A picture tells a thousand words, right? Right. The front-page pictures of both the Daily Monitor and New Vision of February 7 captured former prime minister Amama Mbabazi greeting President Museveni during the Tarehe Sita celebrations in Nakaseke District.
Close by was former vice president Gilbert Bukenya. The attire of these two spoke volumes. Mbabazi wore a blue suit and a darkish necktie. Bukenya donned a dark suit and his tie was yellow, the colour of the NRM party. Both men were estranged from NRM for different reasons.
The picture showed me two very important things: First, Mbabazi as Museveni’s long-time friend. Their handshake seemed reassuringly relaxed and warm, a ‘howdy, buddy?’ kind of thing. Second, Bukenya cut the figure of a man locked out of a house and longingly looking in from the outside.
In January, local media enthusiastically reported that Mbabazi and Bukenya were among five special guests who had been invited to attend NRM’s National Executive Council meeting held on January 24 at State House and the National Conference held at Namboole stadium the following day.
Mbabazi was a no-show, both at State House and Namboole. Bukenya was at Namboole, along with former vice president Specioza Kazibwe, former Prime minister Kintu Musoke and former Kampala Central MP Francis Babu.
Bukenya says in a book he wrote in 2014 that his fallout with NRM came after the President scoffed at his ambition to vie for the position of secretary general of NRM. He says he was seen as an outsider; he interpreted this to mean that the door to the top leadership had been slammed shut in his face.
Mababazi’s fallout with NRM also came in 2014. Through the Kyankwanzi Resolution read by Evelyn Anite, then a Youth MP, NRM people endorsed Museveni as the sole party candidate in the presidential race of 2016. That is how Mbabazi, who had ambitions to challenge Museveni, was politically ‘killed’ through a ‘mob-justice’ action known as groupthink.
According to Laura A King in her book, The Science of Psychology: An Appreciative View, groupthink refers to group members’ “impaired decision-making.” This, she says, results in “avoidance of realistic appraisal in order to maintain group harmony” or party cohesion as NRM people choose to put it.
“Instead of engaging in an open discussion of all the available information,” the author adds, “in groupthink, members of a group place the highest value on conformity and unanimity.” Thus, the danger of such thinking is that “dissent meets with strong disapproval because groupthink involves many heads, but only one group mind.”
From this insightful book by a scholar with a PhD in personality psychology, we can clearly see the symptoms of groupthink which have led NRM to scoot down a slippery slope since 2005 when the clause on term limits was yanked out of the Constitution to allow President Museveni to run for a third term. (Salaamu Musumba memorably referred to is as the ‘sad term.’)
The symptoms are: First NRM is overestimating its power. That is why we keep hearing the bit about the party’s ‘invulnerability.” Second, closed-mindedness. Third, pressure for uniformity.
While Museveni was put on a high pedestal, Mbabazi was thoroughly run down at Kyankwanzi.
Mbabazi suddenly became a leper, a pariah and a traitor to the very party he served as its secretary general.
Now, talk of Mbabazi returning to the top ranks of NRM bigwigs is wishful thinking. Mbabazi is better off keeping a low profile forever and ever. Let him remain friends with Museveni. But there is nothing good for him in NRM.
I have previously said in this newspaper that the most likely thing the NRM people will do in future is to amend the Constitution to outlaw any speculation, debate or even imagination about the health of the Fountain of Honour. Let us wait and see.
Dr Akwap is a senior lecturer at Kumi University.