Saturday February 22 2014

NRM’s cross-generation politics and the famed succession queue

By Asuman Bisiika

President Museveni dropped what seemed to be the clearest hint that he was no longer at ease with Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi in 2012. He was delivering his State-of-the-Nation address.

Since Ms Margaret Zziwa had just been elected as the speaker of the East African Legislative Assembly, Museveni also revealed details of his mobilisation effort for Zziwa’s successful candidature.

But the manner in which Museveni made these revelations betrayed a man under siege struggling to regain some initiative and space. The country had hitherto been made to understand (by Mbabazi) that the government was behind Dora Byamukama’s candidature. He even had to remind the nation that ‘the function of foreign policy direction was vested in the President of the Republic of Uganda. He can only delegate’. Phew…

As we write this, the next biggest story waiting to be written on Uganda’s political scene is the complete fall-out between President Museveni and Mbabazi.

Mbabazi had created the impression that his relation with the President was some kind of partnership. And that he was actually the buffer insulating Museveni against the vagaries of party conflicts and contradictions. Remarks like “after Mbabazi, they will go for Museveni” were thrown around.

But if one looked deeper, one would find that it was actually Museveni buffering Mbabazi. Like all NRM senior members, Mbabazi’s public influence was merely a reward for his assumed blind loyalty to President Museveni.

It is President Museveni who saved Mbabazi from James Garuga Musinguzi back home in Kanungu. It is Museveni who ‘gifted’ Mbabazi with the position of NRM Secretary General; and this at some cost because Museveni had to ditch his vice president.

And in comes MP Evelyn Anite! In spite of whatever else, Anite’s action represents a palpable national consensus that 2021 offers the most realistic prospect for President Museveni’s exit from power. He didn’t need any endorsement from the MP whether kneeling or otherwise. The bitter truth though is that President Museveni has created this aura of indispensability that has solidified into some kind of national psyche.

Most Ugandans are willing to accommodate his (Museveni’s) political desires in exchange for what they expect to be his smooth exit. People are slowly being conditioned to what the French call ‘après moi, le deluge’ (destruction, after me) condition. But the man who captured the ‘Anite’s Phenomenon’ very well was Ndugu Ruhakana Ruganda. He said: ‘‘By allowing some space for young party leaders to air out their views without hindrance, the NRM is doing a cross-generation interaction’’.

This was a notice to the party old guards. This means the Luweero group will just have to accept that President Museveni outfoxed them. By 2021, anyone whose career in the military or politics was started in the jungles of Luweero will look out of place.

Indeed, in 2021, Annite will be mature enough not to be referred to as ‘that girl’. If we assume that young Cabinet Ministers like Frank Tumwebaze and Richard Todwong and soldier-man Muhoozi Kainerugaba are going to be at the helm of national leadership in 2021, then Anite and her ‘talksome’ colleagues will be up there near them.

Yet for the Luweero group and their famous queue, 2016 offers them their last shot at the presidency. In 2021, the demographics and sense of urgency will demand a break from the Luweero legacy. After the endorsement of President Museveni’s sole candidature in the 2016 presidential elections, the next biggest debate in the NRM will be the lifting of presidential age ceiling, now standing at 75 years.

Of course, Mbabazi will be asked (tricked?) to support it because he would come off as the immediate direct beneficiary. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

Mr Bisiika is the executive editor of the East Africa Flagpost.