President Museveni in a State-of–the-Nation address delivered last evening side-stepped a cocktail of issues of national importance, among them the UPDF’s bloody onslaught six months ago on Rwenzururu king’s palace that resurrected memories of the country’s 1966 crisis that resulted in abolition of kingdoms.
Except for his reference to increasing unresolved murders and declining human security, the President largely avoided potentially explosive subjects that would have exposed him to publicly account, for example, for more than 100 royal guards and civilians the army allegedly killed during a blistering raid on king Charles Wesley Mumbere’s palace in Kasese town in November 2016.
Without such an encumbrance, Mr Museveni was free-handed to crack jokes, sending lawmakers and diplomats assembled at the Kampala Serena International Conference Centre in Kampala roaring in laughter.
Mr Odonga Otto (FDC, Aruu North), said the President’s silence on Kasese “was a disappointment.”
“The Kasese incidents, the killings and the burying of human beings in mass graves and in the State-of-the-Nation address, you say nothing about it! That was disappointing,” said Mr Otto.
Pitting government forces against the Obusinga bwa Rwenzururu guards, the November conflict came as a false political step by President Museveni and exposed his government to criticism of turning to a rights abuser early in his fifth elective term.
Members of Parliament have mastered the art of distracting the President from his script, throwing murmurs that force the head of state to make immediate rejoinders.
One such issue was famine, which the opposition MPs chorused, but the President avoided making any reference to the matter that has rendered thousands of families to live off relief food
In December 2007 and the early months of 2008, Uganda suffered a massive fuel and commodities crisis following the nasty post-election violence in Kenya. Uganda’s international trade was constipated, prompting the President to promise that his government would explore a southern route to the sea through Tanzania..
Rioter in Kenya had uprooted some of the rail sleepers, hamstrings movement of goods either direction to Mombasa port.
As Kenya goes into elections exactly two months from today, the President made no reference to the Uganda’s preparedness in case the neighbour and key trade partner relapses into violence.
East African Legislative Assembly member-elect, Mr Fred Mukasa Mbidde, blamed the President’s silence on “protocol limitations because no Head of State can meddle into the affair of another”.
Mr Mbidde, however, said the President should have talked about Uganda’s security readiness to deal with any post-election situation in Kenya “because we have a joint protocol on peace and security with the Kenyans”.
Mr Museveni also made no reference to the nationally contentiously land ownership and management question, which an ad hoc commission he appointed is investigating, in spite of gathering contest with Mengo, the seat of the Buganda kingdom.
Recently, Buganda Land Board, an agency that manages the kingdom’s land, launched a land lease policy that asks tenants to take a 49-year renewable lease if settled on the Kabaka’s land. The central government has made its misgivings to the cultural institution’s enterprise clear.
There was more unease when officials of the kingdom claimed ownership over part of State House Entebbe land in Entebbe. Again, the government dismissed the claim.
Mr Museveni yesterday turned to his pet subject, security, and hailed the Uganda People’s Defence Forces while warning MPs against “insulting” the army.
“You should be careful not to insult the UPDF even if you are a Member of Parliament,” he said, adding: “I wouldn’t recommend that.” He stepped over UPDF’s withdrawal from the Central African Republic where they deployed under the African Union-authorised regional offensive to counter Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) threats, degrade its military capability and eliminate its commanders.
As the Commander-in-Chief, Mr Museveni was expected to give assurances to former victims that the Joseph Kony-led rebels will make no fresh incursion in Uganda or unveil measures to keep such threats in check.
Explaining the withdrawal, new Chief of Defence Forces Gen David Muhoozi recently told Parliament’s Defense and Internal Affairs Committee that the mission was abandoned because Kony no longer posed any military threat to the country.
It was evident the Uganda leader of 31 years was on a mission to charm western financers he previously criticized for meddling in Uganda’s domestic issues. He, for example, lauded the World Bank for agreeing to fund the broadening and strengthening of the Atiak-Gulu-Nimule road.
This, he explained, will increase the road’s capacity to handle the volume of goods transported to the potentially lucrative market in South Sudan.
The President commented about the skyrocketing food prices in passing and singled sugar prices, which he admitted was high, and promised to sort out the crisis through a long-term approach of boosting production.
“The sugar prices is now high because there has been some politics, some paralysis,” he said. He promised to skill and find capital for the unemployed youth, declaring Kampala which he lost to the Opposition in last year’s election, as his area of immediate concern.
Mr Yeri Ofwono, the Tororo Municipality MP, criticised the President for his silence on “Chinese petty traders because the local people cannot compete with them”.