Can Mpuuga and NUP succeed where others failed?

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Can Mpuuga and NUP succeed where others failed?
Can Mpuuga and NUP succeed where others failed?

Africa-PressUganda. When the National Unity Platform (NUP), a first-time party in Parliament, takes its rightful place in the political arena, Mathias Mpuuga (Nyendo-Mukungwe), a silver-tongued critic of President Museveni, will lead the Opposition side as a new government- in- waiting.

Emerging from a bitter race for Speaker, NUP president Robert Kyagulanyi Sentamu, aka Bobi Wine, in consultation with the relevant party organs, moved quickly and picked his second-in-command in charge of Buganda region to lead the Opposition in the 11th Parliament. He also appointed Manjiya MP John Baptist Nambeshe to replace Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda as the Opposition Whip in Parliament.

The Leader of Opposition in Parliament (LoP) tittle is bestowed upon the designated leader of the Opposition party with the largest number of representatives in Parliament. The LoP appoints and leads a Shadow Cabinet whose sense of duty is to challenge and influence government legislation in Parliament. The Office of the Leader of Opposition is bankrolled by the taxpayer to a tune of Shs4b annually.

Mr Mpuuga joins the ranks of Prof Morris Ogenga Latigo who represented Agago/Agago North (2006-2011), Mr Nathan Nandala Mafabi from Budadiri West (2011-2014), Mr Wafula Oguttu from Bukhooli Central (2014-2016), Ms Winnie Kiiza from Kasese (2016-2018) and Ms Betty Aol Ocan, the Gulu Woman MP (2018-2021).

The Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), led by Patrick Oboi Amuriat, in the January 14 polls, lost its parliamentary majority to Bobi Wine’s NUP party. For the last 15 years, FDC, under its “One Uganda One People” mantra, has steered shadow government in Parliament as the main Opposition party.

After the return of multiparty politics in 2006, FDC won Opposition majority in 8th Parliament and Prof Latigo became the fifth in the country’s history. While NUP leaders have instructed the 57 MPs “to advance the struggle for freedom” and “democracy in Uganda”, Mpuuga’s rallying call to a dominant ruling party, a polarised Opposition, and a sceptical public that is angry and teetering on the edge of giving up on their representatives on account of what political analysts called “greed”, is explicit: “Let’s cultivate a new path paved with accountability and service delivery.”

With the path forward difficult to envision amid the fog of scepticism, outgoing Shadow Attorney General Wilfred Niwagaba explains what is at stake, even if it requires Mpuuga to play hardball. Mpuuga comes in on the heels of a violent election that saw a number of people lose their lives and some get arrested for what some analysts have called “trumped-up charges”.

He must lead the Opposition to continue putting government on its toes on human rights and governance issues.“He must reach out to those parties and individuals who are genuinely interested in regime change, bearing in mind that some of the parties and individuals in Opposition are in bed with the Museveni regime,” Mr Niwagaba said, adding that “He will need to galvanise the few forces in the House, as former LoP Winnie Kiiza used to do, to principally show that his team is up to the task of being an alternative government by promoting issues that resonate well with the citizens of Uganda in all aspects of governance and service delivery.”

Mr Mathias Mpuuga at the NUP offices after he was announced Leader of Opposition in Parliament on Friday.

Mpuuga’s agenda

In trying to unite Opposition in Parliament, a perennial challenge that has eluded all the former Opposition leaders, is to create a well-organised team. In his first 100 days in office, Mr Mpuuga promises to create a joint platform for the forces of change through dialogue and agenda-setting.

Part of the 100 days, he says without providing specifics, “Shall include moving key motions, including those that will initiate accountability for actions by individuals and groups during the last elections in which lives were lost.”

The November 18 to 20 2020 demonstrations against the arrest of former NUP presidential candidate Bobi Wine left at least 54 people dead with scores injured. The President had indicated that 32 of the fatalities were rioters, but recent security investigations found that 11 were “rioters” while 42 succumbed to “stray bullets.”

Asked how he intends to circumvent “the tyranny of numbers” in a House dominated by the ruling National Resistance Movement members, Mr Mpuuga vowed to rally Opposition legislators to “Seek the truth from the numbers,” adding that, “Their fidelity to the country and people shall be put to a stern test. An agenda sitting at the heart of peoples’ aspirations shall expose the fragility of these numbers. We shall push them to the peoples’ agenda.”

To FDC leaders, DP, UPC, Jeema, Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) and independent-minded members, Mr Mpuuga called for collaboration and reiterated that, “The need to work together cannot be overemphasized! We are the choice of our common peoples. They need hope from their leaders as opposed to trading egos.”

Prof Latigo weighs in

Prof Latigo and other former leaders in Parliament who talked to Sunday Monitor commended NUP for appointing Mr Mpuuga and John Baptist Nambeshe (Manjiya) to lead Opposition in 11th Parliament.

Prof Latigo, who described Mpuuga as “a competent leader and also a competent lawyer,” however, asked the deputy president of NUP (Buganda region), to recognise the fact that “those positions are not where you play politics” and cautioned that if “emotions” are allowed to clog cross-party thoughts on matters of national importance, Bills and motions, then, NUP will be isolated not by NRM majority but by other Opposition parties in the House.

“You do your work as LoP, and then the outcome of what you do will define peoples recognition of your role, whether it’s positive or negative. You gain support when it’s positive and lose support when it’s negative regardless of whether you are very active politically or not,” he said. “An Office of the Leader of Opposition requires acting in a very mature manner and so Mpuuga must show maturity in his leadership, not only in dealing with Opposition but also NRM. Don’t be provoked, don’t be emotional and focus on the issues. When you focus on the issues, you gain either politically, morally and socially. Treat everybody without any negativity that’s what I did when I was LoP and my record speaks for itself.”

Talking about maturity in the handling of House businesses, Prof Latigo recalls how he clashed with leaders at Najjanankumbi when they attempted to force unsuitable positions upon MPs. He advises Mpuuga to deal with such matters with care and maturity since “as Lop you also have a responsibility towards your party… and taking and finding a common basis for working for the country… so Mathias will have to deal with not only MPs and NRM, but also with his own party NUP so that he creates the kind of harmony that allows Opposition to grow and play their role in the politics of Uganda.”

Shadow Cabinet positions

“They have made these appointments, but there are still opportunities to bring DP and FDC in Shadow Cabinet. It will make Mpuuga’s leadership a more united Opposition front. I know there are decent people in FDC, DP and even within UPC, bring them on board… ask them to leave their political shades aside and serve the country as a government- in- waiting,” he advised.

As LoP, Latigo explained, “Your work is to rally other Opposition forces to check the ruling party and project an image that will allow the country to trust the government-in-waiting as you build sufficient momentum to grow Opposition and God wiling takeover leadership of the country.

“I only wish them well, and the NRM must recognise that NUP, even when it’s a young party, is the reality of our politics now. So NRM must treat them with respect, reach out to them and focus more on how to develop our country together, how to bring down the high political temperature generated out of the previous elections and bring decency to politics in Uganda.”

Alaso on integrity Former FDC secretary general Alice Alaso, now deputy national coordinator for the Alliance for National Transformation (ANT), a new Opposition political party in the country, congratulated NUP leadership, and asked Mpuuga and other leaders to know “what is it that must not go without a fight and what is it that they must fight for so that not everything is to let go, and not everything is to be fought for, that is the delicate balance they must content with”.

“They have the individual capacity, these are accomplished legislators. But they should stay open to consultations with other stakeholders on matters critical to this nation, because they are the official leadership of the Opposition in Uganda… the expectations and challenges are high and serious. A number of legislators have not been in the House before, the new Lop should do whatever it takes to ground them in leadership, needs of the House, decorum and recognise their own inability to legislate and must be open to learning,” Ms Alaso says.

“They must be able to exercise a lot of integrity… if there is anything that brings down politicians, it’s when anyone of us in the Opposition gets compromised. If you take any bribe it goes to the cupboard of the regime and will wait for you and nail you on it. I want to encourage members of NUP and other leaders to exercise the utmost integrity, utmost discretion and as much as possible try to read and be very balanced.” Matembe wants actionFormer Ethics and Integrity minister Miria Matembe, who served in President Museveni’s government for more than a decade, explained that official Opposition should play an oversight role and reiterated that the alternative government must work as a block which can bring the government to order to do what they promised to people.

“They must carry the interest of the people in their hearts unless they don’t know why they are in Parliament… for us as Ugandans who are outside Parliament and outside government, we want better services, we don’t want a Parliament which is not pro-people, I don’t want nonsense, I’m looking for action,” Ms Matembe says.

“I don’t want leaders who are going to become an extra burden on our heads… they should be united and work as a team, I don’t expect them to be bought, I expect the Opposition to come to us and reject those privileges, pin down the government on poor service delivery and say enough is enough. The Opposition must be a positive critic of what government is doing.”

Absenteeism, broke MPs

This is a perennial problem in Parliament, even before Covid-19 hit the country. It’s not clear how Mpuuga and Opposition Chief Whip Nambeshe intend to deal with it. However, their predecessors, including former Speaker Rebecca Kadaga and outgoing LoP Aol Ocan tried and didn’t win. In a recent interview with this newspaper, Ms Ocan explained that during her term in office, she had 31 Shadow Cabinet members, but whenever there were meetings, a scarce number of about 10 would be present. The absence of members during meetings affected the effectiveness of what should have been a government-in-waiting. Some Opposition members don’t even attend committee meetings, and for others they had turned Parliament into a hunting ground.

“The other challenge was weak communication among us, which made conducting work very difficult. For example, you would find that in a meeting, issues on health were being discussed, yet the Shadow Cabinet [minister] tackling this area was absent with no communication,” Ms Ocan said as she gave an account of internal disorganisations within respective Opposition parties, including FDC, DP and UPC.

She also cited financial challenges and disclosed that on many occasions, she had “all sorts of people reach out to me asking for help,” but she could not help everyone. These are some of the challenges Mpuuga faces as he takes over FDC.

Inexperienced MPs

For Eddie Kwizera (Bukimbiri), the biggest challenge NUP faces in 11th Parliament will come from Opposition, and suspects that they are likely to be isolated in the House as FDC, DP, UPC and PPP protest what he has called “emotional appointments” that sidelined experienced members.

During campaigns, NUP raised public expectations but the way they are addressing public expectations, according to Kwizera, is wanting. “Their deployments, especially for committees, do not add value to parliamentary business and they are going to have serious challenges. They missed opportunity to unite the Opposition in Parliament,” Mr Kwizera says.

“They should have looked beyond winner-takes-it-all mindset, and tapped into senior FDC or DP members to lead accountability committees. The new MPs are going to struggle and absenteeism is going to get worse.” According to Prof Venansius Baryamureeba, a former presidential candidate, LoP and Opposition Chief Whip are both excellent candidates and both qualify to hold either position.

He, however, argues that their number one challenge is being undermined by fellow Opposition members, especially those from FDC. The disagreements from speakership elections will continue for at least two years, according to Prof Baryamureeba.Their other challenge, he says, is pleasing the other Opposition members, especially when it comes to benefits like chairing committees, shadow Cabinet positions and foreign travel, among others.

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