The election of Margaret Zziwa as speaker of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) in 2012 was a classic tale of an underdog defying the odds.
Having barely scarped through the election in Uganda to join EALA, it was a surprise when Zziwa contested for the post of speaker against Dora Byamukama, who was widely regarded as the favourite. But that didn’t stand in Zziwa’s way. Today, two years after she became the first female speaker of the regional legislative body, Zziwa has run into a political blind with even some of her former allies turning against her.
One of these is Nusura Tiperu, who nominated her for the post. Tiperu has teamed up with Byamukama, with whom she was reported to have differences in the past, to lead the onslaught against Zziwa. Zziwa told The Observer during an interview a couple of weeks ago, that her troubles had roots in the fractious elections that delivered her to the chair in 2012.
“I can tell you that my opponent [Byamukama] is the one who drafted the motion of censure… She knew very well that [since she had] been elected chairperson of the committee of Legal, Rules and Privileges [of EALA], I would be taken before her for investigation. She wanted to have a time to revenge. That is a fact,” Zziwa said.
EALA has 45 representatives, nine from each of the five member states. The position of speaker, which is rotational, is currently held by Uganda.
Under the current rules, at least three members from each of the five countries must append their signatures to a censure motion before it can be heard and debated.
While Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi could easily martial three MPs to sign the petition, we have been told that Zziwa is banking on the belief that seven out of nine Tanzanians are on her side. However, we have been told that to circumvent this, there is a plan being fronted by some members to amend the rules to remove the veto powers of the countries.
If this succeeds, it would mean that a censure motion can be heard as long as the majority of members append their signatures to it, irrespective of which countries they come from. This amendment, sources said, could be tabled on Tuesday, November 25, when EALA resumes business in Nairobi.
The MPs who want Zziwa out accuse her, among other things, of poor governance and leadership skills, abuse of office, disrespect and intimidation of EALA members and staff. They claim she is abusive and once referred to members as “adolescents.”
Zziwa, however, has supporters, the most vocal being Uganda’s Fred Mukasa-Mbidde. Mbidde, a Democratic Party supporter, said this week that he had written to President Museveni, aising him to arraign NRM’s EALA MPs who are against Zziwa before the party’s disciplinary committee.
“We must learn to carry out DNA tests in all aspects and establish who our real children are. It would be difficult to find your biological child behaving in a way contrary to what you taught him or her and when this happens, you either know that that child is not yours or you punish him there and then,” Mbidde said at a rally in Bukomansimbi.
Betty Nambooze, the Mukono municipality MP, was also recently in Nairobi trying to shore up support for Zziwa. She told The Observer that she was not convinced that Zziwa was incompetent as some members say.
“People are just trying to settle personal scores. When you ask them what wrong Zziwa has done, they cannot give you a convincing [answer],” Nambooze said.
Zziwa confidently wears her pride on her sleeve. She can be unapologetically abrasive and will not hesitate to speak her mind. Throughout her troubles, she has maintained that she is innocent and ready to fight till the end. Yet those who want her out are not relenting either.
The enormity of Zziwa’s predicament was underlined by the resignation, last week, of six members of the EALA commission as well as chairpersons of four of its six sectoral committees. The commissioners who resigned are: Abubakr Ogle (Kenya) Christopher Bazivamo, Hafsa Mossi (Burundi) Patricia Hajabakiga, Jeremy Ngendakumana (Rwanda) and Nusura Tiperu (Uganda).
The chairpersons of committees are: Dr Martin Nduwimana (General Purpose), Abubakar Zein (Regional Affairs and Conflict Resolution), Dora Byamukama (Legal, Rules and Privileges) and Straton Ndikuryayo (Accounts).
According to news reports, the MPs who resigned claimed that there was a “crisis of leadership” at the commission which they allege has eroded the credibility of the assembly and the East African Community (EAC) in general.
Our sources in Arusha told us that Zziwa had also fallen out with EAC Secretary General Richard Sezibera, who has reportedly confided in some MPs that he is being undermined by Zziwa. Worse still, Zziwa cannot bank on the support of Shem Bageine, Uganda’s minister of state for East African Community Affairs, who is reportedly unhappy with her leadership.
Under such a harsh environment, even some of Zziwa’s supporters believe she has reached a point where she has got to make tough choices which may include apologising for any transgressions on her part or even resigning.
“She needs to listen to their concerns. You cannot insist that you will continue leading people who are dissatisfied with you as a speaker. I know some of the charges against her are trivial but we must not forget that these are politicians who will not relent,” said Sheila Mishambi Kawamara, a former EALA member.
Kawamara added that she did not foresee Zziwa resigning, aising that the best way forward is for the chairman of the EAC summit, Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta, to mediate. It must be said that previous mediation attempts led by President Museveni, who pleaded for Zziwa, have failed.
In fact, our sources have told us it is not clear anymore which side Museveni falls. With the impasse persisting and majority of Uganda’s EALA representatives opposing Zziwa, the president has reportedly become amenable to the suggestion that the assembly can do whatever it pleases as long as Uganda retains the position of speaker.
According to these sources, there is so far no clear favourite amongst Ugandans seeking to replace Zziwa if the censure motion succeeds. Byamukama, Mike Sebalu and Dan Kidega are said to be the likely candidates. Efforts to talk to Bageine yesterday were futile he was reported to be in Nairobi.
Parliament has ordered him to make a comprehensive statement about the issue.
“The other day, the President said that we [Ugandans] have exported our indiscipline to EALA I want to know what is the government [of Uganda] doing to stop this confusion in EALA,” asked Kalungu West MP, Joseph Ssewungu.
Who is Zziwa?
Zziwa was first elected to EALA in 2007 and is serving her second and final term in the regional assembly. Prior to this, Zziwa served two terms as Woman MP for Kampala between 1996 and 2006. Between 1993 and 1995, she was a Constituent Assembly delegate.
In 2006, she lost the seat to FDC’s Nabilah Sempala. Before joining politics, Zziwa was Economics and Geography teacher at Kololo Senior Secondary School. She was also a part-time lecturer, Women and Gender Studies, Makerere University.
Source : The Observer