Cabinet is Reflective of Uganda Society and Politics

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Since President Yoweri Museveni announced the list of cabinet ministers there has been too much idle talk about the quality or lack thereof in certain persons particularly targeting the new Prime Minister Robbina Nabanja, the woman MP Kakumiro district. But everything else aside, Nabanja has broken Uganda’s record as the first woman to serve in that docket and probably now has to put the naysayers to big shame.

The cabinet reflects Uganda’s political terrain to accommodate strength in merit to deliver the much needed public services. It echoes individual contribution, loyalty, and placates soft egos, religious, tribal and ethnic interests however parochial they appear to be. It’s a tough game to play, and cadres left out should just chill. Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda (FDC) whose only known last job before becoming an MP was news reporting in one of Uganda’s third rate newspapers, has tried to write off Nabanja in series of media interviews although they have shared parliamentary benches for ten years in a row now. 

By the time you read this column the whole pile of eighty-three cabinet nominees would have passed the confirmation ritual by the Parliament Appointments Committee considering that on Monday, Vice President Jessica Alupo Epel, Nabanja, deputy Premiers Rebecca Kadaga, Gen. Moses Ali, and Rukia Nakadama, First Lady Janet Museveni, Attorney General Kiryowa Kiwanuka, and Government Chief Whip Thomas Tayebwa had sailed through.

From past trends it is enough to invoke a little pity for VP Alupo and PM Nabanja who hold a 336-193 parliamentary margin in favour of NRM without factoring in the forty-seven Independents and ten UPDF MPs allied to NRM. There's skepticism that even with this huge number, the lackluster manner NRM leadership handled business in the last two parliaments could haunt the Eleventh House, and so, ‘poor’ Nabanja has got the weight of government on her. Clearly, the work is cutout for the ministers and MPs, and there is no more time left for just floating around.

As the Leader of Government Business in Parliament, Nabanja has huge issues awaiting her. She must ensure that there are sufficient legislative business flowing constantly to occupy parliament and its committees. She must enforce discipline on ministers to be present, well-acquainted, ready and able to articulate, and respond to queries on the floor to issues in their respective sectors. And she has to coordinate implementation and efficient delivery of services to the public. She must also thwart the mischief by the opposition.

Working with Government Chief Whip, ensure that NRM Caucus is adequately consulted, MPs regularly attend and vote in support of major, if not all government motions and Bills that come on the floor for decision making. That is a tall order going by the past trends when there was freewheeling among ministers and NRM backbenchers who left maverick gangs to roam often exposing government to public ridicule. With 102 opposition MPs, most of them young and intent on rowdy behavour, being led by Mathias Mpuuga as LoP and John Baptist Nambeshe as Chief Opposition Whip respectively, are shrewd, very aggressive, and implacable opponents Nabanja has to be creative to handle.

To the outside observer, President Museveni’s strategy of letting disagreements to play out publicly among NRM members might look a bit like chaos. But it should be known that he keeps close watch with telephone calls and personal meetings, and few can publicly criticize him for his leadership style. Even his opponents know that he is calculative and methodical to detail as the recent race for Speakership demonstrated. Museveni is a happy warrior who rarely shows that the weight of the job troubles him. 

If you asked Museveni whether he should be tougher on his recalcitrant members, he responds that patience in building purposeful and principled unity brings us strength and success. That’s what’s worked every time there has been a tough challenge in the past. And it’s going to continue to work that way, and he’s never in hurry for what many would consider success.

Museveni triumphed in winning the protracted peoples war, cobbled a working formula among disagreeable political groups, rebuilt Uganda’s economy, and has entrenched the NRM revolution beyond imagination. In recent times he dismantled DP, UPC, left Kadaga tripping on own ego, and now with Joyce Ssebugwawo in, the noisy FDC is an empty shell of its self. For keeping the ever jittery Buganda feudalists in check, and soothing their egos with thirteen ministers none elected, in a sense shows that Buganda got more than it bargained for, and Museveni deserves the bragging right as a master planner.

He has kept NRM and indeed Uganda together through the toughest issues of the last three decades, defeating seventeen armed rebel groups, passing land and two controversial constitutional amendments towards elections, managing the Covid19 pandemic, bringing South Sudan and lately DR Congo to the fold. Museveni has been able to rally the country around a strategy that gives him a little more time to negotiate with difficult groups, and to strike with a unilateral fallback approach if the talks drag on much longer.