Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I want a new beginning - Mao on the future

By Michael Ssali (email the author)

Posted Monday, January 17 2011 at 00:00

Democratic Party President General and presidential flag bearer, Norbert Mao, spoke to Michael Ssali about the coming election, his prospects and Uganda’s future. Excerpts:-

Q: What is your general impression of the campaign so far?
A: We are overwhelmed by the support we are getting. We even had a very successful rally in Rushere which is Museveni’s home. And the feedback we get is that our politics inspires confidence and does not frighten people. We have faced a number of problems in the campaign. Sometimes we have unexpected things like an accident that we had recently, but that did not stop us. Sometimes vehicles break down because of the bad roads. So you sometimes find yourself incurring very high unexpected expenditures. In some places, the Electoral Commission has interfered with our campaign schedules like in Ntungamo.
We also believe that the EC is biased in favour of President Museveni. He campaigns at night but the EC has never warned him. But when Norbert Mao is seen campaigning at one minute past six they want to portray him as someone who does not obey the election guidelines. But over-all the campaign has been good. We are running a strong campaign amidst all the challenges of a divided party, weak grass root structures and the lack of candidates in many places. Amidst all those problems, I believe we have given it our best shot, and the feedback is good.

Your father is an Acholi. Your mother is a Munyankole and you were raised and educated in the Central region and in Busoga, Eastern Uganda. Which one of these regions is giving you the greatest support?
It may surprise you that my base is not primarily ethnic. My base is generational; my base is a demographic base. There is an age group that identifies itself with me. That’s why I have about 15,000 supporters on Facebook. I have the best website. That’s why I am not so much bothered when the media deliberately ignores me. Because on average you can sometimes have over 40,000 people viewing my Facebook page!
The other base is that I have always been in the north. The north identifies with me and they know that no one else cares about peace and reconstruction than me. I also enjoy some linguistic advantages. I am fluent in many languages. When I was in Busia I was able to speak in Kiswahili fluently. When I am in Buganda I can communicate in Luganda. I speak Luo which is spoken in parts of Teso, Tororo, Lango and Acholi. I understand Runyankole perfectly and I can speak it although not as fluently as other languages. But I know enough of it to get the message across.
I am a non-threatening candidate because many people see me as a representative of their backgrounds – humble background, brought up in a village, but who has managed to achieve a lot.

You seem to be running a single issue and individual focused campaign --- Museveni, corruption, Museveni’s government, corruption …
We have a manifesto. So you cannot say we are not in the campaign for issues. But obviously in a ten minute speech you cannot speak about everything. Our core issues are national healing, which is the most important issue. Sudan is breaking apart. Uganda can run into that direction if we don’t learn to play inclusive politics. I have a very strong feeling about the demonisation of people from the north. I think that the core of my message is national healing and reconstruction. There is no tribe which is God ordained to lead a country. And to exclude one from leadership simple on the basis of their tribe that is a formula that is destroying Uganda.

Our second issue is clean government. Social services are not delivered because of corruption. And you cannot fight corruption if you are corrupt yourself. When Parliament was investigating the Chogm theft, the Vice-president brought a letter where the government was ordering him to divert funds. Even [Foreign minister] Sam Kutesa pointed fingers at the President. I think the President has no moral authority to fight corruption. Corruption is a very important issue because it is an illegal tax on people. There are other issues, like how to handle the oil wealth. We have an important agenda to ensure transparent handling of the oil wealth. We are afraid that President Museveni and his government may just become commission agents to the big foreign companies.

Now, what do you have to say about the persisting allegation that you and some of your close associates in the DP executive are a Trojan horse, planted into the opposition by President Museveni to serve his purpose?
I think the question is: Do I have the right to run for President as Norbert Mao? If I have a right to run for President then I think it is wrong and very cheap for anyone to say that I am anybody’s Trojan horse. The Democratic Party was founded in 1954. Museveni is not a founder member of the Democratic Party. And the agenda of the Democratic Party is to capture state power. Those who are peddling that line are running a smear campaign to portray us stooges of the NRM. But that will not work.

I have been a consistent opponent of the NRM from day one. Those accusing us are the ones who brought the NRM. I think DP has a right to present a candidate. DP has a right to vie for power. Because if Dr Besigye is elected is it

Norbert Mao who will be sworn in? If FDC takes power will it be a DP candidate to lead?
I have heard lots of rumours including those who say my wife works in State House. My wife has never worked in State House. They thought DP should always be a passenger in their vehicle. But this is now a new DP which is more aggressive and anybody who attacks us should run for cover. We will fight back very aggressively. And I have found no evidence of secret dealings with the NRM or Museveni by any of my members in the party leadership.

I am the Chairman of Gulu Local Government and I have official dealings with the government. I think we should campaign on issues. Of all the candidates no one has caused more casualities to the NRM than me. I am the one who threw out the late Noble Mayombo from student leadership in Makerere. I am the one who defeated Cabinet Minister Betty Bigombe when I was still in my 20s. Recently, I threw out Col. Walter Ochora. Is it Museveni who sponsored me to defeat his ministers? I want a new beginning for Uganda. There are those who see my candidature as a threat to them.
But this is a general election. It is the people to decide. I have heard a lot of stories about [our national legal adviser Mukasa] Mbidde. I have investigated and found that they are based on their relationship with Ssebaggala. Ssebaggala was Besigye’s chief campaign mobiliser at one time.

Supposing we had a Kenya situation or Zimbabwe, would you share power with Mr Museveni?
I am not in politics just for myself. I have read in the papers where I am described as extremely ambitious and so on. But I am not as power hungry as some of the leaders we have in this country. I don’t see any reason why I should compromise my ideals and join a government which I know cannot accommodate my views. I believe that if anyone like me is to work together with President Museveni, it has got to be a different dispensation. It cannot be this kind of dispensation because the situation in which we are now many of us cannot survive. It is like mixing oil and water; the two cannot mix.”

There is a feeling, especially in urban areas, that the elections will still be rigged even next month and so it is no use bothering to vote ...
Some of the candidates in this race are also going around discouraging the voters. Assuming you are the hunter and you wake up in the morning and you pick up the hunting gear, the spear and all the other equipment, obviously you go into the hunting ground knowing there are wild animals out there. There are snakes and unpredictable situations. But you set your objectives. The candidates who keep saying the elections are going to be rigged should get out of the contest. They are the ones demoralising the voters. In fact they are playing into the hands of the NRM. The NRM too has also resorted to that kind of talk and it is that which will lead to low voter turnout and if we have low voter turn up then Museveni will emerge on top. What we need is to inspire voters. How can a person like me go to Gulu which has the biggest barracks in Uganda and dare a whole cabinet minister and get her out of Parliament? This is not a time for lamenting. It is the time for inspiring our troops to go forward.I have won elections against so many odds. I believe we can win against odds. What we need is a plan to counter rigging. That is why we will have poll watchers and citizens’ committees for protecting the vote. That is why we are insisting that after voting we should have a display of the voting results for two weeks so that we know where the voting stations from which the votes came from and look at all the signatures. We are mobilising international opinion in favour of that.

We believe there could be non-existent polling stations. We even doubt if the voters register does not still have ghosts. Mathematically, it is very difficult to think of 14 million voters out of a population of 33 million and where we say that close to 60% of the population are children. Mathematically, it does not add up, there is something wrong with that. We have challenged them on that. Then they said they removed over one million ghost votes from the register; who put the ghosts there in the first place?
Museveni is busy bribing voters and no one is talking about him, he is like a player to whom the referee has surrendered the whistle and the cards. If you tackle Museveni, he blows the whistle.

That should be the referee’s job. If you tackle Museveni then you hear that he has shown you the red card. How can a fellow player also flash a red card at you? It is a David and Goliath contest but the odds are in our favour. What we only need is stronger leadership from the opposition.

The campaigns have become greatly monetised. Recently each NRM parliamentary flag bearer was given Shs20 million for campaigns.
The NRM goes around arm-twisting investors and other rich people. Some of its people go about blackmailing investors and telling them the amount of money each is supposed to contribute and they tag a threat to such statement like: You know the President is watching who has contributed and who has not. And, of course, Museveni is also going around spending public funds. He goes around tampering with the budget.
Even in Gulu he had made some pledges, then he didn’t have the money then he wanted us to divert Shs170 million out of our district budget to meet those pledges. We wrote back and said that this is money that the central government sent for a specific purpose. We have passed our district budget. We have allocated this money. Even the contracts have been awarded. So we don’t have the money. State House arm-twisted the Ministry of Education to tell Gulu District to divert the money.

Museveni is doing that in the weaker districts. They have no way to resist it. The other day he went to Gulu and announced a new district called Oket. He knows how districts are created. Districts are not announced by the president through political announcements on the roadside. Districts are created by resolution of the council. So, after that the PS of the Ministry of Local Governments wrote to Gulu District saying, “Can you send the resolution you passed requesting a district? And we said we have never requested a district. So, Museveni is now stuck with his pronouncement.

State House has arm-twisted Parliament to provide him with millions of shillings and that should explain to you the illegal sources of NRM funding. If Ugandans succumb to the bribery and the intimidation by NRM then they should not complain. They will continue to be victimised until they wake up. I condemn very strongly the criminal manner in which the NRM has raised money through illegal encroachment on the public coffers, through blackmail of the people, the business community.
And the Electoral Commission should be condemning this. The fact that they are not condemning it means that they are accomplices of Museveni’s corrupt electoral practices.

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