In the year 2016, President Museveni surprised the country by appointing Joy Kabatsi as minister of state for animal husbandry. As political pundits had it , Museveni was trying to resolve one of the most intractable conflicts among his NRM party members.
In a May 23, 2016 letter to President Museveni, Lwemiyaga MP Theodore Ssekikubo blamed foreign affairs minister and Mawogola North MP Sam Kahamba Kutesa for the political problems in Sembabule.
The letter followed a futile attempt by Solicitor General Francis Atoke to block Ssekikubo’s May 18 swearing-in as MP. In a legal opinion Atoke wrote to the Electoral Commission (EC) on behalf of the attorney general, he advised the electoral body to disregard a High court order that reinstated the fiery MP among the gazetted members of the 10th Parliament.
Atoke’s legal opinion followed a letter by then EC boss Badru Kiggundu, written on the same day, seeking the Attorney General’s advice in the face of two court orders; the first, by the Masaka Chief Magistrate’s court on May 5, ordered that Ssekikubo be de-gazetted, and the second, by the High court in Masaka on May 6, stayed the de-gazettement.
As this drama played out, Parliament ignored Atoke’s legal opinion because a chief magistrate, had no legal locus over an MP already listed in the gazette. In his letter to Museveni, Ssekikubo accused the attorney general’s chambers of abuse of office and being professionally dishonest. He further claimed that the office’s involvement in his legal battles were being influenced by Kutesa and EC secretary Sam Rwakoojo.
“All the criminal activities and abuse of office [are] being masterminded and orchestrated by Kutesa and Rwakoojo to settle personal scores,” Ssekikubo wrote.
The Ssekikubo-Kutesa rivalry date back 20 years now. For the 2001 elections, Ssekikubo, then a backyard staff at State House and a part-time lecturer at Ndejje University, stood against the then Lwemiyaga MP Sam Rwakoojo.
Being unopposed in Mawagola, Kutesa dedicated time and resources to his cousin Rwakoojo’s re-election bid. Unknown to Kutesa, he was indirectly financing Ssekikubo’s campaign – the money that Ssekikubo’s supporters picked from the rival camp was what the then poor Ssekikubo used to print and distribute campaign posters in the constituency.
At the time, Ssekikubo’s rival Patrick Nkalubo was the Sembabule district returning officer who had a tough time declaring Ssekikubo the eventual winner.
Fearing that his victory would be overturned, Ssekikubo’s supporters sealed off the district headquarters and warned Nkalubo against declaring another winner if he still wanted his life.
Ssekikubo established himself as an alternative base in the then newly-created district, getting the last laugh in the subsequent local council elections as his favoured candidates overwhelmingly won across the district.
The then LC-V chairman, Herman Ssentongo, teamed up with Ssekikubo against Kutesa who had the backing of woman MP Anifah Bangirana Kawooya. While Kutesa wanted to use his influence in government to direct the state of affairs in Sembabule, Ssekikubo and Ssentongo used their control of the district administration structures to keep Kutesa at bay.
Kutesa sought to revenge in the 2005/06 election cycle, first by attempting to lock them and their new recruit Joy Kafura Kabatsi down in the NRM party activities.
While Kabatsi and Ssentongo were easy to defeat in the primaries, Ssekikubo proved a hard nut to crack. Museveni got sucked in when he clashed with Kutesa, his in-law, at a campaign rally in the district in January 2006.
Kutesa had wanted Museveni to endorse Dr Elly Muhumuza’s candidacy for LC-V chairman but Museveni’s statements, instead, promoted Ssentongo, an independent candidate.
In the burst-out, Kutesa threatened to quit NRM, and Museveni, not moved, shot back telling his in-law[Kutesa] that he was free to go since he was not among the party’s founders.
A week after winning the presidential vote, Museveni returned to the district to endorse Muhumuza. But before he moved to the public rally, Museveni first had a private meeting with Ssentongo inside Muhumuza’s health centre.
Ssentongo attended the rally but walked away with a sizable percentage of the crowd the moment Museveni was handed a list of NRM flag bearers. Bloody clashes followed as Ssentongo’s supporters, aided by security personnel, took control of the situation.
On polling day, Ssentongo enjoyed the services of the army to avert a plot to rig the elections. He won the elections but with subdued powers since Kutesa had succeeded in booting the majority of disloyal district councilors.
Museveni returned to the district in the year 2009 on an assessment tour of the National Agricultural Advisory Services (Naads) projects, and was treated to yet another set of drama. Kutesa and Ssekikubo first clashed in front of Museveni as he visited farmers in Lwemiyaga. Inside one of the banana plantations that Museveni toured, Ssekikubo and Ssentongo told Museveni that he was being fleeced since none of the farmers he was visiting was a Naads beneficiary.
Museveni looked on as the politicians engaged in a heated exchange that put Museveni’s security detail on tension. The embarrassment that Kutesa suffered could have showed him that he had work to do. The NRM grassroots elections the following year turned violent as the two camps drew guns at each other, leaving one of the security men on Kutesa’s team wounded, before he lost his manhood.
In the subsequent general elections, Kutesa made gains, successfully dislodging Ssentongo from the district chair. While he got a consolation appointment as a resident district commissioner (RDC), Ssentongo set his sights on the 2016 elections for a political comeback.
But Kutesa would not let him return to Sembabule. The minister agreed to back Ssentongo if he stood against Mathias Mpuuga for the Masaka Municipality parliamentary seat.
Many political pundits in the district saw Ssentongo’s acceptance of Kutesa’s deal as an end to his (Ssentongo) political career because there wasn’t any chance that he could defeat the opposition strong man. At the time, Ssekikubo, who had decided to relocate to Kyadondo South, changed plans and went back to Lwemiyaga because that would mean “handing the district to Kutesa.”
Kutesa financed Nkalubo against Ssekikubo; but Ssekikubo also fielded a candidate against the former UN General Assembly president.
Kutesa’s challengers later stepped down “in recognition of his contribution to Sembabule’s development.”
In his letter to Museveni, Ssekikubo attached photographs of bundles of pre-ticked ballots that his team reportedly intercepted on their way to various polling stations in his constituency.
He claims the ballot papers were secretly handed over to his opponent, Nkalubo, by the Electoral Commission on February 17, 2016.
“Nkalubo’s agents stuffed ballot boxes at Kayonza, Mirama and Nshozi polling stations, among others, on the polling day [February 18, 2016], and some in the course of stuffing were apprehended and handed over to police,” Ssekikubo wrote.
Ssekikubo also told Museveni about an EC truck that disappeared with electoral materials near the home of one of Kutesa’s assistants only to resurface hours later.
Ssekikubo’s letter came three months after Museveni had made an attempt to find a lasting solution to the rivalries. In fact Kabatsi’s appointment as a state minister for Animal husbandry was seen as one of the concessions that Museveni was making to restore harmony in the district but it may be far from his intended goal.
Museveni met Kabatsi during a 2016 NRM retreat at Kyankwanzi in which he promised her a ministerial appointment so that she gives up her battles with Kawooya.
Not sure about Museveni’s commitment to the promise, Kabatsi’s camp remained suspicious. One of her agents challenged Kawooya’s election at the High court in Masaka; the petition was withdrawn days after her appointment to cabinet was announced. While appearing in interview with a local media house after her appointment, Kabatsi denied meeting Museveni over the ministerial appointment.
“I can’t trade off anything for Anifah [Kawooya] and Kutesa,” Kabatsi said, giving an indicator that her political and legal battles with Kawooya would continue.
Asked to respond to Ssekikubo’s allegations against him, Kutesa only retorted: “I am not interested in being for or against him.”
One of the political leaders in the district spoke of a widely-held view that Museveni himself was a direct beneficiary of the bickering.
“[Kutesa] was, for instance, not happy that his constituency [Mawogola] was split and he suspected that in doing so, the president wanted to reduce his area of control,” the leader said.
According to this leader, Kutesa learnt of the split after a motion was tabled in Parliament.
“He told me that he went and asked Museveni and the answer he gave was that he wanted to separate the cultivators from the pastoralists,” the political leader said.
Mawogola South is predominantly inhabited by cultivators while Kutesa’s Mawogola North majorly has cattle keepers.
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