When former prime minister Amama Mbabazi fell out with President Museveni and dropped out of the ruling party and government, it appeared that Mr Museveni no longer had a rival of sufficient stature to present a credible challenge to him from within the party.
Before Mr Mbabazi’s ambition rose to the fore in the lead up to the 2016 election, some individuals within NRM – most notably MP Felix Okot-Ogong and Capt Ruhinda Maguru – had voiced intentions to challenge Mr Museveni in earlier elections, but they did not present any serious threat to Mr Museveni’s hold on power.
Even when Mr Okot-Ogong and Capt Maguru declared intentions to run for the leadership of the ruling party, its presidential candidate, Mr Museveni and his handlers, never saw the need to craft a plan as elaborate as they sprang up to defeat Mr Mbabazi. In the cases of the earlier two, the top decision making organ of the party – the Central Executive Committee (CEC) – of which Mr Mbabazi was also a member, just struck their names off the list of candidates and declared Mr Museveni unchallenged. They simply argued that the other intending candidates were not qualified.
But when Mr Mbabazi stepped forward to challenge his erstwhile comrade, an elaborate, plan starting with then youth MP and now Investment state minister Evelyn Anite going on her knees to beseech the President to contest the 2016 elections as the party’s sole candidate.
It was an act meant to upstage Mr Mbabazi, whose jaw dropped as Ms Anite made the now famous request, which was followed by all the ruling party MPs who were in attendance signing a document affirming that Mr Museveni would be their party’s sole candidate. Caught by surprise and with no time to craft a response, Mr Mbabazi ended up signing the document, although he would later disown it as non-binding.
The declaration of Mr Museveni as sole candidate caused a heated debate, and it was widely viewed as a desperate measure used to respond to an unfamiliar situation presented by Mr Mbabazi that would perhaps manifest only once in a long time. One would easily predict then that NRM would in future not have to get back to doing the same thing.
But only last month, CEC converged at the secluded Chobe lodge in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Nwoya District and sprang another surprise by proposing to the party that Mr Museveni is declared sole NRM presidential candidate for the 2021 elections.
Whereas, going by the effort put into lifting the 75-year age cap from the Constitution, it looked obvious that Mr Museveni would stand again, it was not obvious that he would have to be declared his party’s sole candidate with two years left to the election.
The party’s MPs are currently in retreat at Kyankwanzi, their political Mecca, and when they finally emerge on Tuesday, it is expected that they will have endorsed CEC’s proposal to have Mr Museveni as sole candidate for 2021, among other resolutions.
No clear knowledge
We spoke to a number of ruling party MPs at Kyankwanzi about the matter on Thursday and Friday, but the picture that emerges is that most of them do not have clear knowledge of why they were there and how things were likely to unfold. A number of them, however, were eager to endorse the proposal to have Mr Museveni as a sole candidate, and wanted to extend the sole candidature to themselves. They argue that NRM MPs who have performed well should also not be subjected to primaries in the lead up to the 2021 elections.
Asked why President Museveni seems eager to have the issue of his candidature for 2021 resolved early, the MPs expressed varying views. Many doubted that there could be an internal challenge to the President from within his party in the lead up to 2021, arguing that it might well be that Mr Museveni is looking to just rally his party to face the Opposition, which itself may undergo some transformation with the emergence of the unknown quantity that is Bobi Wine.
Two MPs speculated that Mr Museveni may want to send a message to the Supreme Court, which still has to rule on whether the 75-year age limit for presidential candidates was removed legally, that he is still around and intends to run in 2021, when he will be 77.
What others say...
Augustine Ruzindana, former NRM member and former FDC deputy secretary general
It is obvious that President Museveni wants everyone to know that he is still around and is going to stand for president again. The reason is to make it clear so that in case people are thinking that he is not coming, they get the message.
The issue of Bobi Wine (Robert Kyagulanyi) is a social media beat and also there will be many people coming up to contest for presidency.
Norbert Mao - DP president-general
I read panic in the mind of President Museveni because even from his young days, he feared free and fair elections. This can be traced right from his school days at Ntare School.
The issue of sole candidature has been on since the NRA (National Resistance Army) high command and also the chairmanship of UPM (Uganda Patriotic Movement).
He manipulated others to become a sole candidate.
Rogers Mulindwa, communications officer at NRM Secretariat
There is nothing special about the (NRM)caucus meeting. We are operating within our schedule. We issued a roadmap indicating that we would be having a meeting of the NRM parliamentary caucus at around this time.
The secretary general will be giving an update on what transpired at Chobe and a whole lot of other developments. I cannot rule out the possibility that the MPs will make a resolution in line with the Chobe resolution.
Prof Paul Wangoola, former member of the National Consultative Council (NCC)
Bobi Wine cannot be a threat. What does that threat mean and in what form and shape will it be? That can only be looked at as a challenge, but how viable a challenge would it be and to who?
Those people, Abed Bwanika, Norbert Mao and Bobi Wine, are going by the band wagon thinking that it is a way to an easy victory, but there is no easy victory even for the dictators in power.