Ever since the National Resistance Movement (NRM) was registered as a political party in 2004, the country has never been exposed to what takes place inside its central executive committee (CEC).
In word, CEC is the second highest organ of the party after the national delegates conference, but in reality, it is the most powerful organ of the party.
According to the NRM constitution, CEC performs functions such as: providing and exercising political leadership in the country, formulating policy for consideration by the national executive conference (NEC), supervise the day to day conduct of the NRM’s activities appoint organizational functionaries from amongst members of NRM and propagate the NRM policies.
CEC also recommends candidates seeking nomination for the offices of national chairperson, vice chairperson, secretary general, deputy secretary general and national treasurer and presidential candidate for NRM; implement the decisions of the national conference and NEC among others. However, in the performance of these functions including vetting, CEC does them in-camera.
But thanks to COVID-19 whose restrictions, among others including social distancing, CEC virtually met to vet candidates who want to be part of it, on Tuesday. The non-incumbents were at the NRM secretariat at plot 10 Kyadondo road in Kampala while the members were in State House Entebbe.
It’s at Kyadondo that journalists were allowed to be part of the proceedings hence availing them the opportunity to know what exactly happens in such meetings.
It would be assumed that when the party president who also doubles as the chairman of the NRM invites members of the topmost organ of the party, he would keep time, seeing that he’s meeting members in the highest echelons of the party. But alas, Museveni remains the perenial latecomer Museveni. The meeting that was supposed to start at 9 am, couldn’t start until it was a few minutes shy of 2 pm when he showed up.
When Museveni entered the room where the meeting was taking place, the typical protocols that are associated with the head of state took place. Members stood up while he entered and also the national and East African anthems were sung. The chairman made his usual speeches of tracing the origins of the NRM to the present. However, realizing that journalists were watching from Kyadondo, they muted the volume until candidates started introducing themselves.
According to Emmanuel Dombo, the director for public relations and media at the NRM secretariat, the vetting process is to allow CEC members to get to know the candidates before they are allowed to continue with the race. CEC is made of the chairman of the party who is Museveni, his two national vice-chairpersons, Haj Moses Kigongo and Rebecca Kadaga, regional chairpersons; Haj Abdul Nadduli (Buganda), Capt Mike Mukula (Eastern), Gen Matayo Kyaligonza (western), Sam Engola (northern), Godfrey Amooti Nyakana (Kampala), and Simon Peter Aleper (Karamoja).
They are joined by secretary general Justine Kasule Lumumba, her deputy Richard Todwong, the treasurer, Rosemary Namayanja Nsereko, chairpersons of leagues such as the Nasur Gadhafi (Youth), Lydia Wanyoto (women), Jim Muhwezi (veterans) Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, and government chief whip Ruth Nankabirwa, among others.
CEC vs Museveni
Instead of the candidates addressing themselves to CEC members, they were addressing the audience of one; the president. From Kadaga, who wants to retain her position to Jacob Oulanyah her deputy who wants to replace Engola; they were all reminding Museveni of how loyal they have been to him.
“Your excellence, remember when you met me in Gulu,” said Dr Odongo Oledo who also wants to replace Engola.
“Your excellency speaking to you is the girl you met in Bakuli in Kampala, so many years ago,” said Florence Kintu Tumwine who is challenging Kyaligonza.
“Your excellency it’s me Kefa Mafumo, the young man you identified from Bugisu and gave a job at State House,” Said Kefa Mafumo who wants Kigongo’s job.
"Your excellency, I have been part of this struggle ever since 1980 when I was a member of UPM,” said Capt Francis Babu who wants to replace Kigongo.
They went on and on, one after the other telling the president how they are the best candidates because of the history he has with them.
Ganging up against newcomers
It was reported that during last week’s CEC meeting, incumbents tried ring-fence some positions and that Museveni tried to influence CEC members to allow his long-serving vice, Haj Moses Kigongo to go unopposed. He allegedly reasoned that those standing against Kigongo were unknown and some of them had a tainted track record.
When asked, about the veracity of these allegations, secretary-general Lumumba roundly rejected them reasoning that everybody was free to contest with anybody. But according to Tuesday's proceedings, there seemed to be a consensus that Mafumo should pull out of the race.
It was Dr Tanga Odoi, the party Electoral Commission chairman who fired the first shot.
“Mr Chairman I don’t know whether Mafumo is allowed to participate when I didn’t receive his letter of resignation,” Odoi said.
Mafumo works in State House’s political department. Although Mafumo was allowed to present his credentials, Ruth Nankabirwa brought back the issue immediately after.
In defence, Mafumo said there was no law barring him from contesting in partisan politics. He refused reasoning from NRM lawyer Kiryowa Kiwanuka who said that because he draws his salary from the Consolidated Fund, he is, therefore, a public servant who must first resign to partake in the elections.
Mafumo added that if that were to be the proper interpretation, then, Maj Gen Matayo Kyaligonza who is an ambassador to Burundi and Dorothy Hyuha who is an ambassador to Kenya among others too wouldn’t qualify.
At that point, the volume for those at Kyadondo was muted as those in Entebbe deliberated on the issue. The discussion went on for about two hours but the results were not communicated.
“Why would they raise this issue at this stage when somebody has already invested in the race,” wondered Persis Namuganza who is competing with Kadaga.
“Rules of the game are set at the beginning, not in the middle of the game,” added deputy speaker Oulanyah.
When it came to the time allotted to the candidates to present their credentials, those vying for national vice chairmanship were given eight minutes.
Those at Kyadondo strictly observed 8 minutes whereas those at Entebbe overshot that time. For other positions, candidates were given four minutes which were strictly enforced at Kyadondo but not at Entebbe. For example, Kyaligonza spoke for eight minutes and 40 seconds while Nadduli spoke for seven minutes and 18 seconds.
Successful candidates from this process will face the delegates on August 20. But to people like Namuganza, a process that requires contestants to vet contestants for the same positions can never be fair.
Last week Museveni said groups that say that he is old, too weak and should let young people to lead Uganda do not know that, in NRM, leadership is not about biology (young, old, woman, man but ideology.