In October this year, the Catholic Church is celebrating 50 years of canonization of the Martyrs in Rome. Many elaborate plans have been laid out to give Namugongo a face-lift. Namugongo is relatively well-kept but like a lot of historical infrastructure, is suffering from wear and tear. In a key planning meeting for this event, a number of fund-raisers were mooted. Suggestion for the chief guest wasn’t a Catholic, but rather the suave Prime Minister of Uganda, Amama Mbabazi.
The Catholic principals involved must have had good reason. In 2011, Kabale Diocese organised the annual Martyrs Day celebrations and left a financial trail that has not been matched ever since. Not even Mbarara Archdiocese came close in 2013.
That is the depth of Mr Mbabazi’s influence and networking that, until last week, kept him as a credible challenger to Mr Museveni’s fifth presidential election hopes.
Mr Mbabazi’s rise to the top has been a long one. First, as Head of the External Security Organisation, then a number of junior ministerial roles in the Office of the President and the Ministry of Defence, before rising to become a full minister of Defence, Justice and later Security.
Mbabazi has had a few run-ins with the establishment such as the NSSF-Temangalo saga but the President gave him the ultimate political cover, thereby handing him a key political favour over Mr Gilbert Bukenya, the former Vice President who received a ‘Temangalo confession’ from one of the key players without the President’s knowledge.
In 2011, Mbabazi rose to the position of Prime Minister. His office quickly began blazing flames during an investigation that ensnared senior officials, causing donors to suspend foreign aid. OPM was peculiar because no one directly accused Mbabazi of dishonesty.
Of the NRM historicals, if change were to happen, the game favoured Mr Mbabazi. He comes from Kigezi, a relatively easy vote basket for the ruling NRM. In the rapid turnover politics of Kigezi, and an early electoral scare, Mr Mbabazi now remains the only MP from the 2001 class in Kigezi who has continuously been in Parliament.
Wisely, Mbabazi’s networks have been active in low attention regions - northern Uganda, north eastern Uganda and West Nile - away from the Kampala press.
In his super-ministry, Mbabazi oversees populations covering more than half of Uganda, from the southern shores of Lake Albert to the remote north eastern district of Kaabong. His ministry stops at the northern fringes of the Kampala metropolitan area where the Luweero triangle gives way to Kampala. Seventeen ministers report to him, including Karamoja minister Janet K. Museveni.
Prime Minister Mbabazi is the first appointee to this office who enjoyed some input in ministerial appointments, and while most of the President’s old men remained in place, they have had to contend with an inner circle of Mr Mbabazi’s men.
But if anything may have done in the Prime Minister, it is the story of Kampala’s rapidly changing sky-line. The changes have seen Kampala becoming the premier address of mobile financial resources. The last decade has seen the crumbling of Uganda’s old economic hierarchy and pecking order. Local industrialists, rich landowners, wealthy farmers have given way to trans-national capital and if there is need to get anything on the local market, they procure it through a local agent. Local agents are the princes of this town and have become very wealthy.
Their wealth is reflected in big property transactions as long as there is interest. In Kalangala District, big money has parcelled out the most attractive vistas of the world’s largest freshwater lake. In the endless super-malls opening shop, big money has no trouble fronting the rent, etc. A lot of this money does bother intelligence because it is relatively formidable and can be deployed at moment’s notice.
One of Mr Mbabazi’s ‘sins’ hypocritically extolled at the retreat was the opposite of his character. His colleagues have always described him in less flattering language, one to borrow a character from George Orwell’s Animal Farm - Snowball. Selfish and self-interested. In Kyankwanzi, Mbabazi’s indictment was dominated by month-old press reports: How he had turned into ‘Uncle Money’, dispatching small Christmas envelopes to an ignored appendage of the ruling party - district administrative secretaries.
The recent reshuffle that retired a record 61 RDCs is also believed to have dispatched many of the Prime Minister’s allies. In the two ruling party organs, NEC and CEC are silent Mbabazi allies who are watching the fallout from Kyankwanzi closely. The ones in cabinet are also watching closely as rumours have it that Mbabazi may be replaced by one of his vanquished foes in the last election for NRM Secretary General.
However, undoing years of preparation is not going to be as easy a task, especially if the pro-Mbabazi forces may simply choose to go underground and wait for another day. Some of the public displays of loyalty to the President in Kyankwanzi may be taken in this context, giving Mr Mbabazi a chance to fight another day.
Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law and an Advocate. firstname.lastname@example.org