Many saw the brief announcement last week of President Museveni meeting with six other elders over what he called “matters of national importance”, but few discerned what it was that prompted the urgent hush hush affair. The Seven Elders were Mama Cecilia Ogwal, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, Chief Justice Bart Katureebe, Vice President Edward Ssekandi, Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, NRM Vice Chairman Moses Kigongo and the Man himself, Yoweri Museveni.
There are at any time a hundred and one matters of national importance, usually raised on the floor of parliament by MPs. But the weighty issues of national importance preoccupying President Museveni presently are, coincidentally, seven.
1.Coronavirus and Easing the Lockdown:
The Covid-19 pandemic is taxing the president’s mind more than meets the eye. Although he has said that he doesn’t mind keeping the schools closed for a year to save the children’s lives, the president knows he has to restart the economy under the New Normal so that URA can collect enough revenue to keep the state running. Schools alone turn over trillions of shillings a year and URA needs to give them a second look. The billions of dollars pledged in loans will take long to materialize and Museveni knows better than anybody that only a tiny fraction of foreign loans actually comes into the country’s economy, yet they deepen Uganda’s bondage to external powers and weaken the state further as most revenue collected goes to servicing the debts whose use is at best doubtful. If Museveni detests anything vehemently, it is the (indirect) enslavement of Africans.
2.The 2021 Elections:
Although he told NBS’s Muzzukulu Canary Mugume that holding the elections under the pandemic would be madness, insiders say Museveni has taken note of intelligence surveys that if the election were to be held on schedule, he would defeat the opposition so badly that it would take “an eternity” to recover. Museveni needs the election on schedule more than any other political player. More key opposition figures that can admit that are looking for ways to join him.
3.Rift between Executive and Parliament:
The ‘interesting’ motions passed by Parliament to condemn Museveni and then praise him a couple of days later were not a piece of comedy, but a manifestation of the peak struggle between the two arms of government. Nor was the giving of sh40million to MPs who a week earlier had been called “morally reprehensible” for taking sh20 million. Related to the election, any postponement of the polls would constitutionally transfer so much power to the legislature, which is under the Speaker who is in such combative mood that without staging a coup against himself, Museveni would just start packing his bags to vacate State House.
This becomes an unavoidable subject once contestation for power without an election comes to the table. The presence of the Chief Justice in the Elders’ meeting becomes clear, for whatever happens, it must not make the next or the continuing president appear to be illegally in office. The Succession also explains the presence of the Vice President who for better or worse is the constitutional successor to the president in case of an emergency when the ruling party’s term is still running. The Prime Minister is the executor of everything and has to be party to the contingency plans. Besides, the person of Ndugu Rugunda is still the most acceptable to most people across the political divide. Which brings in the presence of Mama Cecilia Ogwal. Without her, there would have been nobody from the north among the elders discussing matters of national importance. Ceilia’s Ogwal’s political maturity is unmatched, for while she is a fierce government critic, she is one who practices loyal opposition most, and outside Uganda, she is a much more ardent defender of the elected president than any NRM supporter. Acholi region has the fastest population growth rate, and is now possibly the single most numerous community in the army. There are also more Acholi PhDs than other Ugandans in the Diaspora and can constitute a powerful or dangerous loby. Expect Cecilia Ogwal to hold an extremely high position in any emergency dispensation.
It is emrging more clearly that the Covid-19 food distribution has been an almost unnecessary exercise that is causing more negative PR than anything, portraying the government as incompetent in executing such a simple logistical task. Angry calls for accountability are getting louder and todate, the national Covid taskforce has no active website that would give vistors a real time status on donations and their destination. This in an era when government is urging everyone to go digital to cope in the New Normal, but it is not leading by example in this very critical aspect. Thus besides sheer refusal, government cannot easily explain blocking calls to pay out 20% through an amendment in parliament. Paying a cash stimulus to the people via mobile money is becoming more appealing than the crude, highly faulty maize and beans distribution. A deep source has even accused FDC of “leaking exams” by proposing a sh100,000 stimulus per person, having realized that is it under consideration.
The president has todate been handling the complicated regional politics with security intelligence and a few trusted operatives. Museveni now sees the need to share matters between states beyond his small circle of confidants. Of particular concern are relations with Rwanda which will not be resolved in the foreseeable future and the increasingly maverick, unpredictable leadership style in Tanzania, a country that had hitherto been Uganda’s most unquestionable ally since 1979.
7.Lake Victoria and the River Nile:
Unknown to many, the hydrology of Lake Victoria and Nile basins is assuming emergency levels and Museveni has to give insights to important leaders about it. Locally, livelihoods and billions worth of investments are being adversely affected by the rising waters of the lake, electricity transmission is at stake and the inevitable release of more water is translating into destructive flooding downstream. Beyond the borders, the contestations over the rights over the Nle waters has never gone away, and the hostility between Ethiopia and Egypt is just a step away from real war.
The Seven Elders may have posed for a photo complete with exemplary social distancing style being observed. But that was just the beginning. They will certainly meet again and again, without necessarily issuing a press release.
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