President Yoweri Museveni’s decision to drop nearly half of his previous Cabinet, saying he wanted people who could “move fast, are efficient and incorruptible,” has become a subject of debate.
One of the ministries being highlighted is Health, which kept the Ugandan President on the defensive during the election period after Kizza Besigye, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) presidential candidate, visited the rotting Abim referral hospital in the northeastern region.
The police were quickly deployed to guard other health facilities to stop presidential candidates’ visits, but the damage was done, as Dr Besigye’s continued reference to Uganda’s hospitals being deathtraps trended.
“During the campaigns, the president’s opponents tried to embarrass him by focusing on hospitals and he is trying to solve this problem by appointing a technocrat,” said Simon Mulongo the former MP for Bubulo East in Manafwa district and senior member of the ruling National Resistance Movement.
The embarrassment of a rotting Abim hospital in full view of the cameras was followed by the breakdown of Uganda’s only radiotherapy machine, which became a public relations nightmare for Health Ministers Elioda Tumwesigye and Chris Baryomunsi, as neither seemed to have an acceptable explanation.
Dr Tumwesigye has since been moved to the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, while Dr Baryomuninsi is now the Minister of State for Housing, both of which are considered “quiet areas.”
The two ministers have been replaced by fellow doctors, including the director-general for health services Jane Ruth Aceng, who should have a good handle on the issues, since she has five years’ experience as the head technocrat at this ministry.
As a minister she will be expected to make sure that the Ush1.9 billion ($545.8 million) allocated to her ministry this year is used on the intended beneficiaries and that she deals with health workers who don’t deliver. However, she argues that they deserve better pay to enable them to deliver services to the public.
Mr Mulongo however wonders whether Dr Aceng can deliver a functioning health sector. As the head technocrat in the Ministry of Health, Mr Mulongo argues that she was expected to guide the ministers in that docket, and their failures should be her failures too.
It is also not lost on many Ugandans that another technocrat, Christine Ondoa, whose entry into the ministry was hailed, also suffered an unceremonious exit as the health sector’s problems continued to pile up.
Mr Mulongo said the failure of such a technocrat is an important measure that should determine whether someone is promoted to become a minister or not, especially since the president expects non-technocrat individuals like Adolf Mwesige to do a good job.
Mr Mwesige has been appointed the Minister of Defence and Veteran Affairs, yet he has never been a soldier. But with his law background and with the help of soldiers, he is expected to continue guarding the country’s position as an influential defender of different interests on the African continent.
In the Defence docket, Mr Mwesige has a number of issues to deal with. He will have to make decide whether or not to order a withdrawal of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces from Somalia, nine years on; in South Sudan where the UPDF deployed in December 2013 and in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where Ugandan rebels have a presence.
Mr Mwesige could also inherit his predecessor Crispus Kiyonga’s job of mediating the Burundi crisis. As a lawyer, analysts predict that international law and a career in politics could serve him well.
To complement Mr Mwesige in regional politics, President Museveni kept Kirunda Kivejinja as the Minister of East African Affairs. But, Salaamu Musumba, the FDC vice president for eastern Uganda, said he is too old to handle future problems.
Wandera Ogalo a former member of the East African Legislative Assembly agrees. But he adds that this choice will be tempered by the appointment of Maganda Julius Wandera, the Samia Bugwe County MP, who should fit into the shoes of his predecessor Shem Bageine.
Mr Bageine, who said he had asked the president to retire him because he has a problem with his eyes, has been rated by several EALA members as one of the best East African Community Ministers.
Like Mr Bageine, Mr Maganda comes from a border region and should therefore understand the importance of integration.
The other ministers with the responsibility of balancing national and regional interests include those in the Works and Transport, Energy and Mineral Resources dockets.
Energy is the only ministry that remained unchanged despite Irene Muloni losing her seat as Bulambuli district woman Member of Parliament. About 70 per cent of the ministers dropped from the Cabinet either lost their seats in parliament in the General Election, during primaries or simply did not vie.
But analysts say Ms Muloni and her two junior ministers Simon D’ujanga and Peter Lokeris remained untouched because they are performing, even if the cracks at Karuma dam only received attention after President Museveni intervened.
Ms Muloni and her team are in charge of the oil pipeline, which is to go through Tanzania, and a number of electricity projects including transmission lines that are meant to connect Uganda to other EAC states like Rwanda and Kenya. The Works and Transport docket, which is now beleaguered by the Uganda National Roads Authority scandal, changed hands.
President Museveni also appointed four people from the opposition in his Cabinet, but analysts are unsure whether this is meant to wipe out the opposition — as he promised on February 21 — or whether it is an attempt to form a unity government of sorts.
From the opposition, President Museveni picked Nakiwala Kiyingi a Democratic Party member as Minister for Youth and Children Affairs and Beti Kamya, the Uganda Federal Alliance president who has been appointed Minister for Kampala.
Ruth Achieng and Betty Amongi are both from the Uganda People’s Congress. Ms Amongi was elected in February as UPC Member of Parliament for Oyam North and may now be forced to choose between her seat as an MP or the ministerial position.
Under Uganda’s Constitution, MPs who become ministers automatically lose their seats.
Mr Ogalo who is also a constitutional lawyer said this has happened before when independent candidate Omara Atubo was appointed Minister of Lands.
Ms Musumba argues that if President Museveni wants to appoint members of the opposition, he should do it formally and have the parties nominate people of their choice.
“He is just isolating them from their parties,” said Ms Musumba.
It is still too early to tell whether President Museveni’s 81-strong Cabinet can deliver on his election pledges. In the past, the president has been forced to balance politics, religion and tribe in his appointments at the cost of competence and qualification.