GENESIS OF THE CRISIS IN DP
Let the truth be told
1.Trouble began in November 2005 during the last National Delegates Conference. There were three candidates for the position of party president: Mr John Ssebaana Kizito a veteran DP member and party National Treasurer, Al Hajj Nasser Ntege Ssebaggala a DP stalwart and ex-convict popularly known as Seya, and Mr Norbert Mao, a former Secretary General of Chapa Karuhanga’s NDF party and who had at one time tried to form a party with Mr Aggrey Awori and latterly became a convert to DP. After losing to Mr Ssebaana, Mr Mao organised a boycott of Northerners from further participation in the ongoing elections, on the grounds that the conference had become a Buganda affair. He likened it to a conference of Buganda Clans Football Club. Thus the Northerners did not elect their regional representatives to the National Executive Committee (NEC) during the conference. These were elected (more than two years later) at a regional meeting held in Gulu on 19 January 2008 at which Mr Mao was elected Regional Vice President. But the tribalism seed had already been planted and germinated because to-date Mr Mao has never attended any DP NEC meeting and, as recent press reports show, he is still trumpeting the horn of tribalism. It is also at this same conference that Al Hajj Ssebaggala publically announced his intention to bribe the delegates if they elect him party president. To drive the point home, he displayed a suitcase full of cash intended for that purpose; to the consternation of the party faithful and the general public. Further, the three candidates had mobilised gangs of youth brigades or Kanyama for purposes of unleashing violence against any one who seemed opposed to their candidature. Thus, on day one, the sad drama started playing out on the stage of the Democratic Party.
2.In December 2005, shortly after losing his bid for party president Al Hajj Ssebaggala demanded that he be endorsed as the official candidate of DP for the position of mayor of Kampala. Mr Ssebaana persuaded NEC to support Hajj Ssebaggala and a memorandum of understanding to that effect was drawn up for signing by NEC members on the one side and by Hajj Ssebaggala, Hon Michael Mabikke and Hon Latif Sebaggala on the other. The other NEC members who were party to that agreement (Prof Mukiibi and Dr Ottoo, Mr Joseph Balikuddembe and Hon Erias Lukwago dutifully signed the agreement at a ceremony in Speke Hotel on 27 December 2005. Mr Ssebaana did not show up and did not sign the agreement. He had overnight switched his support from Hajj Ssebaggala to Dr Takuba without consulting or informing the other members of NEC. To-date, Mr Ssebaana has never explained why he changed his mind. Many members of NEC were dismayed by this lack of openness and collective responsibility on the part of the party Chief Executive Officer.
3.In October 2006, Dr Ottoo returned to the USA on the expiry of his sabbatical leave from Pace University, New York, where he was employed. At a subsequent meeting of NEC Mr Ssebaana informed members that, although Dr Ottoo had returned to USA, he would nevertheless continue to perform the duties of Secretary General of the party. With internet, Mr Ssebaana argued, Ottoo could do most of the work from his base in the States. Members of NEC were sceptical of this strange arrangement. As it turned out (and as was reasonably expected) Dr Ottoo did not perform any party functions after he located to the US. In effect Dr Ottoo had abdicated the office of Secretary General. Then Dr Lulume, the elected Deputy Secretary General, assumed the position of Acting Secretary General, as is provided for in Article 30 of the party constitution.
4.On 2-4 January 2006, the Johnson faction of UYD convened a National Delegates Conference in Jinja at which they elected officials of their organisation. Mr Ssebaana, as the patron of UYD, opened the conference. In July 2007, the party obtained funding (solicited by Mr Ssebaana) from a British donor for the purpose of organising a DP youth delegates conference. The conference, which was convened in Namboole, was opened by Mr Ssebaana himself. He urged the youths to follow DP democratic traditions in conducting their elections. Some of the youths who contested for positions sought and received Mr Ssebaana’s endorsement in writing. Accordingly DP youths, from all over the country, elected the leaders of the DP Youth Wing in accordance with Article 24 of the party constitution. These youth leaders were sworn in (with the full knowledge of Mr Ssebaana) at a ceremony presided over by Mr Joseph Balikuddembe SC Vice President DP Buganda Region and attended by most members of NEC including the National Chairman, the National Organising Secretary and the National Publicity Secretary. Later Mr Ssebaana was to denounce these youth leaders arguing that the UYD persons who were elected in Jinja (all of them above the constitutional age of 30) were the true DP youth leaders. This serious contradiction on the part of the party Chief Executive Officer generated a lot of wrangles within the party leadership which still continue today.
5.DP is officially a centre right conservative party and Mr Sebaana has stated so many times both in writing and verbally, locally and abroad. But he continues to be patron of UYD whose leadership openly and emphatically claims that UYD is a socialist youth organisation. Challenged, by members of a delegation of a visiting Swedish socialist party to categorically define DP’s ideology, Mr Ssebaana simply said that “one can eat with the left hand as well as the right hand”. Mr Ssebaana’s ambivalence on DP’s ideology has fuelled disharmony and indiscipline within party ranks.
6.On 6 November 2007 a group of party members led by Hon Kikungwe in the presence of Mr Ssebaana and Hon Nsubuga “captured” the DP headquarters on Plot 1-3 William Street and threw out elected party officials, locked their offices and installed Mr Sula Kidandala (an employee of Mr Ssebaana) as administrative officer. Shortly after Mr Ssebaana relieved Dr Lulume of the duties of Acting Secretary General and he pronounced himself Secretary General of the party unconstitutionally. In his assumed role of Secretary General, Mr Ssebaana refused to call NEC meetings for nearly two years. Decisions were henceforth taken outside party structures.
7.The DP National headquarters serves at the same time as the office of the Kampala DP district branch. The office bearers of the Kampala branch are also the UYD national leaders. These leaders harass and insult officials of NEC. They have made it impossible for the offices of the National Chairman, the National Organising Secretary and the National Treasurer to operate from party headquarters. NEC as well as party elders and stakeholders have, on many occasions, drawn the attention of Mr Ssebaana to this debilitating situation and asked him to give keys to the National Organising Secretary. But Mr Ssebaana has to date refused to do so. This case of inaction has negatively impacted on party activities.
8.Many DP stakeholders got concerned about the paralysis of the party. They asked the National Chairman to discuss this matter privately with Mr Ssebaana to find ways of resuscitating NEC and of re-activating party activities. Accordingly, Mr Ssebaana and Prof Mukiibi met at Speke Hotel one Sunday morning. After reviewing the state of the party, they agreed to call a meeting of NEC and jointly signed statement to that effect which was aired by the news media. The following day Mr Ssebaana issued a counter statement cancelling the meeting without informing the National Chairman. Party activities continued to be frozen.
9.Then in April 2008, Hon Issa Kikungwe engineered a series of meetings at Ssebo Green (a property of the party president) ostensibly to iron out disagreements within the party. (It will be recalled that (a) Hon Kikungwe was a member of JEEMA before he crossed to DP, (b) that in the 2006 general elections, Hon Kikungwe campaigned for Dr Kizza Besigye, the FDC presidential candidate and not for Mr Ssebaana the official DP candidate and (c) Mr Kikungwe refused to use DP symbols during his parliamentary campaign). In one of the Ssebo Green “reconciliation” meetings chaired by Hon John Kawanga and attended by many UYD leaders, Mr Ssebaana proclaimed that he could no longer work with NEC and proceeded to announce that “it is either NEC or me” attracting shouts of “sack them” from the UYD leaders. Thus the Ssebo Green meetings were intended to fuel and not to diffuse tensions in the party. The alliance between Mr Kikungwe, a person, who had betrayed the party during the 2006 general elections, and Mr Ssebaana the party president troubled many NEC members and the general party membership. It seems that this alliance was forged to prepare the way for the events in paragraph 9, 10 and 11 below.
10.A notice for a meeting of the National Council was sent by SMS messages for 1st August 2008 and without the statutory written notice of 14 days stating the agenda. The National Chairman was out of the country at the time but the Deputy National Chairman (who was available) was not consulted before calling this meeting. In their absence the meeting was chaired by Mr Ssebaana contrary to the provisions of the party constitution. Notwithstanding those shortcomings, the meeting proceeded to fill the vacant position of Secretary General of the party which had not been previously advertised. Hon Nsubuga (a former personal assistant to both Mr Ssebaana and Mr Ssebaggala) and Dr Lulume were nominated. Hon Nsubuga who got 32 votes to Dr Lulume’s 28 votes was therefore declared winner in this illegal contest. The refusal or failure to advertise the very important position of party Secretary General disenfranchised many would be contestants who could not attend the meeting because they were not members of National Council or members of National Council who did not attend the meeting because they were otherwise engaged. This “common sense” fact alone dictated that the election should not have taken place. One wonders why a person of Mr Ssebaana’s maturity and stature would want to preside over such an illegal and illegitimate exercise.
11.On getting to know these developments and the circumstances surrounding the election, Hajj Ali Sserunjogi, the Deputy National Chairman issued a statement declaring the process and the election of Hon Nsubuga as SG null and void. On his return, the National Chairman agreed with his deputy. Together they met with Mr Nsubuga and advised him to step down so as to enable a properly and constitutionally convened meeting of NC to fill the position of SG. Hon Nsubuga rejected the advice. Meanwhile six party members filed a lawsuit in the High Court of Uganda contesting the election of Hon Nsubuga.
12.On 19 September 2008 Hon Nsubuga convened another NC meeting which was chaired by Hon John Kawanga with Mr Ssebaana in attendance. This meeting suspended the National Chairman and the Deputy National Chairman because they had criticised the unconstitutional and uncivilised procedure and methods of filling the position of Secretary General. This unnecessary and thoughtless action deepened and widened further the rift between Mr Ssebaana and the office of National Chairman and generated confusion among party members countrywide.
13.Party activities were paralysed. A series of mediation meetings (behind the scenes) culminated in the unconditional restoration of the National Chairman and the Deputy National Chairman during August 2009. NEC meetings resumed and a detailed programme was drawn up and a transparent process initiated, starting with grassroots elections, and ending with a National Delegates Conference 26 – 28 November 2009.
14.Trouble started again when it was discovered that there were two sets of party cards in circulation. Hon Issa Kikungwe “donated” the first set of cards which carried the signature of Mr Ssebaana. An attempt to launch these cards at a district DP meeting convened for that purpose in Iganga on 15 November 2008 was unsuccessful because party members pointed out that these cards had not been approved by NEC and that there were glaring omissions on them such as the lack of counter foils, signature of the local issuing officer and the date of issue which carried the risk of being forged. Therefore NEC authorised the office of the National Organising Secretary and that of the National Treasurer to prepare another set of cards bearing features which would make it difficult for them to be forged. NEC further resolved that the issuance and sale of party cards be handled by the office of National Organising Secretary and that of National Treasurer in accordance with the party constitution. This second set of cards was also duly endorsed by Mr Ssebaana with his signature. In defiance of NEC resolutions Mr Kikungwe continued to illegally issue and sell his own cards outside party structures with the full knowledge and authorisation of Mr Ssebaana. These developments rekindled suspicions between NEC on the one hand and Mr Ssebaana with Hon Kikungwe on the other.
15.Soon the party leadership started receiving reports that grassroots elections were massively rigged in urban areas (in particular Kampala) and had not taken place in many upcountry districts. The party president issued a directive to Kampala DP district executive to take corrective measures but it was ignored by the Kampala district party officials. Following out-of-sight mediation again, Mr Ssebaana and Prof Mukiibi agreed to issue directives halting grassroots elections until after completing investigations on malpractices which they did on 14 and 23 November 2009. While he was announcing these measures at the party headquarters, the National Chairman was assaulted by UYD leaders in full view of the press. (It may be worth noting that Mr Ssebaana was not assaulted). The same group violently disrupted a NEC meeting which was taking place at the party headquarters. That Mr Ssebaana did not condemn these crude actions, and that he himself had been spared of the humiliating experience, led to suspicions that Mr Ssebaana himself was part of the plot to molest NEC officials.
16.On 26 October 2009 the High Court of Uganda gave its judgement stating that the election of Hon Matthias Nsubuga as Secretary General was null and void. The party president protested and appealed against this ruling but the other respondents did not. The appeal has not yet been heard and the High Court judgement therefore still stands.
17.On 24 November 2009 Al Hajj Nasser Ntege Ssebaggala, one of the aspirants for the position of party president, sued the party leadership on the grounds that it had cancelled the National Delegates Conference slated for 26-28 November 2009. It will be worth noting that by the time of cancellation of the delegates conference the statutory notice of 30 days required for calling such a conference issued. After the court hearing, members of a youth brigade owing allegiance to Hajj Ssebaggala physically assaulted NEC members in full view of the press and on the grounds of the High Court. However Mr Ssebaana was not assaulted.
18.Following the mediation efforts mentioned in 14 above, another programme outlining a new process leading to a National Delegates Conference on 26-28 February 2010 was drawn up in Mr Ssebaana’s office with his full participation and agreement. This programme was endorsed by NEC on 16 December 2009. Unknown to NEC members Hon Matthias Nsubuga, on the 15 December 2009, had issued notice of a National Council meeting to be held at Ssebo Green (the property of Mr Ssebaana) on 29 December 2009. The National Chairman and his deputy and other members of NEC were not consulted as to their availability. When asked, Mr Ssebaana also said he had not been consulted in spite of the fact that the meeting was scheduled to meet at his property. Efforts to stop this contentious meeting were unsuccessful. The meeting was attended by persons who were not members of National Council and was chaired by Mr Leander Komakech Snr who himself was not a member of National Council. Only 6 members of NEC (including Mr Ssebaana) out of 36 attended this meeting. The only significant decision of this meeting was to cut short the NEC programme by 8 days. By adopting a parallel programme to that of NEC the authors of this meeting deliberately wanted to create a situation in which the party could hold two national delegates conferences thereby precipitating the splitting of the party and, as a result, the eventual demise of DP.
19.The meeting of 29 December 2009 created an organ called the “National Delegates Conference Project Finance Committee” with Hon Issa Kikungwe as its chairman. (It will be recalled that Hon Kikungwe contested for the position of National Treasurer and lost to Hajjati Sarah Kanyike Ssebaggala). The committee has powers to solicit, collect, bank and disburse funds for DP without reference to NEC. The creation of this entity clearly contravenes the provisions of Article 60 of the party constitution. Since DP has a constitutional finance committee, the creation of a parallel finance committee is in line with the intention to split DP and to lead it to automatic death.
It seems logical to conclude from this account that the key players in the generation, promotion and sustenance of wrangles, confusion, paralysis in and morbidity of DP are: Mr John Ssebaana Kizito, Al Hajj Nasser Ntege Ssebaggala, Hon Matthias Nsubuga, Hon Issa Kikungwe, and Mr Norbert Mao; i.e. the gang of five.