Amama Mbabazi sets his stall out

22 Min Read

On Monday 15th June, 2015 I publicly declared my intention to seek the people’s vote as Flag-bearer for the National Resistance Movement and, ultimately, for President in the 2016 Presidential Elections. Prior to that, several days earlier, I had penned a letter to the National Chairman of NRM informing him that I would be duly seeking to be elected both Chairman and Presidential Flag-bearer for NRM.

The reasons I gave were simple and profound. I believe it is time for two changes: a change of guard and a change in governance. I am not alone in this regard and by many indications the aforementioned change is desired by the Ugandan people; more so, it is deserved.

As I stated before and shall keep stating, much has been achieved and there is a marked difference between the Uganda of today and Uganda in January 1986. The victory of NRM in 1986 brought about a level of civility that had not been seen in our politics for a long time. And yet following the June 15th declaration, the response from the party leadership has been beyond all reason:

On Aspirations

I followed my declaration with a letter to the National Electoral Commission (EC) in which I informed them of my intention to begin a country-wide tour of consultations. The EC responded in the affirmative within two days. An exchange of several letters ensued as first the Police (whom I had also informed of my intentions) sought guidance from NRM.

In response, NRM attempted to advise the EC on how to interpret our electoral laws by claiming that I was not “an aspirant sponsored by the NRM political organization with the meaning of the NRM Constitution and the law’ and therefore could not go about my consultations.

This culminated in the EC making an about-turn on its earlier position, which was in line with the law as well as the position of the Attorney General by asking me to “harmonize” my position with the party before I could be permitted to consult.

With this, the EC abdicated its authority to oversee electoral matters transferring its constitutionally mandated duty into the hands of a single party the NRM. In so doing, the EC which is supposed to be a non-partisan organisation aligned itself with NRM party and its erroneous interpretation of the party laws, national laws and the balance between the two.

In essence, what the NRM, the Police and the EC were saying was that in order to aspire to any office a member of a political party needed the party’s permission before he or she strove to do so and therefore it was illegal for me to consult. And yet anyone aware of the national laws that superintend these matters knows this to be fundamentally false. Section 3 (1) of the Presidential Elections Act 2005 (Amended 2010) states that

“An aspirant may consult in preparation for his/her nomination as a Presidential Candidate.” In defending itself the party leadership has argued that all laws must be read side by side and that national laws therefore cannot be interpreted in abstraction to party rules.

It is obvious then that the party leadership does not understand that the relationship between internal party laws and external national laws is hierarchical: our national laws are supreme and all other regulations must seek to comply with them; the most supreme of all being our National Constitution.

As the NRM Constitution does not have a provision for a person who is an aspirant, as there is no mention of that word anywhere in it, we must obviously look to our national laws. The applicable law in this situation would be the Presidential Elections Act 2005 (PEA). What does the PEA envisage when it calls a person an “aspirant”?

“An aspirant is a person intending to stand as a candidate during the election for the Office of President.” – PEA, Section 1 Therefore, anyone who would like to become the President of Uganda must first have intentions (or, in other words, aspirations). Once one has intentions the next logical step surely is to examine one’s chances of success by exploring how much support one could gather.

It is entirely possible that out of this exploration one comes to realize that their ambitions are not viable and at this point their journey may come to an end. This process is what the PEA envisions when it refers to consultations.

Upon completion of consultations, and on the occasion that an aspirant feels their prospects are good enough, he/she can then offer him/herself for nomination. This can be as a member of a party (in which case one is required to go through the specific requirements of their party) or as independent (in which case one awaits the nomination of the EC).

As a member of the NRM party, I am subject to the laws that govern our internal elections and of this there is no dispute. We have established that there is no law concerning aspirants and their consultations in the NRM Constitution.

And thus, the PEA remains our only point of reference in this regard. In light of this, it is nonsensical to claim my aspirations are illegal or that I as an aspirant for any position need the permission of my party which lacks in its own Constitution a basis upon which to bar my consultations, much less my aspirations.

On Violation of National Laws

First came the arbitrary arrests. These began on the night of June 14th as clearly the State had become aware that an announcement was likely to occur the next day. Young people all over the country were arrested for possessing t-shirts, bandanas and posters. The Uganda Police Force was deployed in Kampala and around the country for the sole purpose of hindering the announcement and all associated activities.

For the next several days the Police took to tearing down my posters in towns all over Uganda and imprisoning any supporter found wearing a t-shirt. By June 20th nearly 80 of my supporters had been apprehended and taken to unknown destinations. These arrests continue today.

The case of Vincent Kaggwa arrested on Wednesday July 15th is perhaps the most shameless of all. When the State resorts to arresting a 25-year old man with a wife and two children, blindfolding him and taking him from place to place, in order to interrogate him, hose him down with ice cold water, and repeatedly ask him one single question, “Why do you support Mbabazi?”, it necessarily means that the State is not above acting in contravention of all known laws including our own Constitution which enshrines the freedom of thought and association under Article 29.

While arresting my supporters for donning t-shirts, holding small gatherings and possessing posters, several anti Mbabazi demonstrations were held in towns across Uganda. These demonstrations had people wearing pro-Museveni t-shirts, and holding banners and posters. The Police even escorted the demonstrators on their routes.

One particularly incredible event was the premature burial of one Amama Mbabazi in Gulu complete with coffin and a Police escort. While this may sound comical, what it really shows is a discriminatory application of the law. One where an individual’s supporters are deemed criminals for committing certain acts and another’s supporters are deemed lawful for the same.

My supporters were said to be engaging in “premature electioneering”. What is this premature electioneering? According to the Oxford Dictionary to engage in electioneering is to “…take part actively and energetically in a campaign to be elected to public office.’

I aver that in Uganda today there is no such thing as premature electioneering. I will take you once again to Section 3 (1) of the PEA 2005, which prior to its amendment in 2010 stated that “An aspirant may consult in preparation for his or her nomination as a Presidential candidate within twelve months before the nomination date.”

Under this law, premature electioneering would apply. However, the law was amended in 2010 to remove the phrase “within twelve months before the nomination date’. This means that at no point can electioneering prematurely occur in this country.

In fact, to my recollection, the person who has been keenest to get a head start in electioneering has been the National Chairman of NRM for whom February 2014 was the beginning of his campaign to be a so-called sole candidate.

It is obvious to anyone who has encountered the numerous Museveni t-shirts and posters in circulation since that time as well as the appearance late last year of soaring billboards on various roads and highways declaring him the sole candidate for NRM, that there has been unabashed self promotion that can only be seen as electioneering.

In order to justify the arrests of my supporters as well as my own arrest, that of my daughter and those of the opposition, the Public Order Management Act (POMA) has been invoked time and again by the Uganda Police. I have stated repeatedly that the Uganda Police are simply violating this law.

It was to my incredulity that on June 23rd the Inspector General of Police (IGP) wrote to me to say that I had not been “cleared” to begin my consultative tour. There is no law, certainly not POMA, which empowers the IGP to permit or forbid any public meeting or gathering. This is just one of many instances in which the Uganda Police has participated in a concerted effort to misinterpret the law and dupe the public with regards to the scope of the powers they have.

On “Nomination” Fees

Historically the lack of funds has been an impediment to the smooth running of party affairs. In the past, we had discussed charging a small and reasonable membership fee in order to facilitate our operations. Raising funds to cover the administrative costs of running primary elections is of course both rational and necessary.

This is, in part, the reason why political parties charge nomination fees. Yet to call the fees recently approved by the Central Executive Committee (CEC) and levied by the NRM EC “nomination fees”is actually wrong. Typically fees are paid at the time one submits their papers for evaluation in order for nomination to occur.

In this case, the deadline for submission for nomination forms is 11th September. To require a member to pay a fee (be it 10,000/= or 10,000,000/=) as a pre-requisite to receiving the nomination forms is in essence a requirement for a member to pay for his/her aspirations. NRM has never done such a thing before and indeed there is no legal basis.

Neither the Presidential Elections Act (PEA) nor the Political Party and Organisations Act (PPOA), the relevant laws of reference, require any member of a political party to pay for an aspiration. The only fees payable by presidential aspirants are specifically for nomination by the National Electoral Commission and are found in the PEA Section 10 (6) (b), “..a non-refundable fee of four hundred currency points payable to the Ugandan Administration in cash or bank draft…”

What about fees payment for other aspirants?

The Parliamentary Elections Act, 2005 only requires in Section 11 (3) that, “The nomination paper of every candidate shall be accompanied by a nomination fee of ten currency points in legal tender or a bank draft for that amount made payable to the Uganda Administration.”

Again, there is no requirement for the payment of a fee for aspiring to become a Member of Parliament. This applies to all elective positions in NRM. So: where does NRM derive these powers? According to the latest response from the Secretariat, NRM derives these powers from CEC.

From which law does CEC derive these powers? Even if it were justifiable, our first consideration would have to be to charge our members a reasonable amount. We would also have to consider the logistical costs that our members could encounter as they traveled to pick up nomination forms. In the case of an aspiring LC I Chairperson, he/she is required to pay 10,000/= to the District Registrar’s office. One may think that this is the only cost associated with this exercise, but imagine the following;

An aspiring Branch Chairperson has to travel to the bank (to pay) and to the nearest District Registrar’s Office to obtain the forms. An aspirant from Karapeta, village in Kaabong District, must travel 112 kilometres to Kotido Town; Rushaka to Kanungu to Town over 40 kms; etcetra. All these in search of a Centenary Bank Branch. Imagine the cost! When one considers that many will need accommodation and meals, it would not be surprising if the total cost exceeded the nomination fee tenfold!

Considering that incumbent Branch Chairpersons are volunteers and aspiring ones, should they win, will not be paid either – this cannot make sense. The bastion of support for our party has always been the volunteerism of the ordinary man or woman.

To impose a charge of 10,000/= for anyone to aspire to the office of village chairman makes us seem at worst unsympathetic and at best detached from the realities of people’s lives. This is akin to taking the ownership of NRM out of the hands of the many and delivering into the hands of the few. Is NRM now to become a conclave for the “haves”?

On Ethical Conduct and Other Regulations

The Code of Ethical Conduct Form requires that one binds oneself to not stand as an independent candidate should one lose in NRM primaries. All persons wishing to pick nomination forms are required to first sign this form, waiving a fundamental right enshrined in Article 72 (4) of the Constitution, “Any person is free to stand for an election as candidate, independent of a political organization or political party.”

In addition, this ideal has been guaranteed in our Constitution under the National Objectives and Directive Principles State Policy II (ii). “All the people of Uganda shall have access to leadership positions at all levels, subject to the Constitution.” NRM is bound to follow all the aforementioned objectives and principles according to Article 71(1)(c) which states that, “…the internal organization of a political party shall conform to the democratic principles enshrined in this Constitution…” 

As seems to be the new norm, this is simply another illustration of a disregard for the supremacy of the Constitution. Unsurprisingly, this unconstitutional-ism rears its ugly head again with regards to the regulations over manifestos and campaign materials.

Section 3(1) of the PEA allows for the preparation and therefore the use of manifestos and campaign materials during consultations.  If the leadership had its way these regulations vis-à-vis campaign materials would be applied retrospectively. This is in itself an absurdity given the amount of campaign materials already in use for over a year most of which belong to the National Chairman.

When we levy aspiration fees and force members to waive their rights as guaranteed by the Constitution (to stand as an independent as well as to produce and use manifestos and campaign materials); when we require them to have academic qualifications even when we as a party are not mandated to do so, then we obstruct access to leadership positions and therefore contravene the democratic principles as outlined in our Constitution.

Is the party leadership now dismissing these democratic principles?

The Changing Face of NRM

It is obvious the new rules and regulations passed a month after my public declaration are meant to curtail any chances of me standing within NRM as Flag-bearer and National Chairman.  

The beginning of this irrationality was in February 2014 at the Kyankwanzi Retreat where I was “accused of habouring ambitions” as though lack of ambition is a virtue.  I was then castigated as a villain and subjected to continuous “public humiliation” in the hope that I would be politically extinguished.

Unfortunately for those leading this boorish campaign, I am politically alive and vibrant.

The misguided events that took place at Kyankwanzi are herein relevant not because they are personal but because they illustrate the wanton disregard for procedure, propriety, professionalism and rule of law that has so unfortunately come to characterize NRM in recent times. Even the points raised above – on the various illegalities within the recent rules and regulations – support this.

As a founder member of this party and one who abides by the core values of the National Resistance Movement, I am ashamed of these recent actions. I am ashamed because they confirm a long held suspicion that we have deviated from our original vision, mission, character, aims and objectives. I am ashamed because the continuous use of state machinery in this competition and the use of Police for political objectives threaten to turn Uganda into a Police State.

In light of all this one comes to one of two conclusions. Either the leadership of NRM has become largely ignorant of the laws of the land, or the leadership has become a law onto itself having now decided to abandon the core values of NRM. On my part, I will continue to embody the true purpose and identity of the National Resistance Movement. I will remain steadfast to our principles even if I find I stand alone. I will stay the course. Those who wish to veer off are free to do so but I will not be going with them.

Amama Mbabazi, SC, MP

 970 60 5 1055

Share This Article