Mbabazi dropped, Rugunda is new Premier

Saturday September 20 2014

Outgoing Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi and his successor Ruhakana Rugunda (L). PHOTOS by geoffrey sseruyange.

Outgoing Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi and his successor Ruhakana Rugunda (L). PHOTOS by geoffrey sseruyange. 

By Eriasa Mukiibi Sserunjogi

When Mr John Patrick Amama Mbabazi took over as Prime Minister on May 12, 2011, he was so close to President Museveni that it was almost unthinkable that he would turn out to serve the shortest period as Prime Minister in his fellow Bush War struggler’s Cabinet.

Dropped on September 18, 2014, Mr Mbabazi served in the office for three years and four months, seven months shorter than the time served by the late George Cosmos Adyebo, who was appointed on January 22, 1991, and dropped on November 18, 1994.
The late Samson Kisekka and Kintu Musoke both served for about five years, with Prof Apolo Nsibambi leading the pack, having held the position from 1999 to 2011.

Mr Mbabazi’s immediate predecessor, Prof Nsibambi, liked to refer to himself as “a technocratic” Prime Minister, meaning that he was never interested in electoral politics. Never during his career did he ever stand for election.

For Mr Museveni to succeed him with Mr Mbabazi, the man many regarded as his star politico-chess player, analysts were divided on what the President was up to. Prof Ogenga Latigo, the former Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, says he did not know what to make of Mr Mbabazi’s appointment. “I couldn’t make out as to whether President Museveni wanted to retire or not. I now know he wanted (Mr) Mbabazi to play the loyal cadre he had always been,” Prof Latigo says.

Uncertainty mounts
It is not clear whether Mr Mbabazi too thought that by appointing him Prime Minister, which was immediately followed by putting him effectively in charge of the government, especially with most ministers being made to report to him, Mr Mbabazi also thought that his time to rise to the presidency had come.

Prof Gilbert Bukenya, the immediate former vice president, was also in a similar position in the early 2000s to what Mr Mbabazi was in shortly after his appointment in 2011, feeling that Mr Museveni was about to retire and that he would take over from him.

Prof Bukenya would, however, instead be dropped from the Cabinet as accusations of his attempts to mount a challenge for the presidency grew. He now says he will contest the next election as a presidential candidate.

Mr Mbabazi has also been accused of attempting to contest against Mr Museveni, the highlight being when, months ago, a number of leaked tape recordings revealed conversations by police chief Kale Kayihura with a number of ruling party “youths” plotting to “defeat the Mbabazi project”.

The tapes were leaked after an altercation between Mr Mbabazi’s wife, Ms Jacqueline Mbabazi, and Gen Kayihura. Ms Mbabazi had accused Gen Kayihura in an interview in Sunday Monitor that he was doing politics instead of doing police work.

More pointers
The accusations almost coincided with a now famous retreat of the NRM MPs to Kyankwanzi, the political training school which ruling party politicians usually go to discuss party matters.

At Kyankwanzi, a resolution was passed seeking to guarantee Mr Museveni an uncontested slot as the ruling party’s presidential candidate in 2016. The MPs caucus not being one of the formal structures of the party, Mr Mbabazi spoke in a way as to throw cold water on the resolution shortly after Kyankwanzi, never mind that he had actually signed it. Analysts contend that he was “ambushed” with the petition that resulted in the Kyankwanzi resolution.

In another glaring marker that all was not well, before fleeing to London in May last year, Gen David Sejusa, a former spy chief, called for a probe into fears he said he held that some top individuals within the ruling establishment, including himself, were targeted for assassination. The others he said their lives were in danger were Mr Mbabazi and the then Chief of Defence Forces (CDF), Gen Aronda Nyakairima.

The government and the military denied that there was any attempt to harm the individuals Gen Sejusa named. Gen Aronda, however, was moved to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and replaced by Gen Katumba Wamala as CDF.

Battle over SG slot
One issue that has turned up in many NRM meetings is that Mr Mbabazi had agreed to relinquish the party secretary general (SG) slot on being appointed Prime Minister. The two positions, party members said, were too demanding for one person to manage effectively.

Mr Mbabazi, on the other hand, argued that by the virtue of the NRM constitution, the SG post is not a bureaucratic function, meaning it is not a full-time job, like say the is the case with parties like the Chama Cha Mapinduzi of Tanzania and African National Congress of South Africa. The solution, Mr Mbabazi said, would be to amend the NRM constitution and provide for a bureaucratic SG.

At the Kyankwanzi resolution follow up meeting at State House Entebbe, it was suggested that Mr Richard Todwong, the minister in charge of political mobilisation, would take up the duties of the SG to “ease” Mr Mbabazi’s burden, but this did not come to much in the end.

Mr Mbabazi insisted that he was elected by the National Conference, the topmost organ of the party, and that it was the only one with the powers to drop him. He argued further that he was not the only top honcho in the government who held more than one positions, citing Mr Museveni who, on top of being President, is also the party chairman and commander in chief of the armed forces.

Amama at a glance
1975: Graduates form Makerere University with a Bachelor of Laws degree. He worked as a state attorney in the Attorney General’s Chambers and rose to the position of Secretary of the Uganda Law Council.
1986- 1991: Director General of the External Security OrganiSation (ESO). HE also served as minister of State in the President’s Office in-charge of Political Affairs.
1986-92: Minister of State for Defence. Later became minister of State for Foreign Affairs in charge of Regional Cooperation.
1994: Delegate to the Constituent Assembly.
1996: Member of Parliament for Kinkiizi West to-date
2004: Attorney General and minister of Justice.
2006: Minister of Defence.
2009-2011: Minister for Security and later Prime Minister until September 18.