Making sense of the fight in State House

President Museveni and First Lady Janet at State House Entebbe. State House has been a war zone of sorts in recent times. The wars, an insider says, were always there but they came out in the open when Trade minister Amelia Kyambadde left State House. FILE PHOTO

What you need to know:

One emerging theory is that with Mr Mbabazi’s departure from government, a race was touched off to determine who among the ministers the President will rely on to execute the most sensitive assignments of government; those assignments which Mr Mbabazi was executing for years.

Presidency minister Frank Tumwebaze has blamed the recent allegations made against him on allies of former prime minister Amama Mbabazi.
At the Media Centre on Thursday, Mr Tumwebaze paraded a man who claimed to have been recruited by an aide of Mr Mbabazi to fight Mr Tumwebaze using social media.

While away on leave, rumour had spread that Mr Tumwebaze was on suspension and that he was in danger of being sacked because an investigation had uncovered a big sum of money on his account.

Apart from blaming the rumour on his opponents, Mr Tumwebaze declined to discuss the matter further when contacted for this article. We would not independently verify the allegations relating to whether Mr Tumwebaze had the said money on his account.

Before this last round of allegations, however, Works and Transport minister Abraham Byandala accused Mr Tumwebaze of having played a part in the Katosi Road scam.

Further allegations against Mr Mbabazi had come from Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, who claimed that Mr Tumwebaze, who also oversees Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), was backing the purchase of Usafi Market in an “inflated deal”.

War in State House
As minister for the Presidency, Mr Tumwebaze works closely with State House, which has been an epicentre of sorts for palace wars.
And, true to form, Mr Tumwebaze was in recent months a subject of attack by Tamale Mirundi, the President’s spokesperson. Mr Mirundi alleges that Mr Tumwebaze’s actions, especially regarding the KCCA docket, are likely to jeopardise President Museveni’s popularity.

State House has been a war zone of sorts in recent times. Contacted for this article, Mr Mirundi preferred to talk about Ms Sarah Kagingo, whose status as a presidential assistant on social media is not clear. Mr Mirundi maintains that Ms Kagingo was fired and that when she “sneaked” into State House last week, “she was arrested and thrown out”.
On her part, Ms Kagingo insists that she is still an employee of State House, challenging her detractors to produce her sacking letter.

She said her style of work, posting updates of the President’s activities on social media in real time, kicked up hostility against her because the President came to realise that his media team had not been doing its job well.

Ms Kagingo picked out Maj Edith Nakalema for criticism, accusing her of an array of things. “I fear her, she is very dangerous,” Ms Kagingo, who said she has not been paid salary for two years, said of Maj Nakalema, the President’s principal private secretary.

We would not reach Maj Nakalema for a comment in this regard, but Mr Mirundi said since Ms Kagingo was not a staff of State House, “she has no right to talk about salary.”

The Amelia factor
Talking to different members of State House staff, it appears that Mr Mirundi works in alliance with Maj Nakalema, Brig Proscovia Nalweyiso, a presidential assistant, and Ms Linda Nabusaayi, the deputy presidential spokesperson.

The above four individuals are cited by Ms Kagingo as her principal detractors. Mr Tumwebaze, although he also doesn’t seem to get along well with the above four, would rather not discuss it.

The wars in State House, an insider told us, “were always there but they came out in the open when Amelia (Kyambadde, the Trade minister), left State House.”

The source said Ms Kyambadde exerted considerable authority over the presidential palace, hardly allowing internal wrangles to burst open into the public domain.

Ms Kyambadde was replaced as principal private secretary to the President by Ms Grace Akello, deputised by Mr Kintu Nyago. But the duo was relieved of their jobs just a year later because, according to insiders, “they spent most of the time fighting instead of working”.

Enter Mbabazi
If this theory holds true for the departure of Mr Museveni’s long-term assistant, Ms Kyambadde, does it also hold true for the departure from government of Mr Mbabazi?

It is hard to say. But, by accusing Mr Mbabazi’s aide, and probably by extension Mr Mbabazi himself of fighting him, Mr Tumwebaze seems to prefer to contend with Mr Mbabazi more than with Mr Mirundi, for instance.

One emerging theory is that with Mr Mbabazi’s departure from government, a race was touched off to determine who among the ministers the President will rely on to execute the most sensitive assignments of government; those assignments which Mr Mbabazi was executing for years.

Mr Tumwebaze, observers say, seemed poised in some way or other to emerge as the new Mbabazi, given his positioning as the minister for the Presidency, relative long association with Mr Museveni and his role in hauling Mr Lukwago out of City Hall.

But not everyone buys into this theory. Former presidential press secretary Onapito Ekomoloit laughs off talk of a vacuum left behind by Mr Mbabazi, arguing that it would be foolhardy of anyone to see themselves in the grand picture of President Museveni’s pecking order.

“No single person can claim to have power, in effect being the Number Two in President Museveni’s establishment. You will be shocked to find out that there is a person with similar powers.
People knock heads failing to appreciate that reality,” he says.

If Mr Tumwebaze is therefore seen as ascending the ladder and attempts are made to thwart that effort, says Mr Onapito, “those fighting him are chasing wind.”

Ofwono Opondo, the head of the Uganda Media Centre and NRM deputy spokesperson, says to imagine that Mr Mbabazi’s departure left a vacuum is a “figment of imagination in the fickle minds of journalists”.

“You used to say that he is untouchable; when he was touched you said the government will crumble, but for all intents and purposes Mbabazi is down,” Mr Opondo said.

Charles Rwomushana, who was head of the political intelligence desk at State House, thinks that Mr Tumwebaze “is being wrestled down by former prime minister Mbabazi’s camp.”

Who else is in the running?
But if Mr Tumwebaze is in the running to succeed Mr Mbabazi as President Museveni’s most trusted lieutenant, who else is?

Speaking during the celebration of 29 years of his rule in Soroti, President Museveni said going by the recent appointments in the party was an indication that the National Resistance Movement is being handed over to “the children”.

And, some observers say, the last attempt for the old guard to cling to the leadership of the party was defeated in State House during the Central Executive Committee meeting at which the recent appointments were approved.

Former minister Ali Kirunda Kivejinja, the chairperson of the NRM Veterans League, is said to have argued against the appointment of Ms Justine Lumumba as secretary general, suggesting instead that Defence minister Crispus Kiyonga would have been a better choice.

The President, in response, is said to have retorted: “Let the young people make mistakes, I am going nowhere; we shall correct them.”

And so many mistakes are being made all over the full spectrum of the government. But, in many cases, Mr Museveni seems reluctant to correct them.

Take the case of Ms Kagingo, for instance, who State House officials say was fired but maintains she is still an employee of State House. Why doesn’t the President say anything? The recent accusations involving Mr Tumwebaze is another example.

To many an observer, President Museveni seems keen to retain the larger-than-life image, always in charge and never acting on the whims of others.

And, in view of this, the squabbles in State House and the rest of the government seem poised to continue since it is the way the government works and not how it fails.

Mr Ofwono sums it up well: “People are made powerful by the President. He made former vice president Gilbert Bukenya, Eriya Kategaya and Apollo Nsibambi powerful.

People are just failing to manage contradictions. I am close to the President by the assignment he has given me. I don’t have to go telling people how powerful I am.”