President Museveni has proposed former prime minister Amama Mbabazi as one of the five eminent persons to sit in the expanded Central Executive Committee (CEC) of the ruling NRM party. CEC is the party’s top policy organ.
Mr Mbabazi was recently outmanoeuvred from sitting in the same CEC as an elected secretary general, through the party’s constitutional amendments. The party opted to have an appointed secretary thus automatically ruled Mr Mbabazi out of top decision making in the party.
But he is not to be locked out completely, at least, in Mr Museveni’s calculations. The proposal to have Mr Mbabazi participate in top policy formulation in NRM came after Mr Museveni named a new team to run the NRM secretariat. The removal of an elected secretary general was widely seen as one of the signs of the widening fissure between the two hitherto political confidants after Mr Mbabazi was perceived to eye Mr Museveni’s job.
In this treatise, I will attempt to explain the forces that could have led to the fracturing of relations between Mr Museveni and Mr Mbabazi.
I will also explain the decision by Mr Museveni to name a new team led by Government Chief Whip Justine Kasule Lumumba, to run the party secretariat. The sources are largely off record interviews with key actors and personal observation.
The foreign aspect
Mr Museveni’s long stay in power and growing regional influence has created unease. He has lounged in the support of foreign powers for long. This, however, has taken a negative twist, with some Western powers uncomfortable with what they say is Mr Museveni’s “arrogant” behaviour.
The UPDF success in the hitherto war ravaged Somalia where even the US commandos and marines had failed, is said to have tickled Mr Museveni to demand special treatment from the US.
Some accounts say, Mr Museveni’s public confessions of how his “boys” in military fatigue had managed to break the creation of a world terrorism commune in Somalia, was construed by the Western powers to mean Mr Museveni’s message to the world powers to be eternally grateful to him. Secondly, the economic gestures by Mr Museveni, to China, rubbed the West wrongly.
Thirdly, Mr Museveni’s obsession with the East African Community was perceived as a ploy to create an empire for himself that distorts Western economic interests. In other words, Mr Museveni had been a good ally but could soon become unreliable. They now want to see him in the departure lounge.
Disappointed by lack of a united Opposition front, the Western powers scanned the NRM leadership in search of a possible successor to Mr Museveni. They settled reportedly on Mr Mbabazi as the fairest of them all. It’s not yet clear to me when and how contact with Mr Mbabazi was made. But the nature of collaboration and coordination was urbane.
Mr Mbabazi built political cells that he linked up with some Western powers for management. For instance, those he wanted to work with, Mr Mbabazi would contact them first and then later inform them that they would be called by some other people. The contacts would later receive calls from officials from a powerful embassy in Kampala.
The embassy officials would ask the identified contacts how they would want to be supported in their careers. In most cases, they were asked to write project proposals for funding. Some were urged to open NGOs.
In some cases, foreign trips for youthful activists were funded under diverse programmes. Public relations machinery was well crafted.
The intention was to build their capacity and resolve to demand and cause change.
When these contacts became sizeable, the donors began a crusade to support civil society rather than the government which was seen as largely corrupt and incapable of delivering services to the ordinary citizens. All this, Mr Mbabazi is said to have blessed.
However, Mr Museveni’s apologist in one of the Western embassies reportedly leaked the plan and even gave Mr Museveni some correspondences as documentary evidence. Mr Mbabazi would deny any such plan. Mr Museveni was convinced that, if any such plan existed, it would only be through the Opposition.
NGOs under pressure
Working with the belief that Western powers were trying to cause regime change in Kampala through civil society, the State operatives embarked on harassing activists. Several ministers made public statements attacking civil society as agents of State enemies.
Draconian laws were passed to stifle their funding and activities. The police budget was nearly tripled to buttress their capacity to deal with any unrest. Key Opposition actors came under intense surveillance. The alleged Mbabazi element had still eluded Museveni, apparently. The plan was for Mr Mbabazi to covertly capture NRM or at least break it from within to allow a transition.
But when it became clear to Mr Museveni that Mbabazi was indeed a force, he reportedly panicked and traversed Western capitals mending relations. However, the signals he got were ambivalent. Armed with suspicion, Mr Museveni sent overtures to countries hostile to some Western powers.
He worked to recapture relations with China which had been in good books with Mr Mbabazi. He also warmed up to Iran, North Korea, Russia and the United Arab Emirates. This was an effort to find global backers in the event that the Western powers carried through their agenda. Mr Museveni also invited a South African foreign affairs minister to talks between him and Mr Mbabazi.
The then Health minister now Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda and Bank of Uganda Governor Tumusiime Mutebile reportedly attended the talks. Mr Mbabazi denied any presidency plans.
When it became clear that Mr Mbabazi was in the game in spite of his silence, Mr Museveni moved faster, first by discomforting Mr Mbabazi economically through the closure of the National Bank of Commerce and hastily passed the anti-money laundering law in anticipation that Mr Mbabazi would receive heavy financial support.
The hi-tech phone tapping equipment ostensibly bought to monitor terrorism acts is in effect to be used to tap Mbabazi communication.
He then launched a political mobilisation strategy with culminated in the sacking of Mr Mbabazi as the premier and the amendment of the party constitution to remove him as party chief administrator.
Why then nominate Mr Mbabazi to CEC? To Mr Museveni, the bigger fight is with Western powers. The Western route is usually on governance questions. Because he has anticipated such questions, Mr Museveni has opted to work ahead by trying to reposition NRM party and government as acting on the correct democratic creeds.
He wants Mr Mbabazi to be seen to still play a role in the affairs of the party and government in spite of the alleged fall-out. It’s for the same reason that CEC has been expanded to bring some elders. The idea is that should Mr Mbabazi opt to stand, it should not be on the basis that the party fought him.
Mr Museveni has also increased private conversations with Mbabazi, trying to cajole him out of presidential ambitions, if any. One such meeting took place last Sunday. It was one on one. Mr Museveni is trying to comfort Mbabazi and draw him back to avoid Western pressure blowing him off with Mbabazi support.
In his view, Mr Museveni is convinced that Mr Mbabazi would not mean bad to him and the NRM but that “he has been misled by his wife” Jacqueline Mbabazi.
Ms Jacqueline’s critics believe she has overwhelming interest in the title First Lady, therefore; she is arm-twisting her husband to get into the presidential ring.
They accuse her of claiming to have contributed more to the revolution than many high placed women in government. Several anti-Mbabazi leaders in government and NRM have urged the President to come hard on Mr Mbabazi but Mr Museveni has been reluctant on grounds that they can still find a way out, always reminding them that he knew Mr Mbabazi well.
Why Lumumba as SG?
Earlier, Mr Museveni had called Ms Kasule Lumumba and asked her to suggest a name for him to appoint as secretary general (SG). She asked for time. Later Museveni sent security to pick her CV. The next was that he had nominated her.
At CEC meeting, Kirunda Kivejinja and Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga were opposed to Ms Lumumba’s nomination because of Busoga politics. They argued the party needed a mature person. Ms Lumumba is 41.
They suggested Dr Crispus Kiyonga. Mr Museveni had made up his mind. Ms Lumumba is somebody daring. She is also not afraid of the political trenches, good at politicking and can work with all categories of people.
She is never hesitant to say her mind. She also works for Museveni even when he is not monitoring her unlike others who work only to impress. When the Ssekikubo group had literally chased Amama Mbabazi from Parliament over the oil bribery allegations, Ms Lumumba worked to support the then prime minister to regain his confidence in the House.
But that is beside the point. Busoga where she comes from represents a big population and Mr Mbabazi, had through civil society networks, made penetration. But it also has political camps notably Kivejinja versus Kadaga.
But both detest Ms Lumumba’s rise partly because she is half Samia and half Bakenyi hence not pure Musoga. Yet none Basoga in Busoga combined, make Basoga a minority. In Museveni’s calculation, should the Busoga group play a tribal card, Ms Lumumba would swing the other votes. Should they work for him in 2016, he has a higher chance against the Opposition overall.
The focus on the grass roots is to deny Western powers ground. It’s hard to impose change where the population is still with the ‘dictator’ as was the case in Zimbabwe with Robert Mugabe. So Museveni wants to position himself as the man of the people in anticipation of any onslaught from Western powers.
However, all these calculations by Museveni are dependent on the personal resolve of Mbabazi and the alleged foreign backers.
Secondly, it’s also dependent on how the Opposition agree to work will Mr Mbabazi. Will Mbabazi listen to his long-time friend and save the revolution they started from ending on a tragic note? Will he view his actions, if any, as a move to save the NRM from collapsing on the shoulders of one man? Thirdly, will the Opposition maintain confidence in Mbabazi up to the last point?
So far, because of the closed talks between Mbabazi and Museveni, the Opposition is asking questions as to whether they won’t make a fatal mistake to put trust in Mbabazi. The return of maverick Gen David Sejusa without Museveni torturing him has even called for more caution.
The real battle essentially is about who will swing the people, most of whom, unfortunately have a higher propensity to annoy on matters which affect them directly. That makes the road to 2016 foggy. The forces at play are complex.
About The new appointments in NRM secretariat dominated by east
A political schemer he is, Mr Museveni is pulling all tricks. While he believes that he can still dissuade Mbabazi from unsettling him, he is also aware now that the forces behind Mr Mbabazi were big and it would be imprudent to trust in negotiations alone. The Opposition has more or less agreed to back Mr Mbabazi as their candidate against Museveni.
That, with foreign backing, is a plate too full for Mr Museveni. Mr Mbabazi has also promised the Opposition that he would stretch Mr Museveni and the NRM up to their limit and either break it from within, or quit at the last minute leaving it fractured thus unable to marshal campaign machinery.
Mr Museveni is aware that sectarianism, tribalism and poor service delivery have been the long held grievances against him and NRM party.
In anticipation of these issues becoming a rallying point against him in 2016, he is trying to give the NRM a national outlook. Of recent, the government which had largely taken to ragged capitalism has been rolling out social programmes with renovation of old and abandoned schools, hospitals plus a host of activities.
The grievances of tribalism were louder in northern, eastern and partly central parts of the country which, looking at public job placements and economic benefits; saw the western region as dominant. The composition of the NRM heavyweights was from the western. To disarm his critics, Mr Museveni is now trying to depart from history and extend NRM “ownership” to all areas.
That explains the appointment of senior managers of the party secretariat as mainly from the north and the east: Justine Kasule Lumumba (secretary general), Dr Kenneth Omona (deputy treasurer), Dr Tanga Odoi (election chief) are from the east while Richard Todwong (deputy secretary general) is from the north. The party treasurer is Rose Namayanja from Buganda.
This team’s main purpose is to demystify the talk of sectarianism and tribalism. They are meant to help boost the 2016 campaigns. Besides, the main work in Parliament is nearly over, save to make electoral laws.
The MPs have also been whipped to tow the party line after the outspoken ones such as Theodore Ssekikubo and Barnabas Tinkasiimire who had “captured” Parliament, were subdued and made to fight for their own survival. The main job now is campaigns.
The ministers going to the secretariat now, most of them will be reappointed to Cabinet after. The young politicians who were vocal in support of Mbabazi have been paid money and promised more political and economic assistance.