The NRM may never be able to find a route out of the constitutional muddle it finds itself in, due to decades of building one unconstitutional action upon another.
If it were not for the still tragic consequences of this kind of “governing”, it would almost be amusing with the party’s MPs retreat at the National Leadership Institute (NALI) in Kyankwanzi being a good example.
While the claim is that this is a regular performance review, it is common knowledge that this assembly – like many before- was called to deal with a crisis that emerged from the war of words among members following the sudden death of one of their number, which had led to arrests, threats of arrests and some court appearances.
That crisis was itself a product of the earlier crisis over the heated disagreements regarding the creation of the oil legislation. The oil laws crisis had itself been created by the earlier crisis regarding the Wikileaks allegations that senior government people were giving themselves unfair advantages in the oil sector. Those allegations caused a storm in themselves because the government’s previous long silence on oil matters – amid land grabbing, evictions and suppressing cultural land claims - had already created an atmosphere of suspicion and a crisis of credibility for the government. And so on and so forth.
However, the root of all these problems of legitimacy is actually shown symbolically and practically by the confused nature of the Kyankwanzi gathering, similar as it is in form of previous ones (e.g. over Temangalo).
At the symbolic level, the assembled NRM parliamentarians’ action of wearing army uniforms – when most of them are not enlisted soldiers- should have been a cause of concern. What is more, they wear NRM party T-shirts under the uniform they are not supposed to be wearing in the first place. Given the expected neutrality of the army, this is tantamount to violating two principles in one act.
At the practical and structural level, they are attending an irregularly established and possibly illegal place of learning.
The words “Institute” and “National” are actually State property that must be used in accordance with the relevant laws. For an organisation to be labeled “National”, it must not just have been gazetted as such (e.g. the National Theatre), but it must also be national in character.
Likewise, to be referred to as an institute, one must have complied with the terms and conditions of registration as overseen by the National Council for Higher Education. NALI is not listed as thus registered on the NCHE website. The NALI website itself does not even attempt to make such a claim, and simply claims it to be, yet it is run by the UPDF under the Office of the President.
The public are therefore presented with a situation where one party uses public resources to run a private, unregistered college, and is supported by the army in this endeavour.
Numerous civil servants, soldiers, intelligence officers, election workers, and other such persons who are expected to be neutral in the course of their work, have “graduated” from this place. This naturally raises questions about the neutrality and professionalism within the public service.
In this multiparty era, for NALI to claim to be “national” in character, it would have to be a place where the curriculum design, and attendance plans were created by all the registered political parties, or none of them, and then be approved by the NCHE.
As things stand, we cannot be sure if such graduates are loyal to the constitution (such as it is), or to the ruling party. We do not have to even wonder what will happen when there is a possible conflict of interest between the two, as we have now seen repeated examples of this during elections, and during the oil law debate, which brings us back to the current goings-on from Kyankwanzi.
We might pleasantly be surprised to learn that all this is legal and above board. But given NALI’s origins in the Obote I period (Move to the Left), I highly doubt that it can ever be dressed up as such.
If the NRM needs a space where it may deal with its members as it wishes, then it must create one manned and funded by itself, and not linked to either the security organs or to prospects of future employment in the public sector. The current arrangements show a house built on confusion from its very foundations.
It is therefore not logical to expect any real solutions to the current crisis of government to come from there. Such conceptual confusion can only breed further political and constitutional problems.