The ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party is going through a perception conflict similar to what happened to the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) in 1964 during the Obote I regime.
Professor Edward Kakonge, the UPC national chairman says NRM needs to pick lessons from what happened 49 years ago to stop the party from disintegrating. In 1964, disagreements similar to the ones currently pitting the so-called rebel legislators against the old guard shook the then ruling party. Then Prime Minister and UPC president, Dr Milton Obote, disagreed with young and vibrant party members such as John Kakonge and later Grace Ibingira. This mistrust was partly responsible for the 1966 arrest of five cabinet ministers, including Ibingira, during a cabinet meeting. They were to spend five years in jail without trial until 1971 when they were released by Idi Amin.
Kakonge now urges the NRM to respect and accept the young and dynamic Members of Parliament, who are seeking change for the majority of Ugandans under their age bracket, compared to the elder leaders in power now.
The NRM Central Executive Committee last week resolved to dismiss four MPs for disobeying party rules. The MPs include Theodore Ssekikubo for Lwemiyaga, Muhammad Nsereko, the MP Kampala Central, Barnabas Tinkasimire for Buyaga West and Wilfred Nuwagaba, who represents Ndorwa East.
The MPs allegedly breached provisions of the NRM code of conduct by campaigning for candidates of the opposition, de-campaigning official NRM candidates in by elections and willful, intentional reporting or dissemination of false and malicious information against the NRM in the media.
They are also accused of engaging in forming cliques and intrigue within NRM and using abusive language.
Kakonge cites the Youth Fund that government was forced to abandon because it failed to deliver among other promises employment for the youth.
Despite being a member of the UPC, Prof Kakonge confesses to URN that he has never voted for his own party but for the opposition Forum for Democratic Change leaders in both presidential and other elections. He asks Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi if he has proof that the expelled MPs were voted for by NRM supporters only.
Prof Kakonge argues that the main problem in the NRM is that the old leaders are not looking at changing the situation while the young MPs remain impatient.
Kakonge, who joined the UPC as a youth in the 1960s also witnessed the expulsion of his elder brother John Kakonge from the party in 1964, something he says is similar to what NRM did last week.
The Kakonge faction included former Democratic Party leaders John Sebaana Kizito and Dr Paul Kawanga Ssemwogerere among others. The faction members were fresh from University and had experience with the outside world especially India. The group had a strong relation with the first Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who had a soft spot for Africans and supported their cause.
Prof Kakonge says the Kakonge faction with its radical skills had become impatient with the Obote regime for working gradually thus the differences that led to their expulsion.
It was at this time that President Milton Obote rigged the party elections for the post of secretary general in favor of Ibingira who later developed a different ideology from Obote and the party.
Similar to what happened in 1964, MP Tinkasimire cites the original NRM Manifesto which included promises of ensuring that each household earns 20 million shillings and gets six cows, every constituency must have a functioning Health Centre Four and vocational school among others.
However, Minister Mwesigwa Rukutana, a lawyer says when one belongs to an organization, they must know that there are rules and regulations to be adhered to.
Prof Kakonge thinks the expulsion of the four MPs shows immaturity in a multiparty dispensation, and the loss for the NRM considering the support they have in their respective constituencies. But Minister Rukutana insists that it is political maturity since the party is just seeking to ensure that its members follow order and neither the NRM nor the MPs shall lose in this fallout.
Though the expelled legislators still attend Parliament and sit in their respective party seats, it is yet to be seen if the Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga and the Electoral Commission Chairman Badru Kiggundu will adhere to the NRM CEC findings so the MPs lose their seats.
Unconfirmed reports also say that the President said he was still studying the CEC findings. The NRM is expected to hold its delegates conference in two months and until then party supporters and sympathizers may have to wait and see what unfolds.