Kampala- The shell of silence that former Prime Minister John Patrick Amama Mbabazi had built cracked at dawn yesterday when he announced that he will stand for President in 2016.
As the sun’s rays pierced the horizon yesterday, Mr Mbabazi, the Kinkizi West MP, circulated a five-minute recorded video in which he declared that he would challenge President Yoweri Museveni.
“I come before you today to tell you that I will be seeking your vote first within my party, the National Resistance Movement as its flag bearer, and later on in the whole country for president in the 2016 presidential elections,” Mr Mbabazi, dressed in a white blue stripped shirt said.
“The coming election is about the future, about making Uganda work for everyone. It is about reinvigorating our country and making it fit for the 21 century and beyond and it is about breathing new life into our system of government, a system that has become weak and inefficient.”
The disclosure ended months of anxiety and conjecture that he had built up since he was sacked as Prime Minister in October 2014, ostensibly because of his presidential ambition.
The suave politician had chosen to speak in parables and measured body language telling inquisitive journalists repeatedly that, “I will tell you when to tell you what I will tell you.”
Yesterday, after his announcement sparked national debate and international interest, followed by analysis of what ramifications his possible candidature might have, Mr Mbabazi was categorical.
“We need to revive our mission to improve education, health and public services and ensure that they are delivered fairly and to high standards,” he stated.
“We need to restore our party, the NRM and return to its roots a genuine accountable and democratic movement. And we, as a country, we need to rediscover our democratic principles,” he added.
The pronouncement was imminent. Mbabazi, while addressing a congregation at MP Barnabas Tinkasiimire’s recently said the public would know his new political direction soon.
Mr Mbabazi then took to his twitter and facebook accounts, where he gradually unveiled his plan in coded graphics, including yellow posters with the NRM logo, a crested crane in full flight, the bespectacled politician’s portrait and a slogan, “Go Forward.”
Posters bearing Mr Mbabazi’s large portrait were also distributed and pinned in townships across the country.
However, police and other security personnel pulled them down because according to spokesperson Mr Fred Enanga, “campaign period is not yet on.”
Asked whether he did not fear for his arrest given the police’s response, Mbabazi sounded confident.Didn’t I tell you that I will tell you, haven’t I told you?” And on the hurdles ahead of him including possible arrest, Mbabazi quipped: “Munange, I have been in this for so long.”
Mbabazi did not take a swipe at the NRM, his party that ousted him as Secretary General during a delegates conference held at Namboole stadium in December last year. He also did not water down Mr Museveni’s track record as President for 29 years now.
However, speaking in a measured tone, with a tinge of optimism, Mr Mbabazi referred to the strides made by the nation in the last 53 years of independence and his contribution for the last 43-years.
“…as a youth, and later on as a young, idealistic lawyer with a hunger for justice, I joined the struggle against the destructive forces that were threatening to derail the serve–governance hopes and dreams of our new democracy. That hunger still remains.”
Yesterday, the minister for the Presidency, Mr Frank Tumwebaze, in an interview, said Mr Mbabazi has every right to follow his dreams. “It is his constitutional right to vie for any office,” Mr Tumwebaze said. “Since he says that he will contest within NRM, the membership of NRM will look at his record.
Fortunately he is not new from heaven. He has been here for all these years being part and parcel of government architecture until he was sacked,” he added.
Mr Tumwebaze observed that NRM members are yet to see “the new miracles and ideas he is bringing on board” which he never dispensed when he was part of government. “Leadership doesn’t start when one declares to be president,” he pointed out.
On his part, former coordinator of intelligence services Gen David Sejusa, who has of recent spoken of the need to dislodge Mr Museveni from power, welcomed Mr Mbabazi’s bid, saying he mirrors a discontented critical mass in the NRM.
“I welcome it and may be it should have come earlier for a shock effect against the oppressor.
That surprise element which would have propelled (him) to another level was lost, in my view,” Gen Sejusa said. “He has done the right thing, we shouldn’t look at Mbabazi per se, we need to understand that he represents that huge NRM membership which has been betrayed by Museveni’s life presidency.”
He, however, asked Mr Mbabazi to fasten his belt as tougher times lie ahead.
“Museveni will never allow Mbabazi to take power without a big fight and whether Mbabazi has a stomach, when the gloves are ultimately off, is something to watch. Museveni will fight, how much and with what Mbabazi will fight back is the question,” Gen Sejusa noted.
Democratic Party Legal Advisor, Mr Mukasa Mbidde observed that the announcement had dealt a blow to the sole candidate resolution by the NRM parliamentary caucus last year. Mr Mbabazi signed the resolution, among the last few, despite being Secretary General then, amidst hesitation.
Mr Mbabazi was born on January 16, 1949 in Mparo Village, Rukiga County, in present-day Kabale District.
He is married to Jacqueline Mbabazi with whom they have six children. He is the current MP for Kinkiizi County West Constituency, which position he held since the 6th, 7th , 8th and now the 9th Parliament.
Prior to joining active politics, he served as state attorney in the Attorney General’s chambers before being appointed as secretary of the Uganda Law Council. He was also a Partner in law firm; Katesaya, Mbabazi and Tumwesigye Co Advocates
1986 to 1992: He served as junior defence minister
1994: CA delegate representing Kinkiizi West County
2004: Appointed as attorney general and justice minister
2006: Appointed Defence minister
2009: Appointed as Security minister
March 22 2011: President Museveni appoints Amama Mbabazi as Prime minister, succeeding Prof Apolo Nsibambi.
Feb 10, 2014: NRM caucus endorses Museveni as 2016 sole candidate at National Leadership Institute Kyankwanzi, Mbabazi signs the resolution with hesitation
September 18, 2014: Mbabazi-Museveni tension hits fever pitch levels, the former is consequently relieved from his premier job duties in what Museveni told BBC was informed by his divisive politics in the party.
Oct 20, 2014: Mbabazi accepts to take leave as NRM secretary General after a heated top organ of the party meeting boxed him into resigning as SG. A report by Wakiso Woman MP Rose Mary Seninde had recommended that Mr Mbabazi relinquishes the job
Oct 2, 2014: Then health minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda swears in as new prime minister, Mbabazi welcomes his appointment
December 15, 2014: NRM delegates conference meets at Nambole, amends the party constitution, ring- fencing key positions such as SG to be appointive at the behest of the party chairman
Jan 8, 2015: NRM top decision making organ approves new secretariat hierarchy with Ms Justine Kasule Lumumba as new SG, replacing Mbabazi who turned down Mr Museveni’s offer to be a member of the party’s central executive committee.
Feb 15, 2015 : Mr Benjamin Alipanga, an avowed supporter of Mbabazi petitions the Constitutional Court, challenging the amendment of the party constitution and challenges Museveni’s eligibility to contest in the 2016 election on account of his age. The case is yet to be heard.
March to June 15: Mbabazi engages in underground political work, his actions speaking to his ambition, culminating in yesterday’s announcement.
Ms Eunice Musiime, the chairperson Uganda Women Lawyers Association (FIDA), said Mbabazi’s bid is a welcome addition to the political landscape to the extent that he demystifies the “Museveni invisibility” poise. “We have someone for the first time challenging him from within which is good for democracy,” Ms Musiime said.
By yesterday however, the state had given signals of the hurdles ahead for the erstwhile NRM Secretary General.
Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, who has been a critic of Mr Mbabazi’s hesitation, said the former PM knows the political terrain and the common enemy.
“I hope he is prepared for that brutality against him as an individual, his family and supporters,” Mr Lukwago said.
“He is welcome to the tear gas the state has stocked for me, Dr Kizza Besigye (former FDC leader) and others. We shall gladly share it in this struggle to free our country. I think it is good for democracy, he has shown courage.”
When Daily Monitor visited Mr Mbabazi at his Kololo home yesterday morning, there was no flurry of activity save from news-hungry journalists and security personnel who cast furtive glances. Later Mr Mbabazi, clad in a black suit, was driven out in his sleek Land Cruiser, to an unknown destination.