A senior official of the ruling NRM party two years ago told the US government that President Museveni is grooming his son, Lt. Col. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, as a successor.
Mr Mike Mukula, the party’s national vice chairman for eastern region and MP for Soroti Municipality, in September 2009 held a meeting with two top US embassy officials and told them Mr Museveni’s popularity had considerably waned.
“Mukula said Museveni was increasingly patterning himself after (Zimbabwean President) Robert Mugabe and wants to position his son, Lt. Col. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, as his eventual successor,” US Ambassador Jerry Lanier wrote in a leaked diplomatic cable wired to Washington.
The memo is one of several from Julian Assange’s whistleblower website, Wikileaks, released late last month and in it Mr Mukula is quoted to have said Mr Museveni avoided primaries to choose NRM’s presidential flag bearer ahead of the February elections because “his popularity within the NRM [was] slipping”.
It reads: “Mukula complained that there is no separation between the NRM and Ugandan state institutions. He called the military Uganda’s ‘fourth estate’ and said Museveni regards the army as his personal political party.”
The former state minister for health, who is in court contesting graft charges related to allegations of misappropriation of billions of shillings in donor money meant for immunisation of children, also highlighted the “complete dominance of Museveni’s Banyankole ethnic group throughout the government, military, and business community”.
The NRM now serves as nothing more than a platform for the President, springing to life only during election campaigns, he is reported to have said. These views expressed by a perceived NRM insider are not entirely new – in that regime critics have echoed them before – but become significant because they were made by one of the party’s four vice chairpersons, highlighting sharp contrasts between personal views of many top government officials and what they publicly profess.
In an interview yesterday, the Soroti Municipality MP acknowledged the meeting took place at Le Chateau Restaurant in Kabalagala, near the American Embassy, but cited “distortions” in the reporting language. He said: “A matter that was supposed to be private has now become public and I will take an opportunity to communicate to the NRM chairman (Mr Museveni) and senior members of the party with deep clarity the context in which the remarks were made.”
Mr Mukula, however, made clear that a debate on who will run the country after this President, as well as on restoration of presidential term limits, which were scrapped in 2005, must begin now. He promised to introduce these “salient” issues for consideration during NRM’s planned one-week retreat in Kyankwanzi, due to begin on Monday, next week. “This is a matter that should be discussed openly by the party in order to bring Uganda in conformity with other East African Community partner states … we cannot be the odd country.”
Uganda is the only country in the regional bloc without constitutional or other limitations to how many times a sitting President can run for re-election.
Accounts carried in Ambassador Lanier’s cable quote Mr Mukula saying, as a result of this situation which critics observe breeds dictatorial tendencies, regional peers distrust the Ugandan leader. He urged the US and UK to “pressure him to reinstate presidential term limits”.
The US embassy in Kampala yesterday railed against what it called “illegal disclosure of classified information”. “In addition to damaging our diplomatic efforts, it puts individuals’ security at risk, threatens our national security, and undermines our effort to work with countries to solve shared problems,” the Public Affairs Officer, Mr Daniel Travis, wrote in an email reply.
Mr Mukula, who said he is “deeply consulting” with senior NRM officials to determine if he can stand on the party ticket for President in 2016, said he has no problem with Lt. Col. Kainerugaba presenting himself for the highest political office except the process “should be open”.