Uganda: How Bobi Boxed DP MPs Into National Unity Platform

They are the archetypal political journeymen, always on the move once the political season kicks in.

In 2011, when some of them cut their political teeth, they were part of Ssuubi 2011, an informal grouping of pro-kingdom Baganda politicians who supported Dr Kizza Besigye's bid for the presidency despite professing to belong to the Democratic Party (DP).

In 2016, many of them shifted allegiance and backed former prime minister Amama Mbabazi, who had just broken ranks with President Museveni.

That time they moved together with the DP leadership under Mr Norbert Mao. Just a month into the campaigns, many of them had abandoned Mr Mbabazi and jumped onto the Besigye bandwagon, for the veteran activist had defied the odds to once again generate the biggest enthusiasm against President Museveni.

With the 2021 General Election around the corner, they have moved again. This time they have picked Kyadondo East Member of Parliament Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, aka Bobi Wine, who has spent the last couple of years sizing up a shot against President Museveni.

On Thursday, Mr Kyagulanyi was perhaps the proudest man in the world as he officially unveiled the latest additions to his new party, the National Unity Platform (NUP).

Put simply, Members of Parliament Mathias Mpuuga, Muwanga Kivumbi, Betty Nambooze and Medard Lubega Sseggona, and some others with whom they crossed to NUP on Thursday, have supported a different candidate for the presidency in 2011, 2016 and 2021, and none of those they backed belonged to DP, their mother party.

They always side with the Opposition candidate that appears to them to stand the biggest chance of success against President Museveni regardless of which party or formation fronts him.

Mr Mao was a presidential candidate in DP, backed by DP, but they supported Dr Besigye.

They now back Bobi Wine, although as the example of 2016 when they first backed Mr Mbabazi but abandoned him for Dr Besigye when it became clear that the former had more support, shows it will only be confirmed if they will stick with the new kid on the block until election day.

Mr Kivumbi, the Butambala County MP, has an explanation for this.

He says they are seeking power, to liberate Uganda from what he calls a dictatorship. When one is involved in a 'struggle' of this sort, Mr Kivumbi says, the vehicle (political party) he uses does not matter.

He gives the example of Mr Museveni, who operated under different formations - the Front for National Salvation (Fronasa), Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM), Popular Resistance Army (PRA) and eventually the National Resistance Army/Movement (NRA/M) - until he got power.

Mr Kivumbi argues that they are just looking to move with the times and will not be beholden to colonial political parties with an outdated mentality as they seek to solve new problems. To them, dynamism is the name of the game.

But to Mr Mao, the man who was literally left holding the can in DP as the party's Buganda base moved to NUP, the defecting leaders are looking for 'meal cards'. To him, they are looking for the most convenient way to get elected or re-elected, and earn salaries as a result.

How it started

When DP decided to have what they termed as "reunions" in 2018, the idea was that they would entice Bobi Wine into their party. But if this week's events are anything to go by, it seems it's the Kyadondo East Member of Parliament who has swallowed up Uganda's oldest party.

In a ceremony filled with pomp on Thursday, all DP's MPs that hail from Buganda region, with the exception of Paulson Kasana Ssemakula Luttamaguzi (Nakaseke South County) and Mary Babirye Kabanda, the Masaka Woman Member of Parliament, joined Bobi Wine's NUP at its offices in Kamwokya.

This crossover, which has been on the cards since Bobi Wine announced that he had acquired a party last month, was as result of intense direct negotiations between the want-away DP members and Bobi Wine.

During the negotiations, different sources say, Bobi Wine stuck to his playbook of keeping many of his party members in the dark and many told Saturday Monitor how they didn't know what was going on.

"We are never told what's going on," a member of NUP who is contesting for MP slot, explained on condition that his name is withheld since he is not allowed to speak to the press. "You have to ask the honourable himself."

Multiple sources say the DP MPs had hoped that Mr Kyagulanyi would not found a party and run under the People Power movement, which would enable many of them to pick DP cards and then run under the People Power movement, an arrangement that has served them well in the past.

The sources say that Bobi Wine informed most of his allies about his decision to acquire a political party two or so days before it was inaugurated.

Taken aback, Mr Sseggona, Ms Florence Namayanja (MP Bukoto East) and others who were not ready to join NUP turned around and claimed that they were part of DP Bloc, an initiative in which political parties such as Abed Bwanika's People's Development Party (PDP), Michael Mabikke's Social Democratic Party (SDP) were to be encapsulated into the mainstream DP.

This process, according to sources, was never completed as it became apparent that Bobi Wine had upstaged the idea and he was using the ceremonies organidsed under its guise to showcase his popularity throughout the country as he warmed up for the presidential campaigns. As Mr Sseggona and this group turned to resuscitate the "DP Bloc" idea, they said as a bloc they would support Bobi Wine in next year's elections.

Mr Mao's response to this was firm: "There's nothing like DP Bloc."

Mr Mao went ahead to mock DP members who were hobnobbing with Bobi Wine, calling them water melon, those who were green (DP) and on the outside and red (People power) on the inside. Mr Mao also warned that his group wasn't about to give their cards to DP members who were in bed with other political formations.

When Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago was unveiled by the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) a few weeks ago, Mr Mao claimed that his party had thousands of members who are ready to replace him and other rebels.

Even Bobi Wine, who has been talking about forming a big coalition to end Mr Museveni's long rule, abandoned the idea once he procured and successfully launched his NUP.

He gave an ultimatum to all who claimed to be people power members that they would either be NUP or not part of them. It's understood that since NUP was launched many of the People Power structures, if not all, have been taken over by the new party.

For instance, earlier this year, People Power had put in place an eleven-member team termed as the "electoral management committee" whose role was to vet all candidates to run under the People Power umbrella.

It had members such as former DP stalwarts John Mary Ssebuwuufu and Sulaiman Kidandala, who is vying for the Kawempe North MP slot, and Samuel Walter Lubega Makaaku, who wants the Lubaga South MP slot, among others.

However, this newspaper understands that in light of the emergence of NUP, this committee is now going to be disbanded, something which was confirmed by Mr Joel Ssenyonyi, the NUP's mouthpiece.

"Some of the members on that committee haven't joined NUP. We are going to announce a new committee next week," Mr Ssenyonyi explained in a phone interview.

With both Bobi Wine and Mr Mao taking radical positions, the DP dissidents who thought they could work with NUP under the auspices of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) realised that they had to go with the current political momentum in Buganda, which they deem to favour NUP.

And during the unveiling on Thursday, Bobi Wine made it clear that the new party would take up all that People Power had: "NUP is to unite all people just like the People Power Movement was."

SOME QUESTION

Unveiling of new members

The fact that many DP politicians have joined NUP raises more questions than answers, however. When new members were being unveiled, Bugiri Municipality MP and Jeema party leader Asuman Basalirwa, who is an ally of Bobi Wine, wasn't at the jamboree. Asked why he wasn't at the party, Mr Basalirwa answered: "I wasn't told about it."

Asked if he was going to join NUP since Bobi Wine is on record giving people, an ultimatum to join or ship out, Mr Basalirwa's answer was pretty telling. "We aren't joining NUP. We have memorandum of understanding with NUP to support Kyagulanyi and we have made that clear even in our previous press conferences."

Though Mr Basalirwa was diplomatic in his response, it's understood that Jeema as a political party with clear objectives was taken aback by Bobi Wine's new stance of either you are NUP or you ship out.

Now it seems as things stand NUP members will stand against in positions Jeema members have interest in, risking a break up of this alliance.

But the biggest trouble is to be found within NUP itself. Take what is happening in Nakawa. John Paul Kakande, the former DP spokesperson who also defected on Thursday, will present NUP with another headache.

Mr Kakande, who has been contesting for the Nakawa MP slot since 2006 but has kept on losing, is interested in the newly created Nakawa West constituency. NUP recently thought it had resolved the impasse over who should stand on its ticket in this constituency when the current Nakawa Mayor Ronald Balimwezo decided to stand in Nakawa East, giving way for NUP spokesperson Ssenyonyi in Nakawa West. But now with Mr Kakande formally a NUP member, having already released campaign posters, it remains to be seen how a middle ground will be found.

In Lubaga North, Abubaker Kawalya, the KCCA authority Speaker, for the past two years has been mobilising under the People Power umbrella with the intention of uprooting the incumbent, Moses Kasibante.

Mr Kasibante is among the former DP MPs who crossed to NUP on Thursday, and has largely travelled a similar political journey as Mr Mpuuga, Mr Sseggona and Ms Nambooze, only that he didn't move with the Mbabazi wave in 2016.

It is not clear whether Mr Kasibante was first given assurances about his seat before crossing to NUP.

The same can be said of Mr Latif Ssebaggala, the Kawempe North MP who crossed from DP to NUP, but also faces a challenge from fellow defectors including Mr Kidandala.

Speaking about what has happened over the past weeks, Mr Mao said whereas he was sad about losing members to NUP, there was another side to the story; that he had handed over his problems to Bobi Wine to deal with. Well, the MPs are now with Bobi Wine, and that is what he wanted. Time will expose what else is in store.

Source: The Monitor

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