In the early 1990s, Makerere University held one of the most bombastic guild elections in history. The contestants were opposition-leaning and virtually unknown political novice, Norbert Mao who challenged NRM-leaning NRA bush-war junior officer by the names of Lt. Noble Mayombo. The combined force of the opposition from UPC to DP all threw their weight behind Norbert Mao while the entire NRM state machinery invested all their energies on candidate Noble Mayombo.
The late Mayombo was one of the most eloquent officers the Ugandan army has ever produced. He later rose to be the ADC to the President, rose to the rank of Brigadier and represented the army in Constituency Assembly (CA) and later, Parliament before he passed on in 2007. He had been in the NRA bush army that had captured power in 1986 but later returned to pursue further studies at the university where he graduated as a lawyer and was highly regarded as a supper intellectual.
Against all odds, the little-known Norbert Mao managed to beat the blue-eyed boy of the President, the then Lt Noble Mayombo. That electoral victory announced the emergence of Norbert Mao as one of the political forces of the future. He has since managed to graduate from being a Guild President of Makerere University, got to Parliament first as member of the Constituency Assembly, then as Member of Parliament, then Gulu District Chairman and, eventually as the President of the Democratic Party. It’s during those student days that Chairman Mao caught the eye of the President.
But despite of that colorful political profile, no single Ugandan expected Chairman Mao to be having a direct phone contact with President Museveni. This is due to the fact that he has maintained the opposition-stance to the NRM government since his university days more than 30 years ago. He has since managed to maintain the secret contact until last Saturday when the embattled DP Party President finally revealed that he has been having a direct phone contact to State House since his student days. Chairman Mao, who recently crossed officially from DP to the NRM camp, and scooped the docket of minister of justice and constitutional affairs, also said that he has had an on-and-off power-sharing engagement with President Museveni for very many years!
While appearing on capital FM radio talk-show known as `The Capital Gang,` Mao revealed the step-by-step experience he went through before he scooped the chance to get appointed as a Minister. He said that at one time, he had lost hope because there were events that kept on emerging and interfered with the whole process. At one time, President Museveni suggested to Mao to first get into government as a cabinet minister, then hold negotiations later. But Mao reportedly rejected the idea – reasoning that Museveni had made the same promises to former DP President Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere and nothing had materialized out of it.
The DP President said that he agreed to the deal on three grounds. These were; a national dialogue, reconciliation and, a political transition. Mao later bragged that his efforts immediately resulted into the release of over 60 political prisoners that had been incarcerated in connection with riots and political protests. Incidentally, Mao did not elaborate on the fate of the two members of Parliament who have been detained for close to a year on reported trumped-up charges. Kawempe East MP Mohammed Ssegirinya and Makindye MP Hon Allan Ssewanyana were arrested by the security agencies in November last year and have been in jail ever since.
Although bail is a constitutional right in the Ugandan laws, the two Members of Parliament have been denied that right for reasons beyond justice. As Minister of Justice, Ugandans expected Chairman Mao to first expedite the release of the two MPs. But as of now, the case has stalled even when the prosecution has failed to adduce the necessary evidence to convict the MPs who are accused of killings that took place when panga-wielding thugs killed people in Masaka late last year.
A very satisfied man:
Going by the way he was speaking; Mao seems to be a very satisfied man now. He said that at one time, he realized that he had remained with only four out of fifteen MPs! He had reached a point where he wanted to make an alliance with any political force in the country. He first tried to create rapport with NUP Party President Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine, with the objective of merging DP with NUP. But he says that this was frustrated by elements within NUP who told Kyagulanyi that Mao was a very tricky man who couldn’t be trusted with power. His objective was to create a political force with NUP by campaigning for Bobi Wine during the 2021 elections.
‘’I thought that I could join Bobi Wine to form a big political force around the country on a campaign trail. My objective was to just be a king maker rather than contest in any position. But some people told Bobi Wine that I was going to do what President Obote did to President Muteesa in 1966’’. When all that project of creating a `huge opposition force` failed, Mao decided to forge an alliance with the ruling party. He called State House and told President Museveni about forming a merger. But President Museveni kept him waiting for some years before they could reach an agreement.
When the President finally agreed to the idea, he told Mao to liaise with his son in law Edwin Karugire with whom they managed to draft an agreement on the modus operandi they could adopt when the deal comes to life. Mr. Karugire is a lawyer by profession and managed to marry one of President Museveni’s daughters. Although the Attorney General is supposed to be the legal officer of government, it’s Karugire who instead executes all legal matters of the Museveni government. Although he doesn’t hold any known position in government, he is the person who advises the person of the President on matters of law.
This is characteristic of President Museveni’s working style. Although he has an IGG’s office as an agency to fight corruption, he also has an officer connected to State House who does the work. When the President read through the agreement which had been drafted between Mao and Karugire, he finally signed it. After getting posted as minister of justice and constitutional affairs, Chairman Mao seems to be moving in the expected direction. For instance, last week some Members of Parliament from the Acholi Sub-region petitioned Parliament to look into the issue of compensating the people who lost their lives and property during the war in the north, the same orchestrated by their own, Joseph Kony.
They have drafted a compensation and repatriations bill that seeks to resolve this issue. Given the fact that the Acholi sub region endured a twenty-five-year civil war; the bill will be a very welcome idea. Mao being the son of the land, will therefore have delivered what others have failed to do for Acholi sub region in many years of their stay in government. The reality? Given the case scenario on the current political trends in the country, it’s fair to say that Chairman Mao was right to execute the deal. One of the reasons is that he was presiding over a political party that had lost social capital in the entire country as almost the entire politburo of the DP had defected to Bobi Wine’s NUP.
He had remained with a mere shell of what used to be a very vibrant party. He himself was a spent political force having contested for the Presidency and lost miserably, with shaming percentage votes. He has been so desperate for power to the extent that during the war in the North, Mao even tried to get in merge with Joseph Kony. During the Garamba peace talks that were meant to reconcile Joseph Kony with the NRM government, Mao tried to fraternize with the LRA rebel leader. But since Kony was not politically suave, it was impossible to create anything with him. If Joseph Kony had a matured political agenda, there is a good chance that he could have forged an alliance with Mao to reach a good deal with the Ugandan government.
Since the LRA was an armed faction, Mao could have bargained for a position as high as the Vice Presidency. But Kony never allowed any politician to benefit from his rebellion. Having failed to get grounded politically, Mao had been reduced to a TV and radio talk show politician. Although he spoke a lot of sense, he never seemed to appeal to Ugandans politically. His family had fallen apart and he was reportedly broke. When he fell terribly ill some years ago, he needed the intervention of government to airlift him to Nairobi for treatment.
His brother is an RDC in a government he is supposed to oppose. All these factors simply mean that Mao had no choice but to join NRM. Ugandans smelt a rat when first son Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba twitted that Mao was the only opposition politician who had some substance. But his personal confession that he has been having direct phone contact with the son of Kaguta and therefore speaking to him whenever he wished, since his student days 30 years ago, has truly shocked many.
- Fred Daka Kamwada is a seasoned journalist, blogger and political analyst for over a decade in Uganda
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