Why Mbabazi might stay in the queue a little longer
Posted Monday, September 30 2013 at 01:00
Some officials in the NRM say Mr Mbabazi would have a chance to contest for the presidency only if Museveni opts out, and if both (Museveni) and NRM endorse him as the party’s official flag bearer.
When Dr Kizza Besigye surprised Uganda with the announcement that he would contest for president in 2001, a jolted Amama Mbabazi accused him of “jumping the queue”.
It is probable having been in the Front for National Salvation (Fronasa) and later working behind enemy lines; recruiting and smuggling National Resistance Army fighters and equipment, the former Security minister assumed then that he was more senior and in pole position to succeed Mr Museveni than the President’s former personal doctor. Mr Mbabazi’s one-liner seemed calculated to cast Besigye as impatient and disruptive but is also perhaps exposed Mbabazi’s own ambitions: A thirst to lead the country on a pre-arranged game plan.
Bush war comrades quietly speak of an understanding during the five-year NRA guerilla fighting that Museveni would serve as President for some time, and later surrender the country’s leadership to another compatriot. Because of this, former deputy premier Eriya Kategaya, owing to his historical role in the war, was considered de facto number two in NRM.
Kategaya, a childhood friend and confidante of the President, fell out with him over the lifting of presidential term limits, and was fired from Cabinet. He later returned to serve the NRM regime and died in March, this year. The writing has since been on the wall that loyalty to the ruling party or Museveni was not enough for one to succeed him. He reneged on a written promise in his 2001 election manifesto that he was offering himself for the “last time”.
In 2005, a constitutional amendment rushed through Parliament after ruling party MPs received a Shs5 million sweetener, scrapped the two five-year terms for any person to stand as president. This meant Museveni could now stand for president as many times as he wished. With the next scheduled general elections about 30 months away, NRM honchos are sure Mr Museveni is running again. “I have no doubt in my mind that Museveni is standing again in 2016 and is NRM’s strongest candidate,” said Mr David Mafabi, the president’s principal private secretary.
“President Museveni is best suited to complete the ongoing socio-economic transformation because he is very clear on what needs to be done; he is totally committed to the cause and understands how this is to be carried out together with accelerating and deepening regional integration.”
With MPs recently nudging Speaker Rebecca Kadaga to jump into the race for presidency, will Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi throw his hat into what is becoming a crowded political ring? Those close to the premier say he is a “smooth operator”, keeps his cards close to his chest and his calculations are hard to discern.
Like Mr Museveni, Mr Mbabazi hails from western Uganda. Therefore, his candidature might, through tribal lenses, reflect an extension of the dominance of government by people from the geographical region. Others are likely to entertain it as an option less disruptive. However, the premier’s electoral fortunes are more likely to be tethered to how he becomes a candidate. Multiple sources this newspaper spoke to, most of them persons close to the power centre, declined to be identified in this article to avoid straining their relations with either Mbabazi or Museveni.
One official said it would be “unwise” for the prime minister to attempt to mount a challenge to the President - his “political father, mentor and protector”. According to another, Mr Mbabazi would have a chance only if Museveni opted out, and if both the president and NRM endorsed him as the party’s official flag bearer.
Why? That way, the State machinery and the president’s individual political capital would be deployed in his favour unlike if he were to go it alone, building own structures and mobilising resources necessary to mount a bid in Uganda’s heavily-monetised politics.
Mbabazi has not publicly declared interest to be president, and NRM party spokesperson and Gender minister Karooro Okurut told the Daily Monitor that a conversation on the matter would be “speculative”. “When it comes to campaign time, the NRM party will pick its candidate through a democratic process,” she said, “Whoever carries the day becomes our presidential flag bearer.”
The intrigue and bickering that accompanied NRM primaries during the last elections – much of it blamed on Mr Mbabazi as the secretary general - left the party naked and its officials disgraced. It also provided evidence that a level playing field was improbable in internal processes to choose NRM candidates in much the same way as the national ballot.
Simultaneously holding the powerful positions of NRM secretary-general and prime minister gives Mr Mbabazi an edge over rivals. Yet it is the concurrent holding of these jobs that have shown firsthand that his loyalty to NRM and the President have a ceiling.
The NRM delegates’ conference in 2010 resolved that the party’s secretary-general becomes a full-time job and whoever is elected to the post should not hold another demanding government job so that they can have a free hand to build the party and mobilise members.