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Uganda: Security Report – Support for Age Limit Bill Falling

Ruling party leaders are understood to be studying a report compiled for NRM chairman Yoweri Museveni, which gauges its chances of seeing through the age limit bill in Parliament.

Knowledgeable insiders have told The Observer that the intelligence services were instructed, at the highest level, to poll NRM members of parliament so as to establish level of support amongst their 307 majority.

Under the current provisions of Article 102(b) of the Constitution, the 73-year-old Museveni will be ineligible to stand for re-election in 2021.

Opponents say scrapping it will satisfy Museveni’s desire to be president for life, a situation which would imperil Uganda.

The age limit bill was tabled privately by Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi on October 4; less than a week after suspected commandos from the Special Forces Command (SFC), Museveni’s elite guard formation, raided Parliament and assaulted and dragged out MPs opposed to the bill.

After its controversial tabling, Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga suspended parliamentary sittings to allow MPs go consult their constituents, an exercise that has forced a number of NRM MPs to get a change of heart.

A source familiar with the contents of the intelligence report told The Observer on November 24 that there is a remarkable fall in the bill’s support among NRM MPs, which is largely attributed to pressure from the electorate.

“In Buganda region alone, we have lost the support of about 22 MPs due to pressure from their voters,” the source said.

Among the Buganda MPs that the report mentions as having succumbed to pressure from their constituencies are Sarah Nakawunde Temulanda (Mpigi Woman), Caroline Birungi Nanyondo (Kyamuswa), Jennifer Nantume Egunyu (Buvuma Woman), Idah Nabayiga (Kalangala Woman) and Julius Mukasa Opondo (Bujumba), among others.

Before the consultations, the source said, the named MPs supported the amendment but have since denounced the Magyezi bill.

“There are various reasons being given but the most outstanding is the unfulfilled presidential promises,” the source said.

Temulanda and her Mawokota North counterpart, Trade and Industry minister Amelia Kyambadde had a tough time on October 31 when they were forced to unceremoniously abandon their consultative meeting at Mpigi town council following a vote where locals opposed to the bill outnumbered those in favour.

Interviewed on November 21, Temulanda said that she was still analysing the outcome of her consultative meetings before she can make her position clearly known.

“The whole of Mawokota South rejected it and in Mawokota North, there are areas that rejected it and others that said that we should amend. I need time to analyse the outcome of my consultations, after that, I will go by what the majority are saying,” the Mpigi Woman MP said.

Despite being part of the initial team that worked on the amendment, Mawokota South MP John Bosco Lubyaayi was forced to wear a red headband (the national symbol of those who want age limits retained) at all his consultative meetings, owing to wide opposition to the bill in the constituency.

The Kalangala trio of Nanyondo, Nabayiga and Mukasa had a change of heart after tasting the wrath of their constituents.

Nabayiga was chased from Kyeserwa, Nkose, Butulume and Kyamuswa days after she had successfully convened a closed-door meeting of NRM leaders in Kalangala town Council.

Shaken, she later told journalists that; “I am not ready to suffer alone with the voters, if President Museveni so much wants this amendment, he should put it to a referendum and go around the country campaigning for it.”

Nanyondo’s Kyamuswa county is especially bitter that Museveni has not lived up to his decades’ long promise of improving transport between most of the islands in the district as well as healthcare services.

There are three ferries running between the district’s main island, Buggala, to the mainland, but none serves any of the other 83 islands in the district. Besides Buganda, the other areas pointed out in the report include Kigezi, Lango and Teso sub-regions.

Lango’s growing opposition to the amendment is attributed to the influence of Dokolo South MP Felix Okot Ogong as chair of the Lango Parliamentary Group. Ogong is backed by Sylvia Akello (Otuke Woman) in a campaign against the amendment, which has left the ruling party not sure of the support of some of its Lango MPs such as Hamson Obua (Ajuri).

Monica Amoding (Kumi Woman) and her Ngora counterpart David Abala are on the other hand blamed for the hardening of opposition amongst the Teso MPs.

While the party enjoys overwhelming support among MPs from the western region, the influence of Shadow Attorney General Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East) and Andrew Baryayanga Aja (Kabale Municipality) is something not to be ignored.

Both men are said to be working with a group of MPs that have been branded ‘Mbabazi MPs’ to campaign against the amendment.

According to sources, there are MPs within the NRM caucus who were sponsored by former Prime Minister John Patrick Amama Mbabazi. Mbabazi fell out badly with Museveni over differences of opinion on the succession which saw him make an unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 2016

Among these are Micheal Timuzigu Kamugisha (Kajara), James Kaberuka (Kinkiizi West), Denis Sabiti (Rubanda West) and Innocent Pentagon Kamusiime (Butemba).

Kaberuka succeeded Mbabazi in Kinkiizi West and has been openly working with the ‘rebel MPs’ led by Lwemiyaga MP Theodore Ssekikubo and Buyaga West’s Barnabas Tinkasiimire, the lone dissenting voice from Bunyoro according to the political intelligence report.

Pentagon Kamusiime came as a surprise given that the proposal to scrap age limits was first passed in July 2016 by the Kyankwanzi NRM district conference where he is a member.

“He attended the meeting that passed the resolution and he was with us when we presented it to the president on August 2 at Kyankwanzi [National leadership institute],” Anna Maria Nankabirwa, the Kyankwanzi Woman MP, who also doubles as the NRM chairperson in the district, said in an interview at Parliament last week.

According to Nankabirwa, Pentagon has since gone as far as facilitating youth groups in the district to turn against his colleagues who support the bill. Pentagon accused Nankabirwa of being so cheap and desperate for a ministerial appointment.

“It is so unfortunate that somebody at the position of an MP is not satisfied with what they have that they have to sacrifice their colleagues to gain political favour from the appointing authority,” Pentagon said on Saturday.

He added that his stand on the bill is based on the outcome of consultations he held in his constituency.

“I did open consultations as opposed to closed ones which she conducted, and, I tolerated all sides at my meetings. Maybe she feels a little frustrated because she called a few people to a closed meeting,” the youthful MP said.

According to the report, all MPs from the districts of greater Mbabara around where Museveni hails, and greater Bushenyi, support the amendment.

Besides Tinkasiimire, all MPs from Bunyoro are also said to be behind Magyezi while in Busoga, only seven out of the 37 MPs from the sub-region are opposed.

“We are engaging our colleagues who are still opposed to the bill, we have decided to be as persuasive as possible to get them to our side because this bill is not one you can pass with a simple majority but with a fixed portion of the House,” an NRM MP who preferred anonymity said.

Under Article 262 of the Constitution, the bill requires not less than two-thirds of all members of Parliament at the second and third readings for the bill to pass.

Given the opposition to the bill, cabinet last month set up a ministerial sub-committee headed by Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda to oversee parliamentary activities that were previously coordinated by a team led by Parliamentary Commissioners Arinaitwe Rwakajara (Workers), Robina Nabbanja (Kakumiro Woman) and Peter Ogwang (Usuk).

The sub-committee has Frank Tumwebaze (ICT and national guidance), Kahinda Otafiire (Justice and Constitutional Affairs), William Byaruhanga (Attorney General), Mwesigwa Rukutana (deputy Attorney General), state ministers David Bahati (Planning) and Evelyn Anite (Investments and Privatisation) and government chief whip Ruth Nankabirwa.

Neither Rugunda nor Nankabirwa answered our calls on Saturday. It is, however, understood that the sub-committee plans to reach out to the MPs opposed to the bill although some have indicated that they may not honour any invitations.

“There is nothing new they are going to tell us. I think that is a tired strategy because we have previously listened to promises from the president that have never been fulfilled,” said an MP from Buganda.

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