AGE LIMIT BACKFIRE: Why Otafiire was washed at Namboole
By Our Reporters
On Saturday, Justice Minister Gen Kahinda Otafiire had a baptism of fire when LC5 Chairmen and other local government leaders (uniting under ULGA) humiliatingly descended on him.
The melee was witnessed by media cameras and shocked reporters who had come to cover what was supposed to be a consultative meeting between President Museveni and members of Uganda Local Governments Association (ULGA).
It unites all local government leaders including councilors, LC3 and LC5 chairpersons plus Municipality and Town Council Mayors. The group numbers in thousands. Lwengo LC5 Chairman George Mutabazi, whose voters remain very hostile to the NRM government for the unresolved murder of their son Andrew Felix Kaweesi, chairs ULGA and unsuccessfully pleaded for Otafiire as the disgruntled chairpersons subjected him to unprecedented humiliation.
ULGA members expected Museveni only to see Otafiire turn up. They immediately began attacking him vowing to go down fighting to ensure he doesn’t speak a word. Many openly protested they can’t be addressed by a man who is busy championing life presidency which some chorused was the most unpopular thing in their districts and Sub Counties.
“People are crucifying us in our areas thinking we have eaten money to keep Museveni president for life and our operating space is shrinking every passing day because people want their share of the money yet in actual sense we haven’t got anything. We know this is a plot by Museveni to weaken us so that we become vulnerable and hostage to him like the MPs,” shouted one of the LC5 chairpersons who kept heckling that Otafiire, who isn’t even their line minister, had no business addressing them.
Others argued “we are youthful and we have higher political ambitions also but how will we ever become President if one person wants to rule for 50 years in a country with a life expectancy of 55 years?” As Mutabazi pleaded on the microphone calling for order, the ULGA members said it was an insult to begin marketing life presidency when people in their areas still die of simple diseases like malaria.
“People can’t afford a meal and others can’t even treat malaria and those who have gone to school have no hope for a job and you tell us about life Presidency? What do you want us to tell people after you have deliberately impoverished our parents and now us the younger both politically and economically? We are tired of the bush generation. We want flesh blood,” shouted another local council leader as Otafiire resignedly looked on.
The group maintained that it was suicidal for Museveni to send them Otafiire and it must have been deliberate to politically finish them off. “Remember there was a rumor we have been facilitated to come and endorse life presidency which wasn’t true. And you make it worse by sending the man spearheading the amendments to talk to us which puts us in more trouble. People will think we came here to conspire against them for life presidency,” another group chorused drowning Namboole in chaos.
Otafiire had to be whisked off under tight security and a few arrests were made but the ULGA members rioted until police vomited their members that had been detained on flimsy grounds of inciting violence against Otafiire.
A subsequent police statement signed by Emilian Kayima said that more suspected trouble causers would be arrested once proper investigations have been carried out. By some fate Museveni stayed away because even if he came himself, similar humiliation had been planned by ULGA members who claim they have been sidelined too much and for too long.
“When he comes to the districts, he makes speeches that belittle our offices. He always deceptively tells people how he sends money to the districts and it’s eaten by us. Today was the day all this deception was going to be exposed before him here at Namboole,” shouted another ULGA member adding he and others were ready to verbally attack Museveni the same they did to Otafiire. Otafiire was even physically attacked as ULGA members threw bottles of mineral water at him and in the process soaked him with dirty water.
We established through our independent investigations that besides life presidency, the ULGA members have many other grievances. “Unlike MPs we are seen as budget controllers and voters blame poor service delivery on us yet Museveni knows how poorly funded we have been for years. He has been on a mission to demystify the office of LC3 and LC5 chairman because he has been empowering the RDCs, DISOs and MPs to deliberately sideline and weaken us,” one of the sober-minded LC5 chairmen explained to us after the Otafiire fracas.
The same chairman explained they are tired of being used and dumped by Museveni. “He pampers MPs as if for us aren’t elected leaders. The MPs do nothing by the way. All they do is to criticize us how we are very corrupt and inefficient and they use money he gives them to move around fighting us over service delivery yet it’s the central government starving us of funds through the budgeting process. We believe it’s a conspiracy to kill decentralization because that man [M7] doesn’t like true power-sharing like all dictators.”
The other ULGA members we spoke to us said the trouble started in March (29th 2017) when ULGA members met Local government Minister Tom Butiime and listed their welfare-related demands. They presented a 4 page petition which they asked Butiime to take to Museveni but the arrogant politician from Toro kingdom didn’t hide his contempt for the document.
“He seemed to dismiss us as mediocres and didn’t seem to think our document was important. We instructed him to take it to the President but we even doubt he took it to him,” ranted one of the ULGA members adding that in fact Butiime is so hated he can’t supervise them anymore. “Did you see him anywhere? It’s possible Museveni knew we would undress him [Butiime] and that is why he sent Otafiire.”
ULGA members however were bitter that, besides being associated with life presidency, Otafiire was way too junior to come in the President’s place. They preferred a more senior person like Sekandi or Rugunda or even Gen Kayihura, the powerful police chief.
So Butiime’s failure to resolve the ULGA members’ problems has made many of them write him off as powerless and useless, a view which even ULGA President George Mutabazi shares. Butiime’s failure to make timely intervention has bred resentment that exploded on Saturday in Otafiire’s face at Namboole.
Some political pundits, however, argue that Musevenists could have connived with erratic ULGA members to use the Saturday event to demystify Otafiire who has always been the much feared and well respected General.
“There are fears elderly politicians of the bush era may cause political trouble by opposing the idea of Museveni being succeeded by a family member in case he fronts any. This is why events like that at Namboole are good opportunities to weaken and demystify them on good time,” remarked a knowledgeable analyst we interviewed for this article.
“The future argument will be if you can’t even tame LC leaders then how do you stand up to oppose the manner of succession as proposed by Museveni when time comes?” The LC5 chairpersons are also angry Museveni recently procured equipment for road construction for each district but didn’t fund the fuelling component.
In some cases, some LC5/3 leaders had proxy companies that used to win deals but all this has been cut off hence resentment towards Museveni’s life presidency project. “It’s a good thing saving tax payers money because it will now be cheaper to make roads but to some greedy individual ULGA members it’s a personal loss,” explained a source from CSOs/NGOs which have been fighting graft in local governments in a bid to explain growing anti-Museveni sentiments in the ULGA Constituency.
The other big point grieving the LC5 chairpersons is the peanuts they are paid for monthly salary. One of them clearly made this point during the Namboole melee and said: “This clearly is nothing but taking us for granted. We are told Erias Lukwago is bad because he is for defiance. Yet he earns almost Shs20m per month in salary yet we earn just Shs1.5m per month. Where is the fairness? We have been demanding for increment for years in vain which clearly shows that Museveni man is against us.”
It was explained that the Local Government Act requires the line minister to review their remuneration every after 5 years but this was last done 15 years ago. “This is why we petitioned Butiime who didn’t help us; instead the central government swiftly moved to implement the amendments to the Finance Act which requires all the revenue we locally collect to be surrendered to the center. This has left us with nothing and has made the situation dire yet Museveni has been avoiding meeting us for two years now,” ranted another ULGA member at Namboole where he assured us he had come ready to die in case police resisted their peaceful demonstration against Museveni in case he came.
“That is the money we would use to deliver services to the people but we have now become figure heads. I think Museveni must retire in 2021 and we get a new president who will genuinely review the Decentralization program,” said a ULGA member adding some unlucky districts are given as low as Shs10bn for a whole FY to serve a district with so many sub counties.
It remains to be seen how the outgoing President YK Museveni, who already said in an NTV interview that he won’t be ruling beyond 75 years because of diminished vigor, will be clandestinely countering the George Mutabazi group that humiliated his Sr Minister Kahinda Otafiire at Namboole.