The current imbroglio within the NRM – but especially our response to it – confirms that we have the collective memory of a kindergarten class. The only surprising thing about the intrigue and in-fighting between pro-Museveni and pro-Amama Mbabazi camps within the NRM is that we are surprised by it.
We need not be. Former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya made some noises about a mafia within the NRM but his mea culpa at a press conference soon after and his subsequent social shenanigans made it hard for anyone to take him seriously.
For a more credible example, we need to look back to 2000 when a one Dr Kizza Besigye declared he would run for president. Then, unlike now, political parties were banned. Those seeking elective office did so on ‘individual merit’. It was all a farce, of course, and the Movement/NRM was a party if not in legal form, then in its practices.
Proof of this was provided less than a fortnight later when President Museveni issued a public statement. Besigye, he said, “has gone about his intentions in an indisciplined and disruptive way. He has, without consulting any organ of the Movement, launched himself as a Movement candidate although it is well known that he is in close collaboration with multi-partyists. By unilaterally declaring himself a candidate, he creates a problem for the Movement”.
Museveni said the Movement faced the risk of splitting its votes through having more than one candidate, or the apparent ignominy of adopting Besigye “as a sole candidate having imposed himself on the Movement following clandestine, conspiratorial consultations with some unknown personalities that include ‘leading Movement persons’”.
It is now Mbabazi and his wife that are being accused of clandestine, conspiratorial consultations. And as in 2001, it is now Museveni that has been selected as the sole candidate of the Movement/NRM.
What we are seeing is not a breakdown of systems within the NRM; it is the systems – intrigue, in-fighting, and political skullduggery – working as designed.
Neither is Museveni’s response to threats to his power, real or assumed, surprising. The incumbent is still scarred by his loss in the 1980 election but – to his credit -- never repeats the same mistake. So the dice has been loaded in all subsequent political contests, the pack of cards shuffled by a loyalist Electoral Commission, and with the double aces of bribes and bullets up his sleeve.
This is NRM. This is Museveni. But should this be Uganda’s political score? Throughout all this shouting we are yet to hear a sober discussion on what kind of leadership and leader Uganda needs and whether Museveni, Mbabazi or even the NRM can provide it.
Typically, we have turned the fight for political power into an end in itself. What does Museveni want to do that he hasn’t done in 30 years? How different would Mbabazi be? Who else in the NRM can provide leadership?
What kind of Uganda do we want to have in 50 years? How are we going to deal with the ticking time bomb of youth unemployment? How are we going to fix an agricultural sector that is wilting, a health sector that is ailing, and an education system that is failing?
These are existential problems. Uganda needs a generation of leaders that can stand tall and lead it out of the quagmire of mediocrity that 50 years of corrupt and morally bankrupt leadership has left it. Instead, our young leaders kneel before the corrupt ancient régime, begging for more pain like sycophants struck by Stockholm syndrome.
The intrigue and in-fighting in NRM is dramatic and theatrical but unless this whole script is rewritten, the play will end in tragedy for us all.