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Uganda: Will Museveni’s new cabinet disappoint his old comrades?

By Musinguzi Blanshe
Posted on Thursday, 15 April 2021 19:54

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni arrives at the UK-Africa Investment Summit in London. 20 January 2020. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Uganda’s President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni will, in the next two months, appoint a new cabinet to steer his vision as he serves a sixth term in office. As his old comrades hope to keep grasp of their positions, youths are also optimistic for ministerial appointments.

Museveni, who is 76, relies on a group of allies from his generation.

  • Ali Kirunda Kivejinja, who was the oldest minister in Museveni’s cabinet, died in December 2020 aged 85.
  • Moses Ali, now the oldest cabinet minister, is the first deputy prime minister at 82 years.
  • Vice-president Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi is 79.
  • Prime minister Ruhakana Rugunda is 73.
  • Finance minister Matia Kasaija is 76.
  • Foreign affairs minister Sam Kutesa is 72.
  • First lady and education minister Janet Museveni is also 72.

But Museveni has not put his bush war comrades in charge of strategic military positions: the chief of defence forces, General David Muhoozi, is 56 years old.

In December 2020, Museveni reappointed his son — Muhoozi Kainerugaba, 46 — as head of Special Forces Command, the elite force that guards him.

Race for speaker

There are many factors to watch out for as Museveni assembles his team after winning the 14 January presidential vote.

The current speaker of parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, 64, has decided to compete for a third term. In parliament since 1989, Kadaga served as deputy speaker from 2001 to 2011 when she replaced Edward Ssekandi who was appointed vice-president.

To stand a chance of ministerial appointment, an aspirant must have access to three people: the President, General Salim Saleh, Museveni’s younger brother, and first lady Janet, said a State House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

When deputy speaker Jacob Oulanyah wanted to vie for the speakership in 2016, Kadaga urged the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) central executive to let her serve a second term, like her predecessor.

The committee will choose a party candidate for the parliamentary post. Kadaga declared her bid for third term before the ruling party selected a candidate and openly rebuffed suggestions of becoming vice-president.

“Those who are proposing that I become the vice president, let that position be given to others,” Kadaga said during launch of her third term campaign at the end of last month. “Being a vice president, you deputise another person. Here [in parliament], I head an arm of government,” she said.

Jacob Oulanyah argues that it is his time to take over the speakership. Open campaigns for the office were polarising the NRM, and consequently, Museveni ordered all camps to stop campaigning. The election for speaker will be held in the third week of May.

The relationship between Kadaga and Oulanyah is deteriorating. The deputy speaker did not chair any sessions between February 2020 and March 2021 until legislators starting questioning his absence. The speaker allowed her deputy to chair a parliamentary plenary, for only two days, after she lost a close relative. This pair is unlikely to stay in the speakership chamber. Museveni will likely find a senior cabinet position for whoever is not endorsed for the speakership.

From Buganda, with love

Museveni has a cabinet of 80 ministers. About 25% of them were defeated in their parliamentary seats in the 14 January national polls. All 12 ministers from Buganda region — where the capital city Kampala is located — were defeated, including vice-president Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi.

Prominent Buganda ministers who were defeated include government chief whip Ruth Nankabirwa; trade minister Amelia Kyambadde; state minister for primary education Rose Sseninde; agriculture minister Vincent Ssempijja; state minister for water Ronald Kibuule and state minister for higher education John Muyingo.

Two Buganda politicians who Museveni poached from opposition parties after the 2016 election – Betty Kamya at lands, housing and urban development and Florence Nakiwala Kiyingi at youth and children affairs – were also defeated.

Museveni usually appoints a few defeated ministers and those who do not have a seat in parliament. The 2016 cabinet had 18 such officials.

It’s likely Museveni will appoint new cabinet members from Buganda. A senior government official says Museveni has no option other than appointing his party’s political novices who won in Buganda.

Sabiti Makara, a political scientist at Makerere University, says Museveni will reappoint some ministers who lost but also tap from opposition parties in Buganda as he has done before. “Those already in the cabinet have chances of staying when compared to new comers,” he says.

Rumours are rife that vice-president Ssekandi will retire. His is is a key role because the vice-president would take over if anything happens to Museveni. The vice president will also be viewed as a potential successor if Museveni does not contest again in 2026. Museveni reserves this office for the Catholics and non-Banyankole, to ensure representation outside of the President’s ethnic group.

Lobbying

A State House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that to stand a chance of ministerial appointment, an aspirant must have access to three people: the President, General Salim Saleh, Museveni’s younger brother and first lady Janet.

“Most times, it’s Saleh who vets people for ministerial appointments. Mzee [Museveni] has no time to informally interview people,” the official said. But sometimes, the president directly calls people who he wants to appoint and explains how he wants them to serve his interests.

A newly elected legislator lobbying for a ministerial appointment says he met Saleh last month but did not get positive feedback. “The President did not win in my region. That is what Saleh told me,” he said.

The legislator also thinks aspirants from his region are disadvantaged because Kadaga hails from his region. She would normally have taken them directly to the President, but she is not in his good books due to her contentious third-term bid.

Will youth be given ministerial positions?

Uganda’s median age is 17 but the youngest minister in the Museveni cabinet, Evelyn Anite, state minister for investment, is 36 years old. Youthful legislators are hopeful for ministerial appointments.

Aber Lillian, a new legislator and former presidential adviser on youth affairs, says young people can be on the frontline both politically and technically. She says youth should look beyond scheming for ministerial appointments.

“It doesn’t have to be a cabinet position. People may think that being a minister is the ideal representation. Uganda’s challenges are more technical. The technocrats are the ones who allocate resources and advise on what is to be done,” she says.

But young people, Aber says, must prepare themselves because the “President will not appoint young people just for the sake of appointment. You must have clear mindset and exhibited level of trust.”

Political scientist Makara predicts Museveni will appoint many young faces in cabinet. “He is looking at the future not the past. He has to surround himself with young people because he has learnt that his biggest challenge is attracting youth.” Makara says its young people who will attract young people to Museveni if he decides to contest in 2026.

Museveni’s main challenger in the January election, Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine – a pop star turned politician – is 39.

But Museveni may opt to continue with an inner circle of ageing comrades. He sent a signal in January when he re-appointed Emmanuel Tumusiime Mutebile as governor of the Bank of Uganda. Mutebile, 71, been governor since 2001. Mutebile walked with a cane and the help of two aides when he went to parliament for vetting last month. He was approved to serve for another five-year term.

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