Uganda: Gen. Museveni’s Party Wants To Corrupt New Bobi Wine Parliamentarians With State Bribes

General Museveni
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Gen. Museveni. In power since 1986. Photo: Facebook.

When the National Resistance Movement (NRM) and its army, National Resistance Army (NRA) under Yoweri Museveni captured state power in 1986, the Democratic Party (DP) and Uganda Peoples’ Congress (UPC) had been the principal parties for the previous years since independence. These two parties, had displayed impressive democratic credentials by their opposition to electoral fraud and misrule endemic to Ugandan politics. 

The two parties, for instance, successfully opposed an attempt to organize the 1980 elections on a “non-party” basis. This is the real reason for the UPC instigated coup d'état of 1979 against provisional president Godfrey Binaisa’s government. 

After this putsch, events moved quickly. The UPC was declared the victor in the disputed 1980 elections, but was ousted five years later. Largely thanks to the war unleashed by Museveni in the bowels of the so called Luwero Triangle.  The UPC, subsequently, was in considerable disarray once Milton Obote, its leader, fled to Zambia following the coup of 1985 by his own senior generals Bazilio Olara-Okello and Tito Okello.

The UPC party members, however, parlayed this disarray into the boycott of the NRM curated RC elections of 1986 and 1987. The party also rejected the elections of 1989, refusing to be part of what Obote considered a sham. These elections, Obote believed, were staged to “legalize the NRM leadership”, which he deemed illegitimate. He argued, correctly as it turned out, that participating in any NRM electoral farce would validate a dictatorship with dire consequences in the future. 

At first, the whole party closed ranks behind Obote’s position. Cecilia Ogwal, Secretary General of the UPC at the time pointed out the lack of universal suffrage embodied in the indirect “Resistance Council” (RC) electoral scheme and the absence of the opportunity to give Ugandans the choice of “alternative policy formulations.” 

As we know, at the time, Uganda was under the farcical “no party democracy” or broad-based government system intended to exclude the traditional political parties from political participation.

Obote’s position held firm, then Ogwal broke ranks. She said that the UPC was losing its relevance by not participating in the NRM system and not contesting for power. She noted that the DP was gaining ground on the NRM by setting out to win as many committee positions as possible in the early RC elections. As a result, DP dominated many of the higher RCs before the 1989 elections.

However Ogwal neglected to mention that the DP was actually a coalition partner in the NRM government imposed after Obote’s generals were ousted in 1986—in other words, an accomplice to the NRM’s conspiracy to disenfranchise Ugandans. In fact, DP’s role became the principal reason for the NRM government being deemed as “broad-based.” The DP gave credibility and legitimacy to the regime and that’s how the NRM survived its early days in power.

To its detriment, DP was to learn that if you sleep with an elephant, when it rolls over it will crush you. This is what happened. The DP and UPC have all bad vanished during the NRM dispensation over the last 35 years. Thus the debate between legitimization and delegitimization of NRM rule between Obote and Ogwal was a mixed bag. 

In the short run, Ogwal was right. Being part of the system did increase UPC’s visibility. In the long run, however, Obote was right in saying the NRM would co-opt the UPC and DP in order to subsume them in a de facto one-party state. The UPC, for instance, is now a provincial party which is publicly used as Museveni’s chew toy.

We can see the NRM trying to deploy the same tactics with the National Unity Platform (NUP), the party led by Robert Kyagulanyi, a.k.a. Bobi Wine. The Minister of Finance Matia Kasaija recently revealed that he was “hunting” for $45 million to give to members of Parliament as “vehicle allowances.” This means each of the 520 parliamentarians stand to pocket about $87,000. “Every MP must get a car. Especially the new ones,” Kasaija said. 

Never mind that the country’s average annual income per head is under $800 according to World Bank data. 

This blatant regime-bribe will grease the palms of those who oppose the regime, yet benefit from its misappropriated funds. After that carrot has been eaten up whole, Gen. Museveni has said he supports extending a president's term in office as well as that of parliamentarians from five years to seven years.

This will make NUP beneficiaries of NRM’s patronage and, like UPC and DP before them, will tempt some NUP parliamentarians into not being as vigorous when it comes to fighting corruption. 

The NUP, a party in existence only for a mere few months, stunned the establishment by winning 61 parliamentary seats, defeating many NRM candidates. Even Museveni’s ministers were beaten. It’s generally believed that in more remote parts of the country, where there was even less scrutiny, election malpractice is what denied NUP an even larger margin of parliamentary seats. 

Do many Parliamentarians see their legislative position as a cash cow? The late Ibrahim Abiriga, MP for Arua Municipality, campaigned for the terms to increase to seven years. “For the two years so far I have spent in parliament, I am still servicing the debts I incurred during campaigns and now I am left with a debt burden of shillings 41 million,” Abiriga said, which is the equivalent of $11,000.

Of course, as we know, the more one eats the more one’s appetite grows. So this clamor for more years in office will only lead to even more years of ill-gotten gains. 

The NRM’s system counts on the greed of its political opponents to use patronage in order to emasculate opposition. Museveni’s bribe-and-corrupt strategy may face some challenges with NUP. The regime wired $8,000 “facilitation” money into the bank accounts of members of Parliament when Museveni wanted age limit of 75 years removed from the constitution in 2017, to pave the way for him to run again. Bobi Wine, already an MP at the time, rejected the money and ordered his bank to return the money. 

Obote was right in the long run. Fighting the system from within the system is like having sex to preserve one’s virginity. The foundation is rotten and when the temple walls collapse around us—as they will—we will be buried in our own rubble of near-sightedness.

Columnist Philp Matogo can be reached via 

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