Friday March 14 2014

Mbabazi saga: There is no high profile fall-out

By Karoli Ssemogerere

It was a Sunday morning in 2013 at one of the city café’s eerie quiet. Kampala has tonnes of carbon-monoxide pollution but still has a cool morning breeze. The lady on the table next ordered for breakfast with her husband.

She had come with some of the day’s newspapers and was engrossed in reading them. Her husband continued eating his breakfast quietly.
There must have been something that caught the lady’s attention in the newspapers.

She continued reading them, barely touching her breakfast. I looked up at her; she was Hope Mwesigye, an Advocate and former minister for Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries.

She also served as State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs or de-facto Chief Whip prior to the change from the Movement to the multi-party system. During Chogm, she was State Minister for Local Government.

Ms Mwesigye, up to this point, has been in semi-retirement having been considered for a number of appointments in the executive branch, including a posting to New York as Permanent Representative/Head of Mission.

In 2011, she had fallen victim of a deadly whisper campaign by Catholics in Kabale when she had a falling out with another former NRM politician – Fr Gaetano Batanyenda, a Catholic parish priest in Kabale Diocese.Fast forward one year later: It seems to be a lifetime in politics! If, indeed, and by the slimmest of possibilities it may happen, Ms Mwesigye may be reaching out to the likes of Fr Batanyenda to support her brother-in-law John Patrick Amama Mbabazi’s bid for the presidency.

Ms Mwesigye, Justice Faith Mwondha - a Justice of Appeal, Ms Beatrice Lagada and Ms Hanifa Kawooya were in a select group of Constituent Assembly delegates who were very instrumental in writing provisions in the draft constitution that created the Movement political system.

Ms Mwesigye had come to the CA replacing Ms Loi Nkwasibwe, a long-serving member of the National Resistance Council and wife of Milton Obote’s Minister of Health, Ezra Nkwasibwe. Her lengthy tenure in the rough tumble of Kabale politics seemed to have come to a premature end just at the time when the blue-eyed boy from Kinkizi had reached the peak of his political power.

Mr Mbabazi, in 2010, had edged out his rival Gilbert Balibaseka Bukenya from the post of NRM Secretary General and eventual exit from cabinet. The IGG investigations eventually ensnared him as well, as Mbabazi protégé Raphael Baku (the former IGG) absorbed a lot of heat when he sent Bukenya to the coolers on Chogm mischief.

Mwesigye, her own role in Chogm a subject of a number of reports, remains untouched in an investigation that implicated a number of other politicians.

Ms Mwesigye is usually measured in public but is no push-over. In fact, she may be the opposite. The recent war of knives has put her out as a top NRM politician openly against the idea of endorsing President Museveni as the sole presidential candidate in 2016.

Her statements have come on the heels of those of her sister, the Rev. Canon Jacqueline Suzan Mbabazi, a senior presidential advisor on defence – the kind of position described by the President’s press secretary, Tamale Mirundi, as a retirement or nursing home for the rich and the well-connected.

Ms Mbabazi has plunged head on to confront her husband’s accusers and may have succeeded where others failed to save her husband’s head for now. He got a presidential denial - a rarity. Pressed to explain her activities outside Kampala, she went head-on to confirm to the President that these activities were indeed true.

In a light moment she was quoted making fun of the Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura who has dived head-long into an internal party schism, going as far as describing pro-Mbabazi forces as criminal elements.

For the Mbabazi clan, this has been a climb from glory in so many ways. Ms Mbabazi, a Canon in Church of Uganda’s Kinkizi Diocese, is a former Customs Commissioner, and the first if not only female head of the army’s munitions factory in Nakasongola.

In every steady move, they have moved together as a team. Ms Mwesigye is an NRM chairperson in Kabale. Ms Mbabazi is the head of the NRM Women’s League and Mr Mbabazi is the NRM secretary general.

Unlike other high-level disputes, the two parties – Mr Museveni and Mr Mbabazi – do not have the leeway for a high profile fall-out. Mr Mbabazi has been a loyal political lieutenant almost to a fault and in turn, Mr Museveni has expended a lot of political capital to defend his Secretary General. It has also been said that issues of the queue arose informally in 2011 before the elections.

Neither party has disclosed whether the support for a life presidency project was sought, and obviously more than just Ms Mwesigye and Ms Mbabazi are upset and feel betrayed.

Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law and an Advocate.