Sunday March 9 2014

Mbabazi’s party turns on him, but here is why he should not regret it

By Bernard Tabaire

I am writing this piece on Thursday. By the time it is off the presses late on Saturday – Sunday editions in Uganda hit the streets Saturday evening – new developments may well have occurred. I am talking of arguably Uganda’s most enthralling political story since Milton Obote locked up five of his Cabinet ministers and gunned Kabaka Muteesa II into fatal exile in the mid-1960s.
Family. Intrigue. Power. A combustible combination. What is missing is sex. So far.

The Museveni-Mbabazi brawl is not about to end. One can never be sure what the relationship was exactly between the President and his superman in Cabinet, a Cabinet where now his juniors “see through him”. And the parliamentary wing of the party is out to trash him even more. Humiliate him in Kyankwanzi, forcing him to denounce presidential ambitions he obviously has. Then follow that up with trimming of his powers as secretary general of NRM. Soon he will be prime minister in name only.

The man is damaged. He can only keep political relevance if he resigns all his positions in the party and the government and takes on his boss or leaves the party entirely and still take on Mr Museveni. Or he quits politics altogether.
As he weighs his options, his wife, the head of the NRM Women’s League no less, is waging battle, organising against the Kyankwanzi resolution that anointed Mr Museveni to be yet again the NRM presidential flag-bearer in 2016. In this she is assisted by her sister, a former minister and top party woman in Kabale.

For their witching-hour activities, closely monitored by Mr Museveni’s spies, Ms Jacqueline Mbabazi and Ms Hope Mwesigye must be burnt at the stake that is the NRM central executive committee (CEC), and possibly the disciplinary committee.

What is Mr Mbabazi’s cardinal sin anyway? It is to covet Mr Museveni’s job and then actively work toward getting it. For that he must be killed off. Forget the rubbish about creating cliques, building power bases in the party instead of concentrating on “developmental work”. How else is one expected to generate political support for himself without reaching out to certain individuals and groups and not others? How else is politics to be done and yet by definition politics is about building constituencies at various levels to propel one to power?

If NRM parliamentarians have decided that President Museveni must lead the party until death (of man or party), they should write it in their constitution. It is rank hypocrisy for them to mouth off on democracy yet they do not want Mr Museveni challenged.
The logic on display would be dismissed as comedic if NRM were not the party in power. It is, and so it is worth reflecting a little on where the logic goes.

The NRM has declared one of its positions sacrosanct and whoever shows interest in it from within must be guillotined. It just happens, as well, that the position of leader of NRM is fused with the position of President of the Republic of Uganda. At least that is what the last 28 years show. If Mr Mbabazi can be treated so dreadfully, one can imagine what happens to the Besigyes of this Uganda who have wanted the job from the outside. It appears their story is yet to be fully revealed.

Mr Mbabazi is on the receiving end of political nastiness so gratuitous it is obscene. He must be regretting why he helped create the monster that is now cornering him. He must be reflecting on the line he uttered during the 2001 election cycle. It is a line better known as a phrase. Mr Mbabazi berated Dr Kizza Besigye for “jumping the queue”. That was when Dr Besigye, having just broken away from NRM, was running for President the first time.
Mr Mbabazi was suggesting that he was ahead of Dr Besigye in some assumed seniority line-up. And that if Mr Mbabazi is not yet running, Dr Besigye has no business doing so. There was no attempt whatsoever to critique Dr Besigye’s ideas – not his lengthy and open critique of how terrible things were in the Court of Yoweri Museveni, not his manifesto.

In so casually dismissing Dr Besigye, Mr Mbabazi was encouraging the practice within NRM that saw Mr Museveni as God of the Party and that ideas did not much matter.

As things are turning out, it was around the 2001 elections that Mr Mbabazi, firmly on the rise as super minister and de facto vice president (presiding over meetings when Mr Museveni was away even in the presence of then Vice President Gilbert Bukenya), started making his move. He worked on establishing a power base across the political, civil and security sectors of the Ugandan state. The CEC/disciplinary committee proceedings will be interesting indeed.
Yet Mr Mbabazi’s chance is 2016 or never. I am not sure anyone will want to look at him and his generation of 1986 in 2021 even if he will not yet be 75 and could still run. So he must go for broke in 2016. Will he, damn the consequences?

Mr Tabaire is a media consultant with the African Centre for Media Excellence.