How Mbabazi pressed the red button

Police officers take over the security of former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi’s home on Thursday. This was after the UPDF officers were withdrawn from the premises. Photo by Joseph Kiggundu

What you need to know:

Sowing sour grapes. It is a stage of two worlds. As Amama Mbabazi was disarmed on Thursday, NRM youth wingers were preparing to give their party chairman, President Museveni, a hero’s welcome from the United States where he has been since sacking his long time ally from the prime minister position. As the drama unfolds, we trace where the icy relationship between the two NRM principals started.

Last year, the ruling party National Resistance Movement dismissed as imaginary, the reported friction between President Museveni and former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi.
Even Mr Mbabazi came out himself to rubbish reports that there was a problem between him and the man he had spent his entire political career with, fighting previous regimes.
But the writing was on the wall like Mr Museveni told the NRM caucus meeting in Entebbe State House two weeks ago, quoting the biblical Daniel who was summoned and interpreted a disembodied message as the imminent end for the Babylonian Kingdom.

President Museveni was possibly not sending a message to signify the end of his three-decade political acquaintance with Mbabazi, but an end to Mbabazi’s serving as prime minister.
The woes between Museveni and Mbabazi date back to 2012 when voices within the party started pushing for resignation of Mbabazi as Secretary General on grounds that he was busy as prime minister and had no time for the party.
But Mbabazi reportedly offered to quit the premier job and remain Secretary General. The same voices against Mbabazi were also claiming that he was using party structures to make a way to topple his boss - Mr Museveni.

In 2012, following successive by-election losses, Mr Museveni said the NRM needed a full-time secretary general to run the affairs of the party, contrary to his earlier position in 2010 and 2011 when Museveni comfortably supported the issue of Mbabazi being both prime minister and NRM secretary general.
What could have infuriated Museveni was a group of young MPs and the NRM youth league officials who were perceived to be supporters of Mbabazi who started telling Museveni to also relinquish one position; of either President or party chairman.
In one of the party National Executive Committee meetings at State House in 2013, there were intelligence reports that Mbabazi had sneaked 78 people who were not delegates into the meeting to drum up his support.

In that meeting, according to the source that attended, out of the 27 delegates who spoke, 21 were in favour of Mr Mbabazi, praising him as a good mobiliser, intelligent and good cadre.
With increasing voices praising Mbabazi, Mr Museveni was genuinely getting concerned about what he saw as attempts by his former prime minister to build his powerbase as attention turns to the 2016 presidential elections.

With Mbabazi’s tightening grip on the party structure, Museveni was pushed to work outside the official party structures. This led to the appointment of the Minister without Portfolio, Mr Richard Todwong, as de facto Secretary General.
The appointment of Todwong as da fecto Secretary General did not help to sway Mbabazi control over the party structure and this led to the Kyankwanzi resolution by the party’s parliamentary caucus in February that sought Museveni as the sole party candidate in 2016.

Senior Presidential adviser on media John Nagenda also says Mbabazi’s refusal to relinquish one of the positions could have been the main cause of his problems.
“Mbabazi was holding two very important offices and he didn’t give way because the post of SG is decided by the Movement high organs while PM is decided by the President.” Mr Nagenda says.

Mbabazi uncle says
Uganda Peoples’ Congress senior member, Dr James Rwanyarare, who is also an uncle of Mbabazi, says the former prime minister took Museveni for “granted” when he thought they were friends and would hand over power to him.

Dr Rwanyarare also says Mbabazi went on Museveni’s “radar” in 2001 when the former prime minister told the former Forum for Democratic Change party president, Dr Kizza Besigye, that he had jumped the queue by offering to contest for presidency.
“Museveni has no friends. He likes to exploit people and use them for his selfish interests”, Dr Rwanyarare says, “I knew they were going to part ways because one time Mbabazi and I were having tea and when I mentioned that Museveni was never going to hand him power, Mbabazi didn’t like it and I realised he had presidential ambitions”

Whether the sacking of Mbabazi would possibly reduce Museveni support and also cause divisions within the party in Kigezi region where Mbabazi hails from, Rwanyarare says Mbabazi’s support in Kigezi and across the country was “perception” based on his closeness to Museveni.

“Mbabazi has never had influence on Kigezi politics; he for example, didn’t defeat Musinguzi Garuga but he used force. He has mastered politics of patronage which he copied from Museveni and thought will use it better than Museveni but Museveni super at patronage,” Dr Rwanyarare says.
Mr Musinguzi, however, took Mbabazi to court over the said polls, citing electoral irregularities but lost the case.

Current status
Currently, at the heart of the party crisis, is whether the party will go ahead and organise a delegate’s conference to elect a new Secretary General. It will be an uphill task because Mbabazi as the party SG will have to call the conference.

President Museveni will have to use the conference to sway the youths and win back to the fold those that are praising Mbabazi and calling him to challenge Museveni in the 2016 elections. But previous efforts to deal with the warring youths have failed.

what others say
“NRM is originally a military outfit and it is being increasingly pushed in the military base and this can be seen with Naads being run by military, and when Parliament is threatened, you hear the military will intervene. I don’t see Mbabazi addressing any rally without police clearance and he will need clearance to attend Central Executive Committee meeting at State House where he will be a lonely voice.”
Charles Rwomushana former head of political intelligence at State House

“Mbabazi’s sacking will not affect the party at all, that man has been depending on Museveni and have you seen anybody serious in government defending him? And even if there is, then that person also depends on Museveni. Mbabazi will not survive the primaries and let alone Namboole. What is happening isn’t different from 1964 UPC Gulu conference.”
Aggrey Awori, Former ict Minister