Both President Museveni and former prime minister Amama Mbabazi seem to think that the youth will have a big say in deciding the 2016 election.
When Mr Mbabazi speaks these days, he says a lot about the time for the youth to take over the mantle of leadership having come. On Independence Day in Kanungu District, for instance, Mr Mbabazi said the ruling generation had done their part and that the youth should prepare to take over the running of the country.
Mr Mbabazi has repeated this line so many times that one youth leader has taken it to heart.
“I will back Mbabazi for president in 2016 and then I will stand for president myself in 2021,” says Mr Adam Luzindana, the leader of the pressure group National Poor Youth Forum.
Former minister for Information and Communications Technology Aggrey Awori speculates that the “deal breaker” in Mr Mbabazi’s staying on as prime minister was “inciting the youth”.
“He kept telling the youth that their time had come; he was inciting them against the President,” Mr Awori says, “Mr Museveni is not going away yet.”
Mr Luzindana is one of the 12 executive members of the NRM Youth Forum, but he recently fell out with many of his colleagues over Mr Mbabazi’s perceived intention to run for president in 2016.
Mr Luzindana, an NRM youth leader from Kampala, is said to have close contacts with Mr Mbabazi. In the past few years, Mr Luzindana’s company, Public Opinions, organised award ceremonies with the backing of Mr Mbabazi, which Mr Museveni always attended.
In June, Mr Museveni was awarded the “Most Inspiring, Admired and Patriotic Political Investor Award” at the Responsible Investment Awards organised by Mr Luzindana’s Public Opinions.
By that time relations between Mr Museveni and his then prime minister were clearly frosty. But he still attended the awards function organised by the youth leader, who had declared that he would support Mr Mbabazi and not him.
After the Kyankwanzi resolution by the ruling party MPs, which sought to have Mr Museveni declared the sole presidential candidate for the ruling party, Mr Museveni followed up by summoning the party’s youth leaders to State House Entebbe.
At the State House meeting, says Mr Denis Namara, the chairperson of the NRM Youth League, the President asked the 12 executive leaders of the NRM Youth Forum, by show of hands, to vote on whether the MPs’ resolution should stand.
“All the other 11 members voted to support the resolution except Luzindana,” says Mr Namara.
But this is not what Mr Namara told the press shortly after the State House meeting. He said then that the party’s youth leadership had unanimously agreed to support the Kyankwanzi resolution, a statement Mr Luzindana objected to.
Central Youth MP Patrick Nakabale says, however, that proposing Mr Museveni as the party’s sole presidential candidate “would save the party gainful time”.
“I did a regional consultation and the popular and majority view was that we still need President Museveni in 2016. We took it as our role as the youth to mobilise to ensure that Museveni stays,” says Mr Nakabale.
Mr Nakabale says the Museveni sole candidate view was “to communicate in advance to whoever may want to listen that we will not be listening to anyone who may want to offer himself to compete with President Museveni. We did not want to waste gainful time discussing that”.
Mr Nakabale was among the MPs who pushed the issue in Kyankwanzi and so he was unlikely to agree with Mr Luzindana and colleagues who thought otherwise.
At the time of the State House meeting, on the other hand, Mr Luzindana, together with his colleague, Mr Omodo Omodo, had just been released from jail and still faced charges on accusations of soliciting signatures from NRM members to force the party’s leadership to call a delegates conference.
It was thought that at the delegates’ conference that Mr Museveni would be ambushed by a Mbabazi candidature and probably defeated as party chairman.
This only came out after police spy tape recordings, in which police chief Kale Kayihura was interviewing NRM youth about Mr Mbabazi’s mobilisation work within the party, were leaked to the public.
Museveni launches counter-attack
If Mr Mbabazi had managed to surprise Mr Museveni within the party, assuming that were the objective, he would have done it mainly through the youth. At least that is what came out from the leaked tapes.
It is probably for this reason that Mr Museveni decided to pay back in the same currency, launched his counter-attack through the youthful members of the party.
Northern Youth MP Evelyn Anite seemed to take Mr Mbabazi by surprise when, at the Kyankwanzi retreat, she tabled the proposal to have Mr Museveni endorsed as the party’s sole presidential candidate for 2016. Mr Mbabazi ended up signing the resolution.
But on return to Kampala, Mr Mbabazi was quick to emphasise that the resolution was not binding on the party since the MPs’ caucus is not one of the party’s decision making organs.
Mr Mbabazi has not said much about the on-going war with Museveni and it is not clear whether he has let the Poor Youth Forum continue his fight or the youth in forum are doing it on their own.
Mr Luzindana says they are “fighting dictatorship within the party”.
“This business of sole candidate which our colleagues were talking about did not make sense to us, so we decided to found a forum to express our feelings and fight poverty among the youth,” says Mr Luzindana.
Mr Ian Gumisiriza, the national coordinator of the Poor Youth Forum, says they still recognise Mr Namara as the leader of the party’s youth forum, but that they “disagree with the style of his leadership”.
Mr Gumisiriza, a youth leader from Mr Mbabazi’s home district of Kanungu, says they have done “tremendous” mobilisation work within the ambit of the Poor Youth Forum.
“The whole country is covered; I have the contacts,” he says, “I know the person to call in Mbale in case I need to relay any information to the poor youth there; and this is the case everywhere in the country.”
The Poor Youth have also attempted to build a bi-partisan platform, looking to co-opt colleagues from other parties like FDC and others. Mr Gumisiriza says their agenda is broad and not limited to the ruling party.
“We are most interested in ensuring that the youth, wherever they are and whatever they believe, improve their lives and get empowered,” says Mr Gumisiriza.
Mr Gumisiriza says their members have continued to register unemployed youth “all over the country”. He says in Kampala alone, they have registered up to 2,000 unemployed youth despite attempts by the police to block them.
Poor youth infiltrated?
Running battles with the police aside, the Poor Youth Forum leaders also say they have been infiltrated.
Only last week, they suspended one of their leaders, Mr Hassan Mukiibi Sserunjogi, accusing him of spying on Mr Mbabazi and the group’s activities on behalf of President Museveni.
Mr Mukiibi denies the spying allegations, however, saying: “if the President wanted to spy on Mr Mbabazi, he has so many intelligence agencies he can use.”
He says he got out of the group because he is not poor and therefore he could not conceivably belong to the Poor Youth Forum.
The Poor Youth Forum members have, as a result, learnt to go about their business very discreetly. On the day they announced the suspension of Mr Mukiibi, for instance, Mr Luzindana sent out the message informing the members of the group of the press conference just hours to the event.
But the police still found out about it, forcing them to change venue from Katanga, Wandegeya, to Bwaise. The police again trailed them there, making sure that the press conference took just five minutes.
Mr Tamale Mirundi, the president’s press secretary, however, says there is no need to pay attention to the Poor Youth Forum. “I will tell you that it is you the media who have created this group,” says Mr Mirundi. “I tell you Mbabazi is finished. If he stands he will get less than 2 per cent of votes.”
“Who is respectable in that youth group that is linked to pigs? I would ordinarily have expected to see Mbabazi relating with ministers and other deeply trusted people,” Mr Mirundi says.
Mr Mirundi claims that he receives “hundreds of people every day who are trying to meet the President to explain to him that they were misled”.
In saying this, of course, Mr Mirundi is doing politics. The reality may be very different. Whenever he was asked about his dealings with the youth in the midst of the Kale leaks saga and after, Mr Mbabazi said he is connected to the NRM youth by virtue of being their NRM secretary general. And Mr Museveni recognised the power of the youth long ago, even forcing him to produce a rap release in the last campaigns.
With the youth population way more than half of the population amidst rising unemployment and economic challenges, it is not difficult to see why the political protagonists seem to have the youth at the centre of the strategies.
“This business of sole candidate which our colleagues were talking about did not make sense to us, so we decided to found a forum to express our feelings and fight poverty among the youth,”
Adam Luzindana, Poor Youth Forum boss
“I did a regional consultation and the popular and majority view was that we still need President Museveni in 2016. We took it as our role as the youth to mobilise to ensure that Museveni stays,”
Patrick Nakabale, Central Youth MP