapped by the party's MPs to effectively take over the more active roles of the secretary general. In this Interview with Deo Walusimbi, Todwong discusses his new role and the squabbles in NRM, among other issues. Excerpts:
You have been minister since 2012; any achievements worth talking about?
They are many because I came in at the time when the NRM government was losing by-elections to the opposition. We had lost Bukoto South, Butambala and the Kamuli by-election. But when I settled, immediately, we won all the other subsequent by-elections in Kween, Butaleja, Buhweju, Isingiro, Butebo and I am now going to Bubulo West.
Are you doing anything special to win all these by-elections?
Our tactics are internal, I wouldn't want to discuss them in public through The Observer, but the bottom line is that we are ready for victory, because we plan and strategise our things well and we are now utilising our resources more effectively.
How do you describe the current state of affairs within the ruling NRM?
Let me start with what is happening in the country because what is in NRM is a smaller issue. Ugandans, for a long time, had never thought that Uganda can be peaceful with individual freedoms and human rights respected.
Don't you think your response is cosmetic given the variance in welfare between leaders and the people, and then the political tensions?
Yes, the gap between the urban-village, the rich-poor needs to be tightened in terms of leadership. Leaders need to do more of the things that people expect them to do and reduce tensions amongst themselves nationally, but there is peace.
In view of what is happening in NRM, these are dynamics which are expected in any organisation, more so in a political party. It would be very naïve for anybody not to expect what is happening in NRM, because an organisation which is based on politics is definitely expected to have such dynamics.
Why then do you stifle divergent views within NRM when you know that such dynamics are expected in any political party?
UPC collapsed in the 1980s because of internal issues. FDC is failing because of internal issues, DP has a lot of serious internal issues that have failed the party to get state power and this is not limited to political parties: it also happens in churches and traditional institutions. So, this kind of contradiction is expected in any organisation, but the only issue is on how you handle them, to become stronger after these contradictions.
However, it is not true that people with divergent views in NRM are blocked from talking. We are only saying that the time for politicking is coming, not now, because we are just making three years into this term. That is why when some MPs tried to propose the extension of the term of office, we did not agree with them. How do you start doing politics now when elections are still about two years ahead?
But in case there is anybody who has interest in any position, leave alone the prime minister, the door is open.
So, what about the Kyankwanzi resolution?
What we did in Kyankwanzi wasn't to block anybody; we were saying that time will come for politics. Let us now concentrate on service delivery because that is what Ugandans will gauge us on, not on whether you recommended so. Ugandans will look at the level of development we have created in 2016 and we should focus on those things. When it comes to choosing who will be our flag bearer, it will become easier.
Would NRM emerge stronger?
Yes, NRM is becoming stronger and that is why we have the outstanding cohesion among NRM MPs more than the way it was at the beginning of the ninth Parliament.
This brings me to the decision by the caucus to, literally, appoint you as acting secretary general...
When you put it like that it might appear very bad in the public. NRM MPs are chairpersons of the NRM in their various constituencies, all of them are members of the National Executive Committee (NEC), and some of them are members of the Central Executive Committee, CEC.
So, the NRM caucus is a subset of all the organs of the party because [the MPs] chair all the conferences in their constituencies and some of them chair district conferences. Now for them to come up with a decision it is okay, but I am not appointed because they don't have the authority to appoint the secretary general, because he is always elected.
What were you doing as minister in charge of political mobilisation if you were not already supporting the secretary general?
Though I was appointed, I have been working with him and to me and him, this appointment is not something new because we have been working together all through. Maybe it was [news] to members of Parliament, but to me, the prime minister and secretary general and the chairman of the party [President Museveni], we knew it and we have been doing the same work.
Of course you can't control one's thinking, but regarding mobilisation, using the party structures and offices, going around saying that you are offering yourself for president when even the Electoral Commission has not given us the green light to allow people to contest, that will be terrible and that is what we are avoiding, but they are free to express themselves.
Why did you choose to keep this between the three of you?
It was kept a secret because I am not an elected leader in the party, though I am its chairman in my constituency. But now the chairman of the party, through the caucus, with the approval of the secretary general, requested me to move to the secretariat and help to coordinate the day-to-day activities of the party.
One of the bigger arguments surrounding NRM's ongoing squabbles is that Mbabazi should relinquish one of his positions on account that he can't effectively perform both jobs. How are you going to balance the ministerial engagements with your new roles?
The reason I am a minister Without Portfolio, is that I do the political work on behalf of the party and my ministry has no budget and all my work is being facilitated by funds from the party.
The only thing I own in government is the office and the vehicle which I only use on Wednesday to go for cabinet meetings, meetings with the president on official assignments, and apparently, I don't use the government vehicle, I use mine because I often go for party activities.
What is the distinction between you and Mbabazi, the substantive secretary general in regard to NRM mobilisation?
Some people think that mobilisation is just shouting, but it is a science. It takes strategic planning to guide you on the goals you want to attain. So, there is a lot of work in that office that I took because for us to see our government performing and delivering on the pledges in our manifesto, we need to plan and actually see that people believe in it; but not just shouting oyee.
Since you took on the new appointment, which parts of the country have you traversed so far?
I did not have much time yet, because we have been organising a few things, but I have plans to go to Lango, Sironko, Sebei, Kasese, Bundibugyo, and Kabale.
Why these areas?
It depends on the field reports from those areas, because there are people from other parties who want to cross to NRM.
The pro-Mbabazi faction vows to drag you to court should you usurp Mbabazi's roles which they claim you assumed illegally; are you ready to defend yourself?
I have never heard about that, but they are free. If that is their plan, I have no problem because the courts are there for everybody who is aggrieved.
But I am not doing it as Todwong, and I am not doing it because I want to do it, but the party asked me to do it and I am not doing it because I am replacing somebody; I have been doing this. Why didn't they sue me before?
What about your plans to move around the country to deconstruct the pro-Mbabazi campaign against President Museveni?
The prime minister has made it very clear and he has signed the Kyankwanzi resolution that he supports President Museveni in 2016.
To what extent, can we go after him when the man comes out to sign the resolution and he is the one to implement it because he is the secretary general of the party who is supposed to prepare the nomination papers for the president?
What is the biggest challenge to the NRM government?
Corruption, but it is a challenge for everybody... even we in communities need to step up in the way we handle corruption.
What percentage would NRM score if an election were held today?
The way I see things, NRM would go back to the percentage of 75 per cent. Leave alone the confusion in Kampala, but if you went to the countryside, you would realise what I am talking about, and these are people who massively vote for NRM.