Monday, June 20, 2016


This week a double take was necessary on news that NRM members of parliament were sulking over not being appointed to the cabinet and went further to task President Yoweri Museveni to explain  his selection criteria.

Museveni ever the consummate politician, it is reported, listening to their griping, said he would take their concerns under advisement and would get back to them.

"The strongmen of yesteryear would not have stood for such impudence, would have dished out a tongue lashing or worse and put the revolting MPs in their place...

There was grumbling too in the public, the opposition were scrambling to react to this raiding of their own stables and many detractors were at loss at how to respond to the latest cabinet list.

At the heart of the confusion was the enlisting of three opposition members, all women.

Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) Betty Amogin, party leader James Akena’s wife, Uganda Federal Alliance’s Betty Kamya and Democratic Party (DP)’s Florence Kiyingi were the ladies in question.

With the appointment of these opposition politicians, the first time since Omara Atubo was sent to the lands and housing ministry in 2006, Museveni has truly thrown the cat among the pigeons. Atubo had run as an independent in 2006 after falling out with the UPC ruling clique.

As we were reminded during the budget reading, the constitution lays all executive power in the person of the president who appoints a cabinet to which he delegates these powers. The president has the discretion to appoint any Ugandan to position.

"Commentators argued that the election had left the county badly divided and there were even calls for a government of national unity to douse the flames. It was hard to see what leverage these sections commanded, given how soundly Museveni had won the election and his NRM retained a stranglehold over parliament...

It is one thing to try to create a narrative that tries to cast doubt on the reality, it is another altogether to leverage that manufactured reality to overturn the situation. And one can argue you have a narrow window of opportunity to organise that coup after which when the novelty has worn off, the general public accept the status quo and the momentum is lost.

In co-opting these opposition politicians Museveni has essentially called their bluff and calls for a national unity government were diffused.

This action also reminded those who had forgotten or informed those who did not know what the cabinet is about.

The cabinet is a political tool by which the president rewards his allies and, in this case, placates his detractors.

You don’t have to be specifically competent to be a minister, in fact it is more useful if you have an important or sizable constituency backing you than string of academic qualifications or tested experience. And this is not only true here.

The heavy lifting in ministries is done by the technocrats, with the minister needed as the face of the ministry and to provide political cover for his technocrats to do their work. A minister provides leadership, a vision. But these are not his independent creations as he takes direction from the president or the ruling party.

"It has been useful that Ugandans see the elevation of their sons and daughters to ministerial position as a benefit to them, but even a cursory audit will show there is very little benefit that accrues specifically to the “minister’s people”...

So in judging the cabinet while it is desirable that we look at the competence of the ministers but it is more realistic to look to how cabinet appointments help retain power for incumbents.

And while we are at it let us not forget that despite their angry protestations, politics is about getting to power and retaining it. And often by any means necessary.

And which politician worth his salt does not recognise that a cabinet position is a step nearer the real power? And now since the President has shown that cabinet positions are not the monopoly of the ruling party doesn’t this blunt the opposition’s opposition to a seating government?

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