It is no secret that the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party is entangled in succession battles. This is not the first time it is happening in the NRM house though.
On May 23, 2003, Mr Museveni threw out Eriya Kategaya, his childhood friend. Kategaya, who died in March last year, was instrumental in the formation of the rebellion that brought Museveni to power.
The other people that went with Kategaya in that reshuffle were Ethics minister Miria Matembe and Bidandi Ssali, a powerful Local Government minister. Col Kizza Besigye, the once personal doctor to the President, had earlier fallen out bitterly with the Mr Museveni and he paid heavily for it over the years.
The sacking of Kategaya (later he repented and returned to the fold) sent a very powerful message to those who dare wrestle power from Mr Museveni. The President repeated the message in words last weekend at a political festival organised at the Entebbe Mayor’s Gardens to welcome him from the 69th UN General Assembly that is chaired by Sam Kutesa, Uganda’s Foreign Affairs minister.
Political heads say it was a disguised celebration of the fall of former Premier Amama Mbabazi.
It is at this event that the President referred to the biblical Burning Bush that Prophet Moses was told to keep a distance from. “Those who want to play with the Movement should go elsewhere,” the President said.
One of the organisers of this party was a youthful minister, Richard Todwong, the minister without Portfolio in Charge of Political Mobilisation.
Todwong says he is driving the youthful faces in Museveni’s government, who are also seen to be unsettling waters in the fountains of the old guard who regarded the NRM as their home with full rights of ownership.
“I bring the voice of our party to Cabinet. I am the link between the party and Cabinet,” he said of his position.
Before his appointment, Todwong says, NRM was losing by-elections, and the party was infested with conflicts following a poorly managed NRM primaries.
“We didn’t have a voice to reign in the warring parties. The secretary general should have done that, but he was busy as Prime Minister,” he says, adding that the agreement was Mbabazi would relinquish one of the positions. Mbabazi has never said he is too busy for the position though.
Todwong boasts that from the seven by-elections held after he was appointed, NRM won five, and lost two; in Luweero and Kamuli districts.
With pressure on the former prime minister to leave his position as secretary general, some eyes are on Todwong. Will he fill the shoes left by the old guard if Mbabazi lets go?
That question can be answered by understanding who this new youthful minister, seen as one of the new axis in government through which the President governs the country.
Away from politics, Todwong confesses to love music, particularly that of Europe-based Ugandan Geoffrey Oryema who at 24 was smuggled out of the country. His father, Erinayo Wilson Oryema, a cabinet minister in Amin’s regime, had just been killed. Today, Oryema is a celebrated Ugandan born artiste – and possibly one of the most selling one.
Todwong was barely four years when Oryema left the country in 1977. But the two come from the same village, Anaka, which is made famous by the song, Land of Anaka.
Todwong, 40, grew up in a polygamous family. He jokes about political parties being like a polygamous family where children are of different mothers, but, share blood through their father.
“I learnt a lot from my family,” he says. “Once you are our father’s child, you are our brother or sister. We don’t have discrimination.”
Todwong adds, “Our family has married into every tribe of Uganda, apart from Bakonjo and Basongora. We are a Uganda family,” he says.
His leadership, he says, started from his family.
“I was like my father’s assistant. He put me in charge of supervising my siblings. Every evening I would assign roles, and monitored them. I grew up in that environment and throughout my life I have been a leader.”
His father Savio Ojok Awany was a prisons officer who saw his son Todwong become the first in the family to graduate from a university.
He had taken the young Todwong from the rural Anaka Central Primary School in Nwoya District to Bishop Angelo Negri in Gulu Town for primary and secondary school. Todwong would join Progressive S.S in Bweyogerere for his A-level before he made it to Makerere University where for the first time he interacted with people he later called comrades in his political career.
At Makerere University where he studied Social Sciences and later a Masters in International Relations, Todwong was a student activist with fellow students now in Opposition such as Muwanga Kivumbi (MP Butambala), and Medard Ssegona (Busiro East), among others. They advocated for better treatment of students, including their welfare.
“I was mistaken for being Opposition because of my activism,” he recalls. He also worked with the late Noble Mayombo, Brig Henry Tumukunde and IGP Kale Kayihura. They attended what he calls “study groups”. These were political groups that discussed the NRM ideology at the university.
“I liked Mayombo’s love for debate and Tumukunde’s shrewdness. Tumukunde had an answer for anything in the shortest time possible,” he recalls. It was Mayombo and Tumukunde who introduced Todwong to Museveni.
One day after Todwong read a memorandum on behalf of youth at the International Conference Centre, now Kampala Serena International Conference Centre, the President asked to meet him. His two friends in the military made it possible.
After campus, Todwong joined Uganda Revenue Authority in 1999 where he was chairman of the staff union. In 2001 to 2003, he was appointed on the Constitutional Review Commission and in 2006, he contested unsuccessfully for the Gulu Municipality seat. After he lost, the President appointed him presidential adviser on northern Uganda.
He took his job seriously, setting up his office in Gulu, moving from one radio station to another preaching NRM programmes in the region.
In the 2011 election, he stood in Nwoya County where his home village Anaka is located, and won. The following year, on August 15, Mr Museveni appointed him minister without Portfolio in charge of Political Mobilisation – with a brief to help organise NRM structures.
It was known that Todwong’s work often conflicted with Amama Mbabazi’s.
The story of Mbabazi’s sacking on September 18, took the country by storm, but it did not surprise many in the party since the former prime minister’s perceived intention to stand in the 2016 general election for presidency unsettled the party.
Todwong and his group made it their business to dismantle their secretary general’s wings.
They arm-twisted him at the Kyankwanzi NRM party retreat in February that passed the sole candidature resolution in favour of Museveni. He found he had to sign it. The resolution was championed by a youthful MP representing northern Uganda, Evelyn Anite.
However, behind Anite were many faces – among them Todwong. When Museveni came to power, Todwong was about 11 years. Anite was possibly a year old. And the other cheerleaders like Youth minister Ronald Kibuule was exactly two years old.
“He [Amama] wanted to wrestle power from the President who stood by him in the worst of times,” Todwong charges, citing the Temangalo land scandal and the Office of the Prime Minister corruption scam which threatened to put a rope around Mbabazi’s neck.
In Todwong’s words, turning around to wrestle power from his godfather was equivalent to “betrayal”, and “a coup”.
On the unrest between the old guard and youth in NRM, he says, “Museveni has done good and bad things with the old guard”.
But with more than half of Ugandans under 20 years, many people do not care about what happened in the 70s and 80s, the minister says. “Young people want quick answers to their problems, and not calls for patience,” the minister says.
Quoting Franz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, Todwong says: “Each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it.”
It is the spirit in which Todwong and company are taking on their secretary general, and the President’s colleagues who want to replace him.
However, as long as Mr Museveni is President, there will be more Kizza Besigyes, Kategayas, and Amama Mbabazis in NRM. The Todwongs may grow weary and join the fold. Only time will tell.