On January 3, 2013, the Kampala political analyst and former ISO intelligence officer, Charles Rwomushana, appearing on Radio Simba’s evening talk show, predicted that the situation in Uganda was about to become dire and that President Museveni might not make it to 2016 as head of state.
All through the year, Rwomushana continued speaking cryptically of impending events akin to either a severe fracture within the ruling NRM party of dark clouds gathering over Uganda or even outright civil war.
Last week, the clouds finally filled the skies above Kampala, Uganda’s capital and centre of political activity and intrigue.
The biggest and most sensitive political story of the last five years just got bigger last week and finally became mainstream, front-page, back page and political gossip news.
That story – of a major rupture inside the NRM into two camps, one belonging to Museveni and the other to the Prime Minister and party Secretary-General, Amama Mbabazi – is now the most talked-about news topic in Uganda.
As the Sunday Monitor analysis of February 16 explained, increasing alarm at the growing clout and presidential ambitions by Mbabazi had to be dealt with at a party meeting at the political school in Kyankwanzi.
But even with 200 signatures, including Mbabazi’s, secured to pledge Museveni as the NRM’s unopposed candidate for the 2016 general election, the Mbabazi problem was still not solved.
Two days after the Kyankwanzi meetings ended, NRM youth loyal to Mbabazi declared their support for him and denounced the Kyankwanzi resolution.
Two days of meetings involving a mainly youthful parliamentary caucus of the NRM were held at State House in Entebbe last Monday and Tuesday, March 3 and 4, and as happened at Kyankwanzi, Mbabazi was loudly and rudely denounced by Museveni loyalists, in Museveni’s presence.
A few newspapers and political commentators declared that finally this “super minister” with unusual political powers had been dealt with. It was the story of how Mbabazi had been stripped of his office as NRM Secretary General and replaced by the Minister without Portfolio, Richard Todwong.
Mbabazi, perhaps trying to buy time, asked to leave the meeting and pick up his Argentine in-laws from the airport.
But on Friday March 7, a statement was issued to the media from State House, stressing that Mbabazi is still the Secretary General of the NRM: “President Yoweri Museveni has confirmed that Amama Mbabazi is still Secretary General of the ruling party NRM and will not face any disciplinary hearing.”
The President chided the news media for publishing and broadcasting the “rumour” of Mbabazi’s dismissal.
Every major national newspaper covering the story, from different angles, with different correspondents and sources, reporting on the proceedings at State House, had essentially the same report: Mbabazi had been stripped of his powers. It was the end of the road for him.
So what made Museveni come forth with a denial of Mbabazi’s sacking and assert that the Prime Minister was still Secretary-General, when every news report and every action since and including the Kyankwanzi meeting, visible to the Ugandan public, was that Museveni was directing a maneouvre within the NRM intended to curb the Mbabazi presidential project?
After the rowdy State House meetings, was Museveni given a subsequent intelligence report of an angry reaction and serious backlash within the NRM and the government at these moves to sack Mbabazi?
That even Museveni, with all his near-invincible power and standing in Uganda, can find himself forced to make a public U-turn and defend the very Mbabazi he badly wants to neutralise – denying everything that had been going on to strip Mbabazi of his acquired influence – arrest youths and state officials loyal to Mbabazi and emphasise that Mbabazi will not face a party disciplinary committee --- attests even more than ever to the amazing power that Mbabazi wields in Uganda today.
Not even with Museveni basking in the warm national approval of his signing into law of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, has been enough to put him well ahead of any rival. The Mbabazi problem is still there.
As the February 16 Sunday Monitor analysis pointed out, Museveni finds himself (like former President Milton Obote did with the Vice President and Minister of Defence Paulo Muwanga), stalked and in many ways surrounded by a man about whom he cannot do anything even if he wanted to.
The recent crackdown and arrest of pro-Mbabazi NRM youth, intelligence officers, civil servants and political mobilisers could easily have triggered off an outright rebellion in Uganda, the same kind that engulfed Uganda after the 1980 general elections.
What all this tells us is that President Museveni and the NRM faction loyal to him has in recent weeks attempted to crackdown on the faction of the state and party loyal to Mbabazi, but has not yet succeded in that effort.
For the first time since 1986, Museveni is driving into head winds that appear to be bigger than or at least equal to him.
Mbabazi has pushed Museveni into a position similar to what Russian President Vladimir Putin is forcing Western countries over Ukraine: after all the huffing and puffing by the seemingly more powerful bloc, the quiet operator has the last word and laugh.
Ugandan politics being as cynical as it is, it would not be entirely surprising if, in secret negotiations between Museveni and Mbabazi, Mbabazi demands that all the young NRM officials, Members of Parliament and aides behind efforts to humiliate him at Kyankwanzi and State House either be sacked or Mbabazi be granted the leeway to destroy them politically, with Museveni’s tacit approval.
It is an extraordinary development.
Whatever buttons Mbabazi touches to bring Museveni to order, whatever dark matter and ultra-sensitive state secrets these two men know between themselves, goodness knows.
Journalists at the Daily Monitor say Mbabazi has not only been mobilising among political and youth groups. Most of Uganda’s sports fraternity and the music industry is, they claim, firmly in Mbabazi’s camp.
Sure enough, no sooner had the news broken of Mbabazi’s reported ouster from his job than on Facebook and Twitter, the main national Internet social networks, that some of Uganda’s biggest singers started to grumble about the unfairness of it all.
Mbabazi for his part has, as usual, remained largely quiet and cryptic amid the unfolding events. Choosing his words carefully, he said several times that he will not contest against Museveni in 2016.
Mbabazi did not say he will not contest at all, but rather that he will not contest against Museveni. This raises a question: Who does Mbabazi expect to contest against, if not Museveni? Is Mbabazi suggesting that Museveni might not be around to run for the presidency in 2016 but that he, Mbabazi, will?
The Daily Monitor Investigations Editor, Mr Chris Obore, has over the last year or two been speaking on KFM of Western, mostly United States, moves to prevent Museveni from seeking another term in office.
Is this what Mbabazi knows, leading him to state that he will not stand against Museveni who, in any case, will not be a candidate in 2016?
Museveni’s public retraction of his position on Mbabazi means we return to the agreements reached before the NRM came to power, of Museveni serving out his time in office and then handing power over to Mbabazi. It is, in essence, a concession by Museveni to Mbabazi.
Might this mean Museveni abandons the so-called “Muhoozi Project”, at least for the time being, and all but resign himself to Mbabazi as next in the much-debated presidential “queue”?
In an effort to save face, Museveni lamely shifted the blame for all the secret mobilisation for Mbabazi on Mbabazi’s wife Jacqueline.
Jacqueline Mbabazi, according to Daily Monitor’s Obore speaking on KFM’s D’Mighty Breakfast show on March 6, had been meeting Rachel Ruto, wife of Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto, to get advice on how to mobilise various groups.
Sources say Mbaabzi also has the support of Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kitwete, a man who has never particularly warmed up to Museveni.
The emergence of a large, well-organised, well-funded faction in the NRM loyal to and working both openly and secretly for Mbabazi, has shaken Museveni even more than the challenge presented by Dr Kizza Besigye since 2000.
This Mbabazi faction of the NRM is starting to resemble the NRM of late 1985 – a Ugandan political group that has developed a regional and international presence, capable of attracting financing from nations and the support of key foreign political leaders.
This week, there is scheduled to be yet another meeting to try yet again to deal with the Mbabazi faction in the NRM. That is how serious matters have become.
Gone is news of an NRM-dominated state machinery clamping down on opposition parties. It is now NRM versus NRM; it is NRM “rebel” MPs defying the NRM leadership; the rebel MPs and their supporters (and not the usual FDC or Suubi youth wingers), being tear-gassed at Kisekka Market on Thursday by the police; a “rebel” Prime Minister and NRM secretary-general fighting it out within his own party.
It is drama of the most interesting kind.