Richard Todwong is the newly-appointed NRM Secretray General directly taking over from Justine Kasule Lumumba who was recently appointed to Cabinet. Todwong has been at the centre of mobilisation for the NRM right from the time he was a student at Makerere University. In a no-holds-barred interview, he talked to Stephen Bwire about his agenda of regaining and consolidating NRM support, revitalising the Party structures, and among other issues. Exerpts below:
Many people especially NRM members and supporters had anticipated your elevation to the top. How do you feel about this?
First and far most I have to thank H.E Yoweri Kaguta Museveni for the trust he has put in me by appointing me into this sensitive and critical office in this time in history. We are at a critical junction that the party needs a calm, honest, and down-to-earth leadership, and I think that could be part of the reason why many NRM supporters and the public anticipated my elevation. Secondly, I have done nothing else other than mobilisation right from my school days. I believe with teamwork and better coordination, we can achieve much more.
What does your elevation mean to you; the NRM; and Appointing Authority?
To me, it’s an honour to serve this revolutionary party as the Secretary-General at this particular time in history. I honestly don’t take this for granted. Secondly, to the NRM fraternity, it comes with a lot of expectations. I am sure many NRM members and the public believe that I can do a lot and, yes, they have high expectations in me. To the Appointing Authority, I think he wanted to have a Secretariat that can unite the members, link with the branches and reach out to the grassroots people especially the poor (the Getto community). Good enough, I have contacts and links with the majority of these committees.
What are the critical things you are going to embark on in your tenure of office?
There are numerous things to do, but it’s only corporately smart to do a SWOT analysis and critically start with the most important things, for instance;
a) We need to reactivate our branches and keep them informed about the task at hand. Our membership is close to 20million, and we have close to 3million leaders right from the villages to the national level. These are members who should be re-awakened and re-oriented to the new normal.
b) We need a genuine and credible membership register to avoid what happened in the last internal and general elections.
c) We need to be responsive to the concerns of the public. Our Government should effectively respond to the needs of the population. We don’t expect our leaders in Government to be insulated from the public outcries. The Party/Government should feel the pain of the people and address them effectively. We should learn to take responsibilities for our inadequate responses and avoid being arrogant. The President is always very clear to all our leaders about this and we need to make this a reality.
You are taking over party leadership at the time NRM support is dwindling especially in Central, Busoga, Bukedi as evidenced in recent elections. what plan do you have to restore this support?
It’s true I am taking leadership of the party at a time when our support is being challenged in Central, Busoga and Bukedi. However, team work and proper diagnosis of the issues will help us refocus our responses. The Secretariat of the Party under my leadership will base its responses on research. We need a policy research desk to help us understand some of the critical concerns in these areas. A party without a policy research desk can not effectively respond to the public. I intend to rely on facts to help my Government respond better. I have ever done this when I was the special presidential advisor for Northern Uganda. My work then helped to refocus the Government responses to the critical needs of the people and that was how we gained much support from the 2011 general elections onwards. I believe the situations in Central, Busoga and Bukedi can be improved. All in all, we need to be close to the population. I am more of a field person than a desk officer.
In relation to the above, there seems to be a huge disconnect between the NRM and the youthful populations, we see many of them supporting Opposition. What must the NRM do to win over this support?
It’s true like I said earlier, we have not been too close to some section of the population most essentially the urban poor and the youth in general. Their inadequate support for our party is due to the lack of attention that we have not given them. I can assure you that the party holds these categories of people very dear just like we do to all other Ugandans. The youth need guidance and proper mentorship. It’s unfortunate that our friends in Opposition are misguiding the youth by not being honest with them. They overexcite them with lies and immaterial promises. We shall help the youth distil facts from lies.
The party seems to be torn apart by infights, intrigue, factions and sheer indiscipline of some leaders. How do you intend to deal with these?
Infights, intrigue, factions, sheer indiscipline and corruption are signs of ideological immaturity and subversion. A revolutionary party like NRM shall not and will never entertain such. I am sure you have witnessed how the Chairman of the party has strongly warned members about such. Such tendencies is what makes us look shabby before Ugandans. We shall aspire to keep streamlining our organisation by helping our members overgrow such tendencies.
You have been outspoken about corruption, greed and nepotism in the NRM Governemnt. Do you think this corruption monster will be eliminated in this term, even as H.E the President has assured the nation?
Yes, I have been very honest to my Party and Government about things that breed dissatisfaction against us by the public. Corruption, greed, nepotism and among others are vices that everyone accuses us of. We need to address these head-on. We also need to make the public know that these vices are not only limited to the NRM party and Government. They extend to all sections of our society ie the church, civil service, opposition, NGOs, families, and among other categories. The fight against these should be a collective responsibility. It’s not an NRM thing only. Yes, as the party in Government, we take the largest share of the blame because we are charged with the responsibilities to provide governance on behalf of the public. All citizens should get the satisfaction they desire while we dispense governance at all levels, because governance is a public good. We pledge to keep trying our best to improve on these.
There is a concern that the Party structures only seem to be active during election cycles, after that everything goes into limbo. How do you intend to keep the structures vibrant?
I have heard such statements over and over again. It is partly true and partly not. It’s true to the extent that being a party leader in a branch is not a full-time occupation and, therefore, when we have no political activities, our branch leaders always get engaged in other economic activities. Many are in farming, trade and commerce and other activities. It’s not correct in the sense that leaders should not wait until they are reminded to do something then they act. Once you are a leader, you ought to always provide leadership at all times. We shall remind them of this core vocation of leadership.
You have been opportuned to chair IPOD. Is there anything of value IPOD has added to political parties under the multiparty dispensation?
Yes, I chaired IPOD Council at one time on behalf of the NRM Party. The Inte-Party organisation for Dialogue (IPOD) is an umbrella organisation where we meet as political parties with representatives in Parliament to share our divergent ideas. It has been helpful to the parties that had representatives in the 10th Parliament because we shared quite a lot. Ugandans should know that all of us leaders, regardless of our political affiliations, act and do things on behalf of the public. Therefore, leaders must always find reasons for meeting even if they don’t agree with each other. Under IPOD we have had opportunities to bring our principals together through the Summit which is the apex forum of IPOD. In brief, IPOD has been a wonderful forum for us and we pledge to continue being part of it.
When is the NRM Towers (The Movement House) taking off?
The construction of the NRM tower (The Movement House) will soon commence. Yes, it’s long overdue and I strongly believe that very soon we shall have the groundbreaking ceremony.
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