Kampala, Uganda — President Yoweri Museveni on Dec.14 made an impromptu reshuffle of his cabinet, a step that a section of the public linked to the upcoming 2021 general elections.
But the most significant concern in the reshuffle is the appointment of Gen. Kahinda Otafiire, a Museveni longtime comrade, as minister for East African affairs at the time the Rwandan delegation was in Kampala to meet its Ugandan counterpart over the deteriorating relations between the two countries that had led to the former to close the border in February last year.
The Rwandan government had previously complained to President Museveni's government about Otafiire, describing him as an "anti-Rwanda agent," according to reliable sources.
The Rwandan delegation was led by Rwanda's minister for East African Community (EAC) Olivier Nduhungirehe as it interfaced with their Ugandan counterparts led by Sam Kutesa, minister for Foreign Affairs, at Commonwealth Resort Munyonyo.
The meeting was also attended by officials from Angola and Democratic Republic of Congo. Angola hosted the signing of a pact between Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Museveni in August.
Sources told The Independent that Museveni tapped Otafiire, a longtime minister in his cabinet as a counter offensive to Nduhungirehe who has been known for issuing explosive statements against Uganda since the bilateral relations broke down.
Museveni's decision to keep Philemon Mateke, the minister for Regional Affairs, has also been described by sources as "a clear signal to Rwanda."
Away from the behind-the-scenes decisions on Rwanda, is Museveni intent on securing votes in the next general election.
His decision to reshuffle cabinet demonstrates his strategy ahead of an election where he faces an untested challenger in Kyadondo East MP Bobi Wine with whom they are battling on many fronts.
In the reshuffle, Museveni rewarded the loyalists who spearheaded the age limit amendment, ejected two ministers in the key dockets of Energy and Works but more crucially appointed those with constituencies to canvass votes for him and the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party.
Importantly, the election year, 2021, is fast approaching and Museveni has his sights on who among the ministers can bring him votes amid an ageing cabinet. The dilemma Museveni finds himself in is whether the loyalists he has rewarded can keep their seats in parliament let alone lure voters to give him a sixth term.
Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi, who tabled the motion to amend the presidential age limit is the next minister for Local Government. He is also a former chairperson of the parliament committee on Local Government.
One of the seconders of his motion, Kyaka South MP Jackson Kafuuzi, joins him in cabinet as the deputy Attorney General. Another zealous supporter of the removal of the age limit who was rewarded is Usuk County MP Peter Ogwang, the new minister of state for Information and Communication Technology (ICT).
This was arguably the most anticipated cabinet reshuffle because of the battle lines drawn by amending the constitution in 2017 to ensure Museveni has another chance to run again as president. With NRM MPs being warned point blank by their constituents against tampering with the constitution, those who actively campaigned for the amendment were seen as not just staking their political survival but their human lives as well.
Therefore for Magyezi, Kafuuzi and Ogwang, it was the perfect Christmas gift after two years of waiting. They endured intimidation and threats after they voted to remove the age limit.
Months after Parliament amended the constitution in December 2017, there was fear among NRM MPs who voted for the amendment. At a function, Ogwang asked President Museveni for bodyguards because he felt he was being trailed.
It will also be a test for Museveni on whether he can keep these new ministers in cabinet if he wins the 2021 presidential election, in the event that the ministers have lost in their constituencies.
Analysts say the same goes for Molly Nawe Kamukama, the Principal Private Secretary to the President who has been appointed minister of State for Economic Monitoring. She is expected to run for parliament and 'justify' her ministerial position among the voters. Failure to win a seat could cost her, her cabinet position if the NRM government retains power in 2021.
However not everyone who was fervently pro-amending the constitution was rewarded. Simeo Nsubuga, MP for Kassanda South in Mubende District, was left out and so was Moses Balyeku of Jinja West, one of the seconders of Magyezi's motion. Mid this year, Nsubuga narrated his ordeal claiming abandonment by the NRM when hundreds of his constituents in Mubende were facing eviction.
"I have stood with NRM at a time when no one wanted to be associated with NRM, I have sacrificed so much for the sake of NRM. I defended the party when no one could, but is this what they are paying me?"
Museveni, however, appointed Judith Nabakooba, who is a Woman MP in Mityana, a district neighbouring Mubende, to the position of Minister for Information and ICT.
Some observers expressed reservations about her appointment as ICT minister but other sources say she was likely selected for the docket due to her previous role as Police spokesperson prior to joining into politics in the last general election.
The other notable but not surprising appointment is Beatrice Anywar, who will be state minister for environment. Anywar is a former diehard supporter for opposition leader Dr. Kizza Besigye and now an avowed admirer of Museveni.
She fell out with Besigye's party, FDC, before the 2016 elections when she backed presidential candidate Amama Mbabazi. Anywar then stood as an independent and won the Kitgum Woman MP race for the third time. Her schmoozing with NRM was cemented when she voted to amend the age limit.
Anywar also known as Mama Mabira is now expected to deliver Kitgum to the NRM since a daughter of the soil has been elevated to cabinet. In 2007, she led a protest in Kampala against the proposed giveaway of Mabira Forest to investors to grow sugarcane earning her the moniker. At the time, she was shadow minister for Environment.
The appointment of Denis Hamson Obua, as the new minister of State for Sports also got the public by surprise. Sports has been a long suffering ministry with voices in the sports sector calling for it to be separated from the education ministry where it is more of an appendage.
Obua, the Ajuri County MP is the captain of the parliament soccer team and has often travelled with other MPs to morale boost the Uganda Cranes, the national football team, in their away games outside the country.
Sports enthusiasts generally welcomed Obua's appointment with some describing him as someone who cares about sports in general. However the youthful and passionate Obua will have to contend with the underfunded ministry in a government that has prioritised construction of roads and dams.
Worse still, national sport teams; of football, netball, boxing, athletics are usually reduced to begging for a bail-out at the eleventh hour for air tickets for international tournaments. Obua's main task may be lobbying for more resources to a perennially underfunded ministry since Uganda's sports personalities and teams have proved that they can do well at the highest stages even with the meagre budgets.
The other task of Obua may be to sort out National Council of Sports which critics say is out of its depth as a sports management body and has instead sowed discord among sports federations.
Museveni dropped Irene Muloni as minister of Energy and Monica Azuba as minister of Works and Transport. Speculation darted to the alarm sounded by Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga about the alleged theft of money to the tune of Shs24billion meant for a construction of a bridge between Kayunga and Kamuli. However Muloni it appears was dropped because she does not have a constituency.
As a way of placating the Bugisu sub-region from which Muloni hails, Museveni appointed Mary Goretti Kitutu who is Woman MP for Manafwa district as a replacement. Kitutu is currently minister of state for environment while Muloni is now a presidential advisor.
Although, Muloni can take credit for the completion of Isimba hydropower dam that Museveni commissioned in March this year, she will now watch from the sidelines as a mere presidential advisor on energy as Karuma nears completion probably late next year.
In another key decision, Museveni dropped two ministers from Works and Transport; Azuba and one of her deputies; Aggrey Bagiire. Conversely, he elevated Gen. Katumba Wamala to the position of full minister after serving three years as State Minister for Works.
Azuba, who worked tirelessly in the revival of Uganda Airlines, will, like her counterpart Muloni, be a mere presidential advisor.
The Works sector takes a lion's share of the national budget with upwards of Shs6trillion that goes into construction and maintenance of roads. Sources say perhaps Museveni looks at the former army chief Wamala as more proactive when it comes to dealing with matters infrastructure.
Wamala also had a better working relationship with the roads agency, Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA). Given Museveni's preference for soldiers in service delivery, insiders say Wamala's move up was in the offing. Peter Lokeris and Joy Kabatsi are the deputies in charge of Works and Transport respectively.
Kamya, Amongi swap
Kampala Lord Mayor, Erias Lukwago, was ecstatic with the news of the transfer of Kampala Minister Beti Kamya to Lands, Housing and Urban Development. Speaking to journalists at his home, Lukwago sounded a note of caution to Kamya advising her not to play the same politics as she did while at City Hall, the seat of Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA).
"If she attempts to manifest the same in the new docket that could be the end of her political career," he said.
The two leaders had an acrimonious relationship and there was talk of a new bill that Kamya had introduced to take away the powers of the Lord Mayor to approve KCCA budgets.
Lukwago, an opposition stalwart in his own right had a similar message for the incoming minister for Kampala, Betty Amongi.
"If your assignment is to bury Lukwago's political career, come with tough gloves," he said.
The Lord Mayor said he is not ready to compromise on accountability and rule of law. Lukwago has been a source of headache for Museveni in Kampala for the last nine years and all indications are that he will vie for the mayor position again in 2021.
In other changes, Frank Tumwebaze was moved to ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development.
Meanwhile, Minister for Privatisation and Investment, Evelyn Anite, triumphed over what she claimed were 'mafia' fighting her over the audit of Uganda Telecom (UTL). With the transfer of Mwesigwa Rukutana back to the Ministry of Labour, she perhaps looks to a smoother process while dealing with UTL.
Anite spent the better part of the year flexing muscles with deputy attorney general Rukutana over an audit of the government-owned UTL that drew in other big shots in government on Rukutana's side.
Ephraim Kamuntu, deemed not very conversant with legal matters moves to the ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs while Tom Butime will now be in charge of Tourism and Wildlife. Other new entrants to cabinet are Robinah Nabbanja, minister of State for Health (general duties) and Hellen Adoa minister of state for fisheries.
The firing of Ida Nantaba as minister of state for ICT was widely expected in the reshuffle. She ran into trouble early this year after being involved in a shooting incident in Mukono that claimed the life of Ronald Sebuliime, an innocent bystander. For most of the year, she stayed away from official duties and at some point was said to be in hiding out of the country.
Also dropped from the 80 member cabinet are Alex Onzima and Abdul Nadduli. Onzima was the State Minister in the Office of the Vice President while Nadduli was minister without portfolio.