Where being Speaker is a big deal

Thursday June 03 2021
New Content Item (1)

Ms Rebecca Kadaga. PHOTO | FILE

By The Citizen Reporter

General elections are becoming impossible in Africa. Most rarely end well. Either the ruling party and incumbent fiddle the vote, leaving the opposition in tears, or as we are saw in Mali last year, the army intervenes and kicks out the chap elected in disputed polls.

Then you also have a lot of postponements, like in Somalia where President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo got Parliament to extend his term and postpone elections by two years. That backfired badly, as protests and chaos ensued, and he and the same Parliament backtracked and ate humble pie.

And then we have several elections that are won by the incumbent years before they are held. You know them.

Now, what happens as the macro level, as pompous intellectuals would put it, is happening at the micro level. The speakerships of Parliaments are becoming life and death matters.

Over a week ago, the new Uganda parliament met to elect its speaker. Like in many countries, these speaker elections used to be, on the whole, dull affairs. Usually the ruling party, with a secure majority, will have caucused, and agreed on its candidates. The opposition, realising the futility of fighting for the job, settles, or cuts a deal and gets the deputy speakership. Not this time. It was high drama, and for a month to the vote, the intrigue and plots around it were one of the biggest stories.

A lawyer and long-time ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) MP, Ms Rebecca Kadaga, had been speaker for 10 years, and deputy for another 10 years. She wanted another bite at the cherry, but the NRM central committee, and its president, Museveni, had other ideas. They wanted the job for her deputy, an articulate bow-tie wearing lawyer called Jacob Oulanyah.


A feisty politician who is believed to have ambitions to succeed Museveni, Kadaga rejected the central committee’s decision as underhanded. She went ahead and stood as an independent.

With rebels in the NRM saying they would go with her; it wasn’t clear which way it would go. On the voting day, the Big Man Museveni, with other party big wigs in tow, showed up to watch the proceedings, though he dozed through part of the drama. Turns out he didn’t have to stay awake. As he later said, he had stayed up late and called the pro-Kadaga rebels, and even some opposition politicians. There were unconfirmed rumours that a lot of fat brown envelopes criss-crossed the city early in the morning. All that was necessary was his presence, as an incentive for those who had committed to vote for Oulanyah, to keep their word.

In the end, Oulanyah handily dispatched Kadaga.

The Uganda speakership race got some coverage in the Kenyan and Tanzanian media, but mostly for the drama of it. Unanswered was why a house leadership, in a Parliament that is heavily dominated by the ruling NRM, and under the thumb of the president, became so vital.

Though Kadaga won her seat in the eastern Busoga region, Museveni was walloped there in the presidential contest by the youthful musician-turned politician Robert Kyagulanyi (more commonly known by his artiste’s name Bobi Wine). Bobi Wine also wiped out Museveni in the central Buganda, once his stronghold, and the area where the 1981-1986 guerrilla war that brought him to power was based.

Museveni, however, has in recent years made up his dwindling fortunes in populous central Uganda, by cornering once-war-ravaged northern Uganda, where he was once so unpopular, even with next level rigging, he could never dominate it. Now, he has, in one of the most dramatic turnarounds in political fortune.

Oulanyah is from the north, and his speakership is a reward and consolidation of that shift.

Kadaga’s signals in the past that she was interested in the throne, and her isolated bouts of independence, clearly didn’t go down well with President Museveni. With the question of his succession becoming inescapable as he heads into 40 years in power, he also needs a more reliably pliant speaker, which Oulanyah is (for now at least), to enable him have a parliament that will give legitimacy to the legal path he will choose for that.

In it all, the country was served to a remarkable lack of self-awareness from NRM politicians. Several of them said that at 10 years, Kadaga had been speaker for “too long”. This from fellow who back a president who has been in power for 35 years, and will gladly enable him go for 45.

We had wanted to write about the election of the Speaker of the Pan-African Parliament, which sits in Midrand, outside South Africa’s commercial capital Johannesburg, but we have run out of real estate for it.

It meets for three weeks, twice a year. An attempt to elect the Speaker just ended in chaos, with kicks, and other things flying. There were even death threats. The vote has been postponed.

In Addis Ababa, the African Union Commission chief Moussa Faki Mahamat was livid. Surely, Mahamat must have the number for the Uganda State House. Either the ruling.