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‘Anita Among is the Best Speaker Under NRM – But Museveni is Watching Her’

On Exhibition of Parliament’s Corruption | Andrew Mwenda

Speaker Anita Among
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In fact, she has been the best speaker President Yoweri Museveni has had. Every bill the NRM wants to pass sails through parliament easily. Why? She knows how to use the cash.

Andrew Mwenda
Andrew Mwenda: Courtesy photo

The hashtag parliamentary exhibition has caused a storm on social media. The speaker of our parliament, Hon. Anita Among, and her apparatchik have been caught with their fingers deep inside the national pie. The scale, scope and sheer crass materialism with which she has abused public funds is as revolting as it is entertaining. To add salt to this entertaining show, opposition MPs have also been sharing in this loot. Many angry Ugandans are indulging in self righteous indignation. For me, this is politics, especially poor country politics, 101. I will come back to this later.

For now, I have been wondering why it took so long to report this story. Sources first showed me bank statements of Among’s personal assistant and bodyguard in January 2023. Bank of Uganda would transfer money in billions of shillings from the account of parliament to the personal account of Among’s PA in Stanbic Bank. Then this money would be withdrawn as cash. I wondered how the Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA) allowed this to pass. Then I got a list of properties Among had purchased, houses she had renovated, built and/or was building, furniture she had bought – all come to tens of millions of dollars in two years.

As I began looking for answers I discovered an intriguing trend. For instance, I learnt that the president had been briefed about this massive fraud. That SFC had gone to Stanbic Bank, gotten all the bank details of parliamentary leaders and their personal assistants and bodyguards and given the bank details with certified copies to the president. The documentary evidence I saw involved every leader in parliament. The loot was not entirely democratized from the evidence, but it was widely shared. Months passed and no action was being taken. Then I realized I was missing something.

Most Ugandan commentators on social media are focused on Among’s personal culpability, and they are partly right. She represents the lowest level of political and moral depravity in our politics. Yet focusing on her personal materialism makes us lose sight of the big picture, the political role of the corruption we are witnessing. I was about to fall into this trap until one day, while indulging in my usual self-righteous indignation at the failure of the president to act, a friend in high places pulled me aside. “Old Man,” he said somewhat wistfully, “don’t be blind. The president used to spend a lot of money buying off MPs. Now he spends much less.”

The message sunk in. Among may cream off huge sums of money to buy herself and her husband luxury cars, buy prime real estate, goad herself in gorgeous mansions, import furniture from Italy and wear designer clothes. Yet I am inclined to think that her blatant abuse of public funds, though mostly manifest in her luxurious lifestyle, serves a broader political purpose. She deploys her enormous loot to buy members of parliament to vote for the NRM and to prop herself up. In fact, she has been the best speaker President Yoweri Museveni has had. Every bill the NRM wants to pass sails through parliament easily. Why? She knows how to use the cash.

Critics of Among also miss another important fact. Her lack of subtlety and sophistication, for which she is criticized, is her best weapon. She wields power through a creative combination of carrots and sticks. She is quick to anger and can take vengeful and vindictive actions out of a small slight based purely on a burst of emotional energy. But she is also quick to calm down. In her sober moments she retreats to the one thing she knows best – bribery. Where intimidation fails, money talks. Many parliamentarians have suffered her cobra bite. But equally many have eaten from her palm.

Among first came to parliament on an independent ticket but as an FDC activist. So she is, like her suave deputy, Thomas Tayebwa, from the opposition. She knows most opposition MPs personally and they can confide in her their deepest worries and anxieties. Most of these are financial. Opposition MPs, like NRM MPs, go to her and she takes care of their problems. Where would she get money to do this? She cannot, and does not, have personal finances to manage such parliamentary business. Official loot is the solution.

It is for this reason that the current parliament has not given Museveni a headache. She has literally tamed it. If you are Museveni, you are better off with Among. Her predecessors were not effective in taming parliament. What Ugandan social and traditional media commentators have failed to grasp is how most of the opposition in our country is integrated into power as opposed to being excluded from it. That is how former leader of the opposition, Matthias Mpuuga, got his Shs 500m as a “service award”. He is not the only opposition MP to get something from Among. If you are Museveni, Among is a better speaker than all the previous one: she has a potentially rowdy parliament under effective control.

Among is in trouble because these achievements made her arrogant and feel untouchable. Because of her anger, she failed to manage the most important relationship with key media persons covering parliament. For instance, she fell out with Agatha Atuhaire, a ferociously courageous and tenacious fighter. When their clash began, I knew it would leave a lot of blood on the floor. Yet I think in the end, this is just a passing cloud. For instance, if a vote for speaker was called today, even in the midst of this scandal, Among would most likely beat any challenger to her job. Therefore, Atuhaire will win acclaim and Among will continue to rule: a win-win situation. Perhaps the two ladies do not share similar first letters to both their names for nothing: Anita Among, Agatha Atuhaire.

Among forgot that she has enemies and competitors who would like to see her fall, or at least be publicly shamed. Therefore, she should have avoided fights with journalists. Yet she also forgot her master’s political genius. While she may serve Museveni’s interest in parliament very well, the president would also like to check her power. I am inclined to believe that the documents of her spending were leaked from state house. Someone high-up wanted this to happen. If Among was beginning to feel in control, it was time to let her know that her position is not secure. This is politics 101. Nicolo Machiavelli would have approved.

You can see why Bobi Wine has insisted that Bobi Wine must go HERE

Andrew Mwenda is a political and economic commentator. This opinion first appeared on his Independent Magazine.

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