Pictures showing the former National Resistance Movement (NRM) party secretary general and also former prime minister Amama Mbabazi at the President’s farm in Kisozi, sent many talking at the close of 2019.
Back in 2015, Mbabazi caused quite a storm when he threatened to compete for the NRM leadership against his long-time friend and erstwhile leader in FRONASA/ NRM, Yoweri Museveni. Back then, the rumour mill, world of analysts, commentators and pundits went into high gear. It was said that ‘this time’ Museveni had met his match in Mbabazi who had held many high profile jobs within the NRM and was said to be the main architect of the party.
He was the brain behind its success, the software running the hardware. Without him NRM at best would struggle to find its footing because Mbabazi had a hand in putting together its structures across the country.
It was anticipated that if he left, he would divide the party right in the middle and leave with many of its leaders who were beholden to him when he was a Super Minister and Secretary General. Well nothing of that happened. The anticipated thunderstorm petered out into a scattered shower.
When Mbabazi walked out of the door and looked behind, almost no one from the NRM except members of his family followed him. As is the wont, a few spineless wandering turncoats and opportunists hobnobbed with him and jumped ship soon after.
After the election he quietly went off the radar. Then these pictures appeared of him seated meekly with Museveni and in another walking with a brown envelop following his host whom he had dismissed as having led a government which mismanaged the affairs of Uganda hence his offer to take over.
The Mbabazi situation tells us many things about Ugandan politics in the NRM or Museveni era. There are many people out there who actually believe that NRM is a political party in the true sense of the word. They are misled into thinking that the power and responsibility they hold in NRM is bequeathed unto them by the constitution of the party and its organs.
They always discover it late like Mbabazi did that it all rests in the palms of the powerful chairman Museveni who is the giver and the taker. He is the party and the party is himself. The so-called party structures are more of a myth than a reality. Museveni does not need a party register or even voters to win an election. He has an army and as chief executive, influences the Legislature, Judiciary and Electoral Commission.
Secondly is the issue of the number of people who can stand through thick and thin for what they believe in. The structure of Uganda’s politics and economics is quite intertwined in a cynical way which makes it very tricky for people and politicians to follow their hearts and minds. For instance, there is almost no safety net in terms of affordable and viable hospitals and schools. The politician comes in handy as the provider of these services and more. They need to have a solid financial base which is best provided by one’s proximity to power say as a minister or as an MP who makes several trips abroad and earns per diem. Being an MP on the NRM ticket sorts that out easily. One puts themselves in jeopardy if they jump ship and join a ‘rebel’ like Mbabazi or FDC’s Kizza Besigye.
So you have several disgruntled MPs and NRM people who quietly voice their opinions against Museveni and NRM but hung in there. These are the ones who ask you to write about something but also remind you not to mention their name because they fear for their lives! These people are very unreliable when one is making an estimate of who will join them in any struggle. They did not join Mbabazi.
The third lesson is about the thought that the system that NRM runs might spare one because they have served it well for a period of time. Mbabazi should have learnt from Besigye that NRM does not tolerate dissent of any nature. Mbabazi should have known that he would not be allowed to campaign freely and that he and his supporters would be the victims of the brutality visited by security and other state agents. He would also face inequitable treatment from the Electoral Commission, Judiciary and public service that would make his campaign difficult. This same machinery may be used to sabotage one’s financial and economic base rendering them vulnerable to intimidation, manipulation and humiliation that make them go back on their word and suffer ridicule from right thinking members of the public.
Lastly is the power of moments. Just imagine if back in 2015 Mbabazi had decided to step away from politics ‘temporarily.’ He would have found himself where he is today but with the aura of power and invincibility still intact. Whatever would go wrong in the NRM and government, would be attributed to the fact that ‘the brains’ had stepped away and whatever went right would still be credited to what the software Mbabazi built. He would have been a major factor in the succession politics seen as the ‘plan b’ should that moment of history arise, one that needs a quick substitute to fill a vaccum.
Now we all know that Mbabazi was more or less a creature of Museveni. It is Museveni who lent him that power that made him a super minister and a Mr Fix It and as long as Museveni is still around, he will be beholden to him.
Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues. firstname.lastname@example.org.