Ssekandi: Longest serving and quietest of Museveni’s deputies
Mr Ssekandi was appointed Vice President on May 24, 2011, after serving two five-year terms as Speaker of Parliament. Article 109(1) of the Constitution says, “If the President dies, resigns is removed from office under this Constitution, the Vice President shall assume the office of President until fresh elections are held and the elected president assumes office…”
In the last two months, President Museveni and other government officials have been putting in a shift in an effort to curb the spread of Covid-19, but Vice President Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi has been conspicuously absent.
And it is not just about Covid-19. He has for the last nine years been so invisible and inaudible in all major public discourses that some Ugandans have found pleasure in poking at him on social media.
One has actually made it his business to post an image of Ssekandi along with the line, “A polite reminder that he is still the Vice President of Uganda.”
Mr Ssekandi was appointed Vice President on May 24, 2011, after serving two five-year terms as Speaker of Parliament.
Article 109(1) of the Constitution says, “If the President dies, resigns is removed from office under this Constitution, the Vice President shall assume the office of President until fresh elections are held and the elected president assumes office…”
That puts Ssekandi a heartbeat away from the presidency, but he has been behaving like someone a million miles away from it.
Ssekandi the Speaker
The man who was first elected in March 1994 to represent Bukoto Central in the Constituent Assembly (CA), was a very popular choice for the office of Speaker in 2001.
Previous experiences as a State Attorney and later lecturer and head of Department of Law at Makerere University, head of the postgraduate bar course and director at the Law Development Centre; member of the Drafting Committee of the 1995 Constitution; chairperson of the parliamentary committees on Rules, Discipline and Privileges and later Legal and Parliamentary Affairs and Deputy Speaker under Francis Ayume made him the ideal candidate.
However, by the end of his 10-year tenure, Ssekandi had alienated himself from a sizeable number of MPs. He was accused of sometimes simply announcing that “the ayes have it” even when Parliament had been silent, a charge he denies.
“I just announce what the House has decided. Unless I misinterpret the law or the rules of procedure, that’s when you can say that the Speaker has not done his job well… Otherwise, my work is to simply put the question and the honourable members decide,” he once told journalists.
Whereas the jury in Ms Rebecca Kadaga’s tenure as Speaker is still out, Prof Morris Ogenga-Latigo, who was Leader of the Opposition in Parliament in Ssekandi’s last five-year term as Speaker suggests that Mr Ssekandi turned Parliament into a rubber-stamp institution that served Mr Museveni’s interests.
“As Speaker, he ensured that whatever the President wanted he got, only that he (Mr Ssekandi) has a demeanour of calmness and innocence that used to make people believe that he was not responding to pressure from elsewhere,” Prof Ogenga-Latigo says.
Some of those rulings resulted in litigation. In others they whittled down the powers of Parliament.
The first constitutional amendment Bill was tabled and passed within a record two hours. That set the ground for a litigation which saw the Constitutional Court annul both the first and second constitutional amendment Acts.
Court ruled that the First Amendment Act was passed in total disregard of the Constitution as it was tabled before Parliament, debated, passed and assented to by the President on the same day, contrary to the mandatory minimum period of 14 working days between readings.
In the June 2004 ruling on the Second Referendum Act under which the June 29, 2000, referendum on political systems was held and the Movement system of government adopted, Justice Amos Twinomujuni declared that, “the Act is null and void. It never became law, either on July 9, 1999, or June 9, 2000, when it was assented to. It could not expire when it never had a valid existence.”
Gen Henry Tumukunde was the only Army MP who brazenly opposed plans to scrap the presidential term limits.
Tumukunde, who took the fight to radio talk shows, was subsequently arrested and arraigned before the General Court Martial on charges of military misconduct and spreading of harmful propaganda.
In May 2005, despite having written to the Speaker indicating that he had been forced to resign, Gen Tumukunde was thrown out of Parliament.
Mr Ssekandi denied claims that he had been forced to accept a resignation which had reportedly been written on a leaf pulled out of a writing pad.
“I read the letter and it said exactly that (resignation). In that letter, there was nothing like ‘I am under duress.’ Let this be clear, nobody directed me,” he told Parliament on June 24, 2005.
The Supreme Court ruled in October 2008 that Tumukunde had not resigned and chided the Speaker for “hastily” accepting the resignation doing little to protect MP’s liberties.
Prior to the July 12, 2005, vote that led to the scrapping of presidential term limits, Mr Ssekandi chose to run with a proposal to the secret ballot in favour of open voting even when there were fears MPs would, for fear of victimisation, not freely express themselves through open voting.
In July 2007, former Rubanda West MP Henry Banyenzaki found himself out of his position as vice chairperson of the Budget Committee of Parliament after Mr Ssekandi controversially ruled that the party chief whips had the power to transfer members from committees even before the lifespans of the committees had expired.
In October 2008, Mr Ssekandi ruled that only documents that had been certified by the author could be tabled before Parliament. In other words, Parliament would no longer entertain, say, a classified document if the State or author were unwilling to certify the same.
During the NSSF Temangalo land probe, Mr Ssekandi directed the Clerk to Parliament to handover a copy of the committee’s main report to dissenting members so that they could base on it, and not proceedings of the committee, to write a minority report. The report also ended up in the hands of some of the accused persons.
He, on the advice of the Attorney General, ruled that only the Inspector General of Government (IGG) had the mandate to hold leaders to account under the Leadership Code, which effectively stripped Parliament of the power to hold the implicated ministers accountable.
In April 2011, Parliament exonerated government officials implicated by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on the abuse of about Shs500b that was meant for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) in Kampala 2007. Whereas the decision prompted Opposition MPs to storm out of the House, Mr Ssekandi opted to continue with parliamentary proceedings.
Comparison with predecessors
Going by those few examples, one could say Ssekandi’s tenure as Speaker was dogged by controversy, but his time as Vice President has not been as controversial.
As he enters his ninth year in office, which makes him Museveni’s longest serving vice, it is clear that he has been the quietest of them all.
Mr Museveni’s first Vice President, Dr Samson Kisekka, was elevated from the post of Prime Minister, which he had held since January 31, 1986, to the vice presidency on January 22, 1991.
Kisekka was a vibrant personality who often featured on talk shows on Radio Uganda to mobilise the populace in the fight against poverty.
He also conducted nationwide tours to campaign for improvements in primary healthcare.
Dr Speciosa Kazibwe
Museveni’s second Vice President, Dr Speciosa Wandira Kazibwe, also the first female Vice President on the continent, was very vibrant and especially chose to speak about issues that had always been kept under the carpet.
She, for example, brought out the issue of male MPs who adorn smelly socks; blasted Muslim men who have four wives, saying they were not satisfying the women and, therefore, forcing them to cheat; advocated male circumcision saying uncircumcised men were dirty and exposing their wives to diseases; urged women to acquire martial arts skills in order to beat the living daylights out of their wife-beating husbands. She capped it all by filing for divorce, accusing her husband of wife-beating.
Prof Gilbert Bukenya
Prof Bukenya spent most of his time trying to popularise upland rice and imitating his boss so much that he started to don wide-brimmed hats and casual shirts, and gesticulate and roll his eyes like the President.
However, it was also during his tenure that Ugandans got a peak into the internal power struggles in government. He alluded to the existence of a corrupt mafia group in government.
It is, however, important to note that the tenures of each of Mr Ssekandi’s predecessors ended on one note of controversy or another.
Though the IGG later exonerated him, Kisekka was accused of having mismanaged up to Shs68b meant for the rehabilitation of the Luweero Triangle.
Dr Kazibwe was the subject of a parliamentary probe for alleged mismanagement and failure to supervise the Sh3.4b Livestock Services Project money meant for valley dams in western Uganda, while Dr Bukenya was dogged by allegations of involvement in extramarital relationships and wife grabbing. He was also probed and did some time in Luzira prison for alleged abuse of Shs500b Chogm fund.
Mr Ssekandi has been the quietest and most invisible Vice President in the NRM government so far, which sharply contrasts with what he was as Speaker of Parliament. It is as if Ugandans are seeing two different people and personalities. Why?
Prof Mwambutsya Ndebesa, a lecturer at Makerere University, says Mr Ssekandi has chosen to assume a low profile because he lived with Mr Museveni at close quarters in Tanzania and understands him quite well.
“Mr Museveni appoints a VP who, in his (Museveni’s) calculations, cannot think of having designs on the presidency. If a vice shows any desires for the big job you are fired. Ssekandi knows that all too well. That is why he has played it cool. Besides, he has aged so the best he can do is keep quiet and keep the job,” Prof Ndebesa says.
Prof Paul Wangoola, a former Makerere University don who was also a member of the National Consultative Council (NCC), has a different view. He argues that Ugandans should not be fooled by the display of different character traits in Mr Ssekandi.
“Mr Ssekandi was and still serves his personal interests. As a Speaker, he dabbled in controversy in order to catch the eye of the NRM and Museveni in particular. He managed to come across to them as a very loyal person, which helped him to rise,” Prof Wangoola says.
“As a Vice President, he realises that it would not be in his interest to be more visible because that would set him off onto a collision course with the President. So maintaining silence is still in his best interests.”