Odrek Rwabwogo and NRM's ideological re-orientation (Daily Monitor (Uganda))


In May 2010, I attended a meeting (of course, as a fly on the wall) in which Mr Odrek Rwabwogo was a key participant. In spite of my highly opinionated self, I was impressed by his scholarly talk on ideology and revolution.

In 2014, I was invited to lead the editorial management of a handbook for Resident District Commissioners (RDCs). In the section for ideological orientation, I used a paper Mr Rwabwogo had delivered at a youth camp at Nsambya (Kampala).

Mr Rwabwogo is now an aspiring candidate for the office of NRM vice chairperson for western Uganda. And last Saturday, he was a guest panellist on Capital FM’s Capital Gang talk show.

The message I got from his submission on Capital Gang was: He was looking for a platform on which he would re-direct the NRM’s ideological resurgence.

The problem with this message is that ideology and revolution are no longer the centre of interest across the spectrum of the NRM membership. With Rwabwogo’s age difference with his competitors, he should stick to the message of ‘generational shift’ which sound sexier than ‘ideology and revolution’.

First, seeking to re-direct the ideological compass of the NRM engenders the thinking that there has been some kind of regression. This would fly into the face of the party leadership’s widely held position that it has done well on all fronts.

Second, revolution and ideology are intangible for the elite who constitute the majority of the NRM’s National Conference (the electoral college for the office Rwabwogo seeks).

Third, ideology and revolution have sort of got out of fashion if only because they are seen as some kind of residual carry-over from the Bolshevik idea of comintern (Communism International).

Ideology and revolution, in the traditional sense of the words, no longer appeal to citizens. Citizens now want social justice, service delivery and governance.

If I were Mr Rwabwogo, I would champion the idea that the party should be at the centre of policy generation. Party structures should be enabled to have the admin capacity and intellectual disposition to participate in policy generation.

To do this, the party should have a strong research department with some level of independence from the party’s political and admin dynamics.

The party should run publications in which policy positions are articulated for popular absorption. The party should have a website with content that can drive traffic.

Currently, the only party platform that participates in policy origination, debate and delivery is the NRM Parliamentary Caucus.

Where is the NRM Caucus of district chairpersons? How do the district councillors relate to the party’s administrative structures? Sub-county chairpersons and councillors?

Up to 2009, the only platform from which political cadres (for all parties) could be identified was the ubiquitous town-hall like live radio broadcasts and studio call-in radio and TV talkshows.

Between 2008 and 2012, I was active on Kampala’s radio and TV talkshow circuit. I regularly interacted with the so-called NRM’s Radio Activists.

Because of this exposure, some of these NRM Radio activists got appointed to offices and others got elected.

I will only mention three from this group of radio activists: Mr Omar Bongo, the district chairman for Mayuge, Mr Linos Ngopek, the RDC Masaka and Mr Stephen Asiimwe, the RDC Kabarole District.

Needless to say, there is a sizable number of MPs, district councillors and sub-county councillors who rode on their media exposure to successfully run for political offices.

So, whereas the portrayal of the NRM as a popular mass movement may be valid, the party leadership’s failure to actualise it is annoyingly disturbing because it denudes the party of the credentials.

Mr Bisiika is the executive editor of the East Africa Flagpost.