Uganda: Otafiire Group Begs Museveni for Cabinet Job

As the impending announcement of the new cabinet continues to grip NRM politicians, ministerial hopefuls are using ethnic and regional lobbyists to convince the president as shrewd conmen also lie in wait, writes EDRIS KIGGUNDU.

With the clock ticking for President Museveni to fill vacancies and announce his fifth-term cabinet, delegations, behind the scenes, are lobbying hard to get their political sons and daughters ministerial jobs.

The president has at least until May 31 to appoint a new cabinet and deliver his State of the Nation address. But, according to insider sources, he is not having a quiet time reflecting on his message. Politicians are using religious, regional and ethnic lobby groups and cultural leaders to persuade the president to give them ministerial jobs.

Others are trying to exploit their ties with members of the first family to make the coveted cabinet list because they cannot access the president directly.

After his inauguration on May 12, sources said, President Museveni retreated to his country home in Rwakitura to reflect on many things. It is there that he has been meeting lobbying delegations from various sub-regions of the country that comprise religious leaders, influential opinion leaders and key power brokers.

GREATER BUSHENYI

On May 20, the president met members of Nyekundire group from greater Bushenyi. It was led by Peter Mugisha, the Bushenyi resident district commissioner. It included Yokasi Makaru, the former LCV chairman for Bushenyi; Yorokamu Bashasha, an influential elder who previously belonged to UPC; Dr Abel Mucunguzi, a lecturer at Kampala International University (KIU); and two Bushenyi town prominent boda boda cyclists, one called Edwin and another Master.

The group, according to our sources, lobbied President Museveni to appoint some of their sons and daughters to cabinet. Currently the greater Bushenyi region has five ministers: Kahinda Otafiire (Justice), Ephraim Kamuntu (water and environment), Elioda Tumwesigye (health) Tarsis Kabwegyere (general duties) and Mary Karooro Okurut (security).

Specifically, the group wanted assurances that Museveni would re-appoint Otafiire, the minister for Justice to cabinet, who lost his Ruhinda parliamentary seat. Otafiire lost to Capt Dononzio Kahonda, first in the party primaries and then in the parliamentary election. Sources told us that the elders told Museveni that Otafiire, outside cabinet, could be more problematic.

In April 1999 when Otaffire was dropped from cabinet, he famously said: "I can cause trouble."

The elders feared that he could this time round embrace the opposition like former ministers Amanya Mushega or Richard Kaijuka, two influential politicians from greater Bushenyi who are now members of Forum for Democratic Change (FDC).

"We told him that Otafiire is one of the few historical senior army officers from Bushenyi who had been very loyal," one delegation member told The Observer on Monday.

Thomas Tayebwa, the MP for Ruhinda North, who did not attend the meeting, told us that a politician of Otafiire's stature does not need to be lobbied for.

"President Museveni has worked with Otafiire for a long time and he knows what he can do. So, I don't think you need to convince him to keep him in cabinet," Tayebwa said.

Tayebwa said Otafiire has experience and is still needed to nurture upcoming politicians from greater Bushenyi. Otafiire reportedly annoyed the president last year when he insisted on contesting as an independent.

In December last year when Museveni met a delegation of people from Mitooma to try to resolve the political wrangles in the district, he implored the minister to step down for Kahonda.

Museveni reportedly said Otafiire, being a historical and CEC member, should not be the one breaking party rules. But Otafiire refused to bow out of the race, claiming the primaries were stolen.

Besides Otafiire, the group allegedly lobbied for Rosemary Nyakikongoro, the former woman MP for Sheema who lost her seat to Jacklet Atuhaire, an independent. Sources said the group told Museveni that currently all ministers from Sheema district (Kamuntu and Tumwesigye) are Anglican.

It is time, they said, he considered appointing a Catholic like Nyakikongoro, to balance the equation.

OTHER HOPEFULS

The president reportedly listened to the delegation's concerns but did not respond to specific requests. The president, instead, thanked the delegation for mobilizing for him in the last election and implored them to educate people about engaging in income-generating projects.

Sources said that if there is an MP who greatly hopes to be in cabinet, it is Moses Balyeku, the Jinja Municipality West MP. A second-term MP, Balyeku has waited in the wings, holding his breath with every passing cabinet reshuffle.

Our sources said Balyeku could not make it into cabinet initially because he was overshadowed by the then Butembe MP Daudi Migereko, who is the outgoing minister for Lands, Housing and Urban Development.

With Migereko out of Parliament, Balyeku believes he has a chance. According to sources, Balyeku is leaning on his relationship with the First Son, Maj Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, for some leverage.

Another hopeful is Mike Mukula, the former MP for Soroti municipality. Usually Mukula relies on the Emorimori, the Teso traditional leader, and other religious leaders to make a case for him.

This time round, the NRM vice chairman for the eastern region tried to catch the president's attention by engaging in various activities. In March, he spent time in Rwenzori sub-region trying to calm the ethnic tensions there, which left many people dead.

He met Charles Wesley Mumbere, the king of the Rwenzururu kingdom and Maj Martin Kamya, the cultural leader of the Bamba in Bundibugyo. Godfrey Kiwanda, the Mityana North MP and chairman of the influential Buganda caucus, too, expects to make it to cabinet this time.

Kiwanda, who vigorously campaigned for Jacob Oulanyah to replace Rebecca Kadaga as speaker of Parliament, has reportedly reached out to key figures in Buganda. Don Wanyama, the senior presidential press secretary, told The Observer yesterday that only Museveni holds the key to cabinet.

"It is the prerogative of the president to appoint whoever he sees fit. I know some people may lobby using various groups. That is normal but in the end, it is the president who will choose," Wanyama said.

CONMEN

Yet amidst the ton of excitement and anxiety surrounding the ministerial jobs, there is a likelihood that some MPs may fall prey to conmen. Around this time, some people contact MPs claiming to be employees of State House or from security and intelligence organisations.

They usually ask for the curriculum vitae of the MPs, claiming that they are from State House and have been delegated by the president. Others tell the MPs that they have intercepted damaging intelligence information about them that could ruin their chances of becoming ministers.

The deal is simple: if the MP gives them money, they will erase the information. Some MPs have reportedly lost millions of shillings to these conmen, who normally operate in the corridors of Parliament.

Some of the conmen also trail the MPs to their hangouts, sources said. Wanyama said it was naA�ve for a politician to deal with such people yet they know only the president appoints people to cabinet.

One of the outgoing ministers who did not make it back to parliament told The Observer that for serving ministers, the thought of not making it back to cabinet can affect one's morale.

"The tension can be so much that sometimes you fail to do your work. You think of all the connections you have made and how you could lose them because you are no longer in cabinet," the minister said on Monday.

Source: The Observer

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