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Basalirwa walks away from Jeema top seat after 15 years

Asuman Basalirwa, the member of parliament representing Bugiri Municipality, has announced his decision to step down from his position as the president of the opposition political party, Justice Forum (Jeema).

In an exclusive interview with The Observer, Basalirwa revealed his retiring from the leadership role he has held for 15 years. He said he believes that he has done all he could do during his tenure, indicating that it is now opportune for new leadership to assume the reins of the party.

Basalirwa’s decision reflects a recognition of the importance of rejuvenating the party leadership with fresh perspectives and energy, a common practice in political organizations seeking to adapt to evolving challenges and aspirations.

“Fifteen years is really a long time. We have developed enough capacity, and the party should be able to move forward. The same way the party progressed after I was elected president is the same way it will continue. Who would imagine Jeema without Muhammad Mayanja and Hussein Kyanjo?” Basalirwa said.

Muhammad Kibirige Mayanja, the founding president of Jeema, led the party from its registration in 2005 until 2011, when he was succeeded by Basalirwa. The late Hussein Kyanjo, the former MP for Makindye West, served as the secretary general of Jeema.

He was followed by Omar Kalinge Nyago, who was later replaced by Muhammad Kateregga, the former Bukomansimbi district chairman. Basalirwa noted that unlike other parties, Jeema is unique in that leadership does not revolve solely around its top leader.

He stated, “Jeema was built on a strong ideological foundation where anyone who decides to join has the capacity to lead.”
“We are known for certain things; we are a party of values; we are a party of morals. That is our identity, and our next leader must espouse those principles. I can promise that we will be firmly behind that leader,” Basalirwa said.

He added that his main task now is to ensure that Jeema remains a parliamentary party, highlighting the benefits of having representation. Since its inception, Jeema has had two MPs: Hussein Kyanjo from 2001 to 2016 and Basalirwa from 2018 to the present.

Asked about his achievements over the last 15 years, Basalirwa noted that they have managed to keep the party united— a rare feat, especially among opposition parties in Uganda. He pointed out that all four major opposition political parties in Uganda, namely the Forum for Democratic Change, the Democratic Party, the Uganda People’s Congress, and the National Unity Platform, are marred by internal divisions that threaten to tear them apart.

“We have introduced very robust internal conflict resolution mechanisms such that even when we disagree, it never becomes public; we remain a very united party,” Basalirwa said.

He added that during his tenure, he has also managed to build a very vibrant youth league that is ideologically grounded, which has cultivated members whose loyalty to the party is unshakable.

“You have never heard that Jeema members have crossed to other parties, unlike what you have seen with our colleagues. When someone joins Jeema, we take time to orient them to what Jeema stands for. That’s why, despite political waves led by figures like Paul Ssemogerere, Nasser Sebaggala, Kizza Besigye, and now Robert Kyagulanyi, you have never heard of us being shaken. Of course, we can work with these individuals, but we don’t join them. That’s the essence of Jeema: what you see during the day is what we are at night,” Basalirwa explained.

When asked about the biggest challenge he has faced as the leader of Jeema, Basalirwa cited the inability to grow the party’s parliamentary representation beyond one MP as the most significant hurdle.

“My biggest regret has been that at no time during my tenure have we had more than one MP. But I pledge to continue fighting to increase Jeema’s electoral chances,” Basalirwa said.

He also mentioned that he is leaving behind a party that is still struggling financially, which has constrained the party from undertaking activities that would have supported its growth. Speaking to The Observer, Kyamundu Ssentongo, the spokesperson for Jeema and one of those interested in replacing Basalirwa as party president, emphasized the need for exemplary leadership.

“You can’t criticize President Museveni for being in power too long if you don’t want to change leadership in your own party. I would like to thank President Asuman Basalirwa for the work he has done for this party. I have no doubt that this party will continue to thrive even after him,” said Kyamundu, who launched his campaign for party president on Monday.

The party is set to hold a delegates’ conference in the first week of June, although an exact date has yet to be determined.

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