Before she became a minister in this government, UPC’s Betty Amongi was a critic of the NRM government. She was also known for sometimes being cheeky and like most Langi; she spoke plainly (in black and white). In a meeting with President Museveni in 2012, Amongi asked him some tough questions regarding his relationship with Idah Nantaba, who had been appointed as minister of state for Lands (but whose appointment had been rejected by parliament). Here is the rumour in detail…
Early on during the 9th parliament, Betty Amongi was elected chairperson of the Uganda Women Parliamentary Association (UWOPA), a forum that brings together female legislators in parliament. By virtue of her position, Amongi became one of the most influential female MPs. Senior government officials including ministers constantly sought her audience particularly when they wanted to mobilise female MPs for a particular cause.
A year later, in July 2012, Museveni announced a cabinet reshuffle and among the new appointees was Idah Erios Nantaba, the minister of state of for Lands. Nantaba was young, fairly attractive and fire spitting.
Before she was appointed to cabinet, Nantaba had already made headlines for taking on land grabbers in Kayunga, her home district.
Once, she claimed in a meeting with Museveni that a senior army officer who owns villages upon villages of land in Kayunga had threatened her life. Museveni ordered that for her safety, Nantaba should be availed with personnel from the Special Forces Command (SFC), the elite force that protects him, the first family and Uganda’s strategic resources.
So within a short time in politics, Nantaba had endeared herself to the most powerful person in the country.
Yet not all people were impressed by her rising political star (especially her tactics).
When time came for Nantaba’s appointment to be approved by the parliamentary Appointments Committee, the MPs rejected her.
Judging from some of her media utterances, the MPs said she did not have the temperament to be a minister. One of the MPs on the committee said they could not trust her to keep state secrets because she had apparently revealed “some bedroom secrets” in conversations with other legislators. Others questioned her academic qualifications. So the committee unanimously rejected her ministerial appointment.
In the ensuing saga, a lot of words were exchanged. Nantaba told one of her vocal critics, a senior female legislator, that she (the MP) was jealous of her because the president did not find her attractive (the female legislator likes to tell this story. She has told it to me more than twice).
On his part, Museveni tried so hard to persuade parliament to change its stance on Nantaba, including writing a series of letters to the Speaker Rebecca Kadaga (Up to today, I have stored some of the correspondences between Museveni and Kadaga over Nantaba. In one of the letters to Museveni, Kadaga described Nantaba as “disrespectful” and “immature.” Museveni replied in another letter: “I know she has some weaknesses. I will talk to her”).
As this ping pong between Museveni and parliament was gaining momentum, Amongi in the company of Kasule Lumumba, the then NRM chief whip and four other people (whose identities I will not reveal for obvious reasons) went to State House Entebbe.
The purpose of the visit was to request President Museveni to the chief guest at celebrations organized by UWOPA to mark 50 years of Uganda’s independence. Amongi, who was seated next to Lumumba, made the pitch.
Mbu, Museveni listened to her attentively, occasionally cracking jokes. Before he could respond to Amongi’s specific request, Museveni asked her another question: why are you some MPs, including you [Amongi] against this young daughter of mine, Nantaba?
Mbu, Amongi and other was caught flat- footed by the question. But the UWOPA chairperson also realized that this could be the opportune time to confirm or dismiss rumours that there was something between Museveni and Nantaba.
Mbu, she started: “Your Excellency, why are you insisting on Nantaba? That woman has no manners. In fact some MPs are wondering why you appointed her. Some people are saying that you are in love with her and that is why you gave her your guards to protect her.”
Mbu, she continued: “why didn’t you plead for other appointees who were rejected by parliament. Why Nantaba?”
Mbu, as Amongi talked, Kasule was dying inside. She pinched her, tapped on her shoe but Amongi kept going on and on. The four other people inside the room were shocked and some kept looking down. Some thought Amongi was in deep shit.
Interestingly, Museveni did not take offence at Amongi’s questions.
Mbu, he even smiled as Amongi talked.
Mbu he replied: “That is nonsense [the suggestion that he is romantically involved with Nantaba]…but you know people talk a lot about me. One time they said that I love this one [names withheld]. Then they said I am the father of the child [produced by another female politician-I have withheld her name]. My daughter, ignore that talk. I like Nantaba because she is a hardworking lady. You have seen how she had tried to resolve land issues in Kayunga. She has done a good job.”
Then Museveni summoned an aide and instructed him to bring his diary. He perused through and noted that the day when UWOPA is scheduled to hold its celebrations; he will be in Arusha, attending a meeting with other EAC leaders.
Mbu, he said: “But I can send Ssekandi to Arusha and I attend your function. But you have to promise me that you will approve Nantaba.”
Amongi and her group agreed that they will try to convince their colleagues to have Nantaba approved. With that the eventful meeting came to an end and Amongi’s dare devil antics became the talk of parliament.
Four years later (in 2016), Museveni struck a deal with UPC and Amongi was appointed minister of Lands (the same ministry where Nantaba used to serve).
Hopefully, she is still asking the big man some tough questions…on land.