President Museveni has reportedly said he has a “mission to accomplish” and this is why he wants parliament to scrap age limits in the constitution for elderly presidential candidates like him.
Before the Friday, October 13 caucus meeting, Museveni had spent the entire week meeting groups of NRM and NRM-leaning MPs to rally support for the bill presently facing a tide of public opposition.
“He told us that his revolutionary struggle is not a mere struggle but a mission that has to be accomplished and therefore cannot be locked out by mere technicalities,” an MP who attended one of the State House meetings told The Observer on Friday.
The president on Friday told the NRM parliamentary caucus in the Office of the President’s conference hall behind the Parliamentary buildings that he is an interested party in Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi’s age limit removal bill.
The caucus meeting was called for Museveni to guide his party MPs about how to conduct their consultations on the bill and avoid the unfolding backlash from a rather agitated population.
Museveni reportedly also spoke about a desire to advance pan-Africanism and the integration of the East African Community.
All these lines formed part of the talking points he handed over to NRM MPs ahead of their consultative meetings which are expected to begin this week.
“He told us to think about the future of Africa; he said we should look at Africa’s strategic thinkers who shouldn’t be locked out because of mere technicalities,” Government Chief Whip Ruth Nankabirwa told journalists after the caucus meeting.
As the MPs listened to his arguments, they were also mindful of their political fortunes. Some, like Pamela Kamugo (Budaka Woman) and Ismail Ogama (Lower Madi-Okollo) told him during one of the State House meetings that they risked losing their 2021 re-election bids.
Others, like Thomas Tayebwa, the Ruhinda North MP, told Museveni that as they lift the age limit, they should reinstate the two-term limit.
Museveni reportedly ignored these suggestions, dismissing them as “those small things” that cannot stand in the way of the yet-to-be-concluded revolutionary struggle.
After term limits were controversially scrapped in 2005, Museveni told Ugandans that he was running again in order to professionalize the army, among others.
On Friday, he said: “After 55 years of independence, we are still building institutions in Uganda.”
Museveni is said to have rejected outright the thought of term limit restoration, telling the MPs that he knows of many democracies around the world without term limits.
The MPs, notably Jennifer Nantume Egunyu (Buvuma Woman), told Museveni that their constituents were no longer interested in listening to stories about his African revolutionary struggle, but in issues that affect them.
In response, he encouraged MPs to follow up on the issues affecting their constituents like service delivery, with particular emphasis on the performance of the Universal Primary Education, the health sector and roads.
“That way, you’ll not get into trouble with the electorate, no one will rise up against you,” Museveni reportedly said.
He concluded the Entebbe meetings on Thursday, October 12 when he told the MPs that his initial wish was to subject the amendment to a referendum but was told of a shorter route.
“Given the history of our struggle, I felt that the people should be consulted [but they told] me that there was a shortcut because a referendum is like going through another election,” Museveni is quoted as having said.
“I had been busy with other issues and by the time I got to know about it, these people [promoters of the bill] had moved. Although it was started by an individual, the party should now embrace it and support it,” Museveni further told the MPs.
This was after Buliisa MP Stephen Mukitale Birahwa had challenged him on why he had allowed such an important bill to be tabled as a private member’s bill.
For more than two hours on Friday, the MPs sat waiting for Museveni to arrive for the caucus meeting which had in attendance some rebel MPs.
Prior to Museveni’s arrival, agitators of the age limit removal bill lobbied some of the ‘rebel’ MPs but their efforts seemed to be in vain. Hence a warning was issued that the meeting would not tolerate any dissenting views.
As soon as Museveni walked into the hall, Nankabirwa made opening remarks, thanking the Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga for “doing a good job” on September 27 when she suspended 25 MPs opposed to the bill moments before Magyezi tabled it in Parliament.
“Unfortunately, there are some members who are opposed to it [bill] even after the caucus passed a resolution to support the bill,” Nankabirwa said.
She went ahead to read out the names of the MPs who were unwanted in the meeting.
These were; Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga), Monicah Amoding (Kumi Woman), Barnabas Tinkasiimire (Buyaga West), Patrick Nsamba Oshabe (Kassanda North) and Felix Okot Ogong (Dokolo South).
Others were; Sam Lyomoki (Workers), Louis Mbwatekamwa Gaffa (Kasambya), John Baptist Nambeshe (Manjiya), Alex Ruhunda (Fort Portal Municipality) and Sylvia Rwabwogo (Kabarole Woman). Their crime is their open opposition to the Magyezi bill and their October 4 letter to Museveni in which they challenged him to disassociate himself from it.
Nankabirwa was booed by some as she read out the names but received the support of Evelyn Anite (Koboko Municipality), Doreen Amule (Amolatar Woman), Moses Balyeku (Jinja Municipality West) and Arinaitwe Rwakajara (Workers).
The ‘rebel’ MPs protested.
“We came here because this is the first time President Museveni is coming here to address the caucus but we also want to know whether the people’s views will be considered during this process,” Ssekikubo said.
He also questioned why government had decided to back a private member’s bill instead of constituting a constitutional review commission to generate proposals for amendment. He wondered whether Museveni is willing to respond to their letter.
Nankabirwa shot back, telling Ssekikubo that the issue is not before a delegates’ conference but parliament where MPs have a right to take exclusive decisions.
Ssekikubo, however, insisted that the people should be fully involved before Museveni threw his weight behind Nankabirwa.
“I will respond to your letter but this is a meeting of like minds on the subject matter,” Museveni said.
Tinkasiimire joined in, telling Museveni that much as they may not be in agreement, free debate should be allowed.
“You seem to have already decided before consulting the people but as far as I am concerned, the organs of the party have not been fully involved,” Tinkasiimire said.
The ‘rebel’ MPs were then led out of the conference hall amidst some protestations. James Kaberuka, the Kinkiizi West MP, rose on a procedural point, wondering why a party that he knows to be all-inclusive and one that considers multi-dimensional views was throwing out its members without giving them a fair hearing.
“This is an exit meeting to prepare for consultations but it is as if you have already decided on how to proceed with the bill,” the youthful MP who replaced former prime minister Amama Mbabazi as Kinkizi West MP, said.
He, however, drew the ire of Nankabirwa who told him that they already know his views on the bill.
Museveni then asked him, “Are you with us or against us?”
Kaberuka responded, “I am with the people.”
Museveni hit back, “If you don’t agree with what the caucus decided, then, you move out.”
Kaberuka picked his files and walked to the members’ lounge of parliament where the Ssekikubo group was addressing a press conference.
Moments later, they were joined by Maracha East MP James Acidri who walked out of the caucus meeting in protest. At her press conference, Nankabirwa said the ‘rebel’ MPs were thrown out because the meeting had been called to plot against them.
“I didn’t want them to be part of my meeting because it was called to lay strategies against their opposition to the bill,” Nankabirwa said.
She said their suspension was only limited to that particular meeting although they were likely to face disciplinary action.
From the caucus meeting, Museveni went into another meeting at State House Nakasero, which was attended by about nine MPs, among them Peter Ogwang (Usuk), Ibrahim Abiriga (Arua Municipality), Simeo Nsubuga (Kassanda South), Moses Balyeku (Jinja Municipality West) and James Kakooza (Kabula).
The strategy meeting ran for more than four hours. Museveni reportedly told the group that he wants the bill passed by the end of November and, therefore, did not want it to take a lot of time in the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee.
This was after the group told him that there was no way a parliamentary process could be foregone. The only alternative, the MPs told Museveni, was to force the committee to slash the amount of time it intends to spend conducting public hearings.
In its work plan, the committee intends to hold nationwide hearings as well as a benchmarking trip out of the country.
“He thinks it is unnecessary for the committee to take that trip because it is time-wasting; we have to get the thing out of the way,” a source said.