Friday February 21 2014

The NRM must outgrow its founder or face death

By William G. Naggaga

Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi was recently quoted in Kyankwanzi as saying, “As I have always said and I wish to repeat, Africa’s problem is leadership. When, therefore, in Africa, you have a good leader, you don’t let go easily. Rumours that have been going around about me are not true. I obviously support President Museveni and the motion.”

Mr Mbabazi was belatedly speaking out on a motion moved by the Youth MP for northern region, Ms Evelyn Anite, calling on the endorsement of President Museveni as the sole NRM presidential candidate for the 2016 elections. Mr Mbabazi appended his signature as Number 202 - in itself not a ringing endorsement to his boss’ aspiration to stretch his rule to 2021. He had no option but to climb down from the high horse, after realising that the ground had quickly shifted and his hopes of being president had dwindled to zero. The NRM parliamentary caucus had usurped the powers of the National Executive Council and the national conference.

Earlier, President Museveni, while addressing the NRM caucus at the retreat in Kyankwanzi, had warned the MPs of intrigue and cliques within the party and advised those behind them to stop their schemes. He told them he had received intelligence report on the schemers but stopped short of naming any names. Political pundits were, however, quick to point a finger at the Prime Minister and his supporters within NRM. In an apparent response to his boss, Mr Mbabazi warned against reliance on “informal intelligence channels”, as sources of information and how such methods of work might lead to the death of NRM. Pretty heavy stuff from the top honchos of the Movement!

What the NRM parliamentarians did at the Kyankwanzi retreat was undemocratic and runs counter even to the NRM constitution, which encourages competition for political office, including the presidency. It was a ‘bloodless coup’ meant to force NEC and the national conference to endorse Mr Museveni’s candidature for re-election to the presidency in 2016 without much ado.

What does this tell us about the NRM? It is a party whose fortunes revolve around a single individual, namely its founder, without whom the party is destined for the graveyard. President Museveni has ensured that he is the only bull in kraal and he has smartly cut to size any pretenders to the throne. In 2001 when Mbabazi told Dr Kizza Besigye that he had “jumped the queue”, Mbabazi probably believed that he was next in line when the President retired as he was expected to do in 2011, if term limits were not lifted.

President Museveni has also skillfully re-invented the party. He has outmanoeuvred the old guard and brought on board the youth, many of them born a few years before 1986 or soon after. Judging by what happened in Kyankwanzi, it is the youth who were used to ambush Mr Mbabazi with their sole candidate project for the incumbent. These youth also revere the President in a manner he can no longer expect from the old guard that still remains with him. The negative side of it all is that they are too inexperienced to take the party forward.

For NRM to survive beyond its founder, it needs strong institutions and a critical mass of leaders in a position to challenge President Museveni when he veers off the course. The circus in Kyankwanzi was definitely a step in the wrong direction.

Mr Naggaga is an economist, administrator and retired ambassador.