Sunday May 18 2014

Youth fights may be just what Museveni’s NRM needs today

By Bernard Tabaire

Until the Kyankwanzi shenanigans in February, I had no idea the NRM had a youth league worth respecting, disdaining, or ignoring.
All that has changed because one resolution stood out from amongst the many the caucus of ruling party MPs passed while retreating in Kyankwanzi.
President Museveni, who less than a month earlier had celebrated his 28th year in power, deserved to run unopposed as the NRM candidate in the national presidential election of 2016, the MPs resolved.

The resolution’s anti-democratic aim was to stop Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, also the ruling party secretary general, from acting on his still-unacknowledged interest in being the NRM presidential candidate.
No sooner had the MPs returned to Kampala than a section of leaders of the youth league challenged the resolution and affirmed Mr Mbabazi’s democratic right to challenge for the top job in the party, with the chance to become President of Uganda if he won in 2016.

The youth did not stop at merely batting for Mr Mbabazi; they said Mr Museveni had served enough and should leave State House for others.
Jesus, where was that coming from? I paid attention. Then the young men were locked up in police cells in a patently partisan manner – the police acting for the President. In quick order they were produced in the anti-corruption court for allegedly bribing party members to sign up in support of the alleged Mbabazi campaign. The Prime Minister and his wife Jacqueline, who is the head of the NRM Women’s League, denounced the police actions. Then tapes leaked revealing the police chief playing hard for President against Prime Minister.

Who knew! At that point, I suspect, many other Ugandans paid attention too.
The rest is not yet history because the rest is yet to play out. The youth went on to shake each other by the scruff of their necks at their party headquarters. It has been cacophonous since with expulsions carried out and rescinded in the blink of an eye, leading this past week to meetings with President Museveni.

According to media reports, a small band of the youth continued to speak out for Mr Mbabazi’s right to challenge the President for the leadership of the party. They told Mr Museveni to his face it was time up. He should fess up.
Dr Kizza Besigye critiqued the NRM (then known as the Movement) and the President openly in 1999. He was soon out of the Movement and busy challenging the Big Man for the big job. A four-year exile followed, and his woes inflicted by state institutions, especially the police, have never ended.
The small group of Cabinet ministers who in 2003 openly opposed the President’s run for a third term were sacked.

You do not touch directly on the Big Man’s throne and expect that inconvenient things will not happen to you. The “Mbabazi youth” know this. Their determination to proceed, especially without Mr Mbabazi saying he is running, is therefore courageous.

One can never know whether it is principle or monetary gain or both motivating either side of the youth league divide. What is clear is that, barring some catastrophe, Mr Museveni will be the NRM presidential candidate and will be sworn in as President of Uganda in May 2016 – his 30th year in power no less.
Interesting jostling is, however, likely to occur inside NRM before the delegates conference endorses Mr Sole Candidate. Or maybe not.
While some members of the party’s central executive committee, particularly the historicals, have also opposed the sole candidate idea, any further drama will take place within the ranks of the youth league.
What we are seeing today is therefore the beginnings of a protracted internecine struggle that the two top men will fight using the youth of the youth league as proxies.

To be sure, Mr Museveni will spare nothing to stamp his authority and ensure the NRM field is cleared for him ahead of the delegates’ conference.
But maybe what the NRM needs so badly today is some real and rancorous debate. It could rattle and regenerate a party that needs rattling and regeneration. It is up to the “Mbabazi youth” to hold firm in the midst of on-going and future intimidation and bribery.

Mr Tabaire is the co-founder and director of programmes at African Centre for Media Excellence in Kampala